I call the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, to make his statement. The Minister has 15 minutes.
Interdepartmental Report on the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes: Statements
I welcome today's opportunity for statements on mother and baby homes. In line with the motion passed on 11 June, I wish to update the House on the significant progress which has been achieved in just five weeks on the establishment of a commission of investigation into these issues of public concern.
It is just a matter of days since my appointment as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs so in making this statement I am very much drawing on the work commenced by my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan. At the outset, I want to acknowledge the constructive contributions and co-operation of colleagues on all sides of the House in assisting deliberations on this sensitive issue. I would like to continue the process of engagement and dialogue with a view to achieving the widest possible consensus on the establishment of this commission of investigation. I am confident that this inclusive approach in the essential scoping phase will assist in establishing an inquiry which is capable of effectively addressing these important matters in a sensitive and timely manner.
Following the tragic revelations surrounding the Tuam mother and baby home, which I know greatly disturbed Members on all sides of the House and the wider public, the Government committed to establishing a commission of investigation to comprehensively investigate these institutions and the experiences of mothers and children in their care. In the weeks since these revelations we have witnessed further public debate and commentary on the involvement of church and State in the role played by mother and baby homes. Questions have also been posed on the role of families and wider communities because we must recognise, and accept, that these institutions did not exist or operate in isolation.
As an initial step, an inter-departmental group was established to gather relevant information so as to inform Government decisions on the scope, format and terms of reference of a commission of investigation. The group comprises senior officials from eight Government Departments, the Office of the Attorney General and relevant agencies. The work and approach of the inter-departmental group was adapted to take cognisance of the motion adopted by Dáil Éireann.
I wish to take some time to speak about the report of the inter-departmental group, which demonstrates the complexity of the issues we must consider before deciding upon the terms of reference of the commission. The report of the inter-departmental group on mother and baby homes was laid before the Houses and published yesterday. I wish to record my appreciation of the considerable work of officials in delivering this detailed report within the tight timeframe specified by the Oireachtas. My predecessor, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, received the interim report of the committee in line with the due date of 30 June and its contents, including some updated factual information, were further considered by the Cabinet on Tuesday. In publishing the report, I hope to assist the wider public in understanding the complexity of the issues involved and the challenge in finalising precise terms of reference.
As the report indicates, the group concentrated on some of the more salient records which were accessible to map important dimensions of the issues in the short time available. The information provided mostly draws upon secondary sources, particularly a number of very relevant and relatively recently published social histories, but with some consultation of primary records contained in Department of Health files and the General Register Office. I wish to acknowledge the valuable role currently being played by historians in making their research known to the public. This is of great assistance in achieving an objective assessment, but this must now be added to by the formal process of an inquiry.
In its examination of the treatment of single mothers and their children, the group notes that mother and baby homes have their origins as far back as the 1920s and were a manifestation of attitudes to and treatment of unmarried mothers and their children. However, it is clear that their role and purpose has been the subject of public debate and concern over the intervening period. Those confined to institutions represented only a small proportion of women and girls who became pregnant outside of marriage. The group considers that the institutional features to such treatment cannot arguably be properly investigated without a wider examination of the social history of the period. Figures published by academics show that some 89,247 so-called illegitimate births, as they were described then, were recorded between 1922 and 1973, although the figures recorded were distorted by an under-registration. The rate of illegitimate births as a percentage of total births ranged between 1.6% and 3.9% over the period.
The children of unmarried mothers appear to have fared poorly, even in comparison with the relatively poor general standards of child welfare applying at the time. It has been calculated that the infant mortality rate per 1,000 so-called illegitimate births was at least 3.8 times that of other births. This issue of mortality rates has received considerable attention in public debate and the group reports that the mortality rate for so-called illegitimate births was highest at 344 per 1,000 births in 1923, but it exceeded 200 per 1,000 births in 23 of the 28 years for which data are provided.
The report also highlights the extent of societal changes, medical advances and legislative reform since the establishment of the State. Attitudes changed over the years and, in response, so too, in time, did the institutions. The introduction in the Social Welfare Act 1973 of the unmarried mother's allowance and the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 served to provide some protection for unmarried mothers. The valuable contribution of voluntary and advocacy groups to these changes is noted by the interdepartmental group. The practice of delivery on-site in mother and baby homes fell away over the period, with births increasingly taking place in maternity hospitals. The group notes that the remaining mother and baby homes either closed or evolved into different roles.
The group expresses the view that the particular social and historical issues which the commission of investigation will be asked to explore are likely to distinguish the nature of its investigations from those of many other commissions. Accordingly, the report concludes that a comprehensive historical survey of the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children in Ireland would be of considerable relevance to public understanding. The report suggests the foundation of the State in 1922 as the appropriate starting point for this survey and suggests a potential end point as 1987, when the Status of Children Act 1987 abolished the concept of illegitimacy and sought to equalise the rights of children, including those born outside marriage.
This research module could potentially examine a wide range of institutions, including mother and baby homes, county homes, private nursing homes, homes for infants or children, and Magdalen laundries. Patterns relating to the admission of unmarried mothers into these institutions and the pathways experienced by unmarried mothers and children on leaving such institutions could be assessed to determine the relative significance of these types of institution and the relationship between them. Research on the management and operation of these institutions, including religious and State involvement, and information on the conditions within these institutions and the welfare of those accommodated could add significantly to current knowledge.
An early priority for the group was to compile relevant information on the mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours from 1925 to 1961. Deputies will recall that reports of the presence of infant remains buried on the grounds of this former mother and baby home were the initial focus of public concern. The General Register Office has identified the deaths of 796 children who died at the Tuam home during the 36 years, averaging 22.2 deaths per year but ranging from one in 1958 to 53 in 1947. The report includes details of the wide-ranging reported causes of death and identifies the need for specialist analysis to examine these rates in more detail.
In addition, the report signals the need for detailed investigation into the practices and particular concerns which have arisen in relation to specific mother and baby homes. On the basis of its analysis of accessible records and publications, the group offers a basis for the inclusion in this module of the commission's work of nine specific institutions in which 24,700 births were recorded. The number of children in these institutions would have been considerably higher as many births took place in local maternity units or elsewhere. The institutions are Ard Mhuire, Dunboyne, County Meath; Bessborough, Cork; Manor House, Castlepollard, County Westmeath; Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea; Bethany Home, originally of Blackhall Place prior to moving to Orwell Road in Rathgar; Pelletstown on the Navan Road, Dublin; Tuam, County Galway; Kilrush, County Clare; and St. Gerard's, 39 Mountjoy Square, Dublin.
In its work to identify other potentially relevant institutions, the group reviewed the range of institutions which were registered under the Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934. The scale of this task was demonstrated by the fact that more than 200 locations were identified in a snapshot of files examined by the Department of Health from the records relating to 1949. The group assesses the overall difficulty as being the challenge to identify those institutions which may have played a significant role in relation to unmarried mothers in a manner consistent with the areas to be addressed by the commission.
It is the view of the group that considerable historical research is likely to be needed to establish the role played by particular institutions. This would assist in determining the extent to which a practical methodology could be utilised, based upon the availability of records, to contribute to the overall work of the commission in a timely and effective manner.
The group considered the available information relating to vaccine trials and notes that at least some were undertaken on children in mother and baby homes. A review by the chief medical officer in 2000 provides an overview of the known information related to three trials in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, mother and baby homes were among the institutions from which the remains of 474 infants were transferred to medical schools for anatomical examinations under the Anatomy Act 1832.
The issue of adoption has been raised at many of the consultative meetings which took place between my predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and advocacy groups in recent weeks. In excess of 40,000 adoptions were approved by the Adoption Authority subsequent to the Adoption Act 1952. In the absence of adoption legislation, the placement of children with others before 1952 was much more informal, with boarding out, fostering and de facto adoptions directly or through intermediaries. Natural mothers have strongly disputed the voluntary nature of the consent given to these arrangements in particular cases, even after 1952.
While the commission should certainly look at adoption issues, a commission of investigation is not a suitable or effective vehicle for addressing the interest of individuals in securing access to their own records. An accelerated legislative and operational programme of reform to tackle this important issue to the greatest degree possible is the most appropriate means to progress this matter.
