#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 2°C Sunday 5 December 2021
Advertisement

'They're waiting for more of us to die': Women whose children were taken react to redress scheme

The Government’s long-awaited Mother and Baby Homes redress scheme was unveiled during the week.

Terri Harrison pictured at her home in Dublin
Terri Harrison pictured at her home in Dublin
Image: Órla Ryan

THIS WAS A momentous week for survivors of mother and baby homes and county homes as the Government finally unveiled a long-awaited redress scheme.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet signed off on the €800 million plan for survivors of the institutions.

That afternoon Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the scheme is a “significant milestone in the State’s acknowledgment of its past failures and of the needless suffering experienced by so many of its citizens”.

He told reporters gathered at Government Buildings that 34,000 survivors of the institutions will be eligible to apply to the ex-gratia payment scheme.

The scheme will provide financial payments and a form of enhanced medical card to “defined groups in acknowledgement of suffering experienced while resident” in a mother and baby institution or county institution.

Ex-gratia payments do not require the admittance of liability.

Some of the major sticking points for survivors include the fact that payments are linked to the amount of time a mother spent in an institution, and that children who spent fewer than six months in an institution are excluded from the scheme.

Children who were boarded out (fostered) are also not included in the scheme. Many survivors view these exclusions as a cost-cutting measure.

All women who spent time in a mother and baby institution will be eligible for a payment which will increase based on their length of stay – ranging from €5,000 to €125,000.

All children who spent six months or more in an institution will also be eligible for payment based on their length of stay, as long as they did not receive redress for that institution under the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme (RIRS).

There was controversy during the week after O’Gorman said children who spent less than six months in an institution “would have been too young to remember their experiences”. He apologised for this remark the next day.

As reported by The Journal on Tuesday, he told the press conference: “We’re providing these payments in recognition of the trauma experienced by survivors, mothers and children, in recognition of the harsh conditions that took place in these institutions and in recognition of the stigma that mothers and children experienced.

And in terms of the six-month period … children who were in there less than six months wouldn’t have been aware of their experiences, they would have been too young to remember their experiences.

“Women who were in there for a period of less than six months would have been there solely around the time of their pregnancy and subsequently the birth.

“We tried to design this scheme in terms of the longer a person was in there, the greater the degree of benefit that we’re providing for them. So the longer the time a person was in these institutions, the greater the financial payments that they will receive.

I’m very conscious that the separation of a mother and a child is a deeply, deeply traumatic event.

“That’s why every mother who was in one of these institutions will be able to qualify for payments … that’s a very significant increase in the scope of this scheme.”

O’Gorman said he recognises that people who were born in the institutions would be “disappointed” with the six-month limit. However, he added that these survivors have indicated to him the priority for them is access to their information and birth certs.

The comment stating that children who spent less than six months in an institution not remembering their experiences caused particular upset among survivors.

When asked about this particular remark on Morning Ireland on Wednesday, O’Gorman apologised “if” he said it. “If I said that in the press conference yesterday that’s a very inartful way of me to describe the experience and I apologise for that,” he stated.

Many people pointed out that the length of time they spent in an institution was irrelevant – whether it was one day or one year, they were still separated from their mother, often against her will. Children were generally adopted, sometimes illegally; boarded out; or sent to an industrial school.

In some cases, they were physically, sexually or emotionally abused. Many of those children also went on to experience separation anxiety, PTSD or other mental health issues later in life as a result of the circumstances of their birth.

A report compiled by Oak Consulting on behalf of the Government following focus groups with relevant stakeholders earlier this year found that the most frequently identified criteria that survivors stated should be used to assess payments were forced family separation, disappearance of individuals and psychological trauma – not length of time in institutions.

Survivors said they wanted a “universal” scheme and told Oak they viewed the main human rights violations as “widespread trauma” suffered as a result of family separation, dehumanising treatment and abuse.

Beth Wallace, one of three siblings born in mother and baby homes, said the six-month rule shows “zero understanding of trauma and its long-term effects, including the trauma of all infants separated from their mother, regardless of reason”.

‘They’re waiting for more people to die’

Many mothers were also disappointed by the details of the redress scheme.

Now aged in her 60s, Mary* was sent to Ard Mhuire Mother and Baby Home in Dunboyne in the late 1970s when she became pregnant outside marriage in her early 20s.

Mary wanted to raise her daughter but felt compelled to give her up for adoption in 1980, despite repeated attempts to keep her. Over 40 years later, she is still trying to reconnect with her daughter.

Speaking to The Journal during the week, Mary said that basing the amount of compensation mothers receive on their length of stay in an institution was “disgusting” and “absolutely disgraceful”.

“They don’t give a damn. It comes down to the same thing, ‘get on with it and get over it’.

“The [Ard Mhuire] home wasn’t a bad place. It was what happened after it that changed my life. It was when I came out of the home that it all started. They did everything to stop me keeping my baby and it worked.

