- Why was the Commission set up?
The Mother and Baby Commission was set up in 2015 in the wake of the scandal that broke as a result of newspaper articles written by local historian Catherine Corless. She uncovered the fact that 796 children died at the Bons Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam Co Galway but there were no burial records.
2. What was the Commission set up to do?
Its remit was to investigate a number of mother and baby homes and county homes over a period running from 1922 to 1998. It examined the entry and exit arrangements at the homes the living conditions, post mortem, burials, vaccine trials and whether or not the residents were treated differently on any ground such as race, disability and religion.
3. When did the report come out, how long is it and how can our listeners access it?
The report was published on the 12th of January and can be downloaded from the website www.gov.ie. However, it must be noted that the report is about 3,000 pages in length.
4. What was the report’s recommendations?
While there were a number of recommendations made in the report, the Commission identified that there were two main issues raised by former residents of institutions.
1. The deficiencies in information and tracing systems and redress for what they considered to be wrongs done to the women in institutions and in society generally. Dealing with the redress issue first, the Commission recommended that a redress scheme should be established similar to the Magdalene Laundry Scheme. It identified three groups that should be eligible for such a redress scheme and they are as follows:
women in County homes who carried out unpaid work on behalf of the Local Authorities;
women in Tuam. It stated that mothers frequently left Tuam several years before their children which meant that the remaining mothers had to care for their own child as well as a large number of children and they should be remunerated for this;
women who worked outside the institutions without pay;
but the commission also recommended two further categories for redress and they are as follows:
women who spent lengthy periods in these homes before 1974, for example in excess of six months;
boarded out children. These were children that were fostered some of which inherited property from their foster parents. They were not entitled to the threshold of exemption to inheritance tax that was available to biological children. Therefore, foster children had to pay high taxes on these inheritances. The Commission is of the view that there should be an ex-gratia payment made to these people to compensate them for those taxes.
5. So what’s happening now that the Commission has published its findings?
The government has committed to implementing the recommendations of the report and to setting up a redress scheme by April 30th to compensate survivors of these institutions. The categories that the Commission has identified for redress is quite narrow. It has excluded women who were in these institutions post-1974 because at that date the Unmarried Mother’s Allowance came into being.
Furthermore, despite hearing oral evidence from survivors of the institution the Commission was of the view that there was no evidence that any of the adoptions were what would be termed “forced” adoptions. Therefore the Commission was of the view there was no entitlement to redress. However, Minister Roderic O’Gorman on Newstalk on 17th January has accepted the testimony of the survivors. He has stated that these women were forced to accept adoption for their children. On the 18th January, the Journal reported that the Minister stated the Government won’t restrict itself to the initial three categories the Commission suggested should be able to avail of redress. But whether it will include women in these institutions post-1974 and a category for forced adoptions remains to be seen.
6. What sort of financial compensation should these people expect?
That has yet to be decided by the Government but the Commission in its report recommended that the groups should be eligible for a redress scheme similar to that of the Magdalene Scheme. The Magdalene Scheme provided for a general payment and a work payment both of which were related to the length of time a person spent in an institution.
So for example if you were there:
3 months it was €10,000 with a work payment of €1,500;
1 year was €14,500 with a work payment of €6,000;
18 months €17,500 with a work payment of €9,000; and
2 years was €20,500 with a work payment of €12,000.
We don’t know how the payments will be calculated for this scheme so we will have to await sight of the legislation when it is passed.
7. What further information around tracing can you tell us about?
Adopted people do not have the right to access their original birth certificate nor do they have the right to access information on their family of origin. Survivors see this as a fundamental human right. The Commission considered that there should be such a right.
The Commission believed at the time of publishing the report that a constitutional amendment would be required to allow adopted people to access this information. Attempts to previously legislate in this area were unsuccessful as there were concerns that the legislation would be unconstitutional in that it would contravene the privacy rights of the birth mother. But from newspaper reports to date, it seems that the present Attorney General Paul Gallagher has indicated that he does not believe a Constitutional Amendment is required and that an approach based on EU law ie GDPR could be the basis of new legislation in this area.
8. So what should people do if they are one of the survivors of these institutions or were one of the children that were boarded out?
They should contact a solicitor to discuss this with them. They should give their solicitor a full history to see if they could benefit from the redress scheme that the Commission has recommended. Tallans have reviewed the report in detail in preparation to properly advise clients as to whether they could have a claim for redress. But, we hope that Government will expand the categories of survivors who can avail of the same.
Talk To Tallans
Sheila Cooney and Deirdre Moran in Tallans took a successful High Court challenge on behalf of 1800 women against the Department of Social Welfare due to inequality in the payment of social welfare benefits. The court awards that these women received caused a small economic boom in the Drogheda area. Finally, we will be encouraging our clients to apply for their records by way of a GDPR request. We will help our clients in making that request.
We are very cognisant in Tallans of the hurt that these survivors feel and the pain that was inflicted on them in these institutions. This report has brought all of that to the surface again and we would like to take this opportunity to extend sympathy and support to all the survivors.