My Department has been working to finalise a general scheme and heads of an adoption (information and tracing) Bill. This is a complex undertaking with important legal issues, including constitutional considerations. While the major issues arising from the mother and baby homes controversy are placing additional demands on the Department's limited resources in this area, it is my wish that this general scheme can be referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children in the autumn of this year and prioritised within the Government's legislative programme.
The Child and Family Agency provides an information and tracing service throughout the country to birth mothers, adopted persons and their families. Work by the agency on the organising and storage of records, including some 25,000 records from the Sacred Heart congregation, has taken place.
The National Adoption Contact Preference Register was set up in 2005 to facilitate contact between adopted persons and their natural families. Participation is voluntary and contact through the register will only be initiated where both parties register. The register is maintained by the Adoption Authority of Ireland and it is intended to put the register on a statutory basis. I am advised that applications to the register have doubled since the announcement that a commission of investigation will be established.
Yesterday I announced that Judge Yvonne Murphy has agreed to chair the commission. I am delighted that such a widely respected person of the calibre of Judge Murphy has agreed to head up this investigation. She has a strong track record in effectively establishing the truth in important and sensitive matters. She is ideally suited to this challenging role. The Government may give consideration to the appointment of further members to the commission but I believe Judge Murphy's agreement to undertake the role of chair of the commission is a positive development in the process to establish an effective and independent investigation.
Considerable momentum has been achieved in the work to establish the commission and I want to maintain this over the coming weeks. The group's report acknowledges the need to learn from the experience and lessons of previous statutory inquiries. The remaining important task is to capture accurately in the terms of reference the precise issues and methods of investigation, together with estimated costs and timeframe.
The group recommends that the commission should not encroach on the terms of reference or duplicate the work of previous investigations, in particular, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. It is my view that establishing the investigation in a manner which allows it to build on what is known should be a core objective of this investigation. I am confident this work will be completed on a timely basis but with due care and attention.
I am sorry for interrupting. Is it agreed to extend the time available to the Minister to complete his speech?
The report acknowledges the absolute need to develop an opportunity for those who were mothers or children in these mother and baby homes to input their experiences. This is recognised as requiring considerable and careful management, taking account of learning from similar processes. The report also notes the need for the confidentiality of sensitive personal information to be protected through appropriate protocols. In seeking to establish the truth, we must be respectful of those who were in mother and baby homes, and their families, many of whom will want to tell their stories and others of whom may want to maintain their right to privacy.
Given the breadth and complexity of the issues involved, as evidenced from the interdepartmental group's report and the range of submissions and meetings, it is now apparent some additional time is required for review of submissions and drafting to finalise workable terms of reference for this investigation. This is a complex task which must be completed to the highest standards. To do otherwise would not be in the best interests of those most concerned or serve the wider public interest.
I wish to again acknowledge the constructive contribution of Opposition spokespersons and Members on both sides of the House with whom I have met. Seeking the widest consensus possible in developing the terms of reference will assist in establishing an inquiry which is capable of effectively addressing these important matters in a sensitive and timely manner. I also welcome the indications of co-operation and assistance which have been forthcoming from church leaders - from the Roman Catholic Church, Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, and John Buckley Bishop of Cork and Ross; from the Church of Ireland, Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough. The previous Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has already met with representatives of a number of key advocacy groups and church leaders, including the Adoption Rights Alliance, First Mothers Group, Bethany Homes Survivors Group, Cúnamh, Adoption Loss, Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. I also hope to meet with Archbishop Jackson and I intend to maintain communication with these groups as matters progress.
All views expressed during these constructive discussions, together with now over 120 submissions received through my Department's dedicated e-mail facility, are assisting to inform the current deliberative process. I am very cognisant of the interdepartmental group’s conclusion that: "Past experience indicates that the finalisation of a draft order providing for the establishment of a commission of investigation must be handled very carefully and precisely in order to ensure the commission is established on the most sound footing possible". The group also suggested precise terms of reference will likely need to specify the institutions and issues to be investigated, as well as to provide for different methodologies and approaches to uncover the truth.
The Government is committed to establishing an effective commission which can deliver on public expectations in a realistic manner. My Department has already discussed and corresponded on preliminary draft terms of reference with the Attorney General and her officials. It is clear precise terms of reference are, ultimately, a critical factor in determining an investigation's ambit, length, complexity, cost and ultimately, its success. I intend to continue engagement with my Government colleagues over the coming weeks with a view to finalising our deliberations on the terms of reference in early course. I then hope to be in a position to bring a memorandum to Government setting out the proposed terms of reference, together with a statement of the estimated cost. I expect to return to both Houses with a draft order to establish the commission early in the autumn. I will continue to liaise with Opposition spokespersons during the course of this process.
The commission which the Government will establish will be the means by which we will achieve the goal, so widely shared, to bring a true and clear picture of this part of our history into full public view. There are challenges inherent in this task but we must organise an effective investigation process to face up to our past where our children were not cherished equally, and most importantly, we must all learn from it.
Fianna Fáil fully supports the decision to establish a statutory commission of investigation into the treatment of women and children at mother and baby homes. This came about following the horrific revelations in the national media regarding the barbaric practices in the mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. We have been consistent in our belief that this matter should be progressed in a non-partisan way, that it be done in a sensitive manner and that the key objective must be to establish the true facts of what happened in these homes.
Yesterday, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs published the interdepartmental group report and announced the appointment of Judge Yvonne Murphy to chair the commission of inquiry. I welcome that in so far as it goes. However, I had hoped that I would be welcoming the publication of the terms of reference for the commission. We were clearly given the impression in regular updates from the Minister's predecessor that they would be published before the Dáil rose for the summer recess. Did the Minister or his predecessor actually draw up terms of reference and circulate them for observation among Cabinet colleagues? Were they shot down by the Attorney General? In any case, we are left with a situation where the terms of reference for the proposed commission of inquiry will not now appear until the autumn. For my part, I hope this is not a delaying tactic designed to give the Government time to condition expectations as to what is reasonable or appropriate for the commission of investigation to inquire into.
In his press statement accompanying the publication of the interim report yesterday, the Minister also drew attention to the issues of cost, saying the terms of reference would have to accompanied by an estimate of the costs, including legal costs, to be incurred by the commission in conducting the investigation and preparing its reports, as well as a timeframe for the submission of the commission's final report to the specified Minister. No one is suggesting the commission should be given a blank cheque. We want to see a comprehensive inquiry, however, that will bring these issues to a satisfactory conclusion that affords closure to all those who suffered and that shows people, both here and abroad, that we as a country and as a people are dealing with the difficult issues from our past.
The fact the Child and Family Agency also published reports yesterday that show the need for more resources to tackle deficiencies under its remit was a notable coincidence. There is a clear prospect now that the terms of reference will be published around the time of the budget when there is obviously strong focus on available resources. I hope the Government is not using this to diminish the scope of the inquiry. If so, the cross-party approach could be jeopardised. This should, after all, be above party politics. There has been significant goodwill and support for the investigation right across society. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, and other bishops came forward in support of this investigation. I hope all the religious will support it. As I said last month, international media reports over the past week have put Ireland in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. The eyes of the world are now on Ireland. How we, as a society, will deal with this issue will indicate how we should be judged internationally.
The conclusions of yesterday's report certainly give the impression there is an anxiety about the prospect of a commission of investigation. It seems more adept at pointing up problems rather than solutions. Certainly, it looks as if the commission will be limited to investigating nine baby homes. The second conclusion talks up the option of using sampling techniques with selection of examples and case studies. The issue of adoption is also downplayed although its relevance is accepted. While the commission cannot itself resolve the issue of records, this should not be used to constrain it looking into the issue.
I obviously agree with the suggestion that an opportunity for those who were mothers or children in these homes to input their experiences should be developed. The report is right to highlight the need for confidentiality in this regard. I hope that it will be as comprehensive as possible and that all those who wish to provide oral testimony can do so. Many women who went through this process and are still haunted by it have been in contact with me. They want nothing more than to have their say and their voices heard.
The final two conclusions of the report are notable for the absence of any mention of the commission of investigation. Instead, the report calls for a survey and an inventory. No one can dispute the value of such work but it should also be relevant to the commission's work. The report acknowledges its work is very modest given the scale of the records, understandable given the time involved. However, the work of the commission must not be modest.
