Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements (Resumed)

Recent confirmation that a significant number of babies and infants were buried at the site of the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam reminds us how inhumane our country's history is. Fianna Fáil and I express our most sincere sympathy to all those affected by the mother and baby homes, particularly those women and children who were sent there by their families, which was, unfortunately, accepted by society then.

From the outset Fianna Fáil has been of the view that the terms of reference for any investigation should be sufficiently flexible to allow the stories of the widest possible range of institutions to be told. Fianna Fáil will engage with survivor groups to discuss the terms of reference and assess how the process can be best progressed. The treatment of mothers and children in these institutions is a dark chapter in our country's history. We must learn from our mistakes and we need to ensure there is a proper child protection environment for children today. Our hope is that the investigation under the direction of Judge Yvonne Murphy can contribute in a meaningful way to this process and that the work can be expedited.

The most important focus we must have is on the mothers and babies. These mothers, babies and families must come first and be our sole focus. Fianna Fáil recognises the considerable harm experienced by survivors of mother and baby homes and similar institutions in Ireland. The shock and horror of seeing the names, like a roll call, of the 796 babies buried in the mother and baby home in Tuam is incomprehensible - 796 babies aged between 35 weeks to three years buried, some in graves but most, we believe, in septic tanks. It is hard even to say the words. These children died of whooping cough, bronchitis, pneumonia and malnutrition. It is very hard to believe that children could die of hunger. These mothers and babies were separated at birth and torn apart, with some of the babies adopted and some sent to America for a better life, we hope.

I understand much of what I am saying was repeated last night when we were discussing the amendment to the motion, but this is my first opportunity to put this on the record. These babies, these mothers and these families need the ongoing commission of investigation into mother and baby homes to complete its work in a timely fashion. The mothers need the truth. They need to know why their babies died, whether their babies were adopted and, if so, what happened to them. They need closure. These women, siblings and families need to know what happened. They have lived too long waking every day wondering what happened to their babies. I spoke to a woman affected recently. What happened to her baby is the first thing she thinks of in the morning and the last thing she thinks of going to bed. All they want is closure. If there is a grave, she wants to be able to visit the grave; if there was an adoption, she wants to know. She just needs to find out the truth. Having spoken to some of these women, I can say that the most important thing is that they be told what happened to their babies.

I believe a truth commission is necessary. It should be carried out in a manner that complements and does not infringe upon the ongoing commission of investigation. This will be done in co-operation with survivor groups to ensure the truth commission is solely focused on the needs of survivors, who must come first in this. The truth commission needs to be established following international best practice and guided by similar commissions in South Africa, Chile and Canada. The views and experiences of all survivors of mother and baby homes will have to be listened to, respected and acknowledged. We need to bring healing and reconciliation to survivor communities, the broader public, communities and the State.

In the 1970s, Tuam locals discovered what were believed to be human remains at the site of the mother and baby home. Furthermore, local historian Catherine Corless discovered death records for 796 babies and infants who did not have burial records, indicating that the remains found on the site may have been buried by the mother and baby homes. The work this lady has done is immense, and I pay tribute to her. In her own words, she was a kitchen-table historian. She shunned the limelight. It is not that she was happy to bring this story out, she just needed to know what had happened. She has spoken about her time in school as a child and the fact that the children from the mother and baby homes used to come in ten minutes after the other children and used to leave ten minutes before they went home in the evening so they were not allowed to mix. She has also recalled that they were always very pale-looking and that they never played with one another at playtime, so the segregation was happening even then. We owe Catherine Corless a great debt of gratitude as she has persevered all this time to try to bring closure to these people. As my colleague, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, said last night, this is not only about Tuam. This is about all the mother and baby homes, community hospitals and laundries all over Ireland. Tuam is only the tip of the iceberg and, unfortunately, I think a tsunami of cases similar to that of Tuam are coming down the road.

