Death and Burial of Children in Mother and Baby Homes: Private Members Business

The first point to make is that it is essential we remember the women and babies in the mother and baby homes, apologise to them, acknowledge the enormous suffering and pain they went through and accept it was a very dark chapter in our history. We must accept that it was borne out of misogyny, patriarchy, ignorance, deep prejudice and poverty. We cannot fail to acknowledge all these facets of what happened. We cannot deny that all of us contributed to it whether it was by making a bar room joke that led to the prejudice that led to the ignorant reaction or as a family. There was a mass buy-in, to use an awful contemporary phrase. There was mass acceptance of it. Evil does not occur without a culture and atmosphere to facilitate it. There was prejudice, ignorance and a horrific attitude to the women and babies that gained expression. No element of society can escape it. The State and the people who ran the homes bore responsibility. Every facet of society bore responsibility. It was a dark period in our history. One cannot dress it up or romanticise it. This must be the kernel of anything we say.
A point that has been made that merits being made again is that the privacy of those who lived in the homes and who do not wish to be part of the public debate or media coverage should be respected. Obviously, the commission, whose establishment I welcome, should look at infant mortality, burial arrangements, vaccine trials and practices around adoption. There should be no element of this extraordinarily dark period in our history – this harrowing and very difficult time – that escapes the scrutiny of the commission and is swept under the carpet.

The commission will be able to compel witnesses, to provide for costs where people are not co-operating and to get access to all of the information so the commission will have strong powers. It is important that this is accepted. It is an efficient and comprehensive way of dealing with what happened. It is the most sensible immediate response. There can be no hiding from any element of this. The interdepartmental work that has been done by way of background will help set the terms of reference and provide a context. It is not inappropriate. It is very appropriate for us to say that every agency in the State, archives and all the machinery of the State must be opened up and made to the commission of inquiry.

In that context, we must welcome the statements from the bishops that they will ensure complete co-operation. It should be no other way but it merits acknowledgement. Obviously, the commission’s work will not be confined to Tuam and I commend the Minister for that because it must embrace the entire country. There is not much more we can say other than to support the establishment of the commission, acknowledge our collective guilt and ensure that the women, babies and families receive a sensitive response. There must be a holistic response. I support the adoption agency which said this morning that counselling should be introduced immediately. I believe that should be the case. Of course, a formal State apology should be given. We should do everything that will in any way ameliorate the situation. We are coming into the decade of commemoration but while we commemorate other aspects of our history, we cannot deny this as a very real part of our history. We must confront it and accept its reality. It has to guide us to deal with the victims but must also guide future policy so that we develop a sensitive humane policy that will never allow a recurrence of what happened.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website