I note some of the concerns I am raising today are shared by organisations outside this House. The Adoption Rights Alliance, while welcoming the appointment of Judge Murphy, cites grave concerns about the interdepartmental report. It points out that the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Charles Flanagan, clearly stated from the outset of this process that there was little point in limiting the scope of a statutory independent inquiry and that it was in the State's interest, as well as that of the tens of thousands of victims, that the inquiry would comprehensively deal with all matters relating to mother and baby homes. The alliance states the report appears to want to rule out any investigation of homes where unmarried mothers were either not present, such as in the case of infant homes, or not the sole residents of a home, as was the case in county homes, erroneously stating their inclusion would risk repeating much of the work of the Ryan commission to inquire into child abuse. The alliance maintains this is simply not true of institutions such as Temple Hill and Stamullen infant hospitals which handled a mixture of children destined for adoption from public and private hospitals, State-funded mother and baby homes, as well as private nursing homes.
They also say that consigning or relegating institutions such as the county homes and the Magdalen laundries to a historical survey sends a very clear message to the most vulnerable, most ignored victims of those institutions, which is that their humanity could be set aside in the past and will continue to be set aside in any investigation, lest it embarrass or financially encumber the State. They maintain that this is a discriminatory approach and suggest that it is indicative of the investigation failing before it has even started. They conclude by saying that: "If the commission of investigation is to enjoy the confidence of the adoption community, it is imperative that the terms of reference are as broad as is necessary and reflect the views of those affected most". I look forward to a response from the Minister in that regard. I hope he sees yesterday's report as a building block rather than a template.
I also received correspondence this morning from the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors. The group indicated concern on a number of matters which I will draw to the Minister's attention. Yesterday's report states: "In relation to lawful burials - as indicated in the Magdalen Report - prior to 1994 there were no conditions applying to burial sites attaching to religious homes and no onus to report or give notification of burials therein to any authority." There is concern that this looks like a blanket statement covering all burials at angels' plots and that the essential message is that there will be no investigation of burial practices. Concern has also been expressed that of two mid-sized holding centres that held babies and children only, rather than mothers prior to giving birth, Stamullen is included but St. Patrick's Infant Hospital in Temple Hill, Blackrock, County Dublin is not included.
The group is alarmed that the report seeks to dodge the issue of closed adoptions with the reference to the old reliable "legal complexities", and that the investigation will not examine closed adoptions as part of the punishment for single mothers and their children, which there is no doubt it was. Reference has been made to the tracing Bill, which is currently going through the motions and is an absolute farce. There is nothing new in the Bill; it simply puts the Department's guidelines in statutory form and copperfastens the lifelong closed adoption system in contravention of Article 7 of the UN children's rights convention. Adoptees, mothers of loss, and survivors in general will be gutted. That is appalling.
While we cannot rewrite history, this investigation, if properly framed with the right terms of reference, would have the opportunity to ensure we have an independent, transparent and factual record of what happened at the homes. This is a sensitive and complex issue and must be addressed in a calm and measured manner. Some of the sensationalist coverage that we saw initially in May and June was not helpful to those affected by mother and baby homes. However, a calm and measured manner should not mean we should lack in ambition in pursuing the inquiry.
In addressing the issues it is important to acknowledge again the hard and persistent work of Ms Catherine Corless, who was determined to get to the bottom of the facts by accessing archived materials in order that the mothers and babies of Tuam could be remembered correctly. Considerable work has also been done by historians in colleges across the country on the history of mother and baby homes not only in Ireland but across Europe. None of the work should be ignored. While the Commission will seek to establish the true facts of what happened over many decades, there is one finding we do not need to await, namely, that we as a State failed in our duty to protect the women who only got pregnant but were treated as outcasts by society. There has been little debate on the role of the fathers. They were treated very differently by society at the time. There was no requirement in law to put the father's name on the birth certificate. That was totally unfair on the women and babies. No doubt, there are some fathers wondering whether their sons and daughters are alive. The truth is that this was just as much a societal issue of the time.
I initially called for a full independent investigation to ensure the full facts could be gathered and the truth of how the homes were run would be made known. We owe it to the women. It is the very least they deserve. We must establish the truth based on the facts. The last thing the women need or deserve is the sensationalisation of what they have already lived through at the hands of their families, society, the State and religious institutions. The women have been wronged and they must have full confidence that if they wish to come forward, they can be assured of compassion, sensitivity and confidentiality and that nobody will judge them. All of the coverage is undoubtedly reigniting feelings which have been suppressed for many years.
For my part and that of my party, we believe the commission of investigation should carry out the following functions. The commission should inquire into the treatment of mothers and children in mother and baby homes, county homes and all residential institutions in which single mothers and their children were accommodated from the foundation of the State. There is a need for us as a society to shed as much transparency and light as possible on the matter. It is only in that way we can bring closure to such matters. Existing archives should be utilised and all records that are requested should be provided to the inquiry. The commission should shed light on the manner in which mothers and children were placed, and the circumstances in which they continued to be resident in mother and baby homes.
Questions must be asked about the existence or otherwise of cover for medical officers and obstetricians from local hospitals, whether there were service contracts and how such people were reimbursed for their services. The commission should hear evidence from mothers and children as to how they were treated during their time in homes: the average length of a normal working day in such homes must be ascertained, how residents were treated, what work was required of them, whether the women had access to education, if they were in locked facilities, whether visitors were allowed and whether corporal punishment was used as a disciplinary measure.
In addition, the commission should seek to establish the extent of the State's role in and knowledge of mother and baby homes and the practices within them. Did the State deliberately and as a matter of policy decide such homes were the appropriate residence for unmarried women and their children? Were explicit directions made to give effect to such a policy? What legislation was invoked to support such decisions? If the State decided either to contract out or opt out of such matters, what mandate did it give to the religious orders for management of the homes?
The commission should inquire into the role of the religious organisations in facilitating such treatment. Clearly, the commission should seek statements from all who worked in such homes. It should also seek to establish how lay staff were employed and on what basis. Furthermore, it should seek to find out the extent to which non-clergy staff were involved in administering the rules and procedures employed in the homes.
We all know now, and it was known at the time, that there was a much higher mortality rate among children in such homes. As the interdepartmental report states: "The children of unmarried mothers appear to have fared poorly, even in comparison with the relatively poor general standards of child welfare applying at the time". The commission must establish the causes of the unexplained high mortality rates. The indications are that they were 40% to 50% higher than among children in the population at large. The question must be asked as to whether medical staff were aware of the high mortality rate and how the rates compared to mortality rates in similar homes across Europe in the same period.
I am conscious that I am coming to the end of my allotted time. The commission should also seek to establish how many mothers died while resident in such homes. The issue of mortality naturally leads to the circumstances of the burial of any deceased children. It has been estimated that hundreds of infants may have been buried in the grounds of the homes. The commission should establish the number of burials. For those children who survived, the inquiry should establish the number of children adopted from the homes, including how were adopted post the introduction of the Adoption Act 1952. It must be examined whether the homes considered being an adoption agency as one of their key functions.
I made a written submission to the Minister on what I would like to see the commission examine. I and my party hope we can maintain the cross-party consensus that has existed to date. I am available to meet with the Minister for most of the summer if he feels that is necessary. The report the Minister published yesterday is useful but it should just be a step on the way. As the spokeswoman for the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors, CMABS, said yesterday: "This is our one chance - our last chance to get justice and closure. Therefore the inquiry needs to be all inclusive".
I believe this is my first opportunity to address the Minister in the Dáil Chamber since he received his new portfolio. At the Oireachtas committee this morning, I wished the Minister success with his new responsibilities and I wish to do so again on the record of the House.
Last month, Sinn Féin tabled a Dáil Private Members' motion in response to the issues raised by the scandal of the Tuam mother and baby home. When the Government indicated that it would establish a commission of investigation with statutory powers, including the compellability of witnesses and over the release of all relevant documentation, we agreed to accept the Government's amending motion and we did not divide the Dáil. We were seeking, and still seek, a united all-party approach in order to achieve the best outcome for the survivors of these scandals and in memory of those who died.
