Leaders' Questions

Last year, a commission of inquiry was established into the Tuam mother and baby home following the outstanding work of historian Catherine Corless, who has been instrumental in uncovering and revealing a very dark period of and dark side to our history. As the Taoiseach knows, the commission's investigators have uncovered a significant number of infant and toddler remains. We now know that up to 796 infants and toddlers lost their lives in this home and were buried in unmarked and unknown graves. There is an enormous sense of shame that such a phenomenon was allowed to happen in this country, with such appalling treatment of women and of children. The State, the church and, indeed, wider society remain culpable for the extraordinary cruelty visited upon many young women and, obviously, upon infants and children, who were considered to be lesser people within society.

In many ways, the ongoing work of the commission must also inform the current and future treatment of children. As I said, it reveals an appalling attitude in regard to women, to the stigma that was associated with becoming pregnant outside of marriage and to the treatment of children. It is also revealing in the context of the phenomenon of institutionalisation and the dangers of institutionalisation as a means of addressing issues. We had it in our mental health institutions for decades and in the industrial schools and, as is now clear, in the mother and baby homes.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that he intends to issue a formal State apology on behalf of all of us and on behalf of the State to all of those affected by such practices? Does the Taoiseach agree that there is a need for a dignified commemorative memorial so that these children can be remembered with dignity? Will the Taoiseach confirm that there is a need for the widening of the scope of the inquiry to cover mother and baby homes across the country? Above all, there is a need for lessons to be learned from this in terms of how we deal with children.

As we speak, 2,500 children are homeless or living in hotels. We know that there is a chronic lack of social workers to deal with children at risk in our society. We know that there is a chronic lack of therapists - be it speech and language therapists, physiotherapists or occupational therapists - right across the country, as well as a lack of psychologists. Most Deputies are frustrated by the long waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, for young children who need access to mental health facilities now. In the midst of all of the outrage and genuine shock and shame, there needs to develop a resolve on behalf of Government and this Oireachtas to, once and for all, comprehensively address the shortcomings and gaps in services for children in this country by comprehensively investing in such services. That is the only way to deal with the list of current shortages I have outlined. Does the Taoiseach agree with that?

Tuam is not just a burial ground, it is a social and cultural sepulchre. That is what it is. As a society in the so-called "good old days", we did not just hide away the dead bodies of tiny human beings, we dug deep and deeper still to bury our compassion, our mercy and our humanity itself. No nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children. We gave them up to what we convinced ourselves was the nuns' care. We gave them up maybe to spare them the savagery of gossip, the wink-and-elbow language of delight in which the "holier than thous" were particularly fluent. We gave them up because of our perverse, in fact, morbid relationship with what is called respectability. Indeed, for a while it seemed as if in Ireland our women had the amazing capacity to self-impregnate. For their trouble, we took their babies and gifted them, sold them, trafficked them, starved them, neglected them or denied them to the point of their disappearance from our hearts, our sight, our country and, in the case of Tuam and possibly other places, from life itself.

We are all shocked now. If the fruit of her religious and social transgression could be discarded, what treatment was meted out to the transgressor herself? We had better deal with this now because if we do not, some other Taoiseach will be standing here in 20 years saying, "If only we knew then, if only we had done then". What will be his or her then is our now. Now, we do know. Now, we have to do. All of us in this House must do so together.

This commission of investigation has completed some of its work and has carried out the physical excavations on this chamber of horrors in Tuam. What is now needed is some reflection on the processes required. There is an independence for the coroner. There is an independence for the Garda. There is a duty in terms of the local authority. Obviously, those whose siblings and families were affected are distraught. There is a role for the coroner in north Galway to consider what steps may be necessary and appropriate in accordance with his statutory functions. The commission has not made formal findings yet. What it has done is complete the physical excavation, so we now know that there are substantial remains of very young children in this spot.

We need to have some little time to reflect on the issues that Deputy Micheál Martin has raised. Clearly, the fact that we set up a Department of Children, a Ministry for children, the Child and Family Agency and held a referendum to enshrine to rights of children in Bunreacht na hÉireann speaks for the direction in which the Government wishes to go.