“Every door was closed in my face, I was clapped back every time. And this redress scheme is another clapback.

How can they not see the devastation that was caused by family separation over the last 40, 50, 60 years? They’re waiting for people to die off. The young people will keep going but what do I do in my situation?

“I’m 65 years of age. What if [the redress process] takes another 10 years or more? I might be around, I might not.”

Mary said she doesn’t want to accept redress under the current parameters of the scheme but is torn. If she doesn’t take an offer soon, will she get nothing at all further down the line? 

If she does accept an offer, she’ll have to sign a legal waiver saying she will not take legal action against the Government.

“I’m between a rock and a hard place. Do I take it? Then it dies with you. It’s a catch-22. Even if I do take it, I’m taking it with a heavy heart because I haven’t got an option. It’s utter devastation at this point.

“Adopted people are younger, they have more time. But on my side, and a lot more like me, I don’t have the time. And a lot of people are gone already.

I’m tired and I’m not the only one. You get knocked back, then you get up and do another bit. What fight is left in people my age? They’re running people into the ground.

Mary said the exclusion of children who spent less than six months in an institution from the redress scheme amounts to a “divide and conquer” approach.

“The six-month rule is absolutely horrible, it’s shocking. Divide and conquer.”

O’Gorman said his department wants the redress scheme to open to applicants as soon as possible. It is due to open for applications in late 2022, meaning payments are not likely to be received until at least 2023.

Mary is sceptical about payments being received in 2023, telling us: “It’s not going to be straightforward, like they said. It’ll be fill in this form, fill in this other form, then fill in that form.”

Religious orders

During the week O’Gorman confirmed that he had written to a number of religious orders involved in running the institutions, asking them to contribute to the fund.

The minister said on Tuesday that he has been in touch with religious congregations again in recent days, seeking a meeting to “begin the process of obtaining a substantial contribution” towards the redress scheme.

For survivors like Mary, this doesn’t go far enough. She said the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) should seize the assets of religious orders if they refuse to pay compensation to survivors.

“Their assets should be taken, CAB should go after them. Send CAB in and seize what they have. The religious orders are still in the background. They might be quiet, but they’re still running part of the show,” Mary stated.

Screenshot 2021-11-19 12.54.50 Terri Harrison holding a photo of her son Niall as a newborn Source: Órla Ryan

Fellow survivor Terri Harrison echoed these sentiments, saying “all involved need to be held accountable, not the Irish taxpayer”, adding: “Billionaire religious groups ran these prison camps while being paid for a care service by taxpayers”

Terri said: “All these years of struggling to be heard, to speak aloud the unspeakable truth of humans abducted, babies kidnapped and sold.

“We were deprived of all human rights. We simply did not matter.”

Terri gave birth to a son, Niall, in the St Patrick’s institution on the Navan Road in Dublin in 1973. She was 18 years old at the time and wanted to keep her baby.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

She moved to England and had planned to raise her child there but a religious organisation found her and forced her to come back to Ireland to give birth here. Now in her 60s, she is still trying to find her son.

Healthcare

Reacting to the details of the redress scheme, Terri said she is “completely devastated”.

In terms of health care, she told The Journal that many survivors were pushing for a HAA card, rather than an enhanced medical card.

The HAA (Health Amendment Act) Card was designed for people who contracted Hepatitis C from the administration within the State of contaminated blood or blood products. However, due to its wide-ranging benefits, Mr Justice John Quirke recommended that survivors of Magdalene laundries receive the card.

The Clann Project and many other campaigners had called for MBH survviors to also be granted HAA cards.

This specific card gives people lifelong eligibility to additional HSE services, on more flexible terms and conditions than the medical card.

However, under the redress scheme announced this week, survivors will be given an enhanced medical card instead. O’Gorman said this will enable people to access a wide range of services including counselling.

Terri and others have raised concerns about the type of counselling survivors will be offered – saying therapists need to be specifically trained in trauma and PTSD – qualifications that can be somewhat rare in Ireland.

“All we ever wanted was support for our wellbeing with a HAA card and a counsellor who is medically qualified to address trauma triggers. The women only ever wanted real care and support, many of our health issues are a direct result of medical negligence,” Terri said.

Mary said she wasn’t very hopeful prior to Tuesday’s announcement but had hoped the Government may have learned some lessons from the much criticised redress scheme for women who spent time in Magdalene laundries.

“After all the other [redress schemes] that went before us, this was the one to get right,” she said.

The title of the 2017 report of Ombudsman Peter Tyndall’s review into the administration of the Magdalen Restorative Justice Scheme summed up the feeling of many stakeholders: Opportunity Lost.

The scope of this particular scheme was extended in 2018 to include women who worked in the laundries but were admitted to adjoining institutions. However, years later, some women are yet to receive compensation and medical support.

A demonstration protesting the redress scheme is due to take place outside Leinster House next Tuesday.

*Name changed for privacy reasons

About the author:

Órla Ryan

Read next:

COMMENTS