An inter-departmental group was established and its report was published yesterday. To that extent, the process so far has been carried out in good time, although it would have been better had we been able to adopt acceptable terms of reference before the Dáil recess today, as committed to by the former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. The commission of inquiry's terms of reference must be comprehensive and inclusive of all relevant places where mothers and babies were held and where the issues highlighted recently in relation to Tuam arise. I place great emphasis on the word "inclusive". The report of the inter-departmental group sets out a roadmap which, in our view, does not go far enough. The inquiry should not be confined to the nine institutions listed in the report. County homes and Magdalen laundries should definitely be included. The issues of adoptions, involving both Catholic and Protestant institutions, and of vaccination trials should also be included. There is no word of redress of any kind in this report. That too, and much more, must be addressed, as I will set out in a moment. There now needs to be full and immediate consultation with all survivor groups regarding the terms of reference following the publication of the cross-departmental report and the appointment of the remaining members of the commission of inquiry.
We have concerns relating to the appointment of Judge Yvonne Murphy by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, to chair the commission. Judge Murphy was also appointed by the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, when he was Minister for Health to report on symphysiotomy and produced what was, in my view and the view of many, a fundamentally flawed report. It would be remiss of me not to mention that fact, and I am not alone in my view as this point has also been made by the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors. I hope the judge takes note and I hope she takes the right approach this time. For this, of course, much will depend on the terms of reference that are presented to the House in the autumn. It is essential that the Government sets the proper and appropriate terms of reference for the commission of investigation. Its scope needs to be wide enough to cover all the key issues involved in the scandal of mother and baby homes. At the same time, the terms of reference need to be clear and comprehensive, while making possible a timely conclusion to the work of the investigation.
Yesterday, Sinn Féin published its own detailed submission on the terms of reference and composition of the commission based on what was presented to the former Minister. I have spoken to the former Minister and the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, on the matter this week. We will continue to advance these proposals prior to the final determination of the terms of reference by the Oireachtas in the autumn.
I will now set out the main points of our submission. The purpose of the investigation should be to recover and establish the truth, identify any violations of the rights of citizens and their causes, locate responsibility and propose effective remedy. In particular, it should identify whether there are persons, institutions, corporations and State agencies that were culpable in any violations and make recommendations to hold them to account, as appropriate. It must examine and establish how this interlocking institutional system developed and was maintained for so long. It must be in a position to establish whether institutional or State failings in this regard were systemic. However, the underlying purpose of this investigation must be to restore dignity to the victims and survivors and to acknowledge their existence, experiences, importance and place within the Irish national family.
The establishment order, under section 3 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, must specify the terms of reference, under section 5, in order to permit sufficient democratic scrutiny. In other words, it must permit the Oireachtas to propose and debate amendments, if necessary, and to formally record endorsement if possible, or dissent otherwise. The order must also specify that any proposed amendment to the terms, as provided for under section 6 of the Act, must also be brought before the Oireachtas for prior approval. The establishment order must specify the proposed appointments to the commission or any replacements under section 7 for prior Oireachtas approval. It must specify that all appointments to advise or otherwise assist the commission under section 8 must be by way of open, competitive public tender. Appropriate qualifications must be central to these appointments. The establishment order should specify that the conduct of the investigation by the commission, as per section 11, should permit the option of public testimony in the case of survivors and should consider that the public interest test is met under section 11(1)(b) as to the testimony of any witness who is not a survivor electing to have his or her evidence heard in private. In this way, this commission must provide a structure for receiving and examining testimony that is analogous to that of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse and the ongoing historical abuse inquiry in the North - that is to say, before an investigation committee, or investigation and inquiry panel in the case of contested evidence, unless a survivor opts to provide uncontested evidence in private before a confidential committee or in an acknowledgement forum.
The commission must have full compellability powers as to testimonial and documentary evidence. We acknowledge the strong compellability powers of the commission under section 16, reinforced by the offences in sections 18, 30 and 31 and the penalties in section 50. The commission must also have sufficient powers to make findings of fact, conclusions and recommendations, in particular, as to effective remedies both individual and systemic. It must have the power to recommend further public inquiry. It should have the additional power to recommend further criminal investigation and-or civil action. Only if the establishment order can specify the above within the terms of the 2004 Act should this legislation be used.
The cost to the State of adequate representation is an important factor but cannot be allowed to outweigh the right to effective representation to ensure justice and the restoration of dignity to victims and survivors. If properly resourced, an independent witness support and advocacy service to provide support and advice before, during and after the investigation could potentially be provided and managed in co-operation with the network of Free Legal Advice Centres. Any scheme adopted must meet Ireland's international obligations. The commission's terms of reference must capture the all-Ireland, cross-Border and international extent and scope of the matters under investigation. The terms of reference should include, but not be limited to, all mother and baby homes regardless of denomination, including Bethany Home and other Protestant-run institutions, the Magdalen laundries, and the county homes.
We note the position set out in the submission by Justice for Magdalenes and the Adoption Rights Alliance. They state that the commission "should focus on the issue of children born out of wedlock in Ireland since 1922 rather than institutions per se". They also state that this should include, at a minimum, all institutions licensed by and operating under the Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934, institutions operating under the terms of the Public Assistance Act 1939, Magdalen institutions, private institutions and adoption facilitators, "as well as other institutions and arrangements in the State that were involved in the birthing and infant care of children born outside wedlock".
We propose the modification "children born out of wedlock and their mothers" to ensure issues related to the women concerned are fully included. Ideally, the commission should be able to use its discretion to look at any and all relevant aspects of maternity and child welfare since the foundation of the State. The terms should also clearly direct the commission to investigate the responsibility and involvement of the State, including but not limited to local authorities; the Departments with responsibility for health, education, justice and external and foreign affairs; any other public bodies such as the Adoption Board and Adoption Authority of Ireland; religious orders; adoption agencies; academic institutions; and medical professional bodies, including any relevant financial transactions of these bodies and institutions.
We believe the terms of reference should specify in their scope matters including how these institutions were established and run; how the women and children came to reside or be born there, and the numbers involved; infant, child and adult mortality and morbidity rates; adoption practices; nursing, fostering and boarding out practices; vaccine and any other clinical or medical trials and medical experimentation; forced labour and incarceration of unmarried girls and women; general conditions in the institutions, including but not limited to whether treatment of babies and children amounted to neglect; whether there was denial of adequate nutrition and medical care to the women and children; whether age-appropriate education was provided; whether conditions amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; burial practices and burial locations of the unmarried mothers and their children; and cross-Border and international movements of pregnant women, their babies and children.
Within this context, special attention should be paid to the State's regulation and inspection regimes and its statutory responsibilities towards citizens, including under the relevant employment law, adoption law, child protection law, criminal law and procedures and law regarding burials and exhumations. It must also consider the State's responsibilities towards its citizens under international law. Attention should be paid to whether concerns regarding any of the above were raised either during ordinary regulation and inspection duties, otherwise by internal whistleblowers, or by journalists releasing information into the public domain, and what actions were or were not taken by the State in response. Furthermore, any financial benefit flowing from associated institutional practices and their beneficiaries should be identified. Particular attention should be paid to the role of the State in funding or contracting for services from the institutions.
The terms of reference must take account of the cross-Border and international dimensions, including the cross-Border movement of pregnant women and children on the island of Ireland, and inter-state movement of the babies and children born to these women to Britain, the US and elsewhere, for the purposes of either adoption or labour. The terms should permit the commission to establish the numbers involved, what happened to these citizens, the responsible institutions and individuals, and the legislative basis on which they were moved. The terms of reference should also include a methodology for co-operation on these aspects of the investigation between the commission and the ongoing Six Counties historical abuse inquiry, and with the appropriate authorities in other jurisdictions.
I hope the new Minister and his officials, who are a continuum and the same officials I met in tandem with the former Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, will study carefully the Sinn Féin submission and the submissions of all other interested parties, particularly those of the various representative groups. The points contained therein are worthy not only of careful evaluation but also of inclusion in the main substance of the terms of reference which must present here on the resumption. We should aim to come back here in September with the right terms of reference and an inclusive project for the commission of investigation, which leaves none of the victim and survivor groups outside. It is very important, as I stated yesterday at our press conference, that we are speaking about people who were locked away, in some cases for years. What we must not do in 2014 is turn around and lock them out from this process.