I would like to think I could answer "Yes" to all the Deputy's questions now but I respect the independence of both the Garda and the coroner in respect of the progress that must be made in the next steps. Yes, we are all shocked. Yes, let us do something about it then.

The real fitting memorial to those dead children would be resolve to ensure that, in the future, people will not look back on today and say the State did not act comprehensively. There are effectively 2,500 homeless children. I mean these remarks sincerely. With regard to mental health, there is not a Deputy who does not have a file containing the cases of a number of children with mental health challenges who are facing inordinately long waiting times to gain access to child and adolescent mental health services. We know that families of children with autism cannot avail of respite anymore. I have visited many disability centres and service providers. They are really frustrated beyond comprehension. They have essentially given up on getting any resources to deal with families who need respite and other services. We know about the therapies for children but they are not happening. Deputy Thomas Byrne will be tabling a motion tonight on the National Educational Psychological Service. There are many potential scandals arising right now and we should not be waiting for some future period or generation to shine a light on them in 20 years. It will simply be too late. There will be no point in shock and horror in 25 years if the State could have intervened now in respect all the services I have outlined, the absence of social workers, in particular, and the under-resourcing of Tusla in respect of young children and teenagers in real danger of physical and mental harm because of their particular circumstances.

There is an opportunity – I hate using that phrase – for a once-in-a-generation paradigm shift and to ask, before we do anything in the next budget, whether we can comprehensively deal with services for children. This would be an appropriate response in addition to everything else we must do in response to the revelations in Tuam.

Sure, I would like to think we could reflect seriously on this as the preparations for the economic statement of the Government and the preparation for budget 2018 begin. Of course, we spent many years trying to get agreement in respect of the National Maternity Hospital. It is now done and agreed. We have been 50 years talking about children's facilities. I am glad the decisions have been made in respect of the National Children's Hospital.

Deputy Thomas Byrne was perfectly entitled and right to raise the issue of the psychological services. As the Minister will reply, clearly the number of special classes has doubled since 2011, from 548 to 1,153. The number of resource teachers has increased by 41%, from 5,200 to over 7,500 now. In 2011, the number of SNAs was increased by a further 22%, from 10,500 to 13,115. These are very substantial improvements in the issues that surround children in that particular area.

The Deputy mentioned waiting lists, child and adolescent mental health services, homelessness and mental health. These are all serious issues. That is why, in respect of homelessness, there has been investment at an unprecedentedly large scale to make what we desire happen. Deputy Micheál Martin is only too well aware of the reasons for the collapse of the entire construction sector. No matter what we do, there still has to be supply to cater for numbers. In 2030 and beyond, we will have to provide a further 5,000 homes and there will be an increase in the population of 1 million. Where are they going to live and work and how are we going to transport them? Together, we can look at the bigger issues of this country given what happened in the shadows, in the limbo, even in my own years on this earth, which number slightly more than those of Deputy Micheál Martin. Clearly, these are issues that were in the shadows and limbo-land for years.

I commend Catherine Corless for her painstaking work, which has unveiled another sad legacy of the past in this country. I wish to deal with this and I hope that when the process has been completed with the coroner, the Garda, the local interests and the local authority the Oireachtas can focus, for once and for all, on dealing with these sad legacies of the past that unfortunately impinge on the sensitivities and personal lives of people through their tragedy and on the siblings who have had to bear with it.

Maidin Dé hAoine thug an coimisiún fiosrúcháin ar na háras máithreacha agus naíonán sonraí maidir leis an tochailt a rinneadh níos luaithe i mbliana trínar tháinig ar méid substaintiúil de thaisí daonna ag sean-suíomh an tí máthar agus linbh i dTuaim, Contae na Gaillimhe. Coirp leanaí agus páistí ar aois suas go trí bliana a bhí ann sna taisí seo. Cuireadh ansin iad gan chúram, gan aitheantas agus gan suaitheantas. Go bunúsach, cuireadh iad i dabhach shéarachaís gan meas a thabhairt ar a ndínit daonna nó ar a suaitheantas. Tá a fhios againn uilig gur cúis náire é don náisiún seo.