Excavations show that the remains are of children whose ages of death were between 35 foetal weeks and three years. It is not yet known how many remains are at the site, although the Minister has confirmed that there is likely a significant number. At this point, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is co-ordinating with the commission, the north Galway coroner, Galway city and county councils, interested parties and local residents in establishing what the next steps should be. A number of factors will continue to be examined, including whether the remains should be exhumed; if so, where they should be reinterred; the future of the site; and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the children interred at the site. This deeply saddening discovery reaffirms even our worst suspicions about mother and baby homes and underscores the importance of the ongoing commission of investigation into mother and baby homes across Ireland. Without rigorous examination of how women and children were treated during and after their ordeals in mother and baby homes, it is impossible to serve justice to all those affected by the homes. We must ensure that the stories and experiences of these women and children are not forgotten and that their memory is honoured.

As Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin said last night, we must be cognisant of the fact that Sunday coming is Mother's Day, which for many mothers, aunties and grannies is a very significant day, and that, unfortunately, for the past month, we seem to have been standing here speaking about horrific stories, from the Grace case to the mother and baby homes. If the only thing we can ensure is that this never happens again, it will be a job well done. Before we can move forward as a nation, we must turn to the past and recognise its implications for today.

The next slot is Sinn Féin's. I presume either Deputy McDonald or Deputy Ó Snodaigh will take it. It is in the name of Deputy Funchion, but I will give-----

Perhaps Deputy Funchion is on her way.

Deputy McDonald may proceed.

It goes almost beyond the constraints of our vocabulary to find the right words to describe the shock and horror all of us felt on hearing of the discovery of human remains at Tuam by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. As shocked and horrified as we have been, many of us were not wholly surprised. As a mother, a citizen of this State and a human being, I am outraged that our most vulnerable young little citizens, those who were most in need of the protection of the State and its institutions and whose care was often left in the hands of the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, were so cruelly let down and disposed of in such a disgraceful, undignified and disrespectful way. I am not alone in having these sentiments. The anger of people is palpable. This latest horror perpetrated against these little innocents is just one more scandal in what has been a litany of unfolding scandals. It has left society numbed to some extent. Of course, we cannot afford to be numb, because the consequences of this cruelty live with us now.

I see Sheila in the Visitors Gallery. Perhaps she will give us a thumbs up. Sheila is just one of many dignified, wonderful people who are not so much victims but who describe themselves as survivors of what was a horrific system of abuse. It was perpetrated by many agencies, including the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant churches. All of it happened in, and was overseen by, the State. We need to get our heads around that. Yes, private institutions and individuals absolutely must be held to account for their actions, but it was the State that funded, regulated and oversaw this horrific system of abuse. Therein lies the big scandal. Did society go along with the prevailing views around women and their children? Yes. Did families go along with that? Were they coerced and bullied into those views? Absolutely. However, if we are serious about dealing with these issues we must not miss the fact that the defining actor or player in all of this was the State. The State allowed this to happen.

It was known that abuse was happening in institutions. It was known that babies were being taken from their mothers and being trafficked. I use that word advisedly. The records of debates in the Dáil reflect the fact that it was known, as do media reports from that time. The most essential point for us, as public representatives, Members of the Oireachtas and human beings, is to acknowledge that the principal accountability must be sought from, and provided by, the State. I make that point strongly because there is a danger that the agencies of the State will retreat behind the guilt of other parties and private institutions. That will not cut it. It is not good enough.

We know the history of neglect and abuse of women and girls in many institutions such as Magdalen laundries, mother and baby homes and county homes, not to mention industrial schools. The fascinating and almost morbid element is that to get the full picture of what was going on under the nose of the State, and sponsored by the State, we must not just investigate what happened in individual institutions but also understand the interplay between those institutions. It was not at all unusual for a woman who had been in a Magdalen laundry to be subsequently in a mother and baby home or a county home. It was also not unusual for those individuals to have come from, or for their offspring to spend time in, industrial schools. I know from my work dealing with people that it is also not unusual to find that later on many of these people have spent time in and out of prison. In fact, I know people - I call them the institutionalised class in our Republic - whose entire human experiences as citizens of this Republic were spent bouncing from one institution to another, never being given the supports or opportunity to recover. I am sure my colleagues in the House are aware of the same scenario.

