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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Jan 2021

Vol. 1003 No. 3

Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes: Statements (Resumed)

I am sharing time with the Ministers of State, Deputies Butler and Troy. Last week, the report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes was published. Following this, the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Government, offered our apology and asked for forgiveness for the failings of the Irish State, failings that repeated over decades and which had the most horrendous consequences for our most vulnerable citizens.

The report is an enormous piece of work, and it will take time for all it discloses about what happened in these institutions to be fully understood. Today, Deputies have the opportunity to reflect on the many failings on the part of both the State and individual religious congregations, and, most important, to reflect on the devastating impact these failings had on mothers and children. In my contribution, I will outline in more detail elements of the Government's action plan in response to the report and update the House on progress on key issues like the right of access to personal information and restorative recognition.

In the discussion of the commission’s report over the past week, it is clear that survivors have been left disappointed by aspects of the report, particularly the tone and language used in the executive summary. They have cited sections where a strictly legalistic approach is taken to describing the profoundly personal impacts of what happened within the institutions, as well as sections where the commission’s conclusion that it could not find evidence of what happened could be interpreted as a denial of the experiences of survivors. I understand that disappointment. As I stated yesterday in the Seanad, when I read the report the aspect that had the greatest impact on me was the chapter on the confidential committee. It is the clearest possible account of the suffering of mothers and children. It tells of the lived experience of those who spent time in these institutions. It makes it clear that women were compelled by circumstances, over which they had no control and no choice, to put their children up for adoption. The words of the confidential committee represent the truth of what happened in these institutions over so many years.

When the Taoiseach made his apology last week, he made it on behalf of the State. Having had the opportunity to read through the report in its entirety, it illustrates gross dereliction of duty by the Irish State across decades. The State’s failings are unambiguously demonstrated, and this is especially so because the report shows that serious concerns were brought to those in power time and again but without action ensuing. Our own officials were flagging the conditions within these institutions, the high infant mortality rate and the poor health of children. There was not complete silence. Repeatedly, warnings were raised but they were ignored. As I referenced in the Dáil last week, Alice Litster was an inspector for the Department of Local Government for 30 years, between 1927 and 1957. From reading the chapters on the individual institutions, it is clear that Ms Litster tried valiantly to improve the conditions within them.

She raised concerns about the number of young children within them, highlighting the number of school age children who were being denied an education, and demanded that local authorities provide suitable care and foster homes for these children. Miss Litster cautioned about the level of adoptions to the USA. In an undated memo on adoptions from Sean Ross, she noted that:

The babies so sent are the best of our children in the Home, the prettiest, the healthiest, the most promising. The restrictions on sending children out of the country, to be incorporated it is hoped in an Adopted Children’s Bill, will doubtless put a stop to this export of children.

In 1947 Miss Litster commented that many Tuam mothers received no antenatal care. She criticised the county manager for issuing an order that prohibited the admission of expectant mothers, chargeable to Galway County Council, prior to the seventh month of pregnancy. She suggested that this would place a good deal of hardship upon women whose condition must become a matter of common knowledge before they are admitted and whose efforts to conceal their condition must have a bad effect upon the health of their infants.

Miss Litster issued constant warnings of overcrowding and how this was a feature of all "special institutions", highlighting the severity of the situation at hand and the detrimental effects this was having on women and children. In 1943, Miss Litster provided a detailed report of the children’s nursery in Bessborough. In this, she described how:

The greater numbers of the babies were ‘miserable scraps of humanity, wizened, some emaciated and almost all had rash and sores all over their bodies, faces, hands and heads’.

Miss Litster was determined, and although few improvements were happening, she persevered. It is from her reports that we have undeniable evidence of the failure of the State to intervene, even after the horrors of these institutions were made known. Her efforts on behalf of the vulnerable mothers and children in these institutions should be remembered.

The failings of the State is not just represented by Government Departments ignoring the evidence of what was happening. The report shows that local authorities were intrinsic to the running of these institutions, in terms of paying for many of the mothers who entered them. County homes were a direct arm of the local authority. We know that meetings of Galway County Council actually took place in the buildings of the institution in Tuam. Many of us here in this House have served in local government and we are all conscious of the real the real commitment of those bodies to improving their local area. I found it striking to think just how directly complicit these bodies were in the regime that existed for so long. I understand that a number of local authorities are currently considering making apologies for their involvement and maintenance of the system of treatment of women and children demonstrated in this report and I think such steps are necessary and important.

The scale of these failures by the State requires a response that is comprehensive and meaningful. It must represent a transformation, not only in the State’s engagement with survivors, but also in its supports for them. The relationship of trust between former residents and the State has been broken. The Government must now begin the process of rebuilding that relationship.

The Cabinet has adopted a whole-of-government response to the commission report. This contains 22 actions based on eight themes many of which directly address the concerns and needs of survivors today. All of us have received representations regarding the importance that many former residents place on access to personal information. Progressing information and tracing legislation is an absolute priority for me, for the Taoiseach and for the entire Government. I have been engaging extensively with the Attorney General on this issue, approaching the matter in a manner grounded in GDPR, where the right of an individual to access personal information about themselves is central. My Department and the Office of the Attorney General are working with a view to have heads of a Bill on information and tracing legislation by the end March or early April 2021. This can then proceed rapidly to pre-legislative scrutiny.

Information and tracing legislation will allow for access to wider early life information. It would also allow the National Contact Preference Register to be put on a statutory footing. However, I want to emphasise to Deputies that our work on this legislation will not delay other efforts to provide earlier access to personal information.

My Department is working intensively to prepare for receipt of the commission archive at the end of February. I wish to ensure that people can access personal information contained within the archive in line with GDPR. We have established a dedicated information management unit, headed by an official with data protection and legal expertise who will be supported by an archivist in advancing many of the important record-related recommendations put forward by the commission. I have also engaged with the Data Protection Commissioner and have met with independent international experts in the area of GDPR. This intensive work will continue with a view to having robust policies and procedures in place for managing subject access requests. Following further consultation with Data Protection Commissioner, I hope to publish our policies and procedures prior to 28 February so that people can understand the processes that we will apply. My Department will also continue to work to ensure that GDPR compliant policies are appropriately applied to all access points for personal information.

Beyond the issue of access to personal information, another core commitment in the Government’s response is the creation of a restorative recognition scheme to provide financial recognition. My Department will lead an interdepartmental group which will develop such a scheme and bring forward proposals for it by the end of April. I have already written to relevant Government Departments seeking nominations for membership of this group. While the group will consider the three categories of former residents the commission highlighted, the Government took the significant decision that its considerations are not restricted to just those three groups.

This interdepartmental group will also assess the provision of a form of enhanced medical card for everyone who spent more than six months in mother and baby homes and county homes. Further health supports include access to counselling through the National Counselling Service, within which former residents of mother and baby homes and county homes are now considered a prioritised group, meaning they will not be put on a general waiting list. The National Counselling Service has specific professional expertise with past trauma and childhood trauma, and can offer crisis counselling, or counselling services on a short-, medium- or long-term basis.

Legislation to allow for the dignified exhumation of the site in Tuam and in other sites, if required, and providing for DNA identification will be brought for pre-legislative scrutiny soon. I have written to the joint Oireachtas committee asking for it to be prioritised on its agenda. It is important that proper memorialisation of Ireland’s history of institutionalisation and institutional abuse takes place. It is particularly important that the testimonies of women are heard, among both our generation and the generations that will come after us. We have committed to establishing a national memorial and records centre related to institutional trauma and will be engaging with survivors, as well as professional archivists and historians, to determine how best memorialisation should happen. This includes both the location of the centre as well as how best records should be handled, taking into account the sensitivities of people’s personal information. We will also ensure that Departments and State bodies prioritise the transfer of original files to the National Archives so that they can be publicly accessible.

The overarching theme is that this action list will be progressed in a survivor-centred manner. An enhanced model of engagement with former residents, their representative groups and with the wider survivor diaspora will be established, following consultation with the collaborative forum. This week I have written to the collaborative forum, seeking two meetings with it in the near future to discuss these issues.

Other commitments from the Government's response are: the incorporation of elements of this report into the second level curriculum; research on terminology, representation and misrepresentation with NUIG and ensuring that this research informs our commitments on memorialisation and national archives; local and national memorialisation and commemoration events; the creation of a specific fund which supports children who experience disadvantage in memory of the children who died in these institutions; and the creation of a number of scholarships researching childhood disadvantage.

In regard to this last point, I have written to the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and have asked if he would consider naming a scholarship after Alice Litster, to mark her efforts to shine a light on what was happening in these institutions over many years.

As I said at the outset, trust between the State and former residents has been broken because of the State’s failures. It is up to the Government, acting on behalf of the State, to start to rebuild that trust. This means acting comprehensively and acting rapidly, aware of the age of many of former residents and their need to see the tangible benefits of the actions that have been committed to. As a Government, we are aware that our apology and the apology delivered by the Taoiseach will ring hollow if it is not backed up by concrete actions.

I have outlined timelines for progression of some of the actions above and I will outline further details to the House in the forthcoming weeks.

As Deputies know, there will also be engagement with the religious congregations and charities that were directly responsible for running these institutions. I have sought meetings with a number of bodies specifically on the issue of an apology, the issue of their contribution to restorative recognition and the provision of institutional records which would be beneficial to survivors. The State has recognised, and seeks to atone for, its failures in a meaningful way. We all, in this House, share the belief that others need to do the same.

The report of the commission of investigation into the history of these institutions has provided the Irish people of the present day with a shocking insight into a very harrowing chapter of our nation's past. It is a buried past, a past that was buried live and buried for too long. The report has revealed to us that Ireland was a very cold and harsh place for women who found themselves in a certain situation. It was a situation, in a lot of cases, that was outside their control, a situation in which the women and girls did nothing wrong only to fall pregnant. They did nothing wrong and they have nothing to be ashamed of.

The report finally gives survivors and their families what they have been denied for decades. It finally gives these women a voice. No longer will they be silenced. No longer will they be stigmatised. No longer will they be looked down on. No longer will they be made to feel worthless. No longer will they be made to feel like they are a stain on society. What did these women do that was so wrong? They fell pregnant out of wedlock, some as young as 12, some of them rape victims, some victims of incest, some in love with their partners but with no family acceptance when they became pregnant. They were forced into mother and baby homes, homes that showed no respect, no care, no support, no encouragement and no compassion. Instead, they were shamed, abused verbally and emotionally and stigmatised.

During this time, society, the church and the State stood idly by. They looked on, they ignored the issues and they swept them under the carpet. For families, it was easier to see their daughter in a mother and baby home than to face the stigma of the church. There is a very disturbing contrast in what happened then when one considers the boundless joy and happiness that the news of a pregnancy brings to a couple, their families and friends in today's Ireland, regardless of the circumstances and regardless of their marital status. The former residents of these institutions did nothing wrong and they have nothing to be ashamed of. I am hopeful that those survivors who are with us today know this in their hearts. For those who may not and who are still struggling on that journey in any way, I truly hope that they may some day find peace in the realisation that they are not to blame and they did nothing wrong.

We must acknowledge and respect that the publication of this report would simply not have been possible without the contribution of former residents of the homes who undertook such a difficult task and revisited what must have been a very painful chapter from their own personal history for the greater good. I know many are not happy with the report's findings. They feel it does not accurately reflect their testimonials and their lived experience. We must accept their criticisms. These are the women who lived in the homes. These are the women who gave birth in the homes and saw their babies die or be taken from them. It is hard, as a woman, to read the report, knowing what childbirth is like, and to think of the fear, pain, hurt and desolation these young women and girls, some of them only teenagers, went through and what childbirth was like for them, only to have their babies wrenched from their arms.

Some babies were adopted into good homes in the US, Canada, the UK and here at home. Some were educated, had siblings and had opportunities. Many others did not get those opportunities. Young boys and girls were boarded out to work on farms or in service as servants, with no education and no family home. They were punished for their birthright. Those children had their lives stolen from them, with many still paying the price. It is hard to comprehend the findings of the report regarding the 9,000 babies who, sadly, died in these homes. The report states that the children of unmarried mothers were hidden from the public gaze. There was no national outcry in regard to the high infant mortality rates, except from a small number of medical professionals, as the Minister indicated. The report states, "It is particularly disquieting that the high mortality rate was known to the authorities both local and national..." I believe it is more than disquieting. I believe it is an absolute scandal and outrage that no one said a word and that 9,000 babies were never given a chance.

Where to next? I welcome the apologies last week from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, on behalf of the State. I welcome the apology from the church and the Bon Secours order, but I also await their actions because actions speak louder than words. An apology on its own is not good enough. These women need action now, they need redress, they need recognition and they need remembrance. Most of all, they need their records. That is why the information and tracing legislation has to, and will be, a priority. I accept that a balance must be struck in this in order to respect birth mothers who may not wish to be identified publicly. We need to respect these women. They have been through enough. Now is the time to make it right and to say again that they are not to blame.

I want to reiterate what the Taoiseach and the Minister said when they reassured survivors, their families and the country that the Government is determined to act on all the recommendations of the report and to deliver the legislative change necessary, at least, to start to heal the wounds that endure. As Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people, I believe there is a responsibility on all of us who have been affected by the publication of the report, and it is hard reading, to apply what we are feeling and what we have learned to help the many vulnerable people who are enduring shame and stigma as a result of personal issues in our society today. We must strive to be more inclusive and understanding of those who are suffering or struggling for whatever reason. Such understanding and compassion were in short supply in the mother and baby homes. The women who gave birth there did nothing wrong and they have nothing to be ashamed of.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I often drove by a former mother and baby home in Castlepollard in my county. Ignorantly, I never really thought deeply enough about the history associated with buildings like it. Mother and baby homes were large, prominent places. Like industrial schools, Magdalen laundries and mental institutions, they were where Ireland hid her unwanted in plain sight. What could not be seen behind those walls was the hurt, humiliation and abuse inflicted on so many. Inside the institutions, those experiences, while not universal, were definitely widespread.

The leaking of the report of the commission of investigation, before it was subsequently published, was partly a continuation of that hurt. In plain sight and in a considered act of contempt, the report was leaked to one media outlet before it was shared with survivors. That was wrong and the person responsible should be identified and sanctioned. When it was shared with survivors, it was provided electronically only. Again, this was wrong and I do not accept that a hard copy could not have been provided to each survivor. I understand that efforts are now being made to do so. There was a conspiracy involving at least one person in leaking the report. There was none in the manner in which it was shared. Very simply, official Ireland, with a thoughtlessness that was inadvertently cruel, treated it as just another business document and proceeded on a business-as-usual basis.

For those who survived these institutions, and for the memory of those who died in them, the commission's report was not business as usual. It was the story of their life and of their death.

On my behalf I apologise to them for the events of the past ten days. I share their anger and distress. Survivors deserve better from those of us in government. Politicians are not an annex to official Ireland. Our vocation is to lead by challenging consensus and doing things differently and better. On this occasion we failed, and that is unacceptable. It is an irony, having historically established a consensus that shuttered people by their tens of thousands - people who were abandoned at their most vulnerable - that we would re-enact by design and default those same attitudes today.

Much discussion during the past week has been about where blame lies. Unfortunately, the role and responsibility of individual families in this dark part of our social history cannot be wished away. The role of the fathers - the men who fathered the children - cannot be wished away. I will leave to historians the complex circular conversation about where, between the prevailing popular culture, the unjustified power of the Catholic Church and the political responsibility, the ultimate cause lay. The truth I want to speak about today is the responsibility of the State, on behalf of all the people, to step forward now. I am certain responsibility for what happens next lies with those of us in government, with those elected to the Dáil and with our leaders in the church. The concern in government and for all Members of the Oireachtas must be about what we do next, how quickly we can deliver on the comprehensive range of supports identified by the commission and how sensitively and appropriately we can do so.

Countless apologies from men across the House may run shallow in the ears of the survivors, but I must add my voice to them. I too am sorry.

