Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 19 Jan 2021

Vol. 274 No. 1

Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation: Statements

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the report of the commission of investigation and the terrible failure it revealed in how women and children were treated in institutions over many decades and to outline the Government's response.

Before I begin, I pay tribute to all of the mothers and children who spent time in these institutions. I thank those who bravely gave their personal accounts to the commission. I know that the publication of this report has resurfaced deep stress and trauma for survivors. Following the publication of the report last week, the Government offered our apology and asked for forgiveness for the failings of the Irish State - failings that repeated over many decades and which had the most horrendous consequences for our most vulnerable citizens.

I want to take this opportunity to reiterate the Taoiseach's apology to mothers and their children on behalf of the State. I, too, am deeply sorry for the hurt that was experienced. We humbly seek the forgiveness of the mothers, their children and their families. A profound wrong has been visited upon the Irish women and their children who were placed in these institutions. I want to restate in the strongest possible terms that they did nothing wrong. The publication of this report is our chance to affirm their stories and their truth and ensure their testimonies are heard, acknowledged and understood. It is there for all to see and preserved for future generations.

I know elements of this report are a disappointment to survivors, for example, sections where a strictly legalistic approach is taken to describing the profoundly personal impacts of what happened within the institutions and where the commission's conclusions that it could not find evidence of what happened could be interpreted as a denial of the experiences of survivors. This is why it is so important that the chapter on the confidential committee stands out as an unambiguous statement of the suffering of mothers and their children, and stands as a testament to the lived truth of what happened in these institutions and as a clear articulation of the repeated failures of church and State. The scale of these failures requires a comprehensive, meaningful and generous response from the State.

For my part as Minister, I am committed to ensuring this Government's response will mark a profound transformation, not only in the State's engagement with survivors but also in its supports for them. The relationship of trust between the State and the former residents of these institutions has been broken. The Government must begin the process of rebuilding that relationship. The Cabinet has approved 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.

We all understand that access to personal information is a key issue for many former residents. Progressing information and tracing legislation is an absolute priority for me, the Taoiseach and the entire Government. I have been engaging intensively with the Attorney General to this end, approaching the issue in a manner grounded in general data protection regulation, GDPR, where the right of an individual to access personal information about himself or herself is central. My Department and the Attorney General's office are working with a view to having heads of Bill for information and tracing legislation ready by the end of March or early April. This can then proceed rapidly to pre-legislative scrutiny. Information and tracing legislation will allow for access to wider early life information. It will also allow the contact preference register to be put on a statutory basis. Our work on this legislation, however, will not delay other efforts to provide early access to personal information.

My Department is working intensively to prepare for the receipt of the commission's 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, as was suggested to me by Members of this House. This intensive work will continue with a view to having robust policies and procedures in place for managing subject access requests. Following further consultations with the data protection commissioner, I hope to publish our policies and procedures prior to 28 February. My Department will also continue to work to ensure GDPR compliant policies are appropriately applied to all access points for personal information. I have placed particular focus on the point of access to personal information as I know it is a matter of deep interest to many Members.

Moving beyond this, another core commitment in the Government's response is the creation of a restorative recognition scheme to provide financial recognition. I am working with my Department to prioritise the establishment of an interdepartmental group, which will develop such a scheme and bring forward proposals for it by the end of April. While the group will consider the three categories of former residents highlighted by the commission, the Government took the significant decision that its considerations are not restricted to these three groups alone. The 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.

Further health supports will be provided, including 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.

Legislation to allow for the dignified exhumation of the site in Tuam and at other sites, if required, and providing for DNA identification will be brought forward for pre-legislative scrutiny soon. I have written to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability and Integration asking for this to be prioritised on its agenda and we discussed it at a meeting earlier today.

We, as a Government, recommit to establishing a national memorial and record centre related to institutional trauma, and that Departments and State bodies will 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 survivor engagement with former residents, their representative groups, as well as the survivor diaspora, will be established following consultations with the collaborative forum. I have written this week to the collaborative forum seeking two meetings with it next month to progress this agenda.

Other commitments include the incorporation of elements of the report into the second level curriculum; further research on terminology, representation and misrepresentation with the National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG; 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 the institutions; and the creation of a number of scholarships researching childhood disadvantage.

The Government is proposing this range of measures to recognise the diverse needs of former residents, both mothers and children. They are the first steps towards trying to rebuild the broken trust between them and the State which failed them over so many years. I know that many former residents are of an age where they need to see immediate action. They deserve to see real change in their lifetimes and we, as a Government, must do all we can to make this happen. They have already waited too long for justice to be done. I have outlined timelines for the progression of some of the key actions I mentioned and I will outline further details in forthcoming weeks.

It is important that I also address the role of the church in this history and how both the church and State are accountable for what happened in these institutions. All of those who were involved in this dark past have an obligation to the women and children who passed through these institutions. As such, I have written letters to religious congregations and charities to seek engagement with them, specifically on the issues of apology, their own contributions to restorative recognition and the provision of institutional records which would be beneficial to survivors. I look forward to progressing discussions with those religious groups in that regard.

After decades of secrecy, shame and stigma, survivors' truth is now heard. It is our responsibility to respond to this truth with empathy, compassion and meaning. The publication of the report in no way represents the end of this story. Restorative justice will require collective action and I look forward to working with both Houses as we make reparations for the wrongs of the past.

Having read the accounts of women and men in this report and having spoken and listened to survivors, it never ceases to shock me that a State could treat its most vulnerable with such little humanity. We must now listen in a way that shows humility and is honest. We must represent the most vulnerable and continue to adjust our response and the actions that we take based on what we hear. I thank those who have laid bare their own personal stories and honour those who have been silent and silenced.

No one could read this report and not see abuse and neglect. Babies died at an unprecedented level. There were 9,000 known deaths in institutions, which was between two and four times the level of that of the general population, the Sean Ross mother and baby home being one of the worst.