These institutions deprived women and children of their liberty, forced them to endure harsh conditions and ground them down in a mill of physical and emotional abuse. What more horrors have yet to be uncovered? More importantly, what can we do now? I appreciate that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, is absolutely committed to doing the right thing. The least we can do now is afford to the women and babies, the victims and survivors, the respect and dignity that have been denied to them for so long. The response of State agencies to the discovery of the mass grave has been inadequate so far. That site and other equivalent sites, such as at Sean Ross Abbey, Bessborough and Castlepollard, must be preserved and protected. I believe all human remains found at the site must be recovered, although I realise there are mixed views on that subject. An appropriate and respectful burial is central to our atonement to these victims. The Garda Síochána must have the appropriate resources and approach in investigating the deaths and potentially appalling crimes.

Victims and survivors have travelled a long and arduous journey. It is only due to their tenacity and persistence that we find ourselves at this point. Catherine Corless has been vindicated. Her dedication and commitment led to this discovery. The work of survivors and campaigners, such as Sheila who is watching this debate, will undoubtedly continue. I commend to the Minister our proposal for a truth commission. It is an all-encompassing approach that allows for testimony, witness, ensures the protection of evidential material and allows people to have appropriate representation where that is deemed necessary and fitting. Let us stop doing this in a piecemeal way and examine it in its full scale. We commend to the Minister the truth commission that we described in our Private Members motion last night. I hope the Minister and the Dáil will support it.

The next speaker is Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, who has five minutes.

I have to say I find this whole issue extremely distressing, as do huge numbers of people. As Deputy McDonald has already done, I want to pay tribute to those who have campaigned for truth and justice on this issue. I am glad that we are at least close to the moment of vindication for those who suffered and died at the hands of the Bon Secours order in Tuam and the State that colluded with it in its systematic, immoral, inhumane abuse of women and children over many years. Of course, the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam was part of a wider architecture of oppression, degradation, dehumanisation and, ultimately, murder of women and children. We need, even at this belated hour, justice and truth for the survivors and victims of that terrible regime of oppression, imprisonment, degradation, murder and exploitation - an immoral exploitation involving the sale and commodification of young babies who were sold for headage payments and sent to the United States and elsewhere.

This is particularly poignant for me because I was born in a mother and baby home. I was one of the lucky ones, although that is not something that I realised at the time. I was lucky to be adopted by a loving family, to have a decent upbringing and to finally be reunited with my own birth mother. However, even the latter had to happen against the resistance of the State and the religious orders who tried to prevent that reunification. This issue makes me think about what my fate could have been. It also makes me very conscious of the terrible fate that so many suffered, quite possibly also in the mother and baby home where I was born.

One of the things about which I am very conscious in all this is the issue of class, which has not been talked about enough. It was a brutal oppression of women and children but there was an overwhelming class dimension to it. The mothers who had children outside of marriage who were from poor or working class backgrounds were singled out for the worst treatment, exploitation and degradation. They were literally treated as subhuman. For women from slightly better-off backgrounds, the church still effectively enforced its rules, backed up by the State and forced the separation of mother and child and the adoption of that child but usually the treatment for those women was a bit better. The people who came from poor or working class backgrounds were essentially considered disposable. They were to be exploited and punished. Punishment was a very big part of what went on. There was punishment for sin but the punishment that was meted out to the poor women and children was of a particularly vicious and horrible kind. That is the legacy of this State.

I want to conclude on what we can and should do about this. At a very minimum, the Bon Secours order should be forced to pay for the memorial that has been requested. We need a full audit of everything that happened at Tuam. In particular, we need to know the fate of the more than 2,000 children who were sold or exported to the United States. We need a full uncovering of the truth about the 700 babies who lost their lives. We must do everything possible to uncover the truth but we need to go beyond that. The Bon Secours order needs to reconsider its entire existence. It has profited and continues to profit, to an extortionate level, from the support the State has given it through all this, while doing all this to people. The order continues to enjoy that support, as we saw with the recent visit of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Micheal Noonan, to the Bon Secours facility in Limerick. The congregational indemnity agreement needs to be scrapped and the religious orders must be forced to pay up to compensate the abuse victims.