Ó fuarthas na coirp seo, deimhníonn sé na heaglaí is measa a bhí ar na daoine a tháinig slán as na tithe seo agus ar na daoine atá i mbun feachtasaíochta ar a son le fada. Ba chóir adhlacadh ceart measúil a thabairt do gach corp daonna a fuarthas ansin, más é sin atá á lorg ag na teaghlaigh. Ba chóir dul sa tóir ar na daoine atá freagrach as seo agus iad a thabhairt os comhair na cúirte as na gníomhartha gránna seo a dhéanamh.

Is láthair coire atá sa suíomh i dTuaim anois. Mar sin, cad é atá á dhéanamh faoi seo anois? An bhfuil an láthair faoi chosaint ag An Garda Síochána? Go háirithe, an bhfuil básanna na leanaí and na páistí óga seo á bhfiosrú ag an nGarda Síochána? An bhfuil na hachmhainní atá de dhíth an an nGarda ann chun an fiosrúchain sin a chur i bhfeidhm? Sin a bhfuil an pobal ag lorg agus ag súil leis agus caithfidh sé a tharlú gan mhoill.

Tá an pobal ag súil fosta go ndéanfaí téarmaí tagartha an choimisiúin fiosrúcháin a leasú dá réir. Nuair a cuireadh na téarmaí os comhair na Dála seo, dúirt muidne i Sinn Féin go raibh siad lochtach agus nach raibh siad fóirsteanach ach go hiomlán mí-fhóirsteanach. Is léir an méid seo uilig anois. Tagann na Náisiúin Aontaithe leis an seasamh seo agus iad ag rá nach mbaineann an fiosrúchán mar atá sé na caighdeáin idirnáisiúnta amach agus nach gcomhlíonann sé na caighdeáin sin atá leagtha síos.

Níl i dTuaim ach ceann amháin d’institiúidí as líonra dóibh a tháinig salach ar chearta ban agus a bpáistí sa Stát seo. Tá a fhios againn anois, nuair a chuirtear na tithe contae san áireamh agus forais eile, go raibh suas le 180 institiúid san iomlán ar fud an Stáit. Sna téarmaí tagartha mar atá siad faoi lathair, ní dhéanfar imscrúdú ach ar cheithre cinn de na tithe contae.

Tá sé ríthábhachtach go ndéanfar téarmaí tagartha an choimisiúin a leathnú sa dóigh is go mbeidh achan institiúid - tithe máthar agus linbh, tithe contae agus institiúidí eile ina measc - clúdaithe. Seo an t-aon bhealach teacht ar an fhírinne fá na dóigheanna diabhlaí a cleachtaíodh i dTuaim, a bhfuil muid anois níos eolaí faoi. Caithfimid é a dhéanamh go luaithe agus caithfimid na téarmaí tagartha a leathnú sa dóigh is gur féidir coimisiún Uí Mhurchú fiosrúchán iomlán a chur i gcrích.

Impím ar an Taoiseach go gcuirfidh sé ina luí ar an Aire Leanaí agus Gnóthaí Óige go bhfoilseoidh sí an dara tuairisc idir-thréimhseach an choimisiúin. Tuigim go bhfuil an tuairisc sin ag an Aire ó bhí mí Mheán Fómhair ann. Ba chóir go mbeadh an tuairisc sin foilsithe inniu.

Is é an chéad rud atá le rá ná gur cheart go mbeadh cuimhneachán ceart do na leanaí agus na gasúir óga a fuair bás san áit seo i dTuaim i gContae na Gaillimhe. Tá dualgas neamhspleách ag an gcróinéir agus ag an nGarda faoi chéard atá is ceart agus is cóir a dhéanamh as seo amach. Tá sé sin á phlé faoi láthair. Ba cheart go mbeadh dlúthcheangail ann le daoine na háite, san áireamh iad siúd atá ina gcónaí ansin agus iad san a bhfuil gaolta acu a bhí san uaigh seo, ó thaobh cibé cinneadh is féidir a dhéanamh chun an rud is fearr a dhéanamh.