Some institutions were clearly worse than others and this report demonstrates that those run by the State were among the worst. Women were incarcerated in a system that made no attempt to show kindness or make amends for past abuses. It shamed and debased them and their children. They were put there by a State that did not provide them with alternatives, prosecute rape or provide those women with contraceptives. The State acted in a way that was deferential to a church that used its power - and was allowed to use its power - to abuse others.

This power buried itself deep in an education that did not give people the tools to fight back. It was right that the Government apologised on behalf of the State and I join in that apology on behalf of the Green Party in the Seanad. It is also right that there have been apologies before relating to many reports laid before these Houses. Beyond apologies, reports and listening, the Government must also take action. I believe that the Minister is doing this and has been doing this since he took office. Almost all of those with whom I have been in contact believe the same. We will all, the Minister included, be judged on the action that we now take.

Tuam is highlighted over and over again in this report. Nearly 1,000 people died. As we are all aware, they were shown no dignity in death. Their families continue to have no closure, with scant records and no tracing having been carried out. Their conditions were among the worst in the country. This was an institution run by both nuns and by the local authority. When Galway County Council meets on 25 January, I expect to hear a full apology and about how it will attempt to make amends. It held its council meetings on those grounds. No one can tell me that those politicians did not know of the appalling conditions. This report shows that, at the time, the high death rates were known. I expect the same of other councils, particularly Westmeath County Council.

Last week, as I listened to Galway Bay FM for three hours while survivors told their stories, an apology came from the Sisters of Bon Secours in Galway. I believe it was an honest apology and it demonstrated a level of acknowledgement never expressed before. It was well received locally. It must be acknowledged, however, that it was not replicated to the same extent across the country. Just as an apology from the State is a small part of what must now happen, so is an apology from the church. It must step up and do what it preaches. It must pay survivors back with hard cash and it must beg for forgiveness as we do. Some say that it was only a fraction of those in the church, but the church was a monolith and all of those now in the church must take responsibility, just as all of those who represented the State must take responsibility as the ultimate guardian of the common good. The State and the church knew of the deaths and neglect inside those walls and knew that children were boarded out, in many cases to be abused and to be used as slave labour. In other family homes, they found kindness that was missing in the mother and baby homes and county homes, and those stories are also eloquently expressed.

A survivor-centred approach is key in the Government's response. The report made a number of recommendations. I can see that the Minister and the Government are stepping beyond that and they must do so. The Government must see the report as putting down on paper the testimonies of those who spoke and honouring them but it must go beyond the recommendations. I will join with everyone in ensuring that that happens.

I will mention a few of the 22 actions that the Government has set out and which were agreed by Cabinet last week. For many years, the survivors have looked for a medical card just as survivors from other institutions have been granted one. I welcome that this will happen and will look with interest at the recommendations that come back. I sincerely hope that it will be tailored to the needs of women and their children who were kept in these institutions. The report identified three groups who would qualify. The Government's actions will go beyond that. The restorative recognition scheme or redress scheme, more broadly, is to be welcomed. In Galway, Catherine Corless and many locals have been calling for exhumation of the site at Tuam. It is the work of Catherine Corless that has led to the work that this Government is doing. It would not have happened without her. I hope that the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration will accede to the Minister's request as soon as possible and scrutinise the Bill that will allow for the dignified exhumation and the use of DNA identification in order that families can finally be granted some peace. This Bill should also be broad enough to include the possibility of exhumation at other sites.

The very least that people born in mother and baby homes and county homes deserve is their birth certificates, followed by information about the nature of their birth. With the archive being transferred to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth by the commission, as Senators requested, and a new information management unit having been set up in the Department, I believe that access is on its way from the start of March.

Although I know this will deal with many of their requests, there are a number of people whose records are not contained in those archives. Therefore, the information tracing legislation to which the Minister committed on the floor of this House before Senators is welcome. The Minister committed to providing this within the year, along with the other access. I thank the Minister for informing us all today that the heads of Bill will be ready in spring and I know that information has been sought. I know that an amount of engagement has already taken place. This needs to be increased and stepped up. I acknowledge that concerns have been laid out from across the Chamber on the balance of rights but the fundamental right to have access to information concerning oneself is paramount and it is important to take that approach.

Beyond the duty of care owed by the State to survivors, there is also a duty to teach, learn and preserve this part of history. The countries that learn well from past abuse incorporate it into education. Key in these measures that the Minister has outlined is education. For so long, our education system has been dominated by religious teaching. Let this be part of that teaching. I therefore agree with the approach of engaging across Departments to ensure the report is incorporated into our second level system.

It is safe to say that trust broke down for many in our society, particularly for the most vulnerable and for those outside of these mother and baby homes and county homes. There is an element of trust that needs to be rebuilt. As a State, we owe a debt to these people and on behalf of the Green Party Senators in this House and with the Government, I will do my part in repaying that debt. It is not just about words; this is about all of us taking action to repay that debt.

I welcome the Minister to the House. As I was listening to Senator Pauline O'Reilly, the expression "Blessed are those amongst women" struck me because there are virtually no men in the Chamber. I am the only male Senator present - the Cathaoirleach of course is here too, as well as the Minister. For some reason that clicked with me and I thought about it and that is quite profound in itself. I thank the Minister for the enormous amount of work he has done. He has travelled a journey as well, as have so many other people.

I spoke about Dr. Muldoon earlier on and I welcomed his reappointment as the Ombudsman for Children. I talked about a past, a present and a future. I do not want to spend too much time talking about the past but I can tell this House that I grew up in institutional care and spent all of my youth there. I was born in the South Dublin Union in St. Kevin's Hospital, which is now St. James's Hospital and I was not adopted. Therefore, this report leaves many glaring holes. We talk about mother and baby homes and children who were in homes and who were adopted but what about the children who were not adopted? What about the children who were being prevented from being adopted? What about the people who fell outside of the definition of a family? I want to touch on that particular issue later on. As the Minister well knows, they went on to be in full-time residential care. If there were horror stories in the mother and baby homes, there were even greater horror stories in the long-term residential care homes.