Finally, I will make a call which I believe Fianna Fáil has echoed. The BonSecours hospitals, St. Vincent's Hospital, the Mater Private Hospital and other private, for-profit health institutions run by religious orders should be taken from them forthwith and brought under public control. That might have the spin-off effect of alleviating some of the pressure in the public health system but, more importantly, it would be just in the context of what they have done, particularly as the State supported them in doing it. We need the separation of church and State, particularly in the area of health care where these religious orders were relied on and were responsible for such horrific abuse, neglect, imprisonment and exploitation of women and children. If we do not do all this then frankly, all the weasel words will mean nothing. We must also stop mistreating children in direct provision and in the emergency homeless services, where this sort of treatment continues to be meted out to single mothers and the children of the poor and the less well off.

I appreciated that the Deputy was telling his own story which is why I gave him an additional minute.

I thank the Acting Chairman for that.

It is with heavy and angry hearts that we all came here this morning to discuss the conditions in which people lived in the decades following the foundation of this so-called republic. The treatment of people in mother and baby homes, Magdalen laundries and industrial schools as well as our attitude towards services for disabled children was appalling. We have a unique opportunity now to get to the bottom of this issue and deal with it as best we can. We must acknowledge Ms Catherine Corless, who stood up against the system and insisted that her discovery was true and that at least 800 infants and young children died in the mother and baby home in Tuam between 1925 and 1961. Without her persistence and without the mothers and survivors who were in that mother and baby home, we would not have known the horrible truth of what happened in Tuam. Indeed, what happened there happened in all mother and baby homes; I do not think any of those institutions were any different from Tuam.

The point about class was made in the House and that is very important. On the founding of this State in 1922, one of the first actions of the then Government was to introduce the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act. In that Act, unmarried mothers were singled out as a special problem. They were classed as offenders and were shamed as fallen women and the babies they gave birth to were classed as illegitimate. The term "illegitimate" was very important to both the church and the State because it allowed such children to be separated out from legitimate children. In 1924 the Commission on Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor including the Insane Poor was set up against the backdrop of the then Cumann na nGaedhal Government's implementation of an austerity programme. That Government believed in trickle-down economics, with the rich passing their wealth down to the poor. It cut pensions by 10% and supported farmers in driving down labourers' wages by 16%. It reintroduced the seven-day working week and imposed a tax on blankets which were essential items for families, particularly in rural areas. We also had a forgotten famine in 1924, when the Government did not acknowledge the fact that 175,000 people were affected by food shortages in the west of Ireland, particularly along the coasts of Mayo and Donegal.

In 1924, Ireland had a higher number of children in industrial schools than Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. As a result of an intervention at a church conference in 1934, anybody found to be bearing an illegitimate child was denounced by the church from the pulpit. Their names were not mentioned, but they were driven out of the locality. Parents were forced to bring their children to mother and baby homes. It was an absolute insult to hear the Taoiseach saying in this House earlier this month that "no nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children". An organised framework that was in place in this country allowed priests to call to someone's door to say that his or her daughter had to be brought to a mother and baby home. On the back of the papal visit of 1979, a buoyant Catholic Church brought about the insertion of the eighth amendment to the Constitution. The church's campaign for a "No" vote in the first divorce referendum in the 1980s led to the defeat of the Government proposal. Thankfully, the people responded differently in the second referendum and voted for divorce.

In 2002, the church specifically contacted its insurance company to get itself indemnified against anybody who might take a case relating to the industrial schools. It consciously intervened to ensure it was protected. It suggested to the Government of the time that if 2,000 children from industrial schools took a court challenge based on the treatment that was meted out to them, it would win most of those cases and would not have to pay out. That is why the State was forced into the dirty deal on congregation funding that Michael Woods signed off on in 2002. The church has a lot to answer for.