As members of the Government it is our duty to make life better for survivors. That can only be based on a real relationship of respect. This respect begins by truly listening to our survivors. We have a duty as a Government to explain in detail how we will advance the rights of survivors to their own information. I am delighted the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, whose sincerity is not in question, has confirmed that this is now possible. This must be immediately advanced. In parallel, deep thought and appropriate resources must be provided for facilitating contact between children from the homes and their parents. Survivors must have access to their testimony to the commission. An appropriate forum should be provided for those who wish to put on record their dissatisfaction with the commission's report. Mothers from the homes must have access to their files. A system of compensation must be brought forward quickly.

Irish history has long been his-story. Women were and remain completely absent from all decision-making roles in the Catholic Church. They were almost as absent from the deliberations of the State. As a practising Catholic, I am deeply ashamed that such a system could exist, let alone be inflicted on the vulnerable in the name of mercy. I say as much today not in my name, or in the name of my neighbours who I meet at Mass, or in the name of priests and nuns - now old and few - who have served and continue to serve faithfully and compassionately. We live in a society where half of our population still face pay discrepancies and difficulties in accessing healthcare, access to work and access to childcare. They are considered as token candidates on a ballot paper. They face a litany of targeted, gender-based abuse on social media. They are not part of the decision-making process on areas that have a direct impact on their lives. They are not fully part of decision-making processes full-stop.

I genuinely believe our apologies today are futile unless we learn from these mistakes. The time for words has seriously passed and it is time for action. Unless equality is truly achieved and the rights of women, men and children are respected equally, we will have failed. Unless we have equality in our governance, in the boardroom and in our institutions of faith, then we are not truly sorry.

I know I cannot speak for the church today, but I truly believe the time has come for the church to recognise women as equals. The report, welcome but flawed in some respects, does commit to a comprehensive range of supports. So too had previous reports but they have remained at best partially implemented. There is a justified sense by some that little will change. Our task in government is to realise that and act on it. Things can change and it is our job to make sure that they do.

By now most of us have had the opportunity to read and digest the commission's report into the brutal and shameful operation of mother and baby homes in this State. More importantly, the survivors themselves and their advocates have had that opportunity. The publication of this report ought to have been a moment that brought recognition, some relief and some comfort to survivors, who are well aware that they did nothing wrong. They know full well that they were wronged.

There is absolutely no doubt, however, that the majority of survivors feel deeply hurt and let down. Some have referred to it as a "whitewash" and as an "incomplete cop-out". They have articulated powerfully a sense of abandonment after waiting six long years.

It is not difficult to understand why survivors feel this way. It is because they presented their testimony so that they would be believed. Yet, the report has disregarded much of the testimony of survivors and, in so doing, has reached some breathtaking conclusions. The first is that there is no evidence of forced adoptions and the second is that there is no evidence of abuse. Let me be clear: the testimonies of the survivors are the evidence and they represent the best evidence. To treat this testimony merely as anecdotal statements is wrong and scandalous. I believe it needs to be put right.

On her visits to Ireland two years ago, the UN special rapporteur on the sale and exploitation of children highlighted in her submission to the commission the issue of forced adoption and the falsifying of birth records. The Clann Project did the same in its submission. Survivors are aghast at how their testimonies have been treated. They have been selectively edited, paraphrased and used as quotes to summarise specific issues and points.

Survivors naturally assumed that their full testimonies would be included in the report. They are justifiably appalled that this did not happen. So badly have some of their testimonies been handled that many survivors are finding real difficulty in identifying their own evidence. Survivors have yet to receive transcripts of their evidence. This is absolutely unacceptable and it needs to be rectified now.

Many of the flaws and shortcomings of the report are in large part due to the limitations of the commission's terms of reference. I make the point not to excuse in any way those erroneous findings to which I have referred and to which I will return. The terms of reference have been a cause of concern all along, so much so that over 120 individuals and groups lodged submissions with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs before they were finalised by the Government in early 2015. The Government was aware of the shortcomings. Now, regardless of what is written in the report, the people of Ireland know who they believe. They believe the survivors. Forced adoption was a significant feature of the mother and baby homes and the whole apparatus of oppression and the adoption system throughout the island.

Those incarcerated in these places were routinely abused mentally and physically. They were degraded. These allegations of physical, emotional and mental abuse need to be investigated properly because this report, just like the McAleese report into the Magdalen laundries before it, has played down significantly the evidence and the reality of these experiences. It has been very frustrating for survivors that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has said the language of the report, while legalistic in nature, in no way invalidates the testimonies of survivors. That is exactly what it does, and the Minister needs to recognise this fact.

Survivors are deeply hurt by any contention that responsibility lies with the whole of Irish society, that somehow it was everybody's fault, because nothing could be further from the truth. The Ireland of the time was controlled and run by a "church-State". From education to healthcare to social services and even to enterprise and trade, the Catholic Church was hardwired into every facet of public policy. The State and the Catholic Church and other churches and organisations coalesced in the establishment and the running of these cruel religious prisons. It is the State, however, that bears ultimate responsibility for outsourcing its responsibilities to these religious orders and organisations. It is responsible for what happened and for the violation of women's most basic rights. It is but one chapter in the catalogue of how this State has so badly failed women and girls, a heartbreaking litany of failure that runs across generations. It is evoked by the names of Joanne Hayes, Ann Lovett, Brigid McCole, Savita Halappanavar, Emma Mhic Mhathúna and Irene Teap. It underlines the bravery of women such as Vicky Phelan. Then there are the names we do not know: the single-parent families so badly treated and the homeless families swept into emergency accommodation and living in poverty, inequalities of which women bear the brunt. The State's failure of women is not only history; it is the story of today too. We should not forget that as we speak the State still maintains a system of direct provision. We simply cannot sleepwalk the Deputies of 30 years' time into a repeat of what is happening now and an investigation into that inhumane system.

The recommendations of the report relating to survivors having access to their information and records are also flawed. The right to a birth certificate is especially important for survivors and their families. Yesterday my colleague, Deputy Funchion, published a Bill that will allow for adopted persons over the age of 18 to access full information on their birth. This is a crucial first step, and I urge all Deputies to support that legislation when it comes before the House.

It is the view of many survivors and their advocates that the scope of the commission, only 18 institutions, prevented it from uncovering the full extent of the horror of the mother and baby homes, and I share that concern. There are 182 identifiable institutions. From the 18 homes covered in the report, we know that 9,000 children perished in these places. We also know, however, that this is but a glimpse of the full horror. All identifiable institutions must be fully investigated and provision must be made for excavations at sites where survivors and families know that their children or relatives are buried, even if they cannot pinpoint the exact spots. Every mother and every family has the right to know where their child or relative is buried.

Sinn Féin will address these sensitive but crucially important matters when considering the general scheme of the certain institutional burials Bill. A rights-based redress scheme is absolutely essential in ensuring a survivor-centred approach. I know that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, yesterday met with the Oireachtas children committee to discuss a framework for that scheme.

All those impacted by the report must have access to redress, and no restrictive criteria should be put in place that exclude any survivor. The message to the Government must be this: get this right and get it in place as soon as possible. The Government must listen clearly to the calls of survivors. The obvious starting point is to implement the extensive recommendations of the collaborative forum that have been on the shelf in the Department gathering dust since 2018. It is a source of real anger among the survivor communities that this is the case. The failure to act on these recommendations only further erodes trust in the Government. Survivors want action and real supports. These have to include dedicated access to counselling and well-being services as well as dedicated support workers to facilitate access to health and housing services.

In the coming weeks the Executive in the North will receive the report of the investigation into the operation of mother and baby homes in the Six Counties, the Gillespie report. Joint First Minister Michelle O'Neill has made it very clear that she will do whatever is required to deliver truth and justice to survivors, and I hope and I firmly believe that all colleagues on the Northern Executive will follow her lead. Of course, we await publication of the report. I believe, however, that the very best interests of the survivor community will be served by a joined-up, co-ordinated, all-island approach in dealing with this awful legacy. Women, girls and children were brutalised in mother and baby homes, county homes and other institutions. Many perished. Many survived and made it out. They are with us today and they are strong and inspirational people. Their words are evidence in the purest and most reliable form. Their testimonies and their voices demand accountability and justice. Now is the moment and now is the duty of the Government to see that that is what they have.

When I had the opportunity to speak on this report last week, I was extremely mindful that many survivors, their families and their representative groups had not yet physically seen the report, let alone had the time to read any of it. Now, a week later, many of us have read it, many of us are still working through it and some survivors and their families are still awaiting it. Unfortunately, I have to say with absolute honesty that it is undoubtedly one of the greatest miscarriages of truth ever produced. Survivors had so much expectation and perhaps optimism that this report would right some wrongs, hold to account those responsible for so much hurt and injustice, open up honest and truthful dialogue on a shameful chapter in our history and begin a process of healing for survivors and their families. Unfortunately, the report is a disgrace. Not only is it a collateral disappointment for survivors; it is also disrespectful in the extreme as it attempts to contradict their accounts. In the report of the confidential committee the authors set out to warn the reader that not all survivors' stories can be believed, stating that clearly they did not always recount their experiences correctly. All week survivors have taken to the airwaves to tell us their real and truthful accounts of life in Ireland's mother and baby detention centres.

Yesterday I spoke to a lady, one of the bravest women I have ever had to the privilege to know, who told me she spent over two hours with a transcriber. As this lady spoke the transcriber carefully tapped out each word on her machine. This lady told me that as she retold her painful and distressing story in intricate detail, the flood of emotions was so vivid and so distressing that she had to take a break. She spoke of being ripped from her family as a young girl, finding herself pregnant, alone and in a mother and baby institution. She spoke about the excruciatingly painful birth, being locked in a room alone throughout her entire labour and birth and being denied pain relief or any medical attention throughout the whole process. She recounted how the nuns removed the baby from her while she was breastfeeding and bonding with her new child. Not one word I have just read out was included in this report. Her story and countless other stories have been sanitised and misrepresented.

The lady asked me what was the point of the report and of the commission and why she even bothered She said it seemed that everybody else's human rights were important except hers. At every point in the survivors' lives, in their long and painful journey, they have been lied to. They have been tricked, some of them beaten, and some have still to tell their stories, such is the pain of reliving this part of their lives.

What did the State do to these brave women? It discredited and retold their stories. How can there be trust and hope? Words must be followed by action. Survivors, their families, and their representative groups have been very clear in what needs to come out of this report, however disappointing it is. The Government must bring forward access to information legislation that gives survivors unrestricted access to their own records and data, and, as has been mentioned by my colleague, we published legislation yesterday with regard to accessing birth certificates, which is at least the first step that should happen. We also need to ensure that survivors have support and access to housing, dedicated support workers, counselling and medical supports, and a comprehensive redress scheme. I also add that I believe there are possible grounds for a criminal investigation given some aspects of the report.

I know that there are many survivors listening in today and I take this opportunity to say to them that I will, in my power as a legislator, as an Opposition spokesperson, and as an Irish woman, work tirelessly to ensure that survivors' voices are at the centre of every action we take, every piece of legislation we introduce, and every measure we recommend to ensure that they are not forgotten and that their real stories are heard so that they can, perhaps, finally begin the process of healing. As a final word, I say that I am proud of these women for their courage and I believe their stories.

The long-awaited report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes is, unfortunately, not what many expected. Survivors have waited for five years for this report and so many are disappointed that, after all that time, they just feel let down.

One survivor contacted me on Monday to thank my party for all the work that it has done to support survivors. She told me that it took her almost a week to contact me as the publication of the report meant she relived the horrors of everything that had been done to her. Without realising it, she had personally buried it in the recesses of her mind, but it all came back to her this past week as if it was yesterday. She told me that she was one of the lucky ones because her daughter found her after years of looking.

Not everyone has been so lucky. One man told me that he was denied access to his personal information and lied to by social workers. When he finally, after years, managed to trace his birth mother, it was too late because she had passed away. He felt cheated of an opportunity to get to know his birth mother. This cannot be allowed to continue to happen. Access to information is a must. I commend my party colleague, Deputy Funchion, on introducing the Civil Registration (Right of Adoptees to Information) (Amendment) Bill 2021 which will guarantee the right to people to their own birth certificate and personal information. I am urging all Deputies in this Chamber to support that legislation.

One would imagine when thinking of the church, nuns in particular, that love, dignity and respect would be high on its agenda and that the church’s preaching that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us should be its mantra. For the women who spent many months in these institutions, punishment, abuse, shame and trauma were visited on them regularly. Women, many of them children themselves, were forced to go through giving birth to a baby without any sort of pain relief or support. In fact, many were verbally abused while they endured the pain of childbirth. Nowhere in the equation were men made to take any responsibility.

I have no doubt that the State is the one to blame here. The State allowed itself to have its policy dictated by the church and then left it to the religious organisations to cater for what it saw as Ireland’s dirty little secret. Shame on the State for treating its citizens and allowing them to be mistreated in this way. Do not tell me that those in power did not know what was happening.

To blame society is totally unfair. Many people throughout the decades of this new State were just trying to make ends meet and were not aware of what was happening in these institutions. Women who endured this mistreatment did not talk about it.

What is needed now is inclusive, constructive and collaborative engagement with stakeholders. Survivors of these institutions need to be kept informed of what is happening in respect of this report. They need access to information and have a right to their birth certificate, and they must have the correct information about their own care. Support for survivors, such as counselling services, access to housing, therapies and a medical card, and a redress scheme which does not differentiate between the women need to be put in place.

All the little children who lost their lives in these institutions and were coldly buried in unmarked graves need to be properly reunited with their families, if at all possible, and given a proper Christian burial. It is time for the full truth to be known and for whatever supports that are needed to be given to the survivors of these institutions.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús an chrógacht agus an misneach atá léirithe ag na daoine a tháinig slán ó na hinstitiúidí seo agus a dteaghlaigh a mholadh. Ar an aistear fada, crua seo acu ar thóir na fírinne, roinn siad scéalta thar a bheith pearsanta agus trámach linn a bheidh greanta i mo chuimhne go ceann i bhfad. Thar aon ní eile, thug siad aird lom ar an tréimhse ghránna seo. Ní raibh aon rud sa tuarascáil seo a thabharfadh le tuiscint go raibh imní ar bith ar na polaiteoirí ná ar an bpobal faoi na leanaí nó na máithreacha sna tithe seo, in ainneoin go mba léir do chuile dhuine an leibhéal uafásach básmhaireachta naíonán. Arís, ba mhaith liom mo ómós a thabhairt do dhíograis, crógacht agus misneach na ndaoine seo a throid go leanúnach le cinntiú go n-éistfí leo faoi dheireadh thiar thall.

I commend the bravery and courage of survivors and families who came forward in the pursuit of truth and who shared very personal and traumatic stories of this deplorable chapter in our country’s history. This report found little evidence that politicians or the public were in any way concerned about the children or mothers in the homes, despite the horrific level of infant mortality. I again pay tribute again to the survivors’ determination, bravery and courage in fighting to ensure that their voices are finally heard. Like several of the reports that have come before us, this report must prompt the Government to act urgently to ensure the human rights of survivors are protected and that their voices are at the very centre of the Government’s response. Survivors’ voices have been ignored for far too long, and it is high time to let these survivors know that they were never at fault.

The narrative that society was as much to blame as the church and State is incomprehensible. Society does not collectively decide to banish its women to cruel institutions unless powerful and influential forces such as the State and church facilitate such actions. It is very clear from this report that there is potential for criminal investigation, and this must be examined.

The Government’s next steps are very important, and these must include survivors being able to access their own records and data, including their own birth certificates and adoption files, dedicated counselling financial redress, therapy and other supports. This process could be started by legislation that was published by my colleague, Deputy Funchion, yesterday which would give adopted people a legal right to obtain a copy of their own birth certificate. This is a crucial step in actively dealing with the asks of survivors. How we move forward must be about survivors and their families. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the publishing of this report was and still is very distressing and upsetting for survivors.