Níl an coimisiún críochnaithe lena chuid oibre. Níl déanta acu ach an uaigh seo, an suíomh seo, a oscailt agus a rá go bhfuil neart agus go leor corp de leanaí agus gasúir inti.

Ag teacht as sin bhí cruinniú ag an chomhairle contae an lá cheana, 3 Márta. Iad siúd atá ina gcónaí cóngarach don uaigh seo, bhí ceangailt pearsanta le chuile duine acu. Bhí fógra curtha isteach go chuile teach go raibh cruinniú speisialta ar siúl. Bhí cuid de na daoine atá ina gcónaí ansin i láthair ag cruinniú sa halla i dTuaim. Bhí cathaoirleach an chomhairle chontae, na baill tofa den chomhairle, duine éigin ón Oireachtas agus iad siúd atá ag obair le chomairle chontae na Gaillimh ann. Is éard a bhí le plé acu ná céard is ceart a dhéanamh as seo amach agus cén stádas atá ag an uaigh seo. Is dóigh liom gur cuireadh beannachtaí ar an uaigh seo go minic sna blianta fada roimhe. Céard is cóir a dhéanamh leis an struchtúr agus le nadúr an tsuímh seo? Céard is cóir a dhéanamh leis as seo amach? Céard is ceart a dhéanamh dóibh siúd a bhí inti? An gá, mar a dúirt an Teachta, go mbeadh socraidh fhoirmeálta acu in áit éigin oiriúnach?

Céard é ról an choimisiúin as seo amach? Níl a chuid oibre críochnaithe. Níl déanta acu ach cuairt a thabhairt ar an suíomh. Céard é ról an chróinéara, An Garda Síochána agus fiú an chomhairle contae féin? Céard is cóir a dhéanamh leo siúd atá ina gcónaí go díreach cóngarach don uaigh seo? Céard atá i gceist ó thaobh an chuid ama a chaithfidh na húdaráis ag déileáil le seo? Mar a dúirt mé, níor mhaith liom cur isteach ar obair an choimisiúin. Níl sé críochnaithe. Tá dualgas agus neamhspleáchas ag an chróinéir agus ag na gardaí. Is ceart go mbeadh dlúthcheangailt idir iad, na daoine atá ina gcónaí ansin agus iad siúd a bhfuil gaolta leis na gasúir agus leanaí a fuair bás anseo. Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh an tAire Leanaí agus Gnóthaí Óige i dlúthcheangailt leo an t-am ar fad agus go mbeadh a fhios ag gach duine sa Teach seo céard atá ag tarlú chuile lá, más gá é sin.

Tá cúpla ceist agam don Taoiseach. An fhoilseoidh an tAire Leanaí agus Gnóthaí Óige an dara tuairisc idir-thréimhseach an choimisiúin atá faoi bhráid an Aire ó mhí Mheán Fómhair ann? Ba chóir go mbeadh an tuarisc sin foilsithe inniu. Sin an chéad rud.

An dara cheist a chuir mé ar an Taoiseach ná an bhfuil na hacmhainní cuí ag na húdaráis, An Garda Síochána ina measc, fiosrúchán cuí a chinntiú? Tá dualgas ar an Stát cinntiú go bhfuil na hacmhainní acu. Tuigimid go bhfuil siad neamhspleách ón Stát agus go bhfuil jab le dhéanamh acu ach tá dualgas orainn fáil amach an bhfuil na hacmhainní acu.

Bhain an triú cheist nár fhreagair an Taoiseach leis na téarmaí tagartha. Labhrann sé faoin fhírinne agus dúirt sé go gcaithfimid teacht go dtí deireadh an scéil seo chun an fhírinne a fháil amach, ach faoi mar atá sé, tá na téarmaí tagartha leagtha síos agus fúthu ní bheidh imscrúdú á dhéanamh ar suas le 160 arásáin institiúid ar fud an Stáit. Tá 180 institiúid ann, ach níl ach ach ceithre cinn leagtha síos i dtéarmaí tagartha na scrúdaithe. Tá gá ann, mar a dúirt mé ag an am, iad a leathnú.