Huge respect has to be given to the mothers and others who survived the mother and baby homes, the industrial schools and the Magdalen laundries. I remind the House that the last Magdalen laundry closed in 1996, which is not much more than 20 years ago. The history of these institutions is one of oppression, particularly class oppression, facilitated by a weak Republic that was not able to stand up against the might of the church. The submissions to the commission should be opened up. They are closed at the moment. Many people have come forward to speak about what happened in previous times. The process should be reopened to allow more submissions to be received by the commission. We should have another debate in this House when the report comes back. We should listen intently to the survivors when they tell us what they want. We must proceed on the basis of what they think is necessary as the commission moves forward and not on the basis of what we think is necessary in that context. I know the Minister is particularly dedicated to trying to resolve these issues. We have to work closely with those who have been affected by them. They and not us are the key people in this regard.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. We are reflecting on a very difficult time in Irish society. While we are talking specifically about Tuam in this debate, we are aware that this kind of pain and suffering was endured by people all over the country. Every time we debate what happened in the Magdalen laundries or in institutions like Bessborough, I am reminded of a lengthy conversation I had when I was 18 or 19 with an older and wiser man when we were working on a farm. He passed away approximately 15 years ago, but he would be in his mid-90s now if he was still alive. During the conversation in question, he reflected on what happened in society in the 1940s and 1950s. As the previous speaker said, we did not think at that time that what was perpetrated in the 1940s and 1950s was continuing and would continue up to the 1990s. John Joe Bradley suggested to me that when we were at our most Catholic, we were at our least Christian. That phrase has rung true to me since then. Families and individuals were ostracised from society. We cannot imagine or attempt to put in words in this House or in any other commentary the pain and suffering encountered by these women and their families, including the children involved. When we hear anecdotes and stories about the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, we often hear the phrase "the baby died", but in some cases it subsequently emerges that the baby was sent to America or elsewhere. Nobody really knows where these babies went. I read Justine McCarthy's very touching article at the weekend and I studied it again at length last night. She wrote about the pain experienced by her family and other families all over the country.

What are we to do as a society when we learn more about what happened in Tuam and elsewhere? Unfortunately, we cannot undo the past. We can acknowledge the pain and suffering that was inflicted because of society's norms and we can consider who generated or perpetuated those norms and ordained that society should follow them. We need to reflect on the society we have been elected to this House to represent. Without wishing to bring religion into it, I would like to emphasise the need to ensure, in so far as is humanly possible, that the Christian ethos of caring for those who are less well-off and need our support is foremost in our minds. Is today's society doing everything it can to ensure children, women and men are not suffering? Is solid support being provided to families that are under duress or stress for various reasons? What can we do for the memories of the babies in Tuam and elsewhere? How can we best enshrine the memories of the women who had to go into these places? Should we build a monument or should we do good in society by ensuring, in so far as is humanly possible, that this kind of scheme of society's norms is not perpetrated on any future generation of people? We should reflect deeply on the many lessons that are to be learned from this episode. As we seek a fitting monument, we have to make sure Irish society grows from the awful cast that has been put upon us as a result of what has happened.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue, particularly as a woman and as a mother. I feel it is quite personal, to a certain extent, as somebody who potentially could have been sent to a Magdalen laundry for having a child out of wedlock if I had been born in a different generation. I always think of that when I am reading the stories. While I welcome the establishment of the commission of investigation and the progress that is being made, there is a need to acknowledge the shortcomings of the investigation and the concerns of survivors with regard to it. A United Nations committee recently published a report on Ireland's record on women's human rights. The committee's examination of Ireland in the context of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women resulted in the publication of a wide range of recommendations that are designed to address significant shortcomings in the protection of women's human rights in Ireland.

It noted the unresolved issue of historical abuses of women and girls and the narrow terms of reference of the mother and baby homes inquiry. It called for prompt, independent and thorough investigations, in line with international human rights standards, into all allegations of abuse in Magdalen laundries, children's institutions and mother and baby homes. The recommendations reinforce the case for a truly independent inquiry that seeks to establish truth rather than minimise liability for the State.

As I said yesterday evening during our party's motion calling for a truth commission for mothers and babies and also during statements on the commission of investigation for Grace, we cannot place this kind of abuse and neglect towards women and children in the past as simply part of history, as if it is foreign to us. It is completely disingenuous to pretend that the idea that children were failed by the State is unfamiliar to us. Shameful treatment of children, and of lone parents in particular, continues to be part of our society. It is no coincidence that today's lone parents, the vast majority of whom are women, are the poorest members of our society. Under this Government, and the previous Government in particular, they have been further disproportionately impoverished by policies and recent budgets. More than a quarter of all lone parents and their children experience consistent poverty, while almost two thirds endure enforced separation. Lone parents are also disproportionately affected by homelessness. They make up 65% of people in emergency accommodation. As I have said on a number of occasions, I wonder how much we have learned from our history. We talk about stuff from the past and we all seem so shocked and dismayed and horrified, yet in this day and age we still have so many people in emergency accommodation and children going to school hungry. The vast majority of them are from families of lone parents. How much has really changed?