The true worth of a compassionate Government is measured in how it treats those who it has grown gravely wronged. I urge this Government, please, not to be found wanting at this critical moment.

I read the Minister’s speech as he was delivering it. I ask him to consider the Labour Party Bill, which was also published yesterday, entitled the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2021. If it is passed, it will provide adopted persons with the right to access their birth certificates. I note the Sinn Féin Bill of Deputy Funchion and that Senator Bacik has contacted her office yesterday to consider this Bill. If a Bill emerges from these Bills which we can all support that deals with this issue finally and in a timely fashion, this will provide some confidence to the many people who have been advocating on this issue for many years.

I take in good faith the Minister's statement that we will have the heads of the Bill on information and tracing by the end of March or early April. Is there a way of shortening that time, given that the Minister's predecessor had been giving consideration to this matter for a number of years and the issue has been in the system for too long already? We feel strongly that the legislation to speak to the issue of the right to access birth certificates could be implemented tomorrow if the political will was there. We ask that the timeframe be addressed again. This is an issue on which people want to see closure or progress. I accept that there is a process, but it is one that has been ongoing for a number of years and was on the Minister's predecessor's desk for a number of years as well. It is not a new issue.

We owe a debt of gratitude to many people, but I wish to mention two whose material I have read extensively. They have been instrumental in raising consciousness about these issues. I am referring to Mr. Conall Ó Fátharta, a journalist who wrote for the Irish Examiner, and Mr. Donal O'Keeffe, a documentarian, historian and commentator. Mr. O'Keeffe was responsible for putting together the list of names that appeared in the Irish Examiner last week. I thank the Irish Examiner for carrying the list on its front page. That mere act raised consciousness about this issue among many people for whom it otherwise would not have been brought home so starkly in these times of Covid. That front page was an important piece of work. It is now an historical document and has done much to raise awareness of the issue. It has done a great duty in bringing home to us the reality of the sheer number of young babies who died in such horrific circumstances.

Deputy McDonald was right, in that if our generation of politicians does not deal with this now, we will not be able to look our children and, hopefully, grandchildren in the eyes when they ask us what we did about mother and baby homes without casting our gazes downwards. We have to address these issues now. Based on his words to date, I believe the Minister is willing to do so. I do not say this in a condescending way, but if I may, I implore him to ensure that we do not go down the road that has been taken before with reports of this nature where we have seen evidence of internal memos written by senior people in Departments where sympathy was expressed for the issue but cost became a determining cause for inaction. We cannot be a generation of politicians that become part of the edifice of historical issues not being dealt with because cost was a factor.

I respectfully ask the Minister that, as a first step, when the interdepartmental group meets to assess the provision of a form of enhanced medical card for anyone who spent more than six months in a mother and baby institution, the timeframe should be considered because anyone who spent even an hour in such an institution should have that right. Six months is too arbitrary. If the Minister started with this gesture, it would build confidence among the many people who have been hurt and traumatised by their experiences. It would be a meaningful gesture for many. I have raised two issues - the information and tracing Bill and medical cards. If they could be dealt with immediately, it would build confidence in what will be a long process.

I acknowledge the workload lying ahead of the Minister. We will work with him as a committee. I stand as a member of the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. We will do everything we can to help the Minister and his colleagues in whatever process needs to be undertaken. This is not a partisan issue, but one that we all must deal with collectively.

A few minutes are left to me. I noted the Minister's reference to Ms Litster and the experiences in Tuam. I wish to acknowledge the role of Dr. James Deeny, the former Chief Medical Adviser who was active in respect of Bessborough. Between 1922 and the end of 1946, 674 children were officially certified as having died at that home. That was not the sum total of children who died at the home. One report - I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle - stated that "the greater number" were "miserable scraps of humanity, wizened, some emaciated, and almost all had rash and sores all over their bodies, faces, hands and heads". Dr. Deeny visited and inspected the home in Bessborough. He noted that it was spotlessly clean. He wrote: "I marched up and down and around about and could not make out what was wrong; at last I took a notion and stripped all the babies and, unusually for a Chief Medical Adviser, examined them." As he recalled in his 1989 memoir, "Every baby had some purulent infection of the skin and all had green diarrhoea, carefully covered up."

Forgive me for getting upset, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but this has to be dealt with. We have to deal with it. We have to acknowledge face on that it happened and we have to find a mechanism for every woman, child and family member who had any contact with any home throughout the State. Justice will be served when they feel they have received some acknowledgement of the hurt that was caused to them. We can achieve that through redress, proper mechanisms and a revision of the executive summary, which was an insult to them - the Minister described its language as cold. The first point of departure should be the report itself. It has caused trauma and hurt again. That is not a good starting point and I ask that the executive summary be addressed.

I understand that Deputies O'Dowd and Lahart are sharing time at six and a half minutes each.

This is an important report and an important debate. I have listened carefully to what Members have said. I do not disagree with the fundamental point that an appalling crime was visited on all these families, in particular children. Something in the report struck me more than anything else, namely, the unacceptably high infant mortality rate in the first year of life, which was higher than anywhere known in the world at the time.

More than 9,000 children, or more than 15%, died in the mother and baby homes. The report goes on to say that in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s the percentage rose to the high 40s. It was a holocaust of death. I agree with Deputy Sherlock's descriptions. The horror and evil that was visited on these innocent women and children is appalling and unacceptable. I refer to the wonderful work that has been done on the Tuam babies by Catherine Corless. When the remains of children were found, it was asked whether it was true that they were buried in a sewage pit. The answer is that yes they were. The report says that was done with the knowledge of the religious congregation there. It goes on to say that there are people in Tuam and in Galway who know more about what happened there but do not speak about it.

I also came across a reference to my county of Louth. In 1961 there was an intervention by the manager at the time. The reference was to unacceptable and appalling personal inquiries into whether the families of two mothers who were going to an institution had the funds to support them because they were supported by the county council. I believe that was a criminal act as well. All over the country there are lots of people still in these county councils and there are lots of corners and reservoirs of information and books with dust gathered on them that could tell us a lot more. At the heart of the then Department of Local Government, was the wonderful Miss Alice Litster, who worked there and wrote reports. I acknowledge the praise afforded to her by the Minister and others. Were the reports just dumped on the shelf or were they brought before management meetings? Were they discussed with Ministers? They must have been discussed by senior officials. We cannot accept that we can just draw a line through it and say that it happened and that that was the past. It needs further investigation. We need more accountability. It is entirely unacceptable if, as the commission believes, there are other people with records that have not come forward yet.

I got a call during the week from one of my constituents who is in his 80s. He asked me if I could tell him where babies were born in Drogheda in such and such a year. This was before the maternity hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, was built. I said I would try to find out. I found out that there were two places. One was the Cottage Hospital and the other was St. Mary's, which was known as the county home. He said he was born in St. Mary's. I asked him what was different about that. He said he was illegitimate. I will not say the word he used, but it was very upsetting for him to use it in his life. We should remember that he is 80 years of age. He said that everywhere he went he was treated as a second-class citizen because he was born out of wedlock. He said that his mother fled the nursing home on the day of his birth to save him from being taken from her. There are other people whose needs must be addressed. I welcome the Minister's commitment in that regard. Even at this late stage in their lives, there are other people who should benefit from adequate advice and counselling. We should address special circumstances of health and other issues. The other problem for this man is that at 80 years of age he still does not know who his father is. He firmly believes that he has an absolute right to the integrity of who he is, but he cannot get that information. Whatever legislation is necessary to make that happen should be introduced. I know the commission recommends that there should be a referendum if necessary.

At the heart of our country at that time was the control by the Catholic Church. We can say what we like now because we are free to say it, but 40, 50 or 60 years ago one could not say it because the church controlled everything. It controlled education, schools and recreational amenities. It was in control of every part of society. The politicians of the day bent their knee to it. We bent our knee to it so much that we gave the Catholic Church a special place in the Constitution. That is how strong its power was. I am not talking about Christianity; I am talking about the institution of the church. The churches are accountable and must be held accountable. I know my time is up. I believe they should be accountable. If we get an opportunity later, when this legislation comes in, I will expand on that point.

I would appreciate if the record could show that I echo all of the sentiments that have been expressed by the speakers who immediately preceded me. I made a contribution in the Dáil last October or November when this subject was last raised and rather than just repeat it, I state that it was a very fair reflection of my sentiments, sympathy and support for the survivors of the mother and baby homes in the context of what we were talking about then.

Generally in society there is a lot of anger and frustration in January 2021 and into this has come the commission of investigation's report into the mother and baby homes. I am reading my way through the report, which is long. I commend anybody who has completed it at this stage and digested and reflected on it. All I can do is add my own voice to the voices of colleagues. We have a limited time in which to speak. I hope that we can come back to the report again in a few weeks when we have had an opportunity to digest it.

I know there are those who want to set the report of the commission aside and I understand the reason for that. When I was reading the executive summary, I had questions in my own head that I wanted to ask, but I wonder if it is a knee-jerk reaction. I say that for what I hope are good reasons. I understand the impulse behind wanting to set it aside, because in the minds of some it does not reflect accurately what the narratives of the survivors told us. I cannot believe that everybody has read right through the report to completion. Fair play to people if they have, and not only completed it but taken time to reflect on it. It is an incredible body of work. It has clearly been compiled painstakingly and thoroughly over a period by professional, highly capable and competent people. I know that it has not been fully faithful to some of the narrative of some of the survivors and I acknowledge the pain that has caused them.

I wish to focus on the aspects of parts of the executive summary which suggested that there was no evidence on the role of the church in regard to specific issues. I know that has caused anger and pain. I wish to look at the commission's report from another perspective. This is not a defensive perspective; it is a reflective one. I am not here to defend anybody. To blame the church completely is appropriate if it is accurate. Very often what we do is to blame the church or churches completely and let so many others off the hook, and very often we walk away. The authors of the report were being much more provocative than this. The role of the church was predominant, central and authoritative. To blame it exclusively is convenient also and allows the rest of the stakeholders to walk off the stage feeling exonerated. This is where the report is at its most provocative.

The commission's report points out that there are other significant players on this stage, and Deputy O'Dowd just mentioned some of them. We cannot allow them simply to exit stage left or right.

It can appreciated from a distance of time that poor, uneducated people could find themselves subservient to authority. What of the intelligentsia, including journalists, politicians and writers? What about the senior civil servants and highly educated people at the top of Departments? What about the doctors, lawyers, visiting committees, local authorities and others? What stopped them from challenging this? Perhaps the answer is the church. The commission's report does not exonerate the church, and that is laid out pretty clearly in the entirety of the document. We must not miss the opportunity to look closely at the other players and demand answers for their action and, most of all, their inaction. The unparalleled high mortality rate of babies and children appears not to have aroused the attention of anybody. Why did this not get people's attention?

What should our legacy be to these women in 2021 and in future? I add my contribution to this. Having met some of the survivors with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, two years ago, I was struck by how frugal some of their requests, needs or demands were. People have spoken about how we can make amends with reparations, and I absolutely support that. I will support any legislation that can assist them. My words may be clumsy but one of the legacies we can leave is an overdue conversation that this country needs to have about the relationship between church and State. That conversation could be initiated through a citizens' assembly.

Finally and in a mature and intelligent way, we should be able to talk about this subject and acknowledge the role of the church, whether it was destructive or whether it contributed richly to society. We should move eventually but not too far in future to embracing what we need from the church as a society. We should let go of what we need to discard.

In my constituency of Meath West, in north-west Meath, is the Castlepollard mother and baby home. The Castlepollard home opened in 1935, but without a purpose-built maternity unit initially and with widespread overcrowding, it recorded an alarming rate of baby mortality in its first five years, with 60.2% of all infants dying. There were 4,559 babies born in Castlepollard between 1935 and 1971 and 247 of those infants died. Several women told the commission of investigation they witnessed nuns leaving the hospital with up to ten dead babies in shoeboxes and bringing them for burial on the grounds nearby.

I visited the site recently and it is very sad to think I was walking on the graves of hundreds of babies with no headstone or properly marked grave and only a rusty nail in the wall to remember them. It has been revealed there was a demand for a public inquiry and the closure of the mother and baby home in Castlepollard within the first ten years of its operations after soaring levels of baby deaths were regarded and allegations of the cruelty to and abuse of women were made.

Many of the women who had their babies delivered in Castlepollard spoke to the commission and said it was like living in a jail. They were told by senior nuns when they arrived that they had been really bad people, although many women told the commission they became pregnant after being raped. Some also said they signed adoption papers under duress. Most of the women who had their babies in Castlepollard were between 16 and 24 years old. They came from every county in the country.

The past few weeks have been very difficult for survivors and their families. I commend the bravery of the survivors and their families, who time and again have been let down by church, State and society. There is a private Facebook group for people affected by what happened in the Castlepollard mother and baby home, with more than 700 members. I commend the people involved and thank them for the work done in sharing photos and information and working together with survivors and families, helping them to obtain information.

As Deputy Funchion has stated, the State has failed these survivors. It did not listen or care. It turned a blind eye and it must now accept responsibility and come good for survivors.

The Castlepollard institution was owned and run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts from 1935 to 1971. By 1937, it was already grossly overcrowded, and by 1941, women and children were sleeping in unheated lofts above stables.

I have real concerns about the numbers relating to Castlepollard in this report, particularly those relating to infant mortality. The report states nine babies died between 1968 and 1970, yet this is contradicted by the midwife who worked there at the time. How can this be explained and where is the truth? How can survivors have confidence that this report gives a true reflection of events when even basic details are incorrect?

There is information on the discharge of 4,072 children relative to a mother, leaving 487 children unaccounted for. If we take deaths into account as established in this report, that leaves 240 children who have no record I can find in this report. That is not acceptable. This couples with the testimony of resident A, who stated she saw deceased babies in shoeboxes being sent for burial. That statement was disregarded in its entirety because of a lack of corresponding records, which is beyond belief. The report states there are no burial records but it also states that it seems likely the children who died are buried in designated burial grounds. That is not fact but supposition. I ask the Minister to take all steps to establish if there are unrecorded deaths and burials on the grounds of the Castlepollard institution.

There are many aspects of the report that are deeply concerning and which relate to Castlepollard. What sticks out most is that 13% of the women, or 646 of them, were below the age of 18 when they entered the premises. There were 278 between the ages of 12 and 16. These are children who went there to give birth. The question must be asked if any of these were reported to the Garda at the time, given the age of consent as established in 1935 was 17.

There can be no doubt the State has failed these women repeatedly. I, for one, commend them on their bravery in coming forward to tell their truth and relive what could only be horrendous experiences. In that regard, this report must be the first step and the catalyst to ensuring these survivors receive proper redress through recognition. This State should now see these women, hear them and support them in their requests.

Last week our radio waves and newspapers were flooded with life stories and lived experiences of the survivors of the mother and baby homes and their accounts of loss and trauma, sadness and anger. The stories were very difficult to listen to and I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like to have lived and be still living through it. I hope that telling those stories helped even a little bit.

This has certainly gone some way to helping us, as a nation, understand what many had to suffer in the name of our State and church. I am hopeful we are ready as a country finally to deal with these matters and make amends for all the wrongs that were done to innocent children and women. It is time to lift the veil of guilt and shame that has shaped this nation for so long and work with the survivors to provide what they need for us to make amends.

I have three requests of the Minister and his Government. The first deals with the report and its framing. The second relates to the next steps and what is needed to rebuild trust with survivors. The third deals specifically with accountability, whether this is financial, criminal, individual or institutional.

Last week I, along with many others, including the survivors themselves, was shocked by the contents of the commission's report and by its tone. I was shocked by the coldness of the words that were used, the victim-blaming that sounded loudly from the pages and the disconnect between the stories of the survivors and many of the conclusions that were drawn from them. The choice of language, the tone used and the narrative construed about women at that time almost seemed to belong to that time, as if we had not actually moved on in our discourse at all. If we have learned one thing from this experience, it is that we must all speak out and name it when we see people being treated badly or being spoken about unfairly.