Tá rud amháin deireanach le rá agam leis an Taoiseach. D'éist mé leis an méid a dúirt sé ní ba luaithe. Dúirt sé nár bhris na mná rialta isteach inár dtithe agus nár ghlac siad ár linbh agus gur thugamar suas iad. Tuigim, b'fhéidir, nach sin a bhí i gceist ach chuir an Stát cuid de na mná sin go dtí na hinstitiúid seo. Ní dheachaigh siad isteach dá dtoil féin. Chuir an Stát isteach iad.

Mar a tá fhios againn ó thaobh an tí i dTuaim, bhí ról lárnach ag an Stát. Cheadaigh an Roinn Sláinte an institiúid seo mar áras máithreacha agus naíonán sna 1950í agus roimhe sin. Fágfaidh mé leis seo: chuala mé an méid a dúirt an Taoiseach agus an samhnas maidir leis an méid a thit amach do na páistí agus na linbh ansin. Ach an dtabharfaidh sé leithscéal ar son an Stáit do máithreacha agus teaghlaigh na bpáistí atá curtha sa chóras séarachas ansin? Tá dualgas ar an Taoiseach níos mó ná samhnas a léiriú: tá dualgas air leithscéal a ghabháil mar gheall ar an ról a bhí ag an Stát sa phróiseas scannalach seo.

Ní leithscéal atá i gceist anseo ar chur ar bith. Luaigh an Teachta an dara thuairisc agus go léireodh an tAire Leanaí agus Gnóthaí Óige an cheist sin. Is cóir go mbeadh na hacmhainní ag an nGarda agus ag na húdaráis eile. Caithfimid fanacht go mbeidh breithiúnas déanta ag an gcróinéir agus ag an nGarda ar na ceisteanna sin. Ní hé seo an t-aon áit amháin ina bhfuil siad ag cuartú agus ag déanamh fiosrúchán maidir le leanaí nó gasúir óga a bheith curtha in uaigheanna ar fud na tíre.

Tá fhios agam go bhfuil na téarmaí tagartha leagtha amach. Tá i bhfad níos mó ná an ceithre cinn seo ar fud na tíre. Mar a dúirt an Teachta, tá 160 i gceist. Nílim chun cur isteach ar obair an choimisiúin anseo. Is fíor go bhfuil áiteanna eile agus go dtabharfar iad isteach san áireamh anseo.

Cinnte tá ról ag an Stát anseo. Cuireadh isteach sna hinstitiúidí agus sna Tithe seo iad. In éineacht leis sin, cuireadh neart de na mná óga seo, na máithreacha óga seo, thall go Sasana, díbríodh amach as na paróistí iad - rud scannalach ar fad – mar bhí siad ag breith linbh. Díbríodh na mílte le blianta go dtí Meiriceá, go Sasana agus go hAlbain. Bhí sé scannalach ar fad an tslí a bhí daoine ag maireachtáil an t-am sin agus na difríochtaí sóisialta a bhí idir iad siúd a bhí acmhainní acu agus iad gan acmhainní.

Go macánta, ní mhiste liom cur isteach ar obair an choimisiúin. Tá an cuartú déanta. Tá ról ag an gcróinéir agus ag an nGarda agus go deimhin ar an údarás áitiúil. Ba mhaith liom go ndéanfaidh siad cinneadh faoi cad is cóir dóibh siúd a dhéanamh. Tabharfaidh muid freagra ón Rialtas ansin. Ní mhiste dom cur isteach ar rud atá neamhspleách agus ról acu.

Intermittently the name "Grace" has been mentioned in this Chamber. Deputy Deasy has campaigned with compassion and determination to bring her story to light. Daniel McConnell, Fergus Finlay, Colm Ó Mongáin and others have done much work they can be proud of too. Over the weekend we heard more about the appalling mismanagement of Grace's case. On the "This Week" programme, it was revealed that the HSE did not contact the Garda about making public the two reports into Grace's care until three years after those reports were completed.

