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Institutions

'Four lives were ripped apart': Woman plans legal action over mother's exclusion from redress

Mary wanted to raise her three children, but they were all taken from her. She died before she got justice.

A WOMAN PLANS to take legal action against the State over her mother’s exclusion from the planned redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby institutions.

Evelyn*, who was born into the system, has criticised the fact survivors who participated in the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes (COIMBH) but died before the State apology in January 2021, will be excluded from the scheme.

She is currently in discussions with solicitors and said she will “take whatever legal action is necessary”.

Evelyn told The Journal that many women like her mother, who were not allowed to keep their children, died before they ever got justice.

“They went through such immense trauma at the hands of Church, State and society. Mothers like mine didn’t live to hear the apology.”

Evelyn grew up in an industrial school, and her two younger siblings were adopted. Her mother, Mary*, tried to keep her three children but she was not allowed to.

Evelyn gave evidence to the Commission, via the Confidential Committee, on her mother’s behalf due to Mary’s advancing age and health issues.

Mary wanted to share her story with the Commission herself but felt unable to do so, believing it would be re-traumatising.

Evelyn said it was difficult to relive her mother’s experiences but she did so because they both believed Mary would finally receive “some sort of justice by way of an official apology and redress”.

We were led to believe that any form of redress would be based on the evidence we gave. It was very distressing for my mother and I going through the whole sorry saga again. We only did it because we thought we might see some justice at last, but in the end this was not to be.

Evelyn said there has, rightly, been much criticism over the fact the Government’s planned redress scheme excludes many survivors including those who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

However, she said women like her mother – and the trauma they endured – are being forgotten.

Mary sadly died in late 2020, just weeks before the Commission’s final report was published on 12 January 2021. She was in her 90s at the time of her death.

Survivors who died before 13 January 2021 – the day then-Taoiseach Micheál Martin delivered a State apology – are not covered by the scheme, meaning their relatives cannot apply for redress on their behalf.

The Oireachtas Children’s Committee last year recommended that the redress bill “should be amended to backdate the eligibility for deceased applicants’ families further, to at least the date the MBHCOI report was originally commissioned” – i.e. 2015.

However, this recommendation has not been taken on board by the Government.

babyfeet File photo Shutterstock / Mark Schlicht Shutterstock / Mark Schlicht / Mark Schlicht

Evelyn said she doesn’t care about the money but believes women like her mother should be included in the redress scheme as a symbolic gesture and mark of respect.

“My beloved mum sadly died [in late 2020], God rest her gentle soul. I fear that her story will be brushed away, despite the fact that I went in front of the Commission of Inquiry on her behalf, at her request.

“Mum felt that at last she might see some justice, but alas it doesn’t look like she will. I’m determined to get justice for her, but it looks like I’ve got a big fight on my hands,” Evelyn told The Journal.

‘Four lives ripped apart’

Mary gave birth to Evelyn outside wedlock in rural Ireland in the late 1940s. She wanted to raise her daughter but Evelyn ended up in an industrial school.

A few years later Mary gave birth to twin boys. They lived together in an institution until the boys were two years old.

Mary loved her sons and wanted to keep them, but was not married. Evelyn said her mother was given two options – allow her boys to be adopted, or send them to an industrial school.

Feeling as though she had no other choice, Mary’s sons were taken from her and adopted abroad. She never saw them again.

Evelyn told us: “She put up a real fight and managed to keep her boys for two years, but in the end she had to give in. It broke her heart.

Nothing could ever make up for the fact that my mum had her beautiful twin boys taken away from her after bonding with them for two years.

“I mean the cruelty to do that to somebody and expect them to live a life and not tell anybody because of the shame of it.

“Then she was expected to continue caring for other babies [in the institution] who were also destined for adoption or industrial school, while I was locked up in an industrial school.

“All of us were treated like criminals. The cruelty is just beyond words. She was robbed of three babies. She could have made a home with the three of us, instead four lives were ripped apart.

“I was entitled to grow up with my brothers and I was entitled to grow up with my mother. Why did she have her children robbed from her? Why did we have our mother robbed from us?

“Nothing could ever compensate us for having four lives ripped apart.”

Evelyn has to date not met her brothers but is still seeking information about them.

Other women dying without justice

Evelyn wants to highlight the fact that women like her mother died before they got any redress, but is doing so anonymously as her mother was very private and told few people about what happened to her.

“She was absolutely silent about all that – through shame,” Evelyn recalled.

Despite Evelyn being in an industrial school, Mary visited her as often as possible and the pair developed a very close relationship.

Mary did open up to Evelyn about what happened to her so her daughter could tell the Commission, but this was a deeply painful experience.

Evelyn said: “The way my mum and others like her have been treated is just plain wrong. How many other women also died before they got justice?”

“This is her legacy, this is our legacy, and I will take whatever legal action is necessary.”

When asked about Evelyn’s case, a spokesperson for the Department of Children told The Journal it “would not be appropriate for the Department to comment on any possible or proposed legal action against it”.

The spokesperson said the date of the apology delivered by Micheál Martin on 13 January 2021 “provided formal recognition and contrition on behalf of the Irish State for all the trauma experienced by survivors and former residents of Mother and Baby or County Home Institutions”.

They added that this date “marked the formal conclusion of the Commission of Investigation process” and the launch of the Government’s Action Plan for Survivors.

“For these reasons it was used as an important marker point in the scheme. There have been a wide variety of inputs into the development of the legislation to underpin the Scheme.

“We are grateful for all inputs and fully consider them before making final decisions, all in the context of the broader Government Action Plan. No one measure within it can deliver satisfaction for all,” the spokesperson said.

Many things ‘can’t be rectified’

During a previous interview with the Redacted Lives podcast, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman spoke in more general terms about redress plans.

He told us that the Government is trying to make amends, but acknowledged that no level of compensation can ever undo the damage caused by the mother and baby home system.

“We are piece by piece trying to rectify parts of that history of the State. And it can’t all be done at once, and many bits of it can’t be rectified.

“I have to say, even in terms of the redress, what we’re bringing forward will not take away the harms that were done to so many people, but it is the State trying to rectify elements of this.

“And from redress, to access to information, to [excavation in] Tuam, to the records and memorial centre, I believe the State is very seriously and in a comprehensive way seeking to make good the damage that was done to these women to their children, though recognising nothing the State can do can ever fully undo it,” O’Gorman said.

The planned redress scheme has been widely criticised by survivors and members of the opposition.

Around 34,000 people will be eligible to apply for redress under the scheme, which is estimated to cost around €800 million. However, some 24,000 living survivors are excluded from the scheme.

As previously reported by The Journal, other survivors are also considering legal action if they remain excluded from the plans.

The scheme is currently making its way through the Oireachtas and is expected to open for applications later this year.

*Names changed at the interviewee’s request

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