When we discuss the horrific, disrespectful treatment towards children and women through institutional abuses in the past, it is absolutely crucial that we acknowledge the familiar attitudes towards the care of vulnerable women and children today. I would like to echo the sentiments expressed by Deputy Boyd Barrett about direct provision in particular.

In regard to the current commission of investigation, there must be an end to the compartmentalisation, secrecy and disrespect surrounding the State's handling of mother and baby homes in Ireland and an acknowledgement that Tuam is only one of approximately 180 similar institutions. The victims of these institutions and their families should be treated with the dignity and compassion they deserve. It is essential that victims have their suffering acknowledged and for survivors to have full access to their own birth certificates and adoption files. If the State and this Government is being truthful about its desire to repair the past then the investigations must be forensically thorough, honest and public while examining these institutions, agencies and individuals.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all survivors and campaigners. In particular, I would like to thank Catherine Corless for her incredibly courageous and tireless work and commitment to exposing the truth of these issues so that we, as elected representatives, can carry the torch and fight for the justice all survivors deserve and so that we collectively, as a society, face our past and vow to end discriminatory treatment of women and children in this society once and for all.

I am delighted to be able to speak on this issue. I thought long and hard about whether to actually put my name forward to speak because, like other people, it is very difficult for me to be unemotional, rational, logical and have an intellectual discussion about this. Others have spoken about their backgrounds and in the discussions we have had with different people, it is very hard to separate the emotion from what happened.

We are talking about a regime, a system that was established by someone. It was established by the State and the religious orders. Someone came up with these ideas. I heard someone talking last night about the burials of the children. These children were not buried. They were dumped in sewers. That shocks me most of all. If one looks at any tribe in the world, even cannibals, would they do that to their children? I do not think so.

Who came up with this idea? Did they think what they were doing was right? Right for who? For what? We clearly dehumanised these people - they were treated like sub-humans. People can say that this happened in the past and that it did not happen on our watch. They can say we did not know about it and so on. We can come up with all sorts of excuses. However, many of these mother and baby homes were still in existence right up to the 1990s. It is not 100 years ago; it happened in the recent past.

What do we need to do? First of all, we need to stop excluding different groups and individuals from these investigations. That is the worst thing we have done in this whole process. In the 2000s, when different investigations were being talked about, we kept excluding people. I remember talking to one of the people who works in the Oireachtas and he asked me if they were going to mention Artane because he had been there. This man bawled in front of me and he told me about his experiences in Artane. While out socially, I have met other people in the same boat. They have come up to me and started telling the story of what they went through - the starvation, abuse, malnutrition and the fact their spirit was broken. That is what we did. We stripped people and took their clothes away. We took their identity, beat them and starved them. This was all done for what was supposed to be the greater good of some individuals or idea.

What can we do now? The most important thing is that we can listen. It is all very well talking about transparency but if we do not allow people access to their own files, how can we have transparency in these matters? We need to have a system where people can give evidence and get a sense that someone is listening to them. When one talks to survivors, people who have came out of this awful situation, nine times out of ten they are even more hurt now than they were at the start of this process. We are doing something wrong.

In regard to Tuam, the gardaí and the coroner should seal off the site. The big question is, will that happen? What are we going to do about the other sites that have been identified? These are simple things we can do as legislators if we are really genuine about trying to do something.

Our party put forward the idea of the truth commission. People can tear it apart if they wish. It is an idea to complement the investigation that is going on, which people are saying is not working for them. If we are to have transparency and openness, the interim report should be released.

Those jumbled thoughts are some of the things I want to say. As I said at the start, I did not really want to talk on this issue. However, it is important that everyone raises his or her voice for those people who will probably never have the opportunity to be in here or be listened to. It is for those people that I am standing here today and saying to the Minister that we need to do things differently. It is about transparency and transformative measures that will make sure this never happens again. If we act collectively, we can come up with a better model than the one which we have been reproducing time after time.