Yesterday, we heard for the first time from Grace's mother. She was a young single mother in the late 1970s. The Taoiseach has referenced that sort of person and the attitude of this country to that sort of person in his previous replies. She kept in touch with the South Eastern Health Board and regularly called for updates on her daughter's welfare. Here we have a young woman who was reassured that Grace was happy attending day services in a loving, caring home. As she said yesterday, "that made me happy knowing that she was happy and that's what I was made to believe".

The State failed a young woman. Along the way whistleblowers were cast aside. Visible bruising and sexualised behaviour were ignored.

This young woman was abused, beaten, denigrated and the State acted as a facilitator. For eight years, Grace's mother has gone through a living hell, knowing the level of depravity that was meted out to her defenceless daughter. For all of that time, the State agencies concealed the full extent of the truth from her. The greatest harm, of course, was done to Grace herself.

Apologies for historical ill-treatment have become more commonplace in recent years. Yet, here we stand again today. Apologies repeated over time lose their impact and their meaning. Historical recrimination and remorse can sometimes conclude in a line in the sand, but not in this case. Grace was not protected until 2009, while reckless endangerment was made an offence in the State from 1997. The Children Act 2001 created an offence for any person who had custody, charge or care of a child who wilfully allowed a child to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned or exposed in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to the child’s health or well-being.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry will cover the care received by all children in this particular foster home? Conor Dignam recommended under the heading, “Care and Decision Making in respect of Others”, a commission should investigate a range of matters broader than the Grace case. These included all claims made in the protected disclosures that gave rise to the inquiry, the care received by all persons placed in that foster home, including whether they suffered abuse and whether the Health Service Executive knew, and the use of this placement by another unnamed person. The proposed terms of reference must not seek to shut the door on these matters, or, at least, try to postpone the proper inquiry to a later date.

Second, will the Taoiseach explain to the House whether a criminal investigation into this case is now under way?

This is another horrendous case. It is an appalling case of a young life with the challenges which Grace faced. I listened to the voice of her mother this morning, as many others did. The Deputy and I, and everybody else, have a duty to sort this. Are we continuously to stand here to deal with the consequences of the sins of those who went before us? I thought we had come to within sight of the end of these but obviously not.

The Deputy asked two questions. My understanding is that there is still a criminal investigation going on. There was some confusion about whether that would be disruptive of these reports being published. The matter has been cleared and they have been published in redacted form.

The second question the Deputy asked was in respect of the recommendation of the Dignam report that there may be others in this foster home for whom there should also be an investigation. I can inform the Deputy that the Cabinet approved both the order to come before the House and the terms of reference which will be brought through by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. These were fully approved by Cabinet today.

One of the conditions of the terms of reference will deal with the question the Deputy asked. Without taking from the Minister’s opening statements on this, in respect of any facts established by the investigation’s terms of reference, it will also allow for the specification of the scope of any further investigations which the commission considers to be warranted in the public interest. This would have regard to the facts and information established in its possession, including the report by Conor Dignam SC in his review of certain matters relating to a disability service in the south east of 29 August 2016 and his recommendations regarding the areas to be examined by a commission of investigation, which were referred to in chapter 4 of his report, including care and decision making in respect of others, which was referred to in pages 306 and 307 of his report.

The intention is to deal, in the first instance and as the Minister will outline, with the horrors inflicted on Grace and the answers to the many questions that the Deputy and so many others have asked. I commend Deputy Deasy, who is not in the Chamber but who raised this matter on a number of occasions. I also commend Deputy McGuinness, who also raised it. The terms of reference allow for an expansion, if that be considered appropriate, by the commission, both arising from the facts and information it has and taking into account what Mr. Dignam, SC, said in his report.

Grace was the person longest resident in this foster home - she lived there for 20 years or more - but she was probably also the one least able to complain. She is still not in a position to give her account of what happened to her. Meanwhile, there are 47 other directly contemporaneous witnesses. It simply makes no sense that this should not be all taken in one investigation if there are contemporaneous witnesses who will be able to cast light in a way that Grace unfortunately will not be able to do. An article in The Irish Times requests that the commission "will be given the authority to expand and intensify the investigation". An RTE report states that it should specify the scope of any further investigations the commission considers warranted. Will the Taoiseach tell us specifically what are the terms of reference in regard to the 47 other individuals who were also notionally under the care of the South Eastern Health Board or the HSE and placed in this particular home?