The next speaker is Deputy Catherine Murphy, who is sharing time.
I am sharing time with Deputies Boyd Barrett and Clare Daly.
I welcome the publication of the interdepartmental report, which is very much a Civil Service report. I understand it will be a help in forming the terms of reference, but that is all it will be and there will have to be significant political input. I also welcome the fact we have been continually briefed. It is very important that the scope will be wide enough. I understand it must be focused, but it must also be wide enough in order that we do not require further reports. We have had the Ryan, Ferns and McAleese reports, and it is quite damaging to society that we must continually go back. The terms of reference for this must be ambitious to deal with these legacy issues once and for all. It must be powerful and the terms of reference must be very well considered. We are all capable of giving it time to ensure we get this part of it right.
Many countries successfully come from a dark past. Most of these were brutal totalitarian regimes, but our regime was pretty brutal. We need to be courageous and confront the legacy. The Minister is right to speak about looking at society, as it is very important that we have context, although it also translates to current culture. We need to be quite courageous in confronting the legacy of the brutality, misogyny, violence and abuse which appear to have infested the first decades following independence. As we know, it was mostly women and children who were the unfortunate victims. We speak about survivors, and if one happened to be born to an unmarried woman, one had to survive the State.
The Tuam report has prompted this action. What is quite shocking is the statistic in the document produced and published yesterday that of the 1,101 births in the home, 796 died there. I still find it quite difficult to accept the method of burial as it was relayed in the media. Yesterday, remains were unearthed outside Trinity College. We are not sure whether they are human remains, but one can see the difference between the approach taken there and the approach in Tuam, where there is something less than a cemetery. For me it is a potential crime scene and I do not understand why, so many weeks later, we are flailing around on the issue.
We have a tendency to work backwards from problems, and the UN report mentions that redress looks back, rather than putting in place systems to ensure they do not happen again.
Those lessons have to be learned from this because there are current lessons also.
The cost will tell us a lot when it comes to that projection into the future. It will be essential that sufficient resources are put in place to have an archive that is properly resourced and properly run. When we consider how under-resourced the National Archives of Ireland is, it will not be possible to do that there.
I am dealing with a person who is a survivor of the Magdalen laundries. She has been through the whole process and because the records do not support what she is saying, the institution's records are what are believed. Going through that has been a really damaging experience for her. We need to think that kind of thing through. We cannot afford to add further damage by not dealing with the record aspect in a comprehensive way because that is what will allow people to put the jigsaw puzzle together for themselves.
The horror we have learned about regarding what happened in the mother and baby homes represents another dark chapter in a pretty bleak history in the State's treatment of children and women. It is a history of abuse, mistreatment, discrimination, and needless death and mortality. These are the most serious of failings by the State imaginable. Some of the facts that have been revealed about what happened in Tuam are horrifying, including 796 children dying in these institutions; infant mortality rates multiples of what the normal rates in the rest of society were; 474 children's bodies experimented on; thousands of children put up for adoption illegally; mass graves; and bodies found in septic tanks. It is really extraordinary.
While I welcome the interdepartmental report and the Government's commitment to a statutory commission, we need to remind ourselves that this has only come to light - as was the case with the Magdalen laundries, the industrial schools and Bethany Home, which has now been finally included - because the victims of this abuse from this long and dark period of our history fought for years in order to bring those issues to light. They fought against the resistance, indifference and denial of State and church institutions that did not want to know because they did not want to own up to what had gone on. Those groups and organisations are to be commended on that fight because without that fight this would not be happening.
In defining the terms of reference for the investigation to be set up, the Minister must take the lead from those organisations that represent the victims, the people who have campaigned and brought this to our attention. They feel the scope must be comprehensive and wide enough to include issues such as adoption and access to the identities - the lives, if one likes - that were stolen. It must cover all the institutions where people were imprisoned, locked away, hidden away and brushed under the carpet, and with it their identities, their lives and so on locked away, imprisoned and in many cases extinguished.
Much of the commentary in the report suggests we need to understand the history. While I accept we need to understand the history, let us not use history as an excuse to somehow sanitise what went on because all the way along there were people and political forces involved. While I do not want to politicise it overly, in historicising what happened we must remember there were people back then who were arguing against what was going on and the political establishment vilified those people, denied them and tried to undermine them. Let us think about Noel Browne and how the mother and child scheme was shot down by the political establishment and the church in cahoots with each other. We only got rid of the status of illegitimacy in the 1980s; Russia got rid of the status of illegitimacy in 1917 after a revolution, nearly 100 years before. There were people challenging these things all the way along the line and those people were vilified.
It is not just about the past, but also about the present. The situation in direct provision for children is absolutely shocking and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs must look into it. The situation for our youth in mental health services at the moment is shocking also. Children who are suicidal are being sent home or put into adult facilities which are completely inappropriate. This is a scandal. It is not possible to find a bed in a mental health facility for a young person that is appropriate at the moment. These are shocking things that are happening right now. Children are still being neglected and abused and the State does not want to know until it is forced to look into it and admit things. Let us have a Government that is proactive in seeking out the truth about our treatment of children both in the past and in the present if we are to ensure these things are never to happen again.
Yesterday, I received a heart-breaking letter from a woman down the country who had a baby in the 1960s. That baby was taken away from her within minutes of the birth. She was quite ill herself. When she came to and was spoken to, she was told that the baby had died a week later. There was no autopsy, no body and no closure. She is left wondering if he is out there thinking that he is the child of somebody else. We need to remind ourselves that at the heart of all this are human cases, people who have been severely damaged by the actions of this State. Who we are and where we come from are vital questions for many people.
At the committee, the Minister made the point that this inquiry needed to be timely and cost effective, which raised some alarm bells with people. While I accept the investigation is urgent because of the age profile of the people and there cannot be any more delays, it must be inclusive and it must be prepared to expand the terms of reference as it proceeds and situations emerge. We need to get the balance right in that regard and some of the groups are concerned in that context.
One of the biggest problems that has already been flagged is that there seems to be a Chinese wall being put between the investigation into the homes and the issue of adoption. It is repeatedly said that adoption will be addressed in the new legislation; it will not. Adoption information and tracing legislation will not in any way deal with the illegal and criminal activity that took place with these forced adoptions, much less hold people to account. That is one of the biggest problems with how things seem to be emerging that we need to address early on.
It must investigate the issue of illegal adoptions which were facilitated through the homes, the religious institutions and the State - in particular the Department of External Affairs, which provided passports for illegally registered children to leave this country and be given to others. We should not allow the role of the Adoption Board to be excluded. From what we are reading so far, there is not an adequate grasp of the impact of forced and illegal adoptions, and that has to be addressed. What is required is a truth-finding investigation that gets to the heart of things. Mr. Paul Redmond, from Adoption Rights Now made the point that it is worrying that the only mention of illegal adoptions was to kind of sanitise them by calling them illegal registrations which he said was like comparing an armed robbery to an unauthorised withdrawal. It does not take it into account seriously enough.
It is the case that much of the information in respect of Tuam and what emerged there was known. The first inquiry into abuse, the Carrigan report, was undertaken behind closed doors in the 1930s and was covered up. Mike Milotte wrote about illegal adoptions 17 years ago, with supportive evidence on all these matters and again it was well known.
I must also mention the United Nations Human Rights Committee hearing in Geneva this week, at which Sir Nigel Rodley made a point regarding the extent of the social issues in Ireland, to which he referred as being "quite a collection". That collection in many ways involves women and the State's attitude to women and their sexuality in all sorts of ways. Moreover, this continues to this day, where the State fails to deal with abortion in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities. In that sense, I understand why people would have asked for an international person to take charge of this investigation. I echo the points made by Deputy Ó Caoláin and would be worried about Judge Murphy. I acknowledge the Minister made the point at committee this morning that she is the chair, that it is open to her to bring others on board and that the Minister would favour international involvement. It should be a requirement that this should be done because the United Nations has disagreed with the conclusion of her report on symphysiotomy, particularly that it did not hold anybody to account.