To remain silent is to be complicit. While I recognise that this is an independent report, the Government's opinion of it should be on the record. Otherwise, the Government runs the risk of survivors believing that the sentiments of the report and of the Government are one and the same. I acknowledge that the Minister mentioned the tone of the report in his statement when he said it was clear that survivors have been disappointed by the tone and language, citing sections where a strictly legalistic approach was taken, but I want to know how he feels about the tone, content and findings of the report. Do he and his Government agree with the document, its recommendations and the narrative it has spun? Does he agree that responsibility for the harsh treatment rests mainly with the fathers of the children and their own immediate families? Does he agree that there was no evidence that women were forced into mother and baby homes by the church or the State authorities? Does he agree that there was no evidence of abuse? I urge the Minister and the Government to outline clearly on the public record their opinion of the report. They do not need to set it aside but I want to know - and the survivors deserve to know - what they think of what is in that document.

Regarding the next steps and actions the survivors need to see, we now face a difficult balancing act. Survivors have waited for years for successive governments to make amends for what happened and to implement the measures that are needed so there is a need to address these issues quickly. However, many of them are complex and sensitive and will require significant consultation to ensure that we get it right. Never before have I felt that the words "make haste slowly" take on such an appropriate meaning. This needs to be done deliberatively, collaboratively and with compassion. There is no room for any further undermining of the trust of survivors or for broken promises. It will take time to get it right but survivors need to see that the Government is taking its responsibilities seriously and is demonstrating its intent to act in their interests. There are things that can be done in the short term to ensure the Government is travelling in the right direction and that will help to rebuild trust with the survivors.

I welcome the fact that the Minister said that GDPR legislation and the requirements thereunder will be made clear to both the agencies and survivors. That is an important first step. The Government should reassert this right by making a simple legislative amendment to the Civil Registration Act to ensure that everyone can retrieve their publicly registered birth certificate. I note that some of the other parties have said that they will publish such legislation, which the Social Democrats will support if it achieves that end. The Government must also move quickly to nationalise all data and records relating to the mother and baby homes and similar institutions. We must immediately protect and secure this data. The time for voluntary engagement is past.

Regarding redress, the Government must learn from past mistakes. It must not retraumatise survivors with questions or interrogations - it must be transparent, it must prioritise the rights of survivors over the costs to the State and it must not allow years to go by without redress being made. History has shown that our institutions have not only caused hurt in the past, but can cause hurt and pain for survivors well into the future and this is what must end.

Finally, survivors need to see accountability, which can be financial, criminal, individual or institutional. It is important that the intent of the Government is clear from the start, which is why I am concerned by the heads of the burials legislation which will be scrutinised by the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration shortly. This will be a litmus test as to how closely the Government will listen to what the survivors need and to their wishes. Unfortunately, I have already been made aware of a number of limitations inherent in the Bill which I will be discussing as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process. The Bill as currently drafted does not improve much on the 2019 general scheme and could limit the potential for holding inquests and declaring certain burial sites to be crime scenes. I will be working closely with survivor groups during this process because it is so important that we get this right. This must also happen quickly so that certain sites can be exhumed. We know where many babies' bodies are buried and we need to do everything in our power to enable swift movement onto these sites to put names to those children. We also need to make sure that people are held accountable. Critically, we cannot allow any action to happen over the coming weeks and months that could put justice out of the reach of survivors. That is why the Government must act quickly to secure lands at Bessborough. Along with my colleague, Deputy Cairns, I am calling on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to use his ministerial powers under the Planning Act to halt the development of those lands and to work with Cork City Council to pursue a compulsory purchase order of the site as a place of national importance. Anything less is a further insult to the survivors and their families.

It is time for the Government to do the right thing and to stand with survivors. Its actions over the coming weeks and months will give a clear insight into how responsive it will be to the needs of survivors and into whose side it is on. Will the Government be on the side of a culture and institutions that hid, sanitised and minimised wrongdoing or the side of justice for the women and children who were so badly treated, through no fault of their own?

In the brief time available, I wish to touch on two aspects of the Minister's opening statement. He referenced the interdepartmental group which will assess the provision of a form of enhanced medical card to everyone who spent more than six months in mother and baby institutions. I join Deputy Sherlock in urging the Minister to lift the six-month limit. The trauma of those who spent a week or a month in those institutions is no less than the trauma of those who spent more than six months there. A reduction in that time limit would be massively welcome.

Another issue is the type of medical card that will be made available to survivors of mother and baby homes. In that context, we already have a gold standard as recommended on foot of a previous apology to the survivors of Magdalen laundries. The first recommendation of Mr. Justice John Quirke was that survivors of Magdalen laundries would receive the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 card, known as the HAA card. This card entitles the bearer to a wide variety of provisions including access to both public and private healthcare. If one believes in the State then one must acknowledge that Governments become custodians of promises made by their predecessors. The Minister and the Taoiseach apologised last week but they have become custodians of apologies that were made previously. Shamefully, the recommendation of Mr. Justice Quirke has yet to be fulfilled. The suggestion that a full HAA card be available to all victims and survivors of Ireland's institutional past is extremely worthy and should be seriously considered. The card would entitle survivors, victims and their family members to a full counselling service, alternative therapies, a complete range of dental services and a full range of chiropody services. These are just some of the entitlements under the HAA card.

Before I begin, I wish to take a moment to congratulate the most Irish US President since JFK, Joe Biden, and the Vice President, Kamala Harris, on their inauguration and wish them a successful term in office. In a speech yesterday Mr. Biden said "To heal, we must's hard sometimes to remember but that's how we heal".

The report, which is 3,000 pages long, is a map but there are pieces missing in what is a very complicated journey. The survivors should have been given printed copies of the report and enough time to read it. That was a serious disservice to the survivors, especially those who had given testimony and I hope this has been rectified now.

Careful analysis still needs to be done and it is important that we say that here today. It is only the beginning, only part of understanding what came before and only a partial account of what the women and children lived through. Noelle Brown, an adoption rights advocate who was born in Bessborough mother and baby home, believes her testimony was shoehorned into the report and that the transcript contained ten glaring inaccuracies. She criticised the report and the commission for failing to put the survivors at the centre of the investigation and described her involvement as a waste of time. That is not the survivor-centred approach that was promised and we need to fix that through our actions here and now.

It is important to applaud Catherine Corless for her work. Her research was instrumental in prompting the investigation. The commission interviewed, or gathered sworn affidavits from, more than 550 people during its investigation but some 56,000 mothers and 57,000 children are documented to have been resident in, or to have been born in, these homes. A number of homes failed to keep any records of the burials of children who died in them. The stories of rogue adoption agencies were not covered by this report. Records of thousands of well-documented adoptions do not appear in the report. We have read and seen in documentaries the stories of babies who were not on any aeroplane's manifest arriving from Ireland to the then Idlewild Airport in New York to be adopted but no records of these adoptions exist. Stories of women being dragged across the thresholds of their homes by clergy or gardaí were not enough for the commission to say that these women were forced into these homes. The records were not complete and these are not conclusions.

Unmarried mothers and their babies had many different experiences in the Ireland of the past. Some of these experiences involve institutions while others do not. Only a portion are included in this report. Only a portion of survivors were able to give testimony and only a portion of the story is told. There are valid criticisms of how those stories were related in the report. Some women never came out of those homes and some were abused so badly that they were scarred for life. Some survivors tell us that they were advised never to tell anyone of their shame. We can imagine that many still live their lives while holding onto dark secrets. Some go to their graves having never told a soul. It is just horrific.

While we can say that these women were badly treated, that horrible things happen and that children were taken, never to be heard from again, we need to know why such homes were set up and why Ireland demonised these women and babies and sent them to work in institutions which were paid for by the State. While we know that some 15% of babies born in these homes died, there a number of death certificates missing. Many children simply disappeared.

We have a lot of soul-searching to do and we owe it to the survivors to do it. Ultimately, human rights violations occurred and it is now vital for us to get a full picture and to ensure that any records which exist about any mother and baby facilities or any persons who took mothers into their private homes are found and that any stories of survivors or institutions that are not heard in the report are heard and documented. Such records should be handed over to the archives and anything which warrants criminal investigation should be handed over to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I welcome the fact that some such information has already been handed over. Continuous engagement with former residents and their representative groups will be paramount, as will public access to original State files.

I have written to the chief executives of Carlow County Council and Kilkenny County Council, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Denis Nulty, and the HSE regarding their archives in the aftermath of this report. I requested that local bodies search their archives for documents pertaining to their county homes and their workhouses, including information about cemeteries and any other relevant information regarding Carlow and Kilkenny, which could be released to the relevant authorities. This is important to my constituents living here or further afield. It is vital that we now open up all State and church archives so that adopted people, survivors and natural mothers can read first-hand documents about the system as a whole, even if this opening of records is not, by itself, justice. Like Germany, we need to open these archives so that researchers can document what happened to women and children in 20th century Ireland. Only this type of transparency will offer solace to survivors.

This is not all we must do. It is also important that those who have contacted us in the few days since publication feel heard and that those who never spoke of what they went through feel heard through their silence. We need to immediately legislate to provide unconditional access to birth certificates for adopted people and access to records through the proper implementation of the general data protection regulation, GDPR. We do not need to give people's addresses out but people need to know that they can get their information. Denying people access to personal information about their early lives does not adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child should have, as far as possible, the right from birth to know his or her parents and to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relation.

In October, misinformation spread that we were somehow sealing records of this kind for 30 years. That is not the case. When we voted, we voted to protect this vital and important information. I welcome the Minister's commitment to advance legislation on access to birth information and tracing. I very much look forward to working with him on this. It is urgent and I am glad that we are all able to work together on it.

The survivors are first and foremost in my thoughts. We must not place any barriers before anyone seeking redress for his or her time in a mother and baby facility. We should give redress to anyone who spent a week in these homes and anyone who arrived after 1973. This should be done case by case until everyone has received redress.

Last night I sat still, writing these words and struggling to decide what to say to describe this report of the women who came before me and the rest of us and of the lives they and their children lived. I fought to find the words until my small son came and kissed me goodnight in his pyjamas. I knew then that the only way to approach this trauma of motherhood was to speak in that way. The only thing to do was to speak to the women who had their babies taken from them and to beg forgiveness; to speak to the women excluded by every element of our society and who were given no protection by the State and to hang my head in shame on behalf of that State; to really think about the many children lost through death, through not knowing where or how they were buried or through being found gone when someone went to the nursery to feed them; and to acknowledge at this remove and in this inadequate way the unbearable and unrelenting trauma of those losses.

Of all included in the report and in the discussions since its publication, one image sticks with me above all others. It is the scream described by Terri Harrison on RTÉ's "Prime Time", the scream when she went back to the nursery to find her five-week-old baby, Niall, gone. She also described the screams of the other girls in the home and how they all knew such a scream meant another baby gone. There are women among us today who know that scream for different reasons. They know the guttural animalistic scream that comes with the loss of a child but many of those who now know that scream also know love and care. They know arms wrapped them to comfort them at their loss, they know the support of their partner or family, and they may know the care of psychologist or counsellor to help them find their first blurry steps through indescribable grief. The women and girls in the mother and baby institutions knew no such kindnesses. They had no support and had nothing to help them. They knew nothing but abuse, exclusion and exile, at best.

We know now, as we knew before, that these women and young girls were condemned. Again this week I have heard them described as second-class citizens but I do not buy that. Married women in Ireland were second-class citizens. Mothers who happened not to be married - and I say this not meaning one iota of disrespect to the survivors but simply to state the situation as it is - were not even second-class citizens. Sometimes stripped of their very names and given house names, they were a caste apart. They were untouchable, even by their own parents. As it says in chapter 12 of the report, "In Ireland it’s a sin you pay for all your life". That was the law of this land, the unwritten rules of the squinting windows and the respectable walk to church of a Sunday. Parents used language to their children such as "If we had heard that you had cancer it would have been easier to accept". These are not the words of anything but exclusion.

Do we really think that these thoughts and ideas were independently formed or that many of these families did not bear their own long scars from the forced exile of their girls? Who told them how to think? There is only one true answer. There were instances of bravery, generosity, kindness and goodness shown within families and to the girls of other families and there were good people everywhere, some of whom bravely spoke up or acted differently, but when the social custom was to step off the street and let the priest pass, when it was considered a mortal sin to step on the grounds of a Protestant church and when the church dictated every moral, thought, action and Cabinet meeting for a substantial period of the history of this State, it is truly hard to entirely blame our grandparents rather than the dogma of the dominant church and the State that should have guarded against it instead of completely facilitating and legitimising it. Neither, however, do I accept that society had no role. People in towns knew these homes existed and ignored it.

Decent Irish people knew these things happened and decided it was acceptable or necessary to ignore it. I accept that a priest-ridden society told them to denounce it, but it was nothing to do with them.

As we look around and wonder how it could have happened, we need to look especially at the State. The very essence of the State, as a constitutional democracy, is to protect the vulnerable individual from the tyranny of the majority. It was a plain fact that religious and social dogma was enabled by many political representatives - though not all - and by the State bodies which knew it was happening and failed to protect the women and girls and their children.

We can respond. The first response is the need for strong legislation on the basic right to information and identity for adoptees. We already recognise the fundamental right to identity in our approach to assisted human reproduction. The constitutional dial has moved before and can move again. We need other responses, as the Minister has said, such as full acknowledgement of the real experiences of survivors, appropriate memorialisation, financial recognition and, crucially, help for many of those with trauma.

Finally, and linked, we need to look today at what we are doing that we know is wrong. We are not immune from our own mass hysteria. It is easy to stand here and pass judgment on the past. We also need to look closely at ourselves. For example, we can work to find meaningful, creative and therapeutic access between children in long-term State care and their parents. We need to acknowledge that our system of direct provision is wrong and that it is contributing to trauma and damaging parent-child relationships, thereby subjecting parents to unwarranted restrictions. I could also mention our ongoing failure to have a national education strategy for Travellers. However, today is not about those things. It is about the people who survived, the mothers and their children. Today is about hearing their scream, acknowledging their hurt and our wrongs, and asking for their forgiveness.

While I was not going to say this today, following the comments of my colleague, Deputy Lahart, about the church, it is important to say that the timidity of the State in the face of the church has ended, but not its interdependence. This week a pregnant lady contacted me to say she was upset about the report and upset that the maternity hospital she attends is still into the sisters who used to run it. It is wrong that a woman sitting vigil beside her child in intensive care is approached by a chaplain and not a counsellor, and that parents today still need to fight for admission for their second child to a local school not with the Department but with the archdiocese. Today we began our proceedings in the Parliament with the words, "Directly we beseech thee, o Lord". I mean no disrespect to anybody of the church or practising in the church, but we need to take a hard look at this interdependence and the delivery of safe services by the church.

This was another incredibly difficult week for survivors and their families. We know that many of them are beyond disappointed and are angry about this report. We can talk about the societal and individual failures regarding the hellhole system of mother and baby homes, but we need to stress that churches failed their people. They were given this power by a State and a political system that absolutely failed everybody.

We now need to deliver for those survivors. We also need to remember those who did not survive this inhumane system. People should have immediate access to the information they require. That is a right to a birth certificate and a right to any other information they require to establish their origin and their identity. That needs to be delivered as soon as possible. I am aware that Deputy Funchion, on behalf of Sinn Féin, will be working on this and I demand that the Government follow suit.

In this day and age for anybody who goes through serious trauma, which in many cases is much less than what these women and their families have gone through, it is accepted that we need to ensure dedicated counselling and support services are available. We need to ensure access to a medical card giving them the right to essential health care. That is the least we can do. We need a redress scheme that unlike others provides openness and transparency. We need to ensure that it delivers on what needs to be delivered and that we do not fail those who have already been failed too many times before.

There is disquiet on the burial Bill and its scope needs to be expanded. We accept that there are approximately 182 similar institutions as opposed to the 18 that fell within the remit of this report. The State has failed these women, children and families for too long. We cannot continue to do so.