I do want to go through all of the terms of reference that the Minister will outline-----

Just those in regard to the 47 other individuals.

----and that will obviously be published. They are set out in 11 different sections and are quite detailed. They take into account the circumstances, the actions, the purpose and the questions that so many people have asked about this matter. My understanding is that the Minister, in making his announcement, will be able to confirm that the sole person in charge of this investigation will be able to do the job quite expeditiously in respect of Grace and, hopefully, answer all of these particular questions.

As I said to the Deputy, one specific term of reference deals with the report on the review of the services in the area by Conor Dignam, SC, and allows for that to happen. Obviously, there is a process involved, as the Deputy will know, but the commission will have the capacity to expand beyond the Grace case if it considers that is warranted based on the evidence it gleans, on the facts that it has and the information that it obtains. From the Minister's point of view - and that of Grace's mother the first matter to be dealt with is that case and all those issues that were raised on so many occasions over the years.

Yesterday, Peter Mulryan stood in the High Court trying to establish what happened to his sister - was she trafficked or was she buried? As the same time, the Taoiseach's Minister, Deputy Noonan, stood outside the old Barringtons Hospital in Limerick welcoming the new addition to the Bon Secours empire, the biggest private hospital empire in this country. I argue that this empire was built on the bones of the dead Tuam babies. I am sick of listening to Ministers - including the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, on radio at the weekend - saying that we are all responsible for what happened in Tuam and that we are all responsible for the legacy. That is not the case. What happened in Tuam was paid for by this State in the form of a headage payment for each child, as if they were cattle or sheep. The mothers who were forced to go in there, or their mothers who put them in there, did not ask for them to be starved to death, to be neglected to death, to be buried unbeknownst to them or to be trafficked to America. The headage payment involved for the trafficking of each child to America was between $2,000 and $3,000 at the time. A lot of money was made out of the babies of the mothers who went into mother and baby homes. It was systemic abuse. It was abuse that involved the State and the church working together.

What are we going to do about it, Taoiseach? The first thing we should not do is to stand outside the latest addition to the Bon Secours empire and celebrate its completion two days after this report was published. How obscene.

The first thing we should do - I call on the Taoiseach to do this with me - is ask the Bon Secours order to reconsider its position and disband. It has no moral authority to remain an order in this country. To that end, I call on all communities in which there are Bon Secours utilities - in Limerick, Cork, Cavan, Dublin and Tralee - to stand outside those hospitals at 6 p.m. this Friday in a dignified protest, bearing white ribbons in memory of these children and calling on the order to disband. This was a system of abuse and a network of buildings, institutions, organisations, orphanages, Magdalen laundries, mother and child homes and industrial schools and the State knew exactly what was going on inside them. Then, to add insult to injury, the State, through a deal done in 2002 by the former Fianna Fáil Minister, Michael Woods, indemnified the church to the tune of €128 million, while the State has paid €1.5 billion in restitution for the abuse that has happened because of the church. In order to really do something about the future, we must drop the Woods deal, get rid of it immediately and make the church pay not just for a memorial to the children but for every penny in offence it has caused the families and survivors. We must send a clear signal that the days of abuse of women and the obsession with their pregnancies and bodies are over. To do so, I call on the House to support my Bill, to be considered tonight, to end the 14-year sentence for abortion in this country. It is obscene that we have that provision and it must go.

I am therefore asking the Taoiseach to do three things: to join me in a call for the Bon Secours order to disband today, to support the Bill tonight and to call on people to gather in a dignified, quiet manner at the Bon Secours institutes on Friday night to remember these children and ask the order to go.

The Bon Secours hospitals in this country have given thousands of instances of exceptional care to people and patients who needed them.

They did so for people who have money.

The case of Tuam is the subject of a commission of investigation. Serious numbers of babies' and young children's remains have been uncovered. It is important to allow the independent commission set up by this Oireachtas to do its work. As I pointed out to Deputes Martin and Doherty, there are independent responsibilities in respect of the coroner and the Garda, and the local authority has engaged very intensively with the local community. As the Deputy is aware, a court case is ongoing in respect of Mr. Mulryan and I hope it will be possible for him to find out what happened to his sister so many years ago.