I became very aware of the issue of the Tuam mother and baby home during the election campaign this time last year. I was canvassing in an area and was told a woman in a house wanted to see me. I went down to see her and spent half an hour with her. She told me she had been born in Tuam. Her earliest memory of growing up was hunger and how all the other little children that were with her were so hungry that sometimes they used to scrape bits of dirt off the walls and eat them.

It was horrific to sit for 30 minutes and listen to this lady about what her life was like and about her early memories of childhood. In most cases, people’s childhoods are joyous and happy. It is about the people one grows up with in a loving family; feeling cared for, sheltered and looked after. Her childhood was the direct opposite. It was about fear and the very worst horrors one could imagine. She told me how, during the three and half to four years that she was there, she was sent out at one stage to some kind of foster home - she was unsure what it was - where she was kept for a couple of months and then sent back to the home. She then ended up in an orphanage, I believe it was in Galway, where she stayed for many years and where again she felt like a slave. The other children around her all lived in fear of the people who ran the home; the nuns and the staff. The big irony in all of this is that we all know people who are in the religious life, be they nuns or priests, who are very caring, helpful and who have done great things, yet we have this scenario sitting alongside. This woman spoke about how they were always told that they were the product of sin and it was all about sin. It really shocked me that this was being used to abuse children. It was child abuse.

It was not just the religious. The Taoiseach has spoken about how the nuns did not come and drag these children from their homes and that the children were given up. The fact of the matter is that it was an oppressed society. Society and the culture of that time was very much dominated by Catholicism and the Catholic Church which created that oppression. The State worked hand in glove with it to make it happen. We have many thousands of victims of child abuse that was State sponsored and church sponsored. This lady told me how she and another girl escaped from the home in Galway and went to Dublin. They ended up working in a hospital washing dishes for two years before they got away to England. She told me that when they went on the boat to England, they cheered and danced because they were getting away from Ireland. They still lived in fear that they would be brought back to the home. Their stories need to be not just heard, but vindicated. We need a society that rises above all of this and the first step in making that happen is to ensure that whatever inquiries and institutions we set up to look at all of this does not just look back, but also looks forward in order to guarantee that these things can never happen again. When I was growing up I often wondered about Hitler, the Germans and what happened to the Jews and how he was able to do what he did. If one sits and thinks about it for a while, and when one thinks about the kind of Ireland we had, it is very easy to understand how people were able to do these things.

Sinn Féin will table amendments to the proposals and we certainly hope that some truth will come out. It is just so horrific, so terrible and such a shame on Ireland that we worked through all of this and that we were part of it. People say that they did not know about it. The truth is that everybody knew about it but they just did not look because they did not want to know. Some were afraid and some were fearful. At the end of all this, we have to come to a place where we can acknowledge that these are our people, the best of our people, and Ireland let them down. We allowed the church to do all of that. We must create a new society where none of those things can happen. I think of refugees today – I met them in many of the direct provision centres - and their situation is not that much different in 2017. We have a long road to go but let us make the start together. I know the Minister has her heart in this and that she wants to do the right thing. She will have the support of everyone here and in the country to do the right thing, but she should not be held back by some legality that somebody may throw up. This is what they are going to do. They will come up with every excuse as to why we cannot do this, for example, that the State would be exposed to this, that or the other. These women and children were exposed to the greatest horrors known to mankind and we must do the right thing.

It must be registered that this is a massive issue among the public. I have never seen such anger as I did about the revelations at Tuam. We know the allegations are not new but the fact that they have been confirmed by a Government established commission has given it an authenticity. The pioneering work of Catherine Corless has been confirmed. Will the Minister indicate when she will announce the action that is needed in relation to these homes? The Minister has spoken in the media about a truth commission. What does that entail and when will she announce it? It is crystal clear that the types of commissions of investigation that the Government has established in the past are completely inadequate to deal with this issue.