In the future, the question of whether this inquiry will work will depend on the level of ongoing engagement the Minister is prepared to make in working with the survivors' organisations. That will be the key in this regard. Many points have been made as to what has been excluded and obviously, the county homes and Magdalen laundries must be included, as must the vaccination trials. Thus far, there has been no mention of criminal prosecutions, of the religious orders being dealt with regarding the amount of money that was made by selling these babies and I note the omission of what has been called the second layer, in between the mother and baby homes and the Magdalen laundries. The role of holding centres and hostels must also be included as, critically, must many of the issues concerning adopted people.
In a final point, I echo Deputy Catherine Murphy's remarks on the burial and Angel plot aspects of this issue. There is no reason that memorials and these plots cannot be developed in tandem with the work being done in this investigation. The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors summed this up by stating its determination that no one would get left behind. It concluded by stating its members mean it, which they do. This investigation must be comprehensive and expandable and must be survivor-led as otherwise, there will be reports into the future.
Two weeks ago, I met my younger sister for tea across the road in the Merrion Hotel. It was an unusual day, but not because neither of us had taken the time to have tea in the very posh Merrion Hotel. It was unusual because it was the first time we had ever shared a pot of tea. Before that day two weeks ago, I had never laid eyes on my sister. Each of us was adopted from a different mother and baby home into different families and eventually, we ended up living in different countries. Sitting together, we looked like sisters but we did not talk like sisters. Where other sisters in our age group have shared experiences and a shared family history, we just have had a long gap in our lives. I never played childhood games with this sister. I never fought with her over toys. We never skipped together or climbed trees. She was not handed down my old clothes. We did not go to school together or to discos and nor did we fight over boys. She does not know my children and I have never met hers. We look very alike but thus far, that is the only aspect of our lives that we share.
What of our shared mother? I know, from the documented experiences of many women of her era, that women who bore more than one baby in a mother and baby home frequently were obliged to serve time in a Magdalen laundry. Perhaps our mother managed to avoid such a sentence by not choosing the same home twice for her confinement. The evidence, however, is that most women in her circumstances would have been made to pay their penance by toiling for years in one of Ireland's notorious laundries. Research carried out by the Magdalene Name Project and published just last week shows that in the year I was born, more than 60% of the Magdalen women, that is, six women in ten, whose names were recorded as inmates in two Dublin laundries subsequently also were recorded on headstones in Magdalen grave plots. These women did not leave the laundries alive.
My sister and I feel lucky. We were both adopted as babies into loving families but not everyone born in a mother and baby home was so lucky. The morning after I met my younger sister for the first time, I had the pleasure of meeting three beautiful intelligent women who had spent their entire childhood and teenage years to adulthood in religious-run institutions. They were born in the 1960s. Their fathers were doctors and black while their mothers were Irish and white. These mixed-race Irish children were not considered by the church or the State to be appropriate candidates for adoption. Their stories of racial discrimination, physical abuse and mental abuse are truly shocking. Having heard their stories and other stories from survivors and victims of abuse in Catholic institutions and Protestant-run institutions such as the Westbank Children's Home in Greystones in my constituency of Wicklow, I know I have been lucky.
I also am lucky in another important sense. As a Member of this House, I have the freedom within this debate to add my story to the public record. Many other people with similar backgrounds to mine had intended to come into the House at 4 p.m. for this debate and would have been barricaded behind the glass partition of the Visitors Gallery. They have not yet been offered the opportunity to have their voices and stories heard. Their stories, and what the future Ireland can learn from them, are the reason this commission of investigation is so important. Their stories, like my story and that of my sister, demonstrate why this must be a broad and all-embracing inquiry. The mother and baby homes, the adoption processes, the Magdalen laundries, the private nursing homes, the county homes, the church hierarchies, the religious organisations and the State all are part of a very large jigsaw puzzle that must be considered in its entirety. Until this is done openly, honestly and comprehensively, the gaps in the lives of families all over the country cannot begin to be filled.
I made a submission on the mother and baby commission to the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Charles Flanagan. He had professed a genuine interest in the subject and gave me certain commitments about his prioritisation of much-needed adoption legislation concerning both historic and modern day adoptions. One such commitment was to hold committee hearings into both closed and open adoption practices as part of the process. He told me that I would be invited to these hearings because as the Minister probably is aware, I recently introduced into the House my own Bill on open adoption, which has not yet been debated. There is a legitimate public concern about the recent turnover of Ministers in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and in that context, I would welcome a commitment from the Minister to give the issues discussed here today his top priority. I acknowledge he has done that. This is one of the last items on the agenda before the House enters its summer recess and I hope it is one of the first items to which Members will return. Moreover, if the Minister needs any help over the summer months - I was delighted to hear he will be working over the summer to make sure he returns in September with the terms of inquiry - I will be available all summer to give him any assistance I can.
This is one of the most important issues with which this Dáil must deal. Members must get it right but they also must get it done. They must be sensitive and respectful and must ensure international best practice guides the investigation. It is imperative that survivors are provided with legal advocacy representation and all documentation and evidence that currently is at risk of destruction must be secured with urgency by the commission. The State should apologise. There should be an official memorial and a framework for effective redress and survivors, their next of kin and advocates should be directly involved in this process at all stages. The final report's findings must be published.
These critical matters require urgent clarification from the Minister and the Government. Full cross-party support exists and no obstacle should stand in the way of allowing the commission of investigation to get under way with the critical task of fully uncovering the truth and establishing the evidence of how the State failed in its duty of care to protect its most vulnerable and defenceless citizens, which now must be faced up to and justice served. This commission of investigation must command the full confidence of the survivors of these institutions, as well as the affected families and next-of-kin.
By extension, it will only be able to command full public confidence when this has been achieved.
All Members of the Oireachtas should lay aside partisan interests and co-operate on what must be our common objectives in this process, namely, providing truth, justice, support and healing for the victims and survivors and ensuring lessons are learned and sufficient preventative measures are in place to protect similarly vulnerable people now and in future. Only when these criteria have been satisfied will we be able finally and collectively to close this chapter of Irish history. The urgency of getting this process right cannot be overstated. We do not want to find ourselves having to repeat the process in future, either because a deserving group of victims or survivors was left out or a relevant issue or factor was excluded from the terms of reference for the sake of temporary expediency or to shield a culpable individual or group.
The State has been repeatedly criticised at home and by the United Nations for its failure to date to conduct effective and timely investigations that fully comply with international human rights standards and provide adequate redress for victims, as was the case with the McAleese inquiry. Let us, therefore, come together to agree a process over which all concerned can stand with pride and on the basis that justice was ultimately and unquestionably served, despite being unreasonably delayed for decades.
This issue also has cross-Border and international dimensions, which must be taken into account in setting the terms of reference and making appointments to the commission. The purpose of the investigation should be to recover and establish the truth, identify any violations of the rights of citizens and their causes, locate responsibility and propose effective remedies. In particular, it should identify if there are persons, institutions, corporations or State agencies who were culpable in any violations and make recommendations to hold them to account, as appropriate. It must examine and establish how this interlocking institutional system developed and was maintained for so long. It must be in a position to establish whether institutional or State failings in this regard were systemic. However, the underlying purpose of this investigation must be to restore dignity to the victims and survivors and acknowledge their existence, experiences, importance and place within the Irish national family.
Sinn Féin has concerns about the appointment by the Minister of Judge Yvonne Murphy to chair the commission of investigation. Judge Murphy was also appointed by the Minister when he was Minister for Health to report on symphysiotomy and produced a report that failed to provide a means to achieve truth and justice for the victims of that barbaric practice. Given the concerns raised by several United Nations bodies regarding State failures to investigate properly and provide effective remedies in compliance with its international treaty obligations in the case of the survivors of the Magdalen laundries and in light of the international dimensions of the issues that will come before it, the commission of investigation should be led by an international judicial figure with relevant expertise. If more than one member is to be appointed, as I hope will be the case, at least one member should be an international judicial figure or other expert in international human rights law.
The commission of investigation must have full compellability powers in respect of testimonial and documentary evidence and sufficient powers to make findings of fact, conclusions and recommendations. It must also have the power to recommend further public inquiry and should have the additional power to recommend further criminal investigation and-or civil action. Only if the establishment order can specify these requirements within the terms of the 2004 Act should this legislation be used. The terms of reference should include but not be limited to all mother and baby homes regardless of denomination, including the Bethany Home and other Protestant run institutions, the Magdalen laundries and the county homes.