The essence of the Deputy's Bill, which concerns the question of abortion and which will be considered this evening, is to reduce the penalty for an abortion carried out unlawfully in this country to a fine of €1. The point has been made to me very powerfully and very graphically by a number of people that in seeking to change the legislation enshrined in the Constitution, the Deputy is saying that if, for instance, somebody kicks his pregnant partner and kills the baby she is carrying, he is to be guilty of a fine-----

That is an outrageous comment.

-----of €1.

No. He can be charged with assault.

We can deal with that tonight.

That is a pathetic comment. The Government is punishing women.

The Bon Secours hospitals are the biggest private health provider in this country. They have an accumulated profit of €74 million and have on their hands the bones of the dead children of Tuam. If we are serious about putting behind us the legacy of what happened in the mother and baby homes, the very least we should ask this order to do is disband and write itself out of the history books of this country. We also have the continued abuse of women because of our abortion laws, and Vera Twomey is outside Leinster House now with Deputy Gino Kenny seeking access to health care for her very sick child. The abuse of women and children has not stopped and has been outlined time and time again in this Dáil.

Is the Taoiseach aware the church has offered to pay back €480 million because of the scandals? It has actually paid back €211 million and the State has paid €1.4 billion. When will the church, with all its lucrative lands and wealth, be made to pay back? When will we get it out of our lives, out of our beds, out of our hospitals and out of our schools? The way to do that is to start by calling on the Bon Secours to disband, to pay for a memorial as a fitting tribute to those children and their families and to pay for the High Court cases of the likes of Peter Mulryan, who has had to go to the High Court to find out what happened to his sister.

The House debated and considered this previously. We set up a commission of investigation. It has a function. It has not completed its work by any means. It has uncovered and located substantial numbers of babies and young children in this particular location and there are others. The commission will make its formal findings and they will be brought back here and the Oireachtas will reflect on that.

The Deputy mentioned Ms Twomey, who is meeting the Minister for Health today for the fifth time. The Minister has made it very clear that in respect of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of patients or people who might have recourse to it, it requires the authorisation of a prescription. While an application for prescription is being made here, that is not to be taken as authorising a prescription. He gave the details of that last week. He is talking again to Vera and her family. I met her myself in Cork just a fortnight ago. The paediatric neurologist is required to make an adjudication here. I am not putting pressure on the medical profession. There is a process there. The Minister has already arranged a meeting of the committee under Deputy Harty to discuss this matter today. I think it is probably over by now. He is meeting with Ms Vera Twomey-----

Whatever the Taoiseach does, he should not answer my question. Will the Taoiseach call on the Bon Secours to reconsider its position?

Deputy, please.

The Taoiseach did not answer my question.

The Deputy raised------

Deputy, please.

That is why I am asking the Taoiseach questions.

The Deputy raised the point about Vera Twomey being outside the gate.

What is the point of this session? It is Leaders' Questions and we get no answers.

Deputy, please.

The Deputy raised it as part of her question and said-----

The fundamental question I asked is whether the Taoiseach will ask the Bon Secours order to reconsider its position in the country.

The Taoiseach is responding.

The Deputy chose------

Will the Ceann Comhairle ask the Taoiseach to answer my question?

I am asking Deputy Smith to calm herself, please.

Deputy Smith chose to raise her question in the course of which she said that Deputy Gino Kenny was outside the gate with Mrs Twomey.

That was not my question.

The Deputy did ask the question. It was part of the overall question.

I replied to that by saying the Minister is meeting her for the fifth time today in an effort to deal with this and has called the committee together under Deputy Harty's chairmanship. The question of bringing forward the legislation for compassionate distribution of medicinal cannabis is being brought forward. It will still require a prescription to be signed off by a paediatric neurologist.

Nice one. The Taoiseach is politician of the year, managing not to answer a single question.

Deputy, please.

Why does the Taoiseach not answer a Deputy's question?