We need all the sites where religious orders ran so-called homes to be investigated and excavated if there is evidence of similar burials. Records must be handed over by these religious orders. No longer can they evade responsibility in that regard. We need an investigation into allegations that have been going on in the HSE since 2012 about the trafficking of children for profit to the United States for adoption. We need criminal pursuance should that be warranted, which it is clearly. Most of all we need to have a serious separation of church and State in this country. I have no faith, unfortunately, that it will be done by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. These are the two parties who, for the guts of a century, have allowed the church to have this authority and control over women, sexuality, health and education.

I did some research into the types of laws brought in by Cumann na nGaedheal – as they were then – and then Fianna Fáil. There was nearly a competition to impress the church with parties outbidding and raising each other with censorship laws. That is the way it was in the 1920s and the 1930s. For example, in 1925, women in Ireland were barred from Civil Service exams. In 1926, Cumann na nGaedheal, the predecessors of those people with whom the Minister is now in coalition, and the then Department of Justice established a committee on evil literature made up of three laymen, obviously, a representative of the Catholic Church and Kevin O' Higgins. The committee recommended the banning of publications that made any reference to birth control as were women’s magazines along with publications that covered any news of murders. Not to be outdone, in 1927, women were removed from juries, having played the great role in the so-called fight for independence and, in 1929, the Censorship of Publications Act was introduced.

Fianna Fáil came to power in the 1930s and having been excommunicated for fighting in the civil war, the party had to impress the church. The Eucharistic Congress in 1932 turned the whole of Ireland into a shrine for the Pope's representative. In 1932, the marriage bar was brought in and female primary school teachers who got married lost their jobs. Then we had the Conditions of Employment Act to prohibit women from certain employment. One of my favourites came in 1936 when the National Maternity Hospital made it compulsory for the Archbishop of Dublin and the parish priest from Westland Row to be on the board of the National Maternity Hospital - I assume it was for their gynaecological expertise. I am bringing forward a Bill to remove that facility and to repeal that law. I will not go into the banning of divorce as I do not have time in the less than one minute remaining to me, but we can see from my examples the way the two big parties who have dominated this State have allowed the church to have this control and authority without any brakes being put on to them at all. We have seen that these commissions are very reluctant to overturn or open up the can of worms in respect of repealing the eighth amendment and other issues.

We should forget the idea that the Catholic Church can intervene in debates on morality or on matters such as repeal of the eighth amendment. What a joke that it says all life is sacred. It cared nothing about the babies' or children's bodies that were unceremoniously dumped or about poor and pregnant women. It should not be telling pregnant women what they can and cannot do. This is a gamechanger. We need complete separation of church and State. A Government of the left is the only one that will do this because there does not seem to be an appetite for this on the part of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I have not heard many other parties, critical as they may be of these events, call for it either. Representatives of the church should not be on hospital or school boards. We need a secular education system with sex education that is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, inclusive, that is not gender normative and does not lecture or prohibit discussion on issues. We also need to repeal the eighth amendment now. We need to forget about the church dominating and the State allowing it to.

I thank Deputy Coppinger. Sin deireadh na díospóireachta agus críoch le ráitis maidir le fógra an choimisiúin imscrúdaithe ag dearbhú go bhfuil taisí daonna ar an suíomh in áras máithreacha agus naíonán Thuama.

I thank the Minister and Minister of State for listening very attentively to all Members. I thank all Deputies for their very genuine contributions. This is the third time we have debated this issue and I have been here at some stage for each of the three debates. Every side of the House was very sincere and genuine and people want something to really happen about those terrible situations. I will adjourn the sitting until 12 noon when it will resume on Leaders' Questions.

I thought this debate was going on until 12 noon and that the Minister might respond.

The number of speakers has been completed. Quite a few Deputies have spoken over the three debates. I am more than willing to continue if other people who have not spoken want to speak but there is nobody else here to speak.

It was commented on last week that we could not get a quorum to start this debate. It is very disappointing that people have slots that they did not bother filling on such a topic.

I take the Deputy's point but all sides have contributed over the course of the three debates. There has been a genuine effort by everybody to------

The people who asked for an extension of the debate are not here.

As there are no other speakers available I conclude the debate and thank Deputies very much.

Sitting suspended at 11.03 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.