We propose modifying the terms of reference of the commission of investigation to include "children born out of wedlock and their mothers" to ensure that issues related to the women concerned are fully included. Ideally, the commission of investigation should be able to use its discretion to examine any and all relevant aspects of maternity and child welfare since the foundation of the State. The terms of reference should also clearly direct the commission of investigation to investigate the responsibility and involvement of the State, including but not limited to local authorities, the Departments of Health, Education and Skills, Justice and Equality, Foreign Affairs and Trade and other public bodies such as the Adoption Board, Adoption Authority of Ireland, religious orders, adoption agencies, academic institutions and medical professional bodies, including any relevant financial transactions completed by these bodies and institutions.
In this context, special attention should be paid to the State's regulation and inspection regimes and its statutory responsibilities towards citizens, including under the relevant employment, adoption, child protection and criminal laws and procedures and law regarding burials and exhumations. It must also consider the State's responsibilities towards its citizens under international law. Furthermore, any financial benefit flowing from associated institutional practices and the beneficiaries therefrom should be identified. Particular attention should be paid to the role of the State in funding or contracting for services from the institutions in question.
The terms of reference must take account of the cross-Border and international dimensions, including the cross-Border movement of pregnant women and children and inter-state movement of the babies and children born to these women to Britain, the United States and elsewhere for the purposes of adoption or labour. They should permit the commission of investigation to establish the numbers involved, what happened to the citizens in question, which institutions and individuals were responsible and the legislative basis on which people were moved. They should also include a methodology for co-operation on these aspects of the investigation between the commission of investigation, the historical abuse inquiry in the North and appropriate authorities in other jurisdictions.
The commission of investigation must be survivor centred. Full inclusion of survivors and their next-of-kin and representative and advocacy groups must be central to the inquiry at all stages of the process. We note and welcome that the Minister has made a positive start in this regard.
All who went through these institutions deserve a fitting public tribute. Provision must also be made for official mourning and commemoration of those who died in these institutions. This must specifically include the right to a name and dignified burial for those who were buried anonymously and in mass graves. Consideration should be given to establishing a national monument and local monuments and museum sites to provide for commemoration and education for this and future generations. Survivors, their families and next-of-kin and their representatives and advocates must be fully included in all stages of the process of planning for this.
Given the age profile of the survivors, a timely and full public State apology is of the utmost importance. It is not necessary to wait for the outcome of the commission of investigation's final report before doing so. Sinn Féin urges the Minister to take the opportunity presented by this debate to issue an apology.
I extend best wishes to the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, in his new portfolio. Through his experience in the Department of Health, he had considerable involvement in issues pertaining to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and, as such, he will be in a position to hit the ground running. He has moved to an important Department and I wish him well in his new role.
I commend Deputy Anne Ferris on her contribution and the dignity and articulacy with which she recounted her personal story. I have no doubt that in doing so, she will provide strength and support to many others who have experienced similar circumstances. She showed great strength today and on previous occasions that she spoke about this issue.
I welcome the establishment of the commission of investigation and extend good wishes to its chairperson, Judge Yvonne Murphy, in her role. The terms of reference of the commission of investigation must be published promptly. They must be comprehensive and cover all the issues pertaining to the mother and child homes. We must ensure light is shone on what occurred in these homes, the circumstances in which many people came to be in them and how the mothers and children in them were treated. The commission of investigation must assess the impact confinement in these homes had on the lives of those concerned. The State must acknowledge this and support the survivors as they continue their lives.
Coming from a Border constituency, I particularly want to emphasise the importance of ensuring that the experience of many mothers and children from the Republic, who were resident in mother and child homes in Northern Ireland, will be included in the investigation's terms of reference. In many cases there were referrals from mother and child homes in County Donegal to such homes in the North of Ireland. Many children were brought up and spent much of their early lives, until their teenage years, in such homes. I realise that there is a difficulty with cross-jurisdictional issues, but it is important that they too should have a light shone on their experience. They were born in the Republic, yet were referred to homes outside the State. Although it may be more difficult to do so, it is important to ensure that equal attention is paid to their experiences through this inquiry.
As regards the State's experience of these homes and their role, it is easy at this remove to look back and abhor many of the practices that may have taken place at the time. We should acknowledge, however, that society turned a blind eye, tolerating and going along with the system. While this commission of inquiry has been established to assess what happened and how we failed people, we should also examine any current situations where we may be standing over practices which, in 20 or 30 years time, may not be looked upon kindly. We should bear in mind how we treat those applying for asylum and ensure they receive the human dignity and respect they merit. Unfortunately, however, many of those who went through the mother and baby homes were not afforded the dignity they deserved.
Earlier in the debate, Deputy Clare Daly referred to the importance of identity, background and knowing where one comes from. Having a sense of belonging is so important. Given the past experience of adoptions, a current issue which merits a policy assessment is that of sperm donation. In 20 or 30 years time, citizens of this country who may have been conceived through sperm donation will be unable to trace their parents, unless the current policy is altered. We should reassess that policy now in order to ensure that situation does not arise in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years time. We must look to the future and ensure the we value the right of citizens to know such details.
I wish the Minister well with this matter and I urge him to publish the terms of reference as soon as possible.
I also wish the Minister well and hope he enjoys his new portfolio more than the last one.
This week, Ireland's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was examined by the UN Human Rights Committee. The State was found wanting across a range of areas but the committee reserved some of its most severe criticisms for Ireland's record on women's rights. Given the events in Geneva, I am surprised and concerned by the Government's decision to appoint Judge Yvonne Murphy to chair this commission of investigation. Members will be aware that the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group unanimously voted to reject Judge Murphy's proposed redress scheme. The survivors' group stated that "Each woman deserves to know that her voice has been heard by those in authority".
In a move reminiscent of Martin McAleese's treatment of the Justice for Magdalenes group, Judge Murphy took no account of the testimony offered by survivors of symphysiotomy. The group's chairperson, Marie O'Connor, was even more critical in her statement to the UN Human Rights Committee, stating:
The scheme is based on the official lie that these operations were medically acceptable. It forces women to waive their legal and constitutional rights before they know the outcome of this State's process. There is to be no independent board, women will have no right to independent doctors, nor will their lawyers have a right of audience.
The UN committee also expressed serious concern about the redress scheme drawn up by the judge. It asked the State whether the scheme, presented by the Government as a solution to the problem of survivors, is compatible with Ireland's obligations under international human rights treaties. The Government's decision to appoint Judge Murphy will not give the women involved any confidence that this matter will be dealt with properly, satisfactorily and in accordance with international human rights standards.
The committee also raised the issue of the Magdalen laundries, asking why the State refuses to investigate the abuses in these institutions head on. The Human Rights and Equality Commission made a clear recommendation that the laundries should be included within the scope of the inquiry into mother and baby homes. This recommendation has been supported by the Justice for Magdalenes group and their arguments are hard to ignore. They point out that the McAleese report only looked at State involvement and did not investigate abuse in the laundries. They have highlighted the fact that the institutions are inextricably linked to the issue of adoption. If this investigation is to look into adoption practices and related issues, the final report will have a gaping hole if the laundries are not included.
In a recent article on the subject, Justice for Magdalenes committee member, Maeve O'Rourke, also points to the Government's comments to the UN Committee Against Torture, where it stated there is no evidence of abuse in the laundries. Ms O'Rourke wrote: "The fact that the Government's position on the international stage is that systematic torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, did not occur in the Magdalen laundries is reason enough for these institutions to be included in the upcoming commission of investigation". I would ask the Government to take a serious look at the detailed submissions on this matter, both by Justice for Magdalenes and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, when developing the terms of reference for this inquiry.
I have not had a chance to read in full the report of the interdepartmental group on mother and baby homes, published yesterday. However, I am concerned that this report is laying the groundwork for making the scope of the investigation as narrow as possible. The references to the cost of previous inquiries are troubling. I also have serious questions about the way in which the survivors of the homes will be included in the process. Both the McAleese and Walsh reports were heavily criticised for ignoring the testimony of survivors. Is the Government prepared to learn from these mistakes?
