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The Explainer: What are the issues with the mother and baby home report?

We outline what’s in the report, and talk to a historian about issues it raises.

THE RELEASE OF the report from the Mother and Baby Homes  Commission of Investigation was a landmark moment – for the people who lived in the homes, and the wider Irish society. 

The five-year investigation found that at least 9,000 children died across 18 homes, including four county homes. Across almost 3,000 pages, it details the experiences of women and children in a sample of the homes between the years of 1922 and 1998.

The report notes: “In the years before 1960 mother and baby homes did not save the lives of ‘illegitimate’ children; in fact, they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival. The very high mortality rates were known to local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications.”

But while the report has done essential work in examining what went on in the homes, it has also come in for criticism. Some historians and activists have raised questions about some of the language in the report; how it frames the evolution of the treatment of women in Irish society; and how it shares the testimonies of some women but also declares a lack of evidence of certain things occurring.

On this week’s episode of The Explainer, we first speak to our reporters Órla Ryan and Cónal Thomas about what is in the report, what the survivors’ reaction was, and what the report’s recommendations are.

Then, we speak to Ciara Breathnach, Associate Professor in History at UL, with speciality across the topics of modern Ireland, gender, class, health, medicine, power and institutions.

She has been reading the report and details for us some of the issues it raises and problems she encountered with it.

Background reading: 

The Explainer / SoundCloud

This episode was put together by presenter Sinéad O’Carroll, producers Aoife Barry and Nicky Ryan. Guests were Órla Ryan, Cónal Thomas, and Associate Professor Ciara Breathnach.

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