I speak as a man who has lived the experience. I am 59 years of age and I will be 60 this coming May and I do not want to spend any more of my life talking about it. It does not define me, I am not a victim and I dare say I am not even a survivor. I lived my life and I enjoyed many happy times. I encountered many good and happy people. I am happy to say that I was in institutions that were religious and lay and I do not want them to be forgotten. It is important it is heard out there that we are not all victims and that we had experiences. I am the seventh of seven children and I am in touch with every one of them. We joked the other day about how many other families of seven are in contact, are on speaking terms and are friendly, loving and supportive. I too had the great honour and privilege of giving the eulogy at the grave and funeral of both my mother and father.

That healed many wounds and misunderstandings in terms of a community that rejected them and did not stand with them. I am Church of Ireland by birth, heritage and choice so it is very important to say that it was not always the Catholic Church, the priest or the nun.

To deal with the report briefly, it was limited in its terms of reference. That was not the response of the judge or the commission. If one reads the discussions, the minutes and the papers one will know the politics of the terms of reference and why they were so narrow. The commission was limited in the institutions it investigated. It did not investigate the number of institutions I lived in, which were owned by the same group. It was limited in its accessing of information. That was partly because much of it was destroyed, although not all deliberately. Things move on and there are new personnel, new changes and people responsible so it was limited in that respect also. Many of its personal testimonies were never heard in public. One of the glaring problems in this report is that people say they were denied the opportunity to give public testament. We all have an innate need, which is primal in many ways, to tell our story. All of us have unique stories to tell. None of us is unique but there is a real need to tell our stories, which is very important. I had a telephone conversation with the Minister last week. I thank him for that offer which I took up. Both he and I were conscious of how long everyone takes to tell their story. That is just part of this process and it is very important that we listen.

Many people were traumatised but I want to highlight some glaring lines in the report. It states that women were admitted to these institutions from 12 to 40 years of age. Unaccompanied children were called foundlings. Many children were left at doors. I spoke to a man this very day whose mother, with whom he is now in touch, pressed a bell, left him in a little Moses basket and ran away. There is no history there other than that is the story.

Page 41 of the report was very disturbing. It refers to Thomastown, which I presume is Thomastown, in County Kilkenny, where 58 infants were sleeping in 32 cots. The report also states, which I found very disturbing, that the sleeping arrangements were often inherently unsafe. This is shocking and harrowing and rather than misquote anybody it needs to be read into the record of the House. The commission states: "The Commission has not heard direct evidence of abuse of children [surprise, surprise] in county homes but is aware that the sleeping arrangements were often inherently unsafe particularly for boys who often slept in adult wards and sometimes in the same bed as an adult." Do not tell me that is not abuse. Do not tell me that does not leave children exposed to all sorts of problems but that is the past. It happened, and we need to acknowledge it. That is very important.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly touched on councils. I have made contact with many councils about this issue and I know many of them are bringing it up. I am elected by county councillors. I am lucky and very privileged in that regard. I want to put on the record that every day I come into this House I am exceptionally proud to be here. I want to be here. My experience in the past, with all its difficulties, setbacks and challenges, politicised me. I am so happy that I can stand here as a Member of the Oireachtas and have that privilege and honour to be one little voice that in some way represents some of the people who grew up with me. I keep in touch with many of them which I believe is important.

The commission interviewed and gathered sworn affidavits from 555 people during this investigation. The report spans from 1922 to 1998 and covers 14 mother and baby homes and a representative sample but many other institutions were left out. There is a suggestion that there may be compensation, redress or restitution for people. Anyone who was in care and should have been under some sort of supervision by the State must get redress if they have not got it. I ask the Minister to please allow people have redress regardless of the institution they were in. There are people and institutions who were excluded from the commission's report. Surely the Minister will not put them at any disadvantage.

Whatever redress scheme the Minister agrees, I ask him not to issue gagging orders to people to prevent them talking afterwards. That would not be fair, right or proper. We are told in this report that 56,000 or 57,000 children stayed in these institutions and we know that over 9,000 people died. It is shocking and terrible and it should not have happened.

People talk about not being heard or listened to. A woman spoke very movingly on RTÉ radio on Sunday. She talked about how she was a woman of faith and continued to be a woman of faith. She saw somebody go away with a child in a box. She believed the child was hers and all she wanted was that it be buried in consecrated ground. She said her heart was broken and she could not shed any more tears. There were no more tears to give. It is important that we move on and that we have restitution and deal with that.

The Wellcome Foundation carried out drug trials, which I lived through and was subject to in the institution I was in. The Taoiseach will be fully aware of this matter because we engaged on it 20 years ago. I told this House some months ago about our engagement on it and there are substantial records of engagement with him on it. To be fair, he was supportive, but there was no justice and nothing done. I want to say, particularly in the context of Covid, that I am not anti-vaccine. I will queue up to have a vaccination. I want to make that clear. They are two separate issues. It is about accountability. I ask that Wellcome, now GlaxoSmithKline, be asked to make a substantial contribution to any redress scheme. That will be important

It is also important that people are heard. Public service journalism was at its best on this issue. I thank the journalists, whether television journalists or those who write and type, who helped and stood in solidarity with me and many others. They shone a light on the story.

My final thanks are to the brave women. There were some brave men who were denied access to their children too and I know of some of them. I thank the brave women for telling their story, laying bare their vulnerability, which is so important to them, and shining a light on their lives and on our shared history. Our response must be redress, support, enhanced pensions, enhanced opportunities for housing and all that goes with all of that. Finally - and I know no one here will be shy or will fall short in this regard - our response and the Government response must be one of compassion, care and justice.

I thank Senator Boyhan for sharing his story with us. It is important that people hear first-hand accounts of what happened to Members of this House who were in those institutions. The Senator continues to be an advocate for those who are without a voice and are unable to speak up on their own behalf and that of the children they gave up for adoption and were forced to give up for adoption.

I thank the Minister for attending today. For many this January has been a dark month and the report has definitely made it worse. First, I will briefly address the leaking of the report before its publication. Shame on whoever did it. Obviously, that person has never had their agency and their rights taken away from them and I hope the Minister investigates the issue. It was an extra cut to the many wounds these women and children have already.