The mother and baby homes, Magdalen laundries, symphysiotomy and abortion rights all come down to the fact that, historically and up to the present day, the State has had a fundamentally misogynistic attitude to women. This expresses itself most severely when it comes to female bodily autonomy and women's sexuality. All of the women affected by these issues have been horribly wronged by the State. We cannot undo the damage that has been done but, at the very least, we must give them truth and accountability.
Comhghairdeas, Minister, and my very best wishes for the new role.
Initially I thought it was a pity that the terms of reference were not ready for today but I accept there is a vital need to get them right. I do hope that in the coming months that will be done, so there will be greater clarity on those terms of reference when we come back after the recess. I want to acknowledge the work of support groups and individuals who have been working tirelessly on these matters over the years, pursuing justice for the women and children involved, both in Ireland and abroad.
While work on the terms of reference continues during the recess, there will be an opportunity for officials to meet those groups in the interests of justice and getting it right. We are talking about a dark time in our history when there was little or no regard for women and children, especially those from poorer backgrounds, as well as others with mental health issues and especially children born outside marriage and their mothers.
The men are missing from that picture having not accepted the responsibilities of fatherhood. The men in the picture were responsible for putting daughters, wives, mothers and sisters into the institutions.
It is also an opportunity to learn from the mistakes and omissions of previous inquiries. There were drawbacks to both the McAleese and Ryan commissions. All parties need to be involved, and all documents must be released. I supported the inclusion of the Magdalen laundries in light of evidence uncovered by Justice for Magdalenes and the oral testimony that babies were born and nursed in the Magdalen laundry in Sean McDermott Street. Justice for Magdalenes uncovered Department of Health archives and biannual reports which contained information on 26 children in the Tuam baby home between 1953 and 1958 whose parents are recorded as a mother in a Magdalen home or mother in the Galway Magdalen home. The records for Galway and Mayo county councils also note that children were maintained at Tuam. We know that it was State policy in 1933 that unmarried mothers who had given birth for the second time would be transferred to a Magdalen laundry. There were connections between the Magdalen laundries, the mother and baby homes, the auxiliary homes and the county homes and hostels. However, while calls have been made for the inclusion of all of these institutions, two of the organisations most directly involved, Justice for Magdalenes and Adoption Rights Alliance, have taken a slightly different approach by calling on the commission to focus on the issue of children born out of marriage in Ireland since 1922 rather than on the institutions of themselves. They have identified various fields of inquiry, as follows: infant mortality rates in light of concerns that the rate of infant mortality was higher in the homes than in general society; issues of vaccines and medical experimentation, including the denial of adequate medical care; forced placing of unmarried girls and women who had given birth or were seen to be at risk of giving birth; the conditions for women and children; and the use of punishment, in which regard the McAleese report has been criticised.
I have seen evidence that homes were involved in adoptions to the US, including correspondence between the homes and the Department of Foreign Affairs, which makes for grim reading. A focus on these areas will bring the commission into the various institutions involved. We do not want to see inaccuracies or gaps after this commission has completed its work. The McAleese report found that 61% of known entries spent less than one year in Ireland's ten Magdalen laundries but the names project carried out by Justice for Magdalenes cast serious doubt on this finding through a comparison of electoral registers with Magdalen grave records. This research identifies issues pertaining to exhumations at Hyde Park and records for the Good Shepherd Laundry in Cork, among other matters. The McAleese report did not make findings on treatment and I think that is owed to the women who were in the laundries. This criticism should be heeded and, in particular, the voices of those who were affected must be heard. These include the surviving women and children, as well as those who have campaigning on the issue over many years with the aim of uncovering the truth. Although we are ashamed of what happened in the past, we cannot be afraid of facing the truth. It may be a cliche that truth can set us free but that is what we owe to the women and children concerned. They have been denied the truth about their identity for too long.
I wish the commission well in its work over the coming months and hope that the job can be done properly and comprehensively. It has to be independent and have statutory powers to compel evidence. All records must be made available and examined by trained archivists or historians. The process must be transparent, sensitive and, above all, accountable. We have to face up to the past and accept what happened.
I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. I appreciate the input and support from colleagues on all sides of the House in our consideration of this sensitive issue. I also acknowledge the valuable work carried out by a number of historians and advocacy groups, which has informed the public debate on the issue. In particular, I commend the research undertaken by Ms Catherine Corless which brought these matters to public attention. The report of the interdepartmental group will make an important input into the Government's deliberations on the scope of the commission's work but, as one Deputy noted, it is a building block rather than a template. It is appropriate that we should place the report into the public domain in order to provide wide access to the factual information that the group was in a position to compile in the relatively short time available to it. The report will also serve to inform and stimulate further debate on the relevant questions in regard to the mother and baby homes.
The range of matters to be investigated, as raised by Deputies, will be considered as part of the Government's deliberations on the commission's terms of reference. The calls to include a range of institutions are also being considered as part of this work. Judge Yvonne Murphy's agreement to undertake the role of chair of the commission is a very positive development in the process of establishing an effective and independent investigation. I am personally well disposed to an international presence on the commission but this would require a decision of the Government. We will consult on that matter over the summer. Consideration may also be given to the appointment of further members of the commission as the terms of reference are drafted. It will also be open to the commission, in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Act, to appoint persons with relevant expertise to assist or advise it. A considerable number of expressions of interest in supporting the work of the commission have been already received by my Department from persons with a broad range of skills and experience. These expressions can now be passed on to Judge Murphy for her consideration.
I share the concern that if the cost of a commission investigating past pregnancies is to fall on today's children, and particularly the most vulnerable, the Government's response would be counterproductive. However, that is not a reason for not establishing a commission with terms of reference that are broad and thorough enough to provide a thorough understanding of the issue while at the same time being precise enough to allow for a timely and cost effective outcome. I acknowledge that people are concerned by perceptions that we are trying to limit the inquiry. In my view, that would be counterproductive in terms of excluding any group because it would only lead to further problems down the road. The terms of reference will have to be carefully set in order to achieve the outcome that the people, this House and the Government desire. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will consult the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform when compiling the estimate of costs and, more generally, providing for the establishment of the commission on the most cost effective basis. We want to ensure the moneys available to us are spent on services rather than prolonged commission deliberations. The terms of reference will have to be thorough, inclusive and precise to ensure we get a full understanding of these matters.
The task of establishing the commission will be further advanced in the coming weeks and it is in everyone's interest that it completes its work in a timely manner, with due care and attention. I will continue to engage with Opposition Deputies in finalising arrangements. I intend to complete the task of developing comprehensive and precise terms of reference in a timely manner and I expect to return to both Houses with a draft order to establish the commission early in the autumn.
Deputy Troy may not have been aware that the Department has had to revise its approach to identity and tracing following the advice from the Attorney General. The approach is now to ensure that people have access to as much birth information as possible, and this will be reflected in the new heads when they are brought to the Committee on Health and Children. It is our intention to do this in the autumn.
I have said the report is not a template, as that was a concern. I echo the point raised today that all these children had fathers and it is important that consideration is given to their role. We will ensure there is a level of engagement with all the survivors who wish to come forward and we will ensure the stories of survivors will not just be told but will be heard.
I thank Deputy Anne Ferris for her offer of assistance and the very dignified way in which she made a contribution today. On a lighter note, I can say to Deputy Wallace that I enjoyed being Minister for Health and I hope I will enjoy being Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I know already I will enjoy it every bit as much because it is a very important area that reaches into every other Department. I cannot think of anything more important than the safety of our children and their future well-being. I wish to correct a remark which Deputy Wallace put on the record erroneously. With regard to symphysiotomy it is not true that women would not know the award they would receive before waiving their rights to go to court. They would have the information and make a decision based on it, which is only right and proper. That is now a matter for the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar.
I reiterate my argument that the voices of those affected must and will be heard. The interdepartmental group will continue in place to help with the monitoring and gathering of required information. I reassure the House and all those affected that the Government wants a commission that delivers what people want in a timely fashion in order that we can identify and understand the issues comprehensively and move to a point where those affected can have some sense of closure. I echo the comments of others that we certainly cannot undo the wrong done in the past but we can bring some closure for those who are still with us.