This has been a very challenging and difficult time for the survivors of mother and baby homes. The publication of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation report has brought to light the hidden shame of a nation. Unfortunately, the report has failed to fully address or sufficiently acknowledge the wrongs done to these survivors.

The report has made some findings that are at variance with the accounts of survivors. It even contradicts survivors' testimonies. The proof anybody needed as to the nature of the mother and baby homes can be found in the survivors' testimonies. They are the witnesses to this dark period in the history of the State and the churches. Their testimonies have exposed how the State and the Christian churches allowed, encouraged and were complicit in what can only be described as the systematic cruelty, neglect and abuse of young women and their babies. Many survivors still bear the scars and open wounds of the psychological and physical cruelty they suffered in these institutions.

Based on the extent of evidence of survivors' testimonies it is undeniable that many of the babies born in these institutions were removed from their mothers without the mother's consent or even her knowledge. There can be no other conclusion than that this was being done with the collusion of both the State and its religious institutions. The mothers were forced to bear the incalculable and unnecessary grief of the loss of a child and many have suffered years of mental anguish, never knowing the fate of their children. The children lived for decades after their separation from their mothers, without the knowledge of who their biological mothers were. Those who sought out their mothers' identity found that every State and institutional obstacle was put in front of them to deny them this basic knowledge.

We must not now add to the grief and pain of the survivors of these institutions. We cannot compound their suffering or retraumatise them by an inadequate State apology and a defective report. The survivors have courageously opened their hearts to the commission, not only to let others fully understand the horrors they endured, but also in an attempt to find some form of justice. The survivors will never have closure or a path to justice if the State negates the realities of the abuse they suffered. The State has failed them once before and it must not fail them again.

As somebody who is a political activist, but also somebody who was adopted and born in a mother and baby home, I have very mixed feelings about this debate and report. I suspect that is true of many survivors and those who went through mother and baby homes. In my case, my outcome was relatively benign in that I was adopted by a wonderful family and I was lucky enough eventually to be reunited with my biological family. However, I am acutely aware that for many other people the outcome was not so benign.

I am really upset that at a time when women and children who suffered at the hands of the church and State finally had their turn to have their voices heard, to reclaim their history and identity, to change the narrative and to put the people who lived that history back in their rightful place at the centre, that has not happened with this process.

Survivors' fears that official and political Ireland would bring its influence to bear on the history, the story and the narrative, and put its interests first, have been realised. I refer to this report, and the commentary surrounding it. It is incredibly disappointing that this has happened after we had the debacle in respect of the legislation and the seal on records before Christmas. Surely, warnings were given to the Government and to the people putting the report together that this must not happen. Yet, that is exactly what has happened.

Even before the debate last week during Leader's Questions, following the publication of the report my gut instinct led me to say that I thought the report I had read was "beginning to look like a sham, an insult and a whitewash". I wondered then whether I was being unfair. I realise now that my gut instincts were right and our fears have been realised. I say that based on how much more we have now read about what happened and how much more we have heard from survivors. We have heard much more about how the testimonies taken were not given weight, were not considered evidence and were not even transcribed accurately. We have heard survivor after survivor saying that this report is not what they expected, not what they wanted and not the vindication they expected.

The point about this whole situation is that the official Ireland was never going to admit its crimes. The report relied on official records, when it was precisely official Ireland - church and State Ireland - which presided over the shadow State and the abuse and neglect. Everything was centred on the obscene concept of "legitimacy". What an offensive term that is. How could any report try to disperse that obscene concept onto people in general, and onto fathers and families, when it was on the Statute Book until 1987? It was written in as part of the registration of mothers and when babies were born in the homes. Some were characterised as "legitimate" and some as "illegitimate". If people were deemed illegitimate, of course, then it was permissible to treat them as less than human and to allow them to suffer malnutrition, sickness and burial in unmarked graves. The histories and narratives of those people could be stolen, distorted and twisted with a perverse ideology driven by the priorities of politicians and religious orders and institutions. That is the reality. This report whitewashes that reality and insults the survivors.

I believe the Minister when he says he wants to put that right, but this process has failed so far. The Minister now needs to put the survivors, and the real voices and histories which have been denied, at the centre of the process of redress. He also needs to put them at the centre of efforts in respect of the archive and all the supports necessary to right the terrible wrongs which were done to the people in the mother and baby homes.

One week from its publication, this report is widely discredited. The decision of its authors to disregard the witness testimonies in its conclusions was particularly galling. To state in the report that there was "very little evidence that children were forcibly taken from their mothers" or that the commission "accepts that the mothers did not have much choice but that is not the same as 'forced' adoption" is pretty grotesque when it is clear there was no informed consent.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were the creators and the rulers of the Ireland in which these mother and baby homes flourished. It is no surprise that they would stand over this report. However, what about a Minister from the Green Party who had possession of the report for two months before publication and accepted it without any question or challenge? The Green Party received a big vote last February, and in large measure that was a vote for radical change. What is the point of the Green Party being in government if it just turns its back on radicalism and change and goes along with the old Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael show?

On Monday, we learned that the religious order which ran the mother and baby home in Bessborough in County Cork recently sold lands there for €6.85 million. The State should seize the proceeds of that sale, along with the assets of that order and all the other orders that ran the homes. Compensation should be insisted upon from the pharmaceutical companies which used the women and children as guinea pigs in their vaccine trials. The funds so raised should be used to compensate the survivors of the homes. Criminal prosecutions of those who committed crimes in the institutions should be pursued, including looking at the question which has arisen concerning forged signatures on adoption consent forms. There also needs to be a complete separation of church and State.

Last but not least, I will close with a quote:

We identify that the system facilitates human rights violations, including of the right to dignity; the right to work; the right to education; the right to health; the right to respect for a private and family life; the right to effective access to the international protection system; and the right to access justice and a remedy for rights violations. The system may constitute arbitrary detention and may also violate the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Is that someone talking about the mother and baby homes? No, it is a comment from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, on the direct provision system. The spirit of the mother and baby homes lives on, and the direct provision system must be ended.

Last week, the Minister wrote to the religious orders to ask them to contribute to the redress process. That is completely unacceptable. Those orders must be compelled to contribute, including by seizing their assets where necessary. The scheme must include all survivors, including women affected after 1973 and women and children who stayed in the homes for less than six months. Survivors must also be entitled to redress for all the harm offered, including from the forced adoptions that the commission incredibly claims never happened, despite all the evidence from survivors.

The Bon Secours Sisters ran the Tuam mother and baby home. That order is the second largest provider of private healthcare in the State, with revenue in 2019 of more than €300 million, including €5 million in public funding. Will the Minister compel that order to provide redress? Will he nationalise the hospitals owned by the Bon Secours order and bring them into the public health service? The religious orders identified in the report also include the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which ran homes where thousands of children died and thousands of women and children were forcibly separated. Disgracefully, that order is still refusing to disclose where the Bessborough bodies are buried, while ploughing ahead with plans to sell off lands reportedly valued at €10 million. On top of that, representatives from that order make up the entire board of the Bessborough Centre, which, according to its website, "continues the work started by the sisters in 1922". The centre receives State funding, including from the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. Is that not wildly inappropriate?

In 2021, well over 90% of our primary schools and a large majority of our secondary schools are under the control of the Catholic Church. Many students are denied access to objective, factual and inclusive sex education. Is it not beyond time to finally separate church and State and institute a comprehensive system of redress for survivors? The seizure and redistribution of assets must be a first step in this long overdue process.

Like many here this evening, I was watching the inauguration of President Joe Biden for a short while. I wish him every success. In some ways, we could say we are almost seeing one of our own being sworn in. President Biden definitely has Irish blood running through his veins. Last night, he recalled his grandmother once said: "Remember, Joey Biden, the best drop of blood in you is Irish". Hopefully, therefore, we can all look forward to good relations with the United States during the four years of President Biden's tenure.

The real topic I wish to raise this evening is the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. It is a report absolutely riddled with pain and hurt, and volumes of it. I will home in on several aspects of the report. The most striking thing was the really high mortality rate. Some 15% of all children born in mother and baby homes did not survive. They died. Many of them were not even afforded a Christian burial. Some 9,000 children died in mother and baby homes, and 168 of those deaths were in my home county of Clare.

Last week, the two newspapers in Clare, The Clare Champion and The Clare Echo, ran front pages with that figure of 168 deaths. Those were 168 young babies from Clare who should have grown through childhood and be adults now, probably with their own children and grandchildren. However, that was a future they were never to see and fulfil. These are the people we need to consider in bringing about a story of justice and redress.

With regard to Kilrush in my county, the report states that there were "continuous requisitions" for coffins. What does that say? Again, it harks back to that hugely high mortality rate of 168 Clare lives lost. The report also quoted inspector reports that said there were appalling living conditions. Children were sleeping in "every habitable corner". It is good and welcome that we now have the report, but there are so many unanswered questions such as how, why and what happens next.

The way the Tuam babies were buried was perverse. They were not given a Christian burial. It is a perversion that the religious organisations of our State, whose very premise is based on the birth of a baby child in Bethlehem and whose whole belief and faith system is based around that, which is a faith system I hold, would administer these mother and baby homes and not afford the most basic of Christian burials to some of these babies.

There was demonisation of women, dehumanising of children and commodifying of life and forced adoptions, which, frustratingly, for so many who testified still seems to be somewhat disputed in the report. There is nothing more perfect than the life of a baby child. On three occasions I was blessed and fortunate to sit beside my wife as she gave birth to our three children. It is disgusting and stomach churning to think that State, church and society would use horrible terms like "illegitimate" and "born out of wedlock" from the very get-go. As these children breathed their first gulps of oxygen and cried to the world, the State and the instruments of the State did not recognise their legitimacy, calling these children horrible terms such as "bastards". That is wrong and disgusting. The real measure of the State now in the year 2021 is not so much what has come out in this report but about the redress and the justice that we must fight for and deliver for the victims and survivors of these homes and for the many children who never lived to tell their tale fully. For anyone who lived in a mother and baby home and for any mother who gave birth in a mother and baby home, we all must say to them that they did nothing wrong. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They did not bring any shame on their families. The church let them down, the State let them down and society let them down.

This report is meaningless unless there is effective justice and redress. I fully believe, and I think every Member in the House believes, that children should have a right to know who their birth parents are. Every child should be entitled to an accurate birth certificate, which is the very document that verifies a person's identity and legitimacy. That term now needs to be used. Everyone is legitimate. The church and the State must pay up with redress. Many of the children born into these homes had lives that went in a certain trajectory from the moment they were born. Many of them remained disadvantaged for their whole life. They need effective redress. In that regard, church and State must pay up with no ifs, buts or "Will you pay up?". They will pay up.

On the issue of the GDPR legislation, I welcome that the Minister has a modern take on all of this. I am aware that, before entering Dáil Éireann, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, was a law lecturer and he has really cast a cold eye on all of this by seeing how this information can be freed up and used in the right channels. I believe that GDPR legislation is good. It is a way of accessing information but, as I said the Minister yesterday, GDPR legislation deals with the documents relating to oneself and we need more than that in this regard. For this reason, every effort to advance tracing information legislation should be undertaken by Dáil Éireann.

This went on until 1987. I am a child of 1982, and if Google is correct, I believe the Minister is also a child of 1982. This was happening in our lifetime. It was not something that happened just in the 1920s or in black-and-white films. This was happening in our lifetime and it is very conceivable that when I was a child going to primary and secondary school, I sat in a classroom with children who had come from a mother and baby home and had lived through this whole experience. Nobody, be it society, State or church, can cast aside the fact that this all happened in living memory and is not some relic from the past. We need to deal with it in this way. It is a very current issue. It is a real stain on our State. We are about to approach 100 years of statehood. The redress and the justice we deliver for these victims will be the litmus test for how good our State really is in the year 2021.

I welcome the publication of the report into the mother and baby homes. Its publication brings to the surface the many dark and extremely oppressive, depressing and aggressive actions of many of these so-called homes. This report is an important document which gives voice to the experiences of some of the most vulnerable in our society across many decades. The survivors showed immense courage in giving their testimony. We know that almost 9,000 children died in the institutions under investigation, which was about 15% of all the children who were in the care of those institutions. This is a dark stain on the record of our State, the religious congregations and the society, which must be put right. The publication of this report is the first step in that process. It is an important one. We must ensure that the many recommendations from it are seen through.

I welcome the Taoiseach’s unequivocal apology on behalf of the State. I also note the apologies issued by just some of the religious congregations to date. The apology is a key part of the 22 actions the Government is taking in response to the commission’s report. The Government has committed to a comprehensive response to the commission’s recommendations, rooted in a survivor-centred approach. This comprehensive response to the report is centred on eight themes, including a survivor-centred approach, the State apology and providing access to personal information. My colleague, Deputy Cathal Crowe, has already referred to the birth certificates. The rights of the women and their children to, and their need for, that information is crucial for health and personal reasons, as the Minister is aware. Other themes of the Government response include the archives, which we have discussed with many people over recent months, the databases, to which the Minister referred in his opening remarks, education and research, memorialisation, redress and providing a dignified burial for all the children who died in these institutions.

I acknowledge the work and dedication of Catherine Corless and, equally, the five-year work of the commission, led by Judge Yvonne Murphy, supported Dr. William Duncan and Professor Mary Daly, in preparing this report. It is also important to acknowledge feedback from survivors. They have heartfelt and legitimate concerns about some aspects of this report that must be addressed, and soon. I would welcome a commitment from the commission to engage with survivors and survivor organisations in this regard. I ask that the Minister would clarify and confirm, perhaps in his closing remarks, that survivors who want a paper copy of the full report will be facilitated. For too long, these people have been left in the dark when it comes to information. It is their own information and it is imperative, as I said earlier, that the basic and simple action of access to the initial compilation of survivors' stories in this report and in the investigation must be made available to them.

The report considers a number of institutions, some of which operated in my own constituency of Dún Laoghaire, including the Magdalen laundry at St. Patrick’s refuge, Crofton Road, which operated until the 1960s when it became St. Michael’s Hospital and convalescent home, the Cottage Home on Tivoli Road, Racefield House on Lower Mounttown Road, Smyly's Home on the Monkstown Road, Bartres Children's Home in Kill O’ the Grange, known as the Grange Linden convalescent home, Blackrock and now part of an apartment complex, St. Joseph’s Orphanage on Tivoli Road, and the Bird’s Nest on York Road. Many of these buildings are familiar to the locals of Dún Laoghaire, but the history of what happened at many of these institutions may have been known only to survivors and their families. There are other homes and institutions that fell outside of this report and these must be examined too. No woman or child should be left out of any future investigation or redress.

This report rightly puts the testimony and the stories of the survivors on the historical record. It is important that these testimonies are recorded for future generations. All religious congregations of all denominations and State institutions and organisations, both local and national, have a part to play in the reconciliation for these women and their children. The publication of this report is a first step on a very long road of national reflection, redress and reconciliation along with atonement for the wrongs and injustices committed against the most vulnerable and innocent in our society.

I genuinely believe the Minister wants to do the right thing and I appeal to him now as I have done before. He is the captain and manager of this team and when things change, it is time to go back and talk to the team before coming out for the second half and tell them they are taking a different approach for a better result. I spoke to many survivors and adoptees over the last week. My phone has been hopping. They are disappointed in the report. I spoke to good close friends of mine and as has been mentioned already, many things that people wanted to be in the report are not in it. These people did not speak to the commission for glory. They did this because they wanted to tell the truth. They wanted it out there so this would never happen again. While the report is lengthy and I am trying to get through it, there is not a lot in it that is shocking to me personally, as I have had experience of this issue for many years. Five or six years ago I walked into Bessborough for the first time for a memorial. I said to one of the survivors that the pink and blue balloons looked beautiful, and she told me they were markers for the boys and girls in those graves. That was a shock to my system.

There have to have been cover-ups because we have heard of them. Let us be honest here. It was the church, the State, the councils and the undertakers. They were all involved in this and it was not for the goodness or the health of babies. It was for profit. People were sourced out. So far, I have not seen a mention in the report about coloured babies. We have spoken about illegitimate babies but coloured babies were classed as mules. That is how they were recorded. There is a lot to be done. I ask the Minister to please not let this go. This is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to get some swift stuff going to start supporting survivors now because they do not have the time. The Minister should not let the investigation slip now because this is only the tip of the iceberg and much more has to come out.

Our response to the publication of this report must be constructive and based on the views of those who matter, namely, the survivors, those adopted through these institutions, their families and their advocates. The report goes some way to giving voice to the histories that have been hidden to date but it is by no means an exhaustive account. Survivors have described it to me as rushed, incomplete and unrepresentative. Many aspects of the investigation were either inconclusive or were not adequately followed up on. For example, based on my discussions with survivors, I spoke in the Dáil about money changing hands for children. At that time, I called it human trafficking and I still claim that to be case. As was acknowledged in the report, a full account of financial transactions or a money trail could not be given. For Sean Ross Abbey, records of deaths, births, admissions and other registers were made available to the commission but there was an absence of financial records. A money trail could have informed survivors better about what went on in this institution and about themselves and those they lost. Like other aspects of the report, this should have been more thoroughly examined with the congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the local authorities concerned and the records of the relevant Departments. This investigation must continue without delay.

The testimonies of the women concerned, as well as those of local communities, should also have been treated with the importance they deserve. Witness accounts of money changing hands for children, like so many other accounts, were described as anecdotal. This is an appalling under-representation of the importance of survivor's accounts. There are also concerns about how accurately some of these testimonies have been reproduced in the report. Again, this requires further investigation and accountability where needed.

Many questions have been raised here today by Members across the House and every effort must be made to fill those gaps in our knowledge through further consultation with survivors and ongoing investigations. For example, the chapter of the report on excavations at Sean Ross Abbey clearly notes:

The total number of infant deaths which [are] recorded as having occurred here are 1078. Without complete excavation it is not possible to say conclusively that all of these individuals are buried within the present site of the Children’s Burial Ground. There may have been dense concentrations of burials in other areas of the site that were not excavated.

This is clear evidence that the Government must order new scans of that site and act quickly in shining a light on the many other unanswered questions for institutions raised elsewhere in this report.

The publication of this report does not wash the hands of the church or the State of their involvement in these decades of injustice, patriarchy and discrimination. It only confirms that they are bound to provide further transparency about these years. They are also obliged to address these wrongs through an examination and acknowledgment of our past. Our survivors have been ignored and let down for long enough. They cannot be failed any more.

First, I acknowledge the role my former colleague, Katherine Zappone, played in supporting the commission throughout her term of office, which was not easy at times. Most important was her engagement, in a respectful manner, with the survivors and their families. History will show that the Independent Ministers in the previous Government fought against the systemic bias towards sweeping issues under the carpet and just hoping they would go away. This is, at least in part, the reason we ended up with the institutions such as mother and baby homes and many more institutional scandals, which at the very least were known to official Ireland and were at best just ignored and swept under that very same carpet.

The commission's report has provided new information and in the case of the vaccine trials, provided some answers to the children involved. It has also raised many other questions. For those who criticised the work of the commission, I want to put on record that it has provided information and hopefully secured documentation that the State had conveniently brushed under that carpet by turning a blind eye to the failure to comply with the most rudimentary standards for vaccine trials. The State willingly returned personal medical documentation in the past without considering the implications for the people, then innocent children, involved. The Ryan commission records of the vaccine trials were returned by the State to the congregations involved nearly a decade ago, without giving access to the individuals who had been impacted by them.

While the commission has reviewed the medical records available to it and concluded that there was no evidence of injury to the children involved in the vaccine trials, such a conclusion is simplistic. These children were treated as little more than human pincushions by the companies and clinicians involved, due to the large number of injections they received and the blood samples that were taken. How can we be sure that there were no delayed immunological impacts from these particular formulations if no guardian was in a position to tell the clinician treating that child after the end of the trial that he or she had previously received an experimental formulation? The child as an adult would also not be in a position to inform his or her treating doctor that he or she was involved in an experimental trial. Each of these children must be contacted and provided with medical records and these, combined with their medical history, must be independently reviewed and a full and transparent report published on the conclusions. This should happen immediately and the full cost must be born by GlaxoSmithKline.

The commission did, however, flag the issue of consent and the failure to secure it. Why is the issue of consent so important? It is primarily because we all have a basic human right to our own bodily integrity. There is a need for informed consent in advance of any medical study. This was not sought despite it being the legal and regulatory requirement at the time. Without engaging with the parents or guardians of the children, a clinician could not deem them to be suitable for inclusion in any trial. For example, paragraph 34.121 of the report, on the 1968-1969 measles vaccine trial, states that the trial should have excluded children "with a personal history of convulsions, or allergy, asthma and eczema, or strong family history of same".

Without consent, how could this have been ascertained in respect of these children? At least in some of the homes, consent was a standard procedure for vaccinations outside of clinical trials at that point in time. Paragraph 34.71 states:

The Dunboyne institutional records contain completed written consent forms relating to instances where infants resident there were presented for immunisation at the public health clinic. These consent forms were signed by either the mother or the matron.

However, there were no consent forms available for the clinical trials.

It is also clear from the report that the Department of Health had serious problems with the use of children in these homes for clinical trials, similar to concerns raised in the UK. However, paragraph 34.92 states:

A Department of Health document dated 13 December 1963 dealing with this application noted that, in April 1962, Professor Meenan had asked to field-trial an Oral Polio Vaccine in Pelletstown. In that instance, it was noted that the Department of Health had no objection to the trial itself but raised concerns regarding the selection of Pelletstown: 'While the procedure proposed appeared to be a safe one, the selection of the group to participate was open to objection and approval was not given on that occasion.'

The Department did not want clinical trials being carried out on children in homes. However, it did not seem to make any difference to the clinicians involved whether the Department gave consented or not. Indeed, paragraph 34.163 notes that permission was sought to field trial an oral polio vaccine on children in Pelletstown and was refused. The report goes on to state: "The Commission takes the view there is a high probability" that Pelletstown was in fact used in the trial, despite the refusal to grant approval by the Department.

GlaxoSmithKline has many questions to answer. Why did the scientific publications on UK and Nigerian trials specifically make reference to consent, yet these references were conveniently left out of the very same publications on trials based on Irish children? Why was Ireland seen as a soft option for trials involving children in institutions? Clearly, such trials could not take place in the UK. That would that have been the case in Ireland, based on the regulatory and legal system that was in place at the time. However, because of a lack of enforcement in Ireland, they were happy to proceed. Paragraph 34.122 states:

On 5 September 1968, Dr Coffey told Dr Burland [from Glaxo Laboratories] that she had come up against 'the usual complications' while trying to arrange to field-trial Glaxo’s measles vaccine in Dublin.

The response from Glaxo was very interesting. According to the report:

Dr Burland advised Dr Coffey to liaise with Dr Hillery as ‘she may be able to suggest a way in which you could overcome the problems you have encountered’.

In other words, there could be a way to get around the law of the land and the refusal of the Department of Health to sanction this trial. GlaxoSmithKline needs to clarify why these formulations were not placed on the market on a commercial basis. Was it because they were not effective in actually preventing the diseases that they were supposed to? If that was the case, it would have impacted on the subsequent immunity of the children involved in these studies. Were children outside of homes, either in Ireland or the UK, subjected to the battery of needles that the children in these homes were? There was multiple administration of vaccine doses, and multiple blood sampling procedures took place. As a matter of urgency, there must now be an engagement with GlaxoSmithKline on behalf of the children who were involved in these trials. As a very first step, it must provide a clear and unequivocal apology and forthright answers. It must also put in place financial support package in place for those exploited by ignoring their basic fundamental right of bodily integrity. GlaxoSmithKline benefited financially from this research. It was happy enough to ensure that those who conducted the trials also benefited from it. It needs now to live up to its responsibilities to the victims.

There was a clear benefit to the clinicians involved in these trials. Direct payments are referenced. At the very least, funding was provided for research facilities, which would assist those researchers in securing scientific publications. Many of the researchers were also involved in scientific publications which helped them secure promotions and status within the scientific community and would also have been of benefit to the universities involved. We must now see an apology from the two universities involved, namely, UCD and Trinity College, Dublin.

It is also important to point out that these scientific publications were peer-reviewed in advance of publication. In the British Medical Journal and The Lancet, interestingly, publication of the British trials include an outline of the consent and confirmation that consent was obtained in line with the law and ethical standards, but not when it came to the publication of the Irish studies. Why was this not set as a precondition of publication? It should have been. If it had been and the academics were told that they must provide that, maybe then, those particular children would not have been exploited and those institutions would not have been used again and again. There must be an explanation as to why this did not happen and an apology from both the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.

As I said at the start, there was a cover up right to the top. The attitude was one of brush it under the carpet and it will go away. Paragraph 34.153 of the report states that the Department of Health had flagged it in 1968 that Professor Meenan had conducted vaccine trials without the authorisation of the Minister for Health. There are many questions here. The victims must be supported to get answers and apologies right across the board.

We are debating a report about an intolerant Ireland and a very dark period in our past. I have not read a whole lot of the report, but from what I have read of it, it smacks of the intolerance of society. We can blame many factors in society for that, but that is what comes through. When I am looking at reports of this nature, I am taken back to July 1989, when I was working on my uncle's farm with John Joe Bradley. He left school at 13 years of age and worked on farms all over the place. He talked to me about his own life and the challenges facing his own family. He also talked about people and the way they were treated. He outlined to me the stories of three women within the community, and what had happened to them. I remember quite distinctly when he looked at me and said: "Michael, can I put it very clearly to you. When we were at our most Catholic, we were at our least Christian."

I have heard many fine speakers, in the 30 years since that conversation, talk about the scandals that have been thrown up in Irish society, but nobody has put it as clearly as John Joe Bradley did. We lacked Christianity within our society. We lacked a basic common decency towards our fellow human beings. We believed, or our society believed, that some human beings were lesser than others. We delivered an intolerant society that was based on where people fell in a pecking order.

It is important that we debate this report and that we find redress for those who suffered. Church, State and all of us must look within our hearts. I challenge us all today to look around at our society in 2021, 100 years on from the founding of our State, and to seek to weed out intolerance. We have to look at where intolerance is causing huge pressures for people today. When we look at what is happening on social media and various platforms, and the polarisation that is there, we see that the middle is afraid to speak out because of the powerful voices of intolerance on either side. Our legacy as Members of this Dáil must be to ensure that, in 50, 60 or 70 years' time, nobody will say we turned a blind eye to the intolerance that is within our society today. That is our challenge and it should be our response to the horrific suffering of women in the intolerant society of the past. We must make sure our less well-off and marginalised people do not continue to be less well-off and marginalised. We must ensure their suffering does not have to be revisited in a different chapter 50 or 60 years from now.

A time slot of four and a half minutes gives little time to contribute to the discussion on a report which spans almost 70 years and covers 18 institutions - many more are not covered by it - 28 different Governments, ten local authorities, several religious orders, many trusted professionals, multiple churches and a society shaped by all of that. The report outlines the difficulty the commission experienced in providing its executive summary. In drafting my words today, I have some understanding of that difficulty. However, it is fair to say that the independent commission has failed to provide an executive summary that does justice to tho people who were uncared for in these institutions. In fact, in reading the full report, I feel the commission has done a disservice to its own work in the executive summary it presented. In particular, the statement that there is "no evidence that women were forced to enter mother and baby homes by the church or State authorities" has proved offensive. It does not take into account the impact of the society which the report condemns. There may not have been a court that sentenced women to these institutions but the court of public opinion dragged them there without mercy.

In preparing for this debate, I tried to see how I could contribute in a way that would add to the overall discussion. As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on local government, I would like to highlight the role of many local authorities in the running of the mother and baby homes, as set out in the report. Before doing so, I want to make clear that, in so doing, I let no Government or church off the hook. The fount of judgmental dishonour that flowed from the fonts of religious churches, particularly the Catholic Church, poisoned Irish society at every level. It infected every decision of the State and the people within it. I am not a member of any church but I am a Member of this House and I am particularly cognisant of the role of the State in this matter. In issuing a State apology, An Taoiseach acknowledged the failure of the State in this regard and the failure of all those individuals involved in the State. It is hard to pin guilt on a society but it is clear that people at every level - I refer in particular to office holders - were guilty of failing to ask the hard questions, even when the evidence was in front of them. As a people, we did not ask the hard questions. Right from the very top, with few exceptions, from Ministers responsible for local government and public health - I wish I had time to name each one of them - right down to inspectors and local authority officials, few questions were asked.

I was taken aback by much of what is in this report but particularly the evidence that when the payment for unmarried mothers was finally introduced in 1973, not one Member of this House spoke on that occasion other than the junior Minister who introduced it. That is an indictment of the body politic, the media and the society of that time. Post independence, many local authorities inherited a system of workhouses. They relied on religious orders to staff them, paid members of those orders as staff of the local authority and funded and expanded the institutions. Councillors and officials even met within the walls of those institutions. When presented with evidence of neglect, local authority staff often were deferential to the Catholic hierarchy, sometimes allowing conditions of neglect to continue as they waited out the departure of a difficult bishop. Some of the homes provided decent burials and burial records but others failed to account for where the innocent dead were buried. When I and other Members of this House say that local authorities should have more power, we should not forget this chapter of our history. When local authorities had power, remit and governance, they let down women and children. Every local authority mentioned in the report should hold a special meeting to debate and reflect on their role in this history.

Ultimately, the only way we will make this right is to implement the findings of the report and provide redress for all who suffered, not just for those who fall on one side of an arbitrary decision in 1973. It is important, in particular, that we provide access to birth information. The heat of the debate on the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Records, and Another Matter, Bill 2020 is still with us. My motivation and that of the Minister and many people on this side of the House in voting for that legislation was to protect that information and the database which holds it in order that the Government could legislate to enable people to access it. That trajectory will be vindicated only when people have access, and that must be the priority of the Government. In 50 years' time, the record of this House will show that we did not stay silent on this issue today. I hope we will likewise not be silent on the contemporary issues of injustice that face our society.

I very much welcome the debate on this report. I begin by suggesting that serious consideration be given to having a national remembrance day for all those who died in the mother and baby homes. It is something that should be considered over the next few months.

I want to touch on one or two issues that were raised earlier today. Back in 1974, the former President and then Senator, Mary Robinson, made an unsuccessful attempt to abolish the status of illegitimacy when she introduced a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad. In the early 1980s, I was involved in a broad-based campaign to abolish the status of illegitimacy. Our campaign faced opposition within my own party and, indeed, the wider community. We estimated that it would take us ten years to change the law. However, we continued to maintain the pressure and the Government of the day eventually published the Status of Children Bill in 1986, which became law in 1987. That was an important social and legal change in terms of children's rights.

From the foundation of the State in 1922, part of the Irish struggle was to establish an identity at home and abroad, with a strong emphasis on an Irish exceptionalism centred on family and Catholic moral values. Respectability was highly valued and, in effect, church and State worked together to establish a type of theocratic society where the dominant ideology was that of the Catholic Church. Throughout the period from the 1920s to the end of the 1960s, we continued to suffer economic hardship, population decline and high levels of emigration.

Emigration, rather than change, was also the safety valve for poverty, disease and death, especially infant deaths. The records of the register of births, deaths and marriages show that, during the first 50 years of the Irish State, the total number of infant deaths was 160,000. In fact, the worst year was 1944, when more than 5,000 infants died. The annual number of infant deaths began to fall substantially from 1948 onwards, but it was not until 1979 that the number of infant deaths fell below 1,000 in a single year.

The prevailing ideology for more than six decades was that single mothers and their children were seen as a threat to families. Society placed an extraordinary burden of guilt and shame on them. In most cases, the fathers of these children abandoned their responsibilities.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of women who entered mother and baby homes were coerced. Social workers referring to this group of women said:

There is a cohort of women about whom we know very little, and for whom we must have great concern. These are women who we, as social workers, believe were so shamed at the time of pregnancy and birth by the system and by those from whom they might have wished for support that they have never told anyone (including husband and other children) of the child or children to whom they gave birth and who live in fear of being found out and feeling their lives could be destroyed.

We must, however, balance their rights with the rights of those who want to establish their identity. The children who were born in mother and baby homes have rights. They received no support from the State from the day they were born and many did not even get a basic education. It is important that everything possible is done for them at the earliest possible date. They have travelled a difficult road and the State must now prioritise their needs in the best possible way.

I do not have a simple answer to the complex issues surrounding the balancing of rights to personal privacy and the right to information on personal identity. However, I would encourage everyone to read chapter 36 of the report, in particular from section 70 onwards, before they come to any conclusion on this complex issue. There is an understandable urge for immediate action and the media is reflecting this urgency. Yet, as we move to put right some of the wrongs previously committed, let us be mindful of the danger of hurting those who have already been badly broken.

The right to identity, to know who we are, is fundamental. Whether these babies were removed, gifted, trafficked, placed or sold, the survivors - our fellow citizens - are entitled to the same documentary right to their identity as the rest of us. They have so far been denied it, and it should be anathema for that to be considered acceptable in a functioning republic.

I am proud of my Sinn Féin comrade, Deputy Funchion, who has been working hard on the Bill she brought forward yesterday to guarantee survivors unconditional rights to their birth certificates, care files, adoption files and all information held on them from labour to dispersal and thereafter. I am equally proud that our access to information legislation would provide in statute for the National Adoption Contact Preference Register to establish the right of a person to know if he or she is adopted.

I believe everyone agrees that the commission's report is below par. There is instituted indignity. For example, the report could not be couriered to the survivors because the Minister did not have the addresses. Yet, he had time to film a handy video presenting their suffering as content. That is not to mention the leaks given to the newspapers. It really falls short of what the survivors deserve. What has the State learned from this? I do not believe this disrespect to survivors was due to the fact that the report was such a blatant disappointment.

We have to give the women and children what they did not get back then or last week. They need dignity. This is not over. This State has to make the apology relevant. I do not mean only redress, although that is certainly needed. The stories of these women and children need to be put into our modern history curriculum in schools so that our young people can learn about the State's dysfunctional relationship with women, especially poor women. Young people need to learn how ugly 100 years of patriarchal rule looks. These women and their children - our fellow citizens - deserve no less.

Each of us is a link in the human chain. It is our fundamental right to know where we fit in our family. For the survivors there has been too much separation, darkness, secrecy, suffocation and hiding. Establishing their right to identity brings the necessary air, warmth and light to them and us as well as to our State.

I begin by paying tribute to all the women and children who spent time in these institutions, including those in my county of Donegal. I pay tribute to the bravery shown by the survivors who engaged with the commission. I know there are many who did not have the opportunity to do so.

Tá moladh tuillte ag na mná, a gcuid teaghlaigh agus a gcuid páistí don chrógacht a thaispeáin siad, ní amháin le linn na hama a chaith siad sna hinstitiúidí seo, ach don chrógacht fosta a thaispeáin siad agus iad ag plé leis an gcoimisiúin agus ó foilsíodh an tuairisc. Bealach casta agus fada atá siúlta acu go dtí seo agus is cúis fheirge é gur theip ar an tuairisc agus ar an gcoimisiúin meas a thabhairt d’fhianaise na mná.

It is five years since the commission was established. For many survivors the process has been traumatic, frustrating and deeply disappointing. In so many ways the report and the commission have failed survivors and their families.

These institutions were not mother and baby homes but part of a regime which stripped mothers and babies of their dignity and rights. It was a regime which incarcerated women and girls, degraded and dehumanised them and forcibly removed children from their mothers. This was an act of cruelty the report failed, and brazenly refused, to recognise. The narrative perpetuated by this report is one which tries to universalize blame and thereby absolve church and State of primary responsibility.

The courage of survivors must now be met with immediate action. This includes proper redress for all those impacted, dedicated counselling and support services and far more. It needs to begin by respecting the right of survivors to their identity.

Tá an ceart ag duine eolas a bheith aige nó aici maidir lena fhéiniúlacht. Níor chóir don Stát an ceart sin a shéanadh. No one has the right to deny any person the right to his or her own identity. Survivors must have access to their information, including the right of access to birth certificates and adoption files. There must be measures to safeguard records as well. That is their right and it must be delivered.

The State failed mothers and their children. Now, belatedly, it must accept responsibility for that failure and deliver for survivors.

The report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation failed when it concluded that women who entered the homes after 1973 were to be excluded from the statutory redress. The report was never about compensation or redress. It is about recognition of unnecessary feeling of stigma that women such as Alice McEvoy suffered. She spoke passionately in The Irish Times. She said she does not need the money but she knows many others who do. She said it was appalling that the authors excluded those in the post-1973 cohort and I agree with her fully.

I strongly believe GlaxoSmithKline should be asked to contribute financially to the mother and baby homes redress scheme. I believe GlaxoSmithKline has a significant moral obligation to contribute. The involvement of the company in vaccine clinical trials was to its financial benefit overall. The company's engagement with the mother and baby homes and their residents was at best dubious, but in real terms it was unethical and illegal. For example, the Bessborough institutional records show that at least five mothers of children resident in Bessborough who participated in trials had mental health issues.

Another mother was only 17 years old. There was another. I will quote from the report, "It is abundantly clear that ... [this trial] did not comply with the regulatory and ethical standards in place at the time."

These are just two examples, and there are so many others in the report, that paint GlaxoSmithKline in a caring or professional manner. If anything, it is the total opposite. The findings of these trials were of huge financial benefit to what is now GlaxoSmithKline, a major pharmaceutical operation that had turnover of €40 billion in 2019. GlaxoSmithKline should contribute. It has a moral obligation to do so. This Government should immediately start dialogue in that regard. Between 1975 and 1981 GlaxoSmithKline gave £240,000 annually to Irish veterinary research. If it gave triple this figure for each of the 40 years it conducted unethical vaccine trials on children, that would be a proper contribution to the redress scheme by GlaxoSmithKline. A figure in the region of €500 million would be what is expected. The company made €6 billion in profit in 2019, and €500 million represents 1% of its profits over the past ten years.

What I do not want is for these pharmaceutical companies, the Government, the State, the local authorities and the church to bury this in paperwork. These people - survivors and families - have suffered enough. It is time now. There has been wrong upon wrong upon wrong. The report is a shambles. It took all the evidence from these survivors but did not represent it properly in the report. The leaking of this document by the Government was wrong. There has been enough wrongdoing. It is now time to stand up and to make some contribution to these survivors. These people need to be taken to task for their illegal actions, but we do not need this to go on for years upon years. It is now time for the Government to act and to be counted to make sure these survivors get something now that may improve their lives now. I ask the Government not to let this go through years of millions being wasted through legal challenges. The Government should stand up now and pay for the past mistakes of the State.

I very much welcome this debate. It is very important and right that we acknowledge and go through this very important report, which has shone a light on such a dark time in our history and in our society in a way that, we all have to be honest and perfectly frank, we have to be ashamed of. The awful and inhuman way in which young girls and boys and children were treated by the institutions of this State, which were aiding and abetting one another at the time, is beyond belief. One saying that often comes up in conversation is "that was then and this is now". We have to be so careful that in our society at present we do not allow wrongs to continue, whether those wrongs are, for example, children being homeless or other people being homeless and not being taken care of properly by the State. We have to be so mindful.

I listened very carefully earlier to my good friend and colleague, Deputy Moynihan, talk about social media. We have to be careful about what is going on in that regard and careful that in a number of years' time we will not look back and say there were young people whose formative years were scarred or they were upset or treated badly because of social media. That could be the new form of bullying. What went on in the past in these institutions, where people were inhumanely treated, was a horrible type of degrading behaviour. Of course, it was also bullying because those people saw themselves as being so awfully powerful, with such God-almightiness in them, that they could do whatever they wanted to other human beings.

It should be remembered that there is nothing in this whole world as nice as a small young child, be it a little boy or a little girl, and seeing them coming into the world. Wherever or however they come into this world is totally immaterial; the fact is that the person is a human being. Children are so welcome into the world, and we should all be willing to do everything we can to mind, nurture, protect and educate them and get them ready for life. Unfortunately, there were people, whether in the education sphere or in those awful institutions that were called homes, who treated people in a way that was so wrong. We have all heard on local radio in recent years survivors, as we will call them, coming out and telling their stories. It is so important that we get educated and that we know their stories because in many instances we would not otherwise know the truth of the enormity of the wrongs that were done to them. Of course they should be compensated. I am not saying they are looking for compensation. The less people look for it the more they should actually get it because they are entitled to it. The institutions that hurt or harmed them should be made recompense them, not that all the money in the world can buy back their youth or the years they might have gone to bed upset, hungry, tired, cold or weary, with nobody to give them a squeeze, to tell them they are a great little boy or a great young girl or to mind them and be kind to them. It is an awful thing to think they were robbed of that.

I have a very strong message to the people who survived. I thank them for telling their stories and letting us all see that shameful time. I have a strong message to the bullies of today. I will give the House an example. When I sit down here tonight, I will more than likely get a message from a person who is very fond of messaging me continuously when I stand up in the Dáil. This person berates me personally and my family and tells me what a horrible person I am. I say to that dirty, rotten coward this: come out into the open and face me like any normal person would face me and have a debate. It is fine for this type of horribleness that goes on to happen to me. That is no problem because I am able for it, but what about young people who are not able to take that type of nastiness? I say to those cowards this: go away and do a bit of work and do something normal in life rather than looking into a computer screen and trying to figure out how to say horrible words to somebody.

This is an important point to finish. Those cowards are the horrible people of now who are equally as horrible as the people we are talking about who were there long ago. I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak.

To understand why so many Irish women were forced by society into mother and baby homes in the 20th century, we have to try to understand the role afforded by the new Irish State to women when we got our independence 100 years ago. I regret to say that although everyone in this House praises Irish independence, it is unfortunately the case that the role afforded to Irish women by the new State was very limited and very sexist. This is particularly surprising when one thinks of the revolutionary era. Everyone in this House is aware that during the revolutionary period Cumann na mBan played an extremely important part in the struggle for Irish independence.

I think of all those valiant brave revolutionary women who subsequently became Members of this House and who fought not just for Irish independence but who were also fighting for the rights of women. I am thinking in particular of people like Kathleen Clarke, Kathleen O'Callaghan, Mary MacSwiney and Ada English. We are all aware of Constance Markievicz. It is surprising that a revolution that took place in this country and which produced so many fine revolutionary women as them ended up becoming a Free State which degraded the image of women in society. We need to ask ourselves why is it that a revolution that promised such equality for women in Irish society ended up resulting in a State which discriminated against them and did not treat them in a way that could be described as anything other than sexist and perhaps misogynistic.

In order to understand why there has been that change, we have to look back to Irish history. One historian has noted that those revolutionary women seem to have disappeared from Irish public life by 1926. The only time that they are referred to or are identified publicly after that is when they are commemorating a deceased male relative. Why is it that a revolutionary movement in this country translates into a Free State that is discriminatory and sexist against women, when such an important part had been played in that revolution by women, who not only espoused the cause of an Irish Republic but also espoused the cause of equality and rights for women?

We have to look to what happened after the Civil War. It was clearly the case then that the bishops of the Catholic Church in Ireland stated publicly that they were concerned about the moral fibre of society, about what was happening in dance halls and about the immodest attitudes of women. There was clearly an attempt then to try to present a new image of Irish women in the new Irish State. Regrettably, that was not to be the image of Constance Markievicz, Kathleen Clarke or, indeed, Ada English, but was instead to be an image of Irish women which was to be exclusively concentrated upon motherhood, virginity and purity. There is nothing wrong with those three characteristics but when a State turns around and imposes those characteristics on one section of society, it is very suffocating. When a State says that this is the ideal image of what an Irish woman should be it can only have a very negative impact on those very many Irish women who did not want to fit within that stereotype.

When we look to see what happened with the Free State, we note that W.T. Cosgrave decided to adopt Catholic social mores into the laws of the State. We know of the very deferential attitude that the first independent Irish Government adopted towards the Catholic Church. We see legislation that this House enacted that we can now look back upon with a sense of embarrassment. I looked earlier today at the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 1926. At that stage women had the right to work in jobs in the Civil Service but that legislation, which was enacted by these Houses of the Oireachtas back in 1926, removed the opportunity for women to work in those jobs. It specified that the jobs would only apply to one sex, namely, men.

We also saw legislation enacted in 1929, the Censorship of Publications Act, which prevented anyone from accessing information in respect of contraception. Those legislative manoeuvres and the actions of the new Irish Government indicated that the image of Irish women that this State endorsed was the one as presented by the Catholic Church. Motherhood was at the centre of it. Virginity, purity and compliance, however, were also an essential aspect of that representation of Irish women. We see that subsequent to the 1920s, when Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932, and in the Constitution of 1937, it is the case that there were significant objections from some revolutionary women about the inclusion of the woman’s place being in the home. Dorothy Macardle was a woman who sought to prevent that from happening but it continued and the representation of Irish women was always that of being motherhood. Any image of sexuality was regarded as being negative and as something that was not appropriate in an Irish woman. Unfortunately, all of that led to feelings of guilt and shame being imposed upon the large majority of Irish women in society. It was fear, guilt and shame which made Irish people believe that an Irish woman who had a child outside of wedlock was in some respect evil. We have to apologise for that. This report goes some way towards apologising for that but it is important that we recognise and own up to the fact that the reason women were forced into mother and baby homes was because of the image of women that was put forward by this State.

I thank the Acting Chairman and the Ministers for the opportunity to say few words on the report of last week as this is my first opportunity to do so. I agree with many colleagues in the many excellent points that have been made, none more so than Deputy Connolly, who hit the nail on the head for me on this issue. I will make some points generally about the report towards the end of my contribution but I want to initially put on record the testimony and words of a very brave individual who is a friend of mine for 40 years. He asked me to mention his name, which is Graham Monaghan. He is in his 50th year and is a survivor of residential institutions' abuse. He has been through the redress scheme that we had in the past and it is very important that we embrace his testimony as we set out to bring some level of justice to the victims and survivors of the mother and baby homes scandal. These are his words:

I discovered I had been the victim of repeated physical abuse as an infant in care and with legal advice set about making a submission to the Redress Board. The original Redress procedure was supposed to be non confrontational but it appears most if not all victim/survivors experience was anything but that. So many including myself were made feel like we were looking for something that we were not really entitled to.

The formula used to calculate your award was like something from a tv quiz show. Points made pounds.

The whole experience was cold, unfair and demeaning in so many ways. We had to sign a gagging order to say we would never disclose any settlement or we could face serious penalties.

We are not equals in our own country and we are the innocent victims of someone else’s circumstances.

We have no rights to access our basic information such as our full birth certificate and medical files which for many of us including me we are led to believe no longer exist.

I have no idea what I was fully subjected to as a defenceless baby.

For the State to continue treating us different within society and not as true equals only helps to promote prejudices which do exist and which others like myself have had to endure and to this day have to deal with.

In my experience and I’m sure with so many others too we have to try and defend ourselves against extended family members who don’t regard you as real family and that you weren’t really the son or daughter of your parents. It’s horrible.

Despite the fact that both my elbows were destroyed while in care I still know I am one of the lucky ones because I was adopted by two incredible people and I feel a deep guilt for all those who were not as lucky as me and that is a guilt I carry with me every single day.

I don’t trust the State on any of these issues that have affected so many of us so badly because the State has such a shocking track record on these matters.

The time for talking and making apologies has to stop. It’s time to LISTEN as not just hear our voices.

Only those of us who have lived and experienced these lives along with those loved ones or friends who have watched and supported us as we go through so much pain, hurt and frustration can really and truly understand just what our lives have been like with all the obstacles that can be put in our way.

In my case having to go through the indignity of having to ask my Dad to sign an affidavit to swear who I was and that he was my Father just so I could go ahead with getting married.

The reason for this was that despite the fact that I was Baptised twice (once shortly after birth and second after adoption) but no one has a Cert [which appeared to apply to] me.

I will never get over the hurt of having to ask my Dad to do that... It will always be one of the very lowest points in my life.

All we are looking for is truth, equality and justice. It’s time for proper action to finally start and allow us to come out ... lift the shadows of the dark past under which we have lived our lives and for once feel like equals.

These are the words of Mr. Graham Monaghan and I am glad to put them on the record.

Last week, the Taoiseach stated that a republic should be prepared to hold itself to account. I agree 100%. As we apologise to these people and promise redress, we should learn the mistakes of the way the Graham Monaghans were treated and not match what we did before, which was inadequate. To this day, we do not hold ourselves to account. I doubt that we would get the answer, but if someone tabled a parliamentary question to find out how many protected disclosures across Departments and State agencies were under consideration currently, I imagine they would probably number in the hundreds. Is the State's approach to hold ourselves to account and give people justice? No, it is not. The entire system is rigged, supported by all of us in these Houses, to circle the wagons, delay, deny and defend. The house must always win. Ask Mr. Maurice McCabe, Mr. Noel McGree and the countless people who have gone public and who, with the benefit of "Liveline", some of us in these Houses, the Committee of Public Accounts and other Oireachtas committees, have got some justice. The reality is that the Republic does not hold itself to account. Only when we are dragged kicking and screaming do we acknowledge what we have done and set about putting it right.

I hope we do not repeat mistakes in seeking to provide adequate redress and full disclosure to these people. Last week, the Taoiseach told us that there was no constitutional barrier to the Graham Monaghans of the world getting their birth certificates. The Minister should get on with it. He has stated that he looks forward to the legislative scrutiny stage of the appropriate adoption and tracing legislation in the coming months. He is a Minister, but he is relatively new to these Houses and, in my experience, what he said was Department speak for on the never-never. I have participated in passing legislation at night that was written that morning. For once, let us do what the Taoiseach said last week. Let us be prepared as a republic to hold ourselves to account.

Seo an dara deis atá tar éis a bheith agam bheith páirteach sa díospóireacht seo agus ní mór dom a rá nach bhfuil maolú ar bith ar mo chuid feirge nó mo chuid díomá. Tá rudaí níos measa ná mar a cheap mé mar tá i bhfad níos mó den tuarascáil léite agam. Tá sé damanta amach agus amach go bhfuil sé ráite ag an gcoimisiún go bhfuil an chuid den fhianaise ó na daoine a bhí sna haonaid máithreacha seo truaillithe. Breathnaigh ar an bhfocal sin - "truaillithe". Níor chuala mé riamh an focal sin úsáidte mar sin maidir le fianaise.

This is my second time to take part in this debate. My anger has increased, as has my sense of despondency. Once again, I will take courage in my hand, with my privileged position and decent salary, and speak up. If the Minister wants to put the survivors - I hate that word, but I will use it because they have used it themselves - to the fore, he might explain how there was a leak. He has had time to investigate. He might explain why the survivors have not got copies of the full report yet. He might explain why Deputies did not have copies of the executive summary last week when they spoke in the Dáil. Does he think he could do that? These explanations were not included in his speech. He might confirm that those who had the courage to go before the commission and the confidential committee will be given copies of their full testimonies. Could he do that? It would be a start. He might publish the report of the collaborative forum, which he mentioned in his speech. God help us, but he also mentioned that he would set up a new interdepartmental committee. Lord protect us from interdepartmental committees. He will also engage with the collaborative forum. Its recommendations were published in April 2019 but not its report. Perhaps he might balance the power between an interdepartmental committee with no representation by a collaborative forum or survivors and the collaborative forum and the people on the ground. He might confirm that he will make full copies of the commission's report available to all of us who want them, beginning with the survivors. He might explain how half of the €23 million that was allocated was used last October, although not to print a single copy. He might say that the Government made a mistake in having a webinar without giving out the report in the first place.

Enough on that for the moment and I will now turn to the report. The report refers to all of society. For a change, I will quote a philosopher rather than a poet. When one attributes blame in that manner, one has no responsibility. I touched on this point last week. I will cite Dr. Hannah Arendt, who was speaking in a different context but whose words are equally applicable to this report. According to her, the person who says that we are all guilty, as was the case in Germany, is unknowingly covering up for the ones who did it. That is why we should not generalise guilt because doing so would be to cover up for the guilty. I do not believe that this finding has been laid out in the report unknowingly. I will bow down to anyone who has read its 3,000 pages - it is not possible. I have spent hours spending 500 to 600 pages. I have read the whole executive summary and what I was given by the Department. I have read the chapter on Tuam, the statistical analysis of Tuam, the chapter on discrimination and the chapter on vaccines, to which I hope I will have time to return. I glanced at a few other chapters. All of this has taken hours and hours.

The Minister gave his speech, some of which I welcome in terms of the specifics for urgent legislation and access to records, including birth certificates, which is a basic human right. We did not need a report to tell us that, but I welcome it anyway. However, when the Minister follows other recommendations without even listening to the people on the ground who have not had a chance to read the report, then he is doing exactly what was done to these mothers and children before, in that he is patronising them and carrying on a patriarchal mode. Let us halt that for a minute and do what the Government should do, that is, legislate and provide access to records. It should set up an archive and so on, but bear in mind that the National Archives have been under-resourced for years.

Is the Minister now making a distinction between the 18 institutions in question and the other institutions where mothers and babies were kept?

The report tells us that it is unrepresentative because it has only taken a sample. That is good. This point should have guided the conclusions, but the commission seems not to have followed it. As such, we have an unrepresentative sample and the report makes strong conclusions that are at odds with witness testimony. The report then adds insult to injury on page 12, which shows a beautiful picture in autumnal colours, but all colour disappears quickly when one reads the witness testimony. That testimony jumps off the page - sexual abuse, rape, babies taken and an absence of any sense of understanding of the bond between mother and child. This testimony should be preserved and acted upon, but the conclusions were that there was no evidence of forced adoption - I could not possibly accept this - and no evidence of pressure to put people into mother and baby homes. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan reinforced the myth that society was responsible. It was not society, but the powerful in society, led by the church. I am not here to scapegoat nuns because the nuns reported to the bishop, who reported to the archbishop, who reported to Rome. What did our Governments do? They bowed down in deference. The Minister mentioned what our local authorities did. The county managers played a powerful role.

All of this has been set out in the report, but we are then told that the evidence from some of those who came forward - only residents, mind you - is "contaminated". Sin an bhfocal - "truaillithe". Imagine telling people who had the courage to come forward that some gave evidence that was contaminated. How many is "some"? In what way was their evidence contaminated?

Equally, was the same measuring stick used for the professionals that came before the commission? I refer to the doctors, priests, nuns, social workers and the witnesses from the county councils? The reason it was contaminated was because the former residents spoke to each other. Presumably, the nuns and the county managers did also, but their evidence was not contaminated. I am not sure if the Minister read it. I am openly telling him that I have not read the report's 3,000 pages. Our former President tells us that she read it, and as a result of reading it she tells us it is scholarly and profound. With the greatest of respect, I fundamentally disagree that this is scholarly and profound. If somebody has read 3,000 pages then he or she must have had the report before the Minister published it.

We will again look at the conclusions. There is a conclusion regarding vaccine trials. Deputy Naughten went through this forensically today. I have read that chapter. There is a paragraph in the summary that tells us that the trials did not comply with the regulations or the law at the time but, magically, there were no ill effects. If one reads the chapter on the vaccine trials, one sees children getting sick with diarrhoea, convulsions and so on, not to mention the 10,000 deaths at a minimum, yet this commission of three people tell us there were no side effects. They do not even pose a question on whether there could have been side effects or if more money changed hands. It was pointed out that it went to the doctors. Did more money change hands? What about the other trials? We only looked at seven institutions. Were there trials in other institutions? Does the Minister think the commissioners might have raised a question in regard to that?

Will the Minister indicate whether any of the three commissioners sat and listened to the 500 or so residents who came before the confidential committee? I know there was a tiny overlap of fewer than 100 between some residents who went to both. Did the commissioners sit in? This reminds me of paint-by-numbers pictures. Does the Minister remember that? One was allowed a little discretion in what colour one put into the number, but the picture was predetermined. The picture was predetermined here because on page 2 the commissioners tell us that it might disappoint somebody that they are going against the prevailing narrative. That is to add insult on top of injury because they confirm the prevailing narrative of the powerful, which is that all of society was to blame. They add insult to injury by even twisting language. The Minister has a golden opportunity to lead and to bring about transformative action and language. I will back him every step of the way, but he has got to lead. He must break away from the four and a half pages that he delivered here today, which is more of the same.

It is a mixture of good and bad that confirms the narrative. The Minister should go ahead with the legislation he is promising as quickly as possible-----

-----but let us stop putting in a memorial to a Miss Litster. I have seen the good work she did, but the memorial should be to examine how that good woman failed to get any action.

Let us remember Michael Viney back in the 1960s. Let us remember Mary Raftery, Conall Ó Fátharta, Mike Milotte, and RTÉ's role. Let us remember all of that. Let us remember Catherine Corless. Before we jump in prematurely-----

-----to honour one woman, let us do it in a different way. Let us ask how, despite all of those good people, the system of utter cruelty still persisted.

Before I read my speech, I will first respond to a question from Deputy Connolly, which was also asked earlier by Deputy Devlin, about copies of the report. In short, approximately 200 hard copies of the abridged report have been sent out to date. Of those, 75 were posted on the day of publication to the survivors and their representatives and to select Members, Deputies and Senators. Since then, 123 requests for the abridged version have been received to date and a copy has been posted to all of those who requested them. There have been 247 requests for copies of the full report. They are in stock and the distribution company is organising the distribution at the moment. Any of the survivors who would like to get a copy can contact the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the report will be sent directly to them at no cost whatsoever. I hope that answers the question.

It is my second time also to contribute on this matter. I welcome the opportunity to address the House a week after a landmark moment of truth for the State and for the people. I thank everybody who brought responses, stories and feedback from their constituents into the Chamber today and for the ongoing engagement with the survivors, which is critical. Many questions have been asked throughout the past three and a half hours and I do not have the answers to all of them, but the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has sat through the entire debate, and between him and the Department, answers will go back to Deputies.

There is a strong onus on us now not to do further damage to a community of people who have been so desperately let down time and again. To speak about survivors as one group, a singular entity, and to suggest that all of them have had the same experiences and currently have the same needs and desires is yet again to ignore them, demean them and refuse to acknowledge their precise individuality. During my years holding clinics in Galway East I have met so many survivors from mother and baby homes and county homes across the constituency. No two of them have had the same experience and no two of them have the same ideas about what redress means to them. There are as many stories as survivors. We have an obligation as a Government to listen and to meet their needs. We are going to do so in the following ways. The most common thread we have heard is that people want to share their stories, to tell the horror and trauma of their past and to be believed. That is the reason the commission was set up in 2015 and its report has now been published online without editing or redaction.

I spent the past week listening to the responses of survivors and their families and I have no doubt that it must have been a gruelling, exhausting and traumatising week for them all. While many were happy to be moving into the next phase of addressing the past, many others were upset at the tone and language used in the report. We have heard in the Chamber today that it was awful that some of the witnesses felt that their stories were misrepresented or that the lack of evidence reported made them feel they were not believed or that they were lying. I assure them that nobody thinks they were lying.

I would like to highlight some of the stories. One woman's son was three and a half years of age when a nun said to her, "It's happening." She did not have time to say goodbye but she had enough time to run up to the top of the stairs to see her son as he was being driven away. It broke her heart that he was parted from her. Another woman was brought into a shop in town and told to sign a document that was half covered. What she was actually signing was an adoption and when she returned to the home the baby was gone. Another witness told the committee that she had told a nun of her plans to go to England with her baby. The nun responded, "That doesn't happen here. You'll do what we tell you and that's it. You're not keeping that baby. You're going nowhere with that baby. You're going home and the baby is going somewhere else." An 18-year-old had to hand over her baby like a parcel while her father forced her to sign her name on adoption papers. One woman said she was told to shut her mouth and sign. In the case of another woman, when her child was three weeks old, a nun walked into the nursery and snatched her baby from her. This is the language used to describe these adoptions: "snatched", "ordered to give away", "made to hand over", "gave me no choice", "without consent". There is no doubt that these are simply replacement words for being forced. We believe their stories.

The language used by the commission is officious and technical. The evidence, perhaps, that the commission means is the documentation that the nuns and organisations should have kept to assist people in tracing their lineage and their families. If we take evidence as meaning documentation and physical evidence, it is a hard thing for us to get our heads around. It is possible for two conflicting things to be true at the same time. It is possible for someone to have been forced to give up their baby for adoption and it is possible that there would be no evidence of that. It is possible for someone to have been abused and for there to be no evidence of that. Unfortunately, the people who committed those acts must have known what they were doing was wrong.

When people commit wrongdoing, they very rarely keep robust documentation and records of their actions. We believe these women and we want to help them.

One of the areas not discussed in the public arena to date, and again today, is the matter of those people with disabilities and how they were treated in mother and baby homes. Much can be learned by the chapter title under which this matter is dealt, Chapter 31: Discrimination. It highlights the extent of the limited knowledge of the professionals at the time, as well as the wider struggle of State and society with how to support those with disabilities. The language used at the time is hard to read, with women or children with disabilities often referred to as "slow", "backward" or "mentally deficient". These people were truly "othered". The commission notes that regardless of one's place of birth, incidence of discrimination for those with a disability was significant. The commission adds that it heard no representation by or on behalf of people with disabilities, who it states were probably the mostly badly affected by being in an institution.

To all who passed through these mother and baby homes I must say this evening that the unrelenting darkness through which they have lived, the shadow cast over them, the lack of information and the lack of acknowledgement is something we want to end. I am conscious that it is disappointing that the report does not answer all the deeply personal questions about burial arrangements for many of the children who died in these institution and in many cases the burial locations remain unknown. It is my deep regret that we cannot provide all the information needed.

The commission finds that many adopted people think there is considerably more information about them in institutional and other records than is the case. Having examined the records closely, the commission states that the information is very limited in most cases. There are no burial records for a number of large institutions, where significant numbers of infants were known to have died, including at Tuam, Bessborough, Castlepollard and Sean Ross Abbey. It breaks my heart that this information is not there and it is another failing on the part of the institutions to do the right thing and document the decisions made to allow people to know who they are and who were their mothers and siblings.

We are aware that this does not come close to healing the pain of those involved but the Government is committed to creating a dignified remembrance and memorialisation where there is currently nothing in place. As a Government, we are fully committed to legislating for people's rights to access information that is there.

A person's right to identity is an important human right. Medical information and adoption records compiled at the time of adoption should be made available, and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is working intensively with the Attorney General on the development of information and tracing legislation to support a person's right to access birth and early life information. The Government has agreed to make this a priority. The Minister is also working with the Department to establish a restorative recognition scheme for survivors, which will involve suggestions from survivors that will make a real and measurable difference.

It would be remiss of me not address the matter of Galway County Council. Next week Galway County Council has its monthly plenary meeting and I am horrified to think No. 8 on its agenda happens to be statements on mother and baby homes. The whole county council meeting should be given over to apologising to those who were in that mother and baby home. We have heard Deputy Connolly's contribution and both of us are from Galway and we understand much of what went on in the mother and baby homes because we have spoken with the affected people. I was very disappointed to learn about this last night and I appeal to Galway County Council to amend what it has set out. I also know my colleague in the Seanad, Senator O'Reilly, has raised the matter as well and Galway County Council should follow the Government's lead in apologising if it wants to bring about change and give a good example.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.25 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 21 January 2021.