I consider myself privileged to be tasked with responsibility to speak here today. This much-anticipated report has finally been published after five long years. Women and children - our citizens - have been waiting for this publication with fear, anxiety, hope and a need to get that part done to move on to the next stage, heal and get answers and vindication for all the abuse and wrongs done to them.

The commission's report highlights an abject failure of care, decency and common sense. It highlights the failure of our State to care and follow through on the ideology from which it was born. To a layperson like me, that seems criminal. I look now to the Garda, as it must investigate to the fullest extent.

I hope the Minister can stress to his colleague, the Minister for Justice, and the Garda Commissioner that if resources are needed to go over records they hold and to conduct investigations into numerous potential criminal acts, then those resources must be provided.

Reading the report proves that when people speak of the good old days in this country, they really are not talking about the good old days for women and children. It was a dark and miserable place. Power sat with a few, people of so-called good standing in their communities in a sick cabal of authority under the pretence of decency, with a warped sick opinion that one thing was good and the other so bad that girls, women and babies were treated like dirt. We were taught "sex", "pregnancy" and "childbirth" were bad words and that these were wrong and sinful things. One example I could never understand growing up was the stupidity, misogyny or ignorance whereby a woman had to be churched after giving birth. People were taught that childbirth made a woman unholy or unclean because it resulted from sexual activity. Churching was to allow an unclean woman, who had to be married, to re-enter the church in a state of grace. Really, the indignity and stupidity of this. Childbirth is no fun but there certainly is no shame. It was another way to put down women and make them feel there was something wrong with themselves or their bodies.

The warped and perverse belief system perpetrated by church teachings and church status in society wrongly caused people to look down on women who were pregnant and unmarried. There was no humanity in this so-called Republic which, according to the Proclamation, was meant to guarantee equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens and cherish all the children of the nation equally. To say we failed to implement this tenet of the Proclamation is an understatement.

The testimonies of the report and the long discussions I have had with survivors and adoptees have had a profound effect on me. As an unmarried woman with children, this huge part of our country's reality cuts me deep. Would I be a member of Seanad Éireann if this were a few decades ago? I very much doubt it. I feel fortunate to live in an Ireland where there is some morality and humanity towards women and their children. Living in the household that my children do, they very often listen to the radio and news. They are acutely aware of what is going on in our country. Listening to all the talk last week, one of my children asked, "Mammy why were you not put away?" Another asked, "What is wrong with us? Sure there is nothing wrong with us Mammy." There is nothing wrong with children whose parents are not married. There was never anything wrong with them or their mothers. The legacy lives on and my children know that in the past the community and country in which they live may have classed children like them as second-class citizens. It breaks my heart to see the confusion on my boys' faces trying to process this in their minds. Imagine so-called Christians making a rule that there could be something wrong with a beautiful perfect baby. From the evidence I have heard, babies were adopted as though they were products off a shelf. "From a good family" and "lovely fair skin" were some of the descriptions to entice adoption. Little souls were reduced to products on a shelf if an institution thought them good enough. However, if someone deemed children to be imperfect, so-called, they were probably assigned to life in institutions.

It is also so disgusting that the beautiful lives and existence of babies could not have warranted proper burial. Many of the 9,000 babies were not given the respect they deserved. Now they must get this respect, and the State has the responsibility to investigate anywhere where there is a potential mass burial ground. The religious organisations should finally face up to the reality of the wrongs and hand over every single shred of information they have. The control over information must end. We know the horrors that went on in these institutions. We did not need a report to tell us. The survivors needed and hoped the report would give dignity and some semblance of justice to the women and children who have fought to be heard and acknowledged. Some say we must reject the report but to what end? We have a report. It is a huge body of work. Let us challenge it. Let us dispute it. Let us look to the evidence that our citizens gave in testimony and work hard on future actions to do right by those testimonies.

I have written to the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, of which I am a member, to ask it to invite the chair of the commission to come before it to discuss the report. I hope this request will be met positively by my colleagues. Part of the reason we are not satisfied with the report is probably due to the terms of reference and the mechanism by means of which the commission was established.

It was more than likely wrong and we have seen proof of that over and over. We cannot change this, unfortunately. The remit was far too narrow and proved to be a negative. It only describes a percentage of the depravity. The rest of the county homes and the women who passed through them deserve the right to be heard. There are also many women and children who never went into institutions. They have also suffered from those attitudes of church, State and society. It is also estimated that 15,000 people in Ireland and abroad were adopted, whether illegally or legally, during the timeframe under investigation and many of these were excluded as well. We cannot ignore these people any more.

The report is also full of contradictions. For example, it finds there were no forced adoptions but also states that a woman had no other choice. Surely when all a person's options, rights and agency are stolen by people of so-called standing in the community, these adoptions could not be anything but forced. The report says there is no evidence for abuse but it is clear they were abused verbally, emotionally and physically. It just does not make sense.

The priority now is to ensure a survivor-centred approach and that the recommendations are worked through and the ones that are acceptable to survivors are implemented as soon as possible. We must stop failing these women and adoptees. The information and legislation must come without delay. There needs to be full engagement with stakeholders on the legislation. Adoptees cannot be left in the dark any longer. They need focused legislation to give access to their birth certificates, information, health, history and heritage like all other citizens in the State. They have a right to their records. The State or any institution certainly does not own their truth.

I ask the Minister that mental health supports be extended to all adoptees, birth parents and survivors who are affected, rather than just the survivors of the institutions in the report. I ask that he demand all adoption records. Is there a case that because staff of these religious institutions were in most cases paid employees of a local authority they are, in fact, State records? It is wrong for private organisations to hold onto information regarding an individual's history.

We will now be judged on our actions. We cannot right the wrongs but we can work hard on the restoration of the faith of these survivors and children in this country. We can do this by fulfilling our duties in good faith through consultation and implementation of the recommendations, as well as by including every institution, survivor and adoptee. We can also do this by abolishing direct provision centres. They are a modern-day shame. We know the damage institutions cause and we must sort this out without haste.

Finally, I thank all the survivors and the adoptees for their relentless bravery. For what it is worth, I send my strength and love to each and every one of them.

I thank the Minister for his attendance today.

Responsibility for that harsh treatment remains mainly with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families. It was supported by, contributed to, and condoned by, the institutions of the State and the Churches.

That, in essence, is the conclusion of the report. It was an investigation confined to the black-and-white language of law, limited to standards and burdens of proof, and it did its job. It upheld a complaint of wrongdoing and found much fault. Its language is cold and does little to ameliorate the absence of comfort and compassion deserved by those whose lives it describes.

I have wrestled with the language of the report. I am disappointed there is little assessment of how difficult it was to live in that Ireland, which tolerated nothing less than perfection from women. Its false society of denial and gaslighting was dominated by sanctimonious judgment and the iron-fisted rule of the church, which evidenced little compassion and bore little resemblance to the life of the Christ that was preached. A conclusion that blames families and fathers for unspeakable shame and hardships is difficult to swallow. I find the unadulterated presentation of fact throughout is distinctly unpalatable when the survivors deserved acknowledgment of that context to do justice to their experiences. It is a lesson that must be borne in mind for any future commissions.

While the commission members did their job and found fault, it is our duty as politicians to bring the humanity forth from these findings. In that regard and to begin, I commend the Minister's action plan with its 22 points. I urge hastening the practical supports for survivors.

I hope that time will accord the Minister the regard he deserves. I have no doubt he will continue to be survivor-led in his actions, as indeed he must be. The survivors deserve that. They deserve that power and influence to put flesh on the admirable work set out by the Minister.

There is a pressing need for recriminations. We heard apologies last week. That may not be the last of them. I urge the Minister to keep an open heart and mind in that regard. There may be more to say because there is a considerable amount of blame. The Taoiseach rightly called out the fact that the State failed mothers and children. There can be no comfort or escape from that because we did fail them. I stand with the apology for that. The Tánaiste noted that the church and State ran these homes together, reinforcing social prejudice and judgment when they should have tried to change them.

That opportunity for change, which was so shockingly not seized by previous generations and politicians, is now ours. What are we going to do to change it? The first thing we can do is to give people born in these institutions the right to know who they are. Where are their records? We should gather what we do not have into one place and under one body and give them access to them. The GDPR gives rights of access and the right to possess any and all data about them. They have the right to that information without delay. I appreciate the Minister's legislation, which will go beyond information that is personal extending to information around their families. We can legislate to dilute the right, perhaps paying an owed deference to the right to privacy on the part of mothers but I urge the Minister not to do that. I urge him to instead establish support structures, a right of access to confidential counselling and advisory entities and a register to give mothers who want their secret to be kept the right to opt out of any future meeting and a right to lodge a story or letter telling the story of their child's conception and, if they so choose, to explain why they do not want to meet. The Minister needs to resource all of those types of supports but I urge him to give an unqualified and unfettered right of identity to children when he publishes the legislation. They have a fundamental right to that knowledge. The time for paternalism on the part of the State in this regard has passed. Our duty is to provide that information and support all those who will be affected by the release of that information.

This brings me to the adoptions and their legal status. I can never agree that consent, either then or in retrospect, was freely given because the mothers had no choice. They signed because their lives would be ones of misery and penury had they not signed. We also need to investigate further the evidence held by others on the aspect of babies for sale. Let us change that too. Let us expose it, detail it and get all that information out in the open.

This leads me to the church's role. The church ruled our country with an iron fist. I am old enough to have sat in a school retreat with a prominent, now deceased, member of the clergy who lectured our class on the responsibility of girls to stay chaste - that lads just could not help themselves. This particular member of the clergy had a child with his housekeeper at home, while he sat lecturing teenage girls on why they would be solely responsible if they got themselves pregnant. That was the same year Ann Lovett was found dead in a grotto in Granard. The use of false and devious information to exonerate men and demonise women was not in some bygone distant era. It is only a couple of decades ago when all those lies were preached. I welcome the fact that the Minister has sought financial contributions - well done. If they are not forthcoming, I urge him to press strongly. I will support him exploring all of the other avenues that may be open to him to ensure a contribution, not just from the church but also from the companies that ran vaccine trials. Let us send a clear signal that the days when politicians signed cosy deals with the church or other entities are over.

It is with the State that I am most angry following this report. The State - our republic - was founded on these words: "The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally". Within a matter of years of the making of that declaration, this same State allowed girls and women to be hidden away when pregnant, allowed over 6,000 pregnant children to go into mother and baby homes, never once asked the question as to the rape of these children and never once called gardaí or social workers.

The stories of rape and abuse detailed in the report are shocking and frightening. Where was the State when 9,000 children died and nothing was done to preserve life? In fact, the State knew what was happening and did nothing. Those involved penny-pinched on food allowances. The State allowed overcrowding. Where other countries had no more than 30 residents to a home, Ireland had as many as 140. We crowded them in and let them die. The institutions run by the State were the worst. The children were the disposable children of their disposable mothers, experimented on and abused. When they were not living in the institutions, many laboured on farms with little consideration for the child. The rules on boarding out were in place from as early as 1927 but they were not always adhered to. In the context of those who died in the institutions, what now of their remains?

I welcome the legislation on interments. I thank the Minister but we need to do more. In Bessborough today, planning permission is being considered for an area of ground where bodies are believed to lie. That is today. Let us do something about that. Where questions remain, the State can find out the detail and step up. The State can accord the interred the rights and dignity they deserved. They were born once. They had a life ahead of them. The State can legislate and demand the records, the State can ensure closure for families, and the State can refer files to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It is right that we build on the information we have. It is right to give the survivors the opportunity to ensure that their experiences are memorialised and that we educate generations to come, build an archive and have a telling of truth. I ask the Minister to build on his excellent points and to have a memorial and records centre, but as a living, breathing, growing centre where survivors from all institutions can go and tell their stories, have their names recorded and have their experiences documented in their own words. The State should gather the records from the other institutions and establish a commission with the power to compel so that we can have a permanent staff who will gather and interrogate the information from all other institutions so our knowledge of this chapter will continue to grow and, more important, we will continue to learn.

What of today? In the past week, the pieces I found most upsetting were the accounts of rape and abuse in families and communities. I found the lack of attention paid to these by commentators disturbing. It tells me that, despite how far we have come, we are still reluctant to look in the mirror and confront the hidden sexual abuse. At the time described, it was hidden away as a shameful secret of the hapless girl who got pregnant, but what about the girls who were raped and abused and did not get pregnant? What about those raped and abused in the here and now? In our next truth-telling as a society, we need to discuss sexual abuse in our families and communities and establish its prevalence. To me, the silence on this aspect of the report is deafening. Let the legacy of the women of this report be the telling of truth because, insofar as the report is the latest in a series of tellings of truth in our State, we still have a way to go.

I welcome the Minister. I also welcome this debate and the publication last week of the report into mother and baby homes. Its publication and the subsequent apology by the Taoiseach have marked a painful but cathartic week for the survivors of the homes, their families and, indeed, all of us. It has exposed again the dark history of confinement and incarceration of women and children that has been such a feature of Irish society for so long.

All of us will reflect on the many reports we have seen over the years and on the extent of abuses of human rights of women and children they have exposed. There have been reports into abuse in industrial schools and Magdalen laundries. In the report under discussion, there are references to country homes as well as mother and baby homes. We are aware of psychiatric institution confinement. We know that for many decades of the 20th century, Ireland had the highest rate of confinement of citizens in the world. The majority of citizens in many of the institutions were women and children. We are aware of the shameful history of the collusion of church and State in judging and condemning women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage. All of us are mindful of the silence so eloquently described by Senator Seery Kearney.

There was the silence related to the sexual abuse of children, the extent of rape documented in the confidential committee findings of this report and the absolute silence, despite the clear culpability of so many men, and then the cover-up and silence from church and State institutions. All of us are mindful of that. This report has really brought that out for all of us.

It brought back to me a personal memory from 1989 when I was aged 21 in Trinity students' union. The Minister will know the building in Trinity. As president of the students' union I received phone calls every day from young women and older women who were desperate because they were pregnant and felt they could not continue with the pregnancy in the culture that prevailed. This was in 1989, not the dim and distant 1950s. Those women were seeking information on abortion, information that was then denied to them by the Irish State and it was information on something that was condemned by the church. It is only in 2018, as we all know, that we finally moved to change the law on abortion. That to me was an experience that was deeply painful and that exposed the callous disregard for women and children from State and church authorities. We, as students, were denounced by priests from the pulpit at the time, including a priest who Senator Seery Kearney reminded me was later exposed for his own behaviour.

This report is cathartic. Clearly, however, there are flaws within it. The Minister spoke of the broken trust between the State and survivors. That trust was broken by the experience many survivors had in the homes. I pay tribute on behalf of the Labour Party and colleagues to the courage and tenacity of the many survivors who engaged with the report, came forward and spoke to the commission, and who have spoken in recent days about their experiences and given us much more of an insight into those experiences. Clearly, trust was broken as a result of their experiences but it was broken more recently by the leaking of the document about which others have spoken, which was appalling. It has been broken by the continued failure by the State to give survivors access to such basic information as their birth certificates. We need to move on that. It has also been broken, however, by the dismissive and often callous language used in the executive summary of the report. Senator Doherty and others called for a review of that language, which would be appropriate. It is unfortunate the executive summary does not do justice to the real wealth of detail and the true depth of experience of survivors disclosed in the substantive chapters of the report, which the Minister has acknowledged. If one reads the report, one finds it directly contradicts some of the rather dismissive findings in the executive summary. That is very problematic.

We owe a debt to the commission members undoubtedly, in particular, for the information and experiences disclosed through the confidential committee report and through the other substantive chapters of this 3,000-page report. We know from the report that a total of 56,000 women and 57,000 children passed through the institutions in the decades examined. We know, as Senator Boyhan has so eloquently described, that thousands more were resident or incarcerated in other institutions that were not subject to investigation by the commission. However, even within the commission sample we know that 9,000 babies died - a shocking figure - before their first birthday. That is an infant mortality rate of 15% or one in seven, an extraordinarily high death rate, reflecting the contempt with which mainstream Irish society appears to have held the women and children who were confined in the homes.

Others have spoken of the report's failure to clearly define the responsibility of State and church. I agree that saying the responsibility rests mainly with fathers and families neglects the power relations that the State and church had. It neglects the key point that it was the church and the State which shaped the culture of misogyny, the culture in which shame and secrecy attached to the women and children confined in the homes but a culture in which men escaped censure or sanction. The church and the Catholic Church in particular, although other churches are also implicated in the report as Senator Boyhan has said, was directly responsible for generating the moral context within which shame and secrecy prevailed. The State was directly responsible for failing to provide any support to women rejected by their families who were following church doctrine. It was not until Labour's Frank Cluskey introduced unmarried mothers' allowance in 1973 that the State formally acknowledged responsibility for the women so shamefully neglected for so many decades.

I wish to return to the language used in the executive summary and to look, in particular, at three ways in which it fails to reflect the findings in the report, findings about which survivors have spoken so eloquently and powerfully, namely, those relating to physical abuse, forced labour and forced adoption. When one reads the findings, the confidential committee report and other chapters, the extent to which these practices were taking place in the institutions becomes clear. We learn within the report of the confidential committee in particular of the extent of physical, verbal and psychological abuse suffered by survivors, the widespread practices of forced labour or slavery to which they were subjected and the extent of the practice of coerced or forced adoption.

In the context of physical abuse, dismissive language is used in paragraphs 15 and 16 of the executive summary, which states: "there is no evidence of the sort of gross abuse that occurred in industrial schools. There are a small number of complaints of physical abuse." That is directly contradicted in the report of the confidential committee. On page 42 of the report we are told: "the abuse described was not just verbal; some witnesses told of being slapped, beaten and punched, with nuns shouting at them that this was their penance for sinful behaviour." Throughout the report, numerous further instances are given with regard to conditions in the homes. Children born in the homes also describe their experiences. The report relates the harrowing story of a child who lived in a home until the age of six. He was locked in a room and suffered lasting damage to his ears as a result of being boxed around the ears by a nun.

A later section on the birth experience contains particularly traumatic findings. Women recalled being verbally insulted, degraded and slapped during the process of giving birth. Pain relief was routinely withheld because birth pain was seen as retribution for becoming pregnant. Some women suffered long-lasting gynaecological conditions as a result of the abuses suffered during the giving of birth. How could one say there was no physical abuse?

On forced labour, the findings are again stark. Paragraph 15 of the executive summary states bluntly, "The women worked but they were generally doing the sort of work that they would have done at home". How callous is that? However, on page 41 of the report of the confidential committee it is stated, "mothers reported having to do physically exhausting work up to the verge of giving birth, or very soon ... immediately afterwards". The level of sadistic behaviour by the nuns in forcing the women to work is also widely reported to the confidential committee, with one survivor relating how she, "had just finished mopping a long corridor when the nun upended her bucket of dirty water and ordered: 'now clean it again!'" How can one say forced labour was not extensively practised in the institutions?

The phrase "forced adoption" has been somewhat controversial and, indeed, it is not used in the report. The commission states in the executive summary that some mothers signed forms consenting to adoption because they had no alternative, but it then states that there is no evidence that the consent was not full, free and informed. However, when one looks at the report of the confidential committee and at chapter 32, which provides a really comprehensive overview of adoption practices and law, one sees clear evidence in that regard. It is stated on page 88 of the report of the confidential committee that, "Some women reported a baby being 'snatched' from their arms before final adoption papers were completed", while other women describe having been effectively deceived into giving consent and signing papers while not knowing what they were signing. An extensive paragraph in chapter 32 describes the giving of consent by mothers who were themselves children. These women were minors under the age of 21, which was, of course, the age of majority until the 1980s, or mothers who were under the age of 18, yet their consent was treated as valid legal consent. Indeed, one survivor who came to me was one of those minors who allegedly gave consent.

I echo the call of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties for a broader investigation of the entire system of adoption. I accept that such an investigation was not within the remit of the commission, but it has done us a great service in outlining so clearly in the report of the confidential committee and in chapter 32 just how extensively women were coerced into giving babies up for adoption. It is unfortunate that fact is not reflected in the executive summary.

There are many other issues raised in the report, such as those relating to vaccine trials or contradictions with regard to discrimination against children of mixed race, that is, with a father of different ethnicity. There is no reference to the education of girls. Many of the women in the homes were schoolgirls.

I wish to put those remarks on the record. I very much welcome the action plan of the Government and I think the recommendations of the report are clear, albeit somewhat limited to information and redress. Earlier today, we in the Labour Party published a Bill on information and tracing which seeks to give adoptees the right to access their birth certificates. I will be sending a copy of the Bill to the Minister. It is a straightforward measure designed to amend the Adoption Act.

On redress, I ask the Minister to ensure that the church institutions pay up and that we do not have a repeat of what happened with the redress board established under the 2002 legislation. I thank the Minister for his attention and I apologise for going over time.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and welcome the Minister. I will start, as many others have, by paying tribute and commending all of the women and children who came forward and shared their stories. They should never have had to do it but when they took that step to disclose the most personal and harrowing stories, the least they could have expected was to be believed. This week has been distressing and emotional for many. Survivors, their families and their representatives slowly are making their way through the report but it seems that the more they read, the more that, once again, that sense of being betrayed is coming to the fore.

Much has already been said about the manner in which this report was published, the webinar that was delivered like a sermon from the pulpit rather than a survivor-centred inclusive briefing, and the fact that copies of the document reached newspapers and elected representatives before the survivors themselves. We can put those mistakes aside because the bigger disappointment was yet to come, that is, in the executive summary's narrative and excusatory tone. I note the absence of blame being levelled on the State or church when we know that the history of both institutions in this country is one of a perverse fascination with the control of women's bodies and their sexuality. Societal norms have changed but, by God, the State and church fought tooth and nail to stop them. There were those who spoke out. There were those who tried to reform, but when one has the State and the church working hand in glove to stifle the conversation, what chance did they have? Certainly, what chance did the mothers have?

Much has also been said about the report's conclusions on adoption. The Commission states, on the one hand, that it found very little evidence that children were forcibly taken from their mothers but then goes on to state it accepts that mothers did not have much choice.

The conclusion also flies in the face of the confidential committee and the testimony of the mothers. One would have to ask the question, what is wrong with this State when women and survivors come forward, give their evidence to the commission of inquiry and then their word is not good enough? How is it that we can tune in day after day all week and hear survivors and their families talk about their direct experiences of these institutions, pour their souls out over the national airwaves, and then we can see a report that goes to gaslight them, that tells them that what they knew happened to them did not happen to them.

Over the coming months, no doubt there will be much more analysis of the findings of this report. It will be examined by historians, lawyers and advocacy groups, and rightly so. The report is just one narrative. It is an offensive one, in my view, but it is only one, and there are survivors, groups and academics out there right now who are determined to correct that.

Today, I want to focus the minds of this House, as many others have, on what the Minister and what we, as legislators, need to do. Survivors deserve action. They deserve to have their trust in politicians restored and in order for that to happen, we need to have action urgently.

There cannot be a repeat of the mistakes of previous reports and inquiries. The full collaborative forum report was never published and its recommendations have yet to be implemented. What we need to hear today is that survivors will be given full access to their birth certificates and records. There are no more excuses. When every GDPR expert in the country was telling this Government that it was wrong on the archive, it dug its heels in until public uproar could not be ignored anymore and it backed down. When the fact that Ireland was a complete outlier in the world in denying survivors access to their identity, successive Governments hid behind unpublished Attorney General's advice.

I am glad to hear that the current Attorney General has ruled out the need for a referendum to access birth certificates. My colleague, Deputy Funchion, has today published legislation that would facilitate adoptees accessing their birth certificates. It is a fundamental human right to know who you are. Nobody is expecting that the rights to access documents about who you are will somehow magically guarantee a happy ever after ending - by God, survivors of those institutions know that better than anyone else - but it will at least put an end to their othering. It will finally recognise their right to self.

I know the Minister met with the children's committee earlier regarding a redress scheme and I hope progress can be made without delay because it is imperative that we have a redress scheme that is fit for purpose, that is accessible to all who need to access it and that does not seek to silence through gagging orders. I also hope the Minister will ensure that church organisations will make significant contributions to that scheme and there will be no room this time for them to abscond from that. Even if it means shaking them by their ankles until their pockets are empty, there can be no wriggle room for the churches this time. I also support calls for GlaxoSmithKline to pay compensation for its role in experimentation on children.

I would like to hear that health insurance cards will be issued without delay, that counselling services and support will be made available and enhanced housing provided, that the burials Bill will address the concerns of survivors and that all 182 identifiable institutions will be investigated for mass burial plots and a dignified exhumation process facilitated. These are only some of the tangible measures the Minister and we, as legislators, can implement. I assure the Minister my party will not be found wanting when it comes to working with him on those matters.

I thank again those who have spoken out and laid bare their pain and suffering, their experiences and their truth. I say to those who may never have spoken out and chose instead to silently carry their own story that they are not forgotten. They too did nothing wrong and deserve so much better from the State. The legacy of the State towards women is a shameful one but the women of Ireland will be silenced no more. They now have the support of wider society. When the archives were to be sealed, society rallied behind the women and survivors. Within days of this report being published, 25,000 people signed up to the access to records petition because the days of church and State control over our bodies, our sexuality and our right to information are over. Once the wall of silence has been broken, truth pushes forth like an unstoppable geyser.

I thank the Minister for being in the Seanad today. I sat down to read this report last week and I have been reading for days. I read it with a view that I was a pregnant, unmarried minor, albeit only 20 years ago. I also read it as someone who would have been deemed an illegitimate child when I was born in the early 1980s. When a family is given support and not punishment, the circumstances are very different.

I welcome the State apology to survivors of the mother and baby homes. I cannot, however, welcome the report of the mother and baby home commission. I welcome the survivors who shared their experience with the commission and the confidential committee. Real and tangible truth telling will be the first step to real reconciliation. However, I struggle with everything about this report, including how it describes these institutions, the women and children who entered and died there and the society that was solely responsible for the cruelty. I cannot fathom how a commission with truth telling as its supposed centre and main aim could describe these places in such terms. All week I sat and read, I stopped to breathe and then I read again. My daughter would ask why I was shaking my head from time to time. I would explain and paint the picture of the Ireland we see in this report and she would ask, "Why, Ma? Why did they do that?" I could not answer because it made no sense and it still does not. I cannot make sense of how this happened for so long and so many were complicit in allowing and perpetuating it.

As the Taoiseach gave his apology last week, I believe he further contributed to a culture of blame by unfairly placing the blame on society, families and even the women themselves. It insults the memory of what went on in those homes to say that it was a society-wide failing. I will not be party to a narrative that absolves the individuals and institutions that were at fault and culpable. If the narrative is that we are all to blame, then it is only one small step further to say that no one is to blame, and that is wrong.

I cannot see how a report into these institutions and practices could have found so much evidence and yet have found so little fault. That is the responsibility of individuals at the highest levels of our State and the church who have acted as they did, and yet they claim no role in creating the conditions that led to the treatment of women and children in this way, and that these practices were somehow just of their time, as if that provides an adequate explanation in any way.

It makes no sense that this report states that the Catholic Church did not set the time's moral tone. How can the church be said to have provided a refuge when it worked so tirelessly to remove all other options for women in crisis? If refuge is shelter or protection from danger or distress, how can these institutions have been deemed to provide refuge? How could refuge be shown in institutions utterly devoid of humanity and kindness, where the value of a child's life was set at less than nothing, and even as a perverse cause for celebration? No fair-minded person could call such a place a refuge. There are points in this report where women are called inmates. How can one be an inmate in a place of refuge? It then states that it was a harsh refuge in some cases.

I fundamentally reject a report that could characterise these institutions in those terms and frankly, how dare this report denigrate the experiences of survivors who gave evidence to the commission by describing them like that. Survivors who have been so generous with their time and difficult experiences, inputting into a process that the State told them they could trust, have had their trust violated with repulsive attitudes that demean and diminish their trauma. These women and their advocates will not let us give them back their histories in a way that is untrue to them. "You are here for your sins" said one nun and, let us face it, that is why they were there.

In the words of Sartre, "Hell is other people". It is hell that was made up of every man and woman who used their positions of power to abuse within both the State and church. We can go around asking why families, fathers, medical professionals and local authority officials sent women there but the reality is that we should be focusing on what happened when the women got there. Were they treated, supported, encouraged and loved in a supposed refuge? No, they were lied to, shamed, abused and coerced. This report has tried, as has the Government, to create a narrative to shift the burden of the blame for the crimes of the powerful onto the rest of us, and I fundamentally reject this. Not only do church and State have a monopoly on morality, they are still trying to hang on to it now by telling a nation that they too are at fault. It is undeniable that the Catholic Church had a dominant influence on social policy. Catholic teaching in Ireland moulded the social psyche. When someone, usually a woman, deviated from the Catholic Church's idea of life, then it was waiting, as the leading provider of social services, to offer rehabilitation and penance in the form of punishment, slavery and forced adoption. If the State took the energy it uses in making excuses to tell the story in its favour and put that same energy into real, tangible action for survivors, we would be in a different place.

It makes no sense that this report says that women were not forced into these institutions. Again and again, the report takes a woman's story and experience and twists it to suit the narrative of the powerful and the guilty. To say their pregnancy devastated women's lives is abhorrent to me. Was it the pregnancy that caused the devastation or did the church and the State, which were set on making women pay for their perceived wrongdoings, devastate their lives? Abuse, slavery and forced adoption devastated their lives, and now our repeated failures to listen to them, provide their data and their identity continue to devastate their lives.

This report and the process leading up to it, with the rushing through of emergency legislation last year, the use of inappropriate legislation for such a sensitive issue in the first place, and continued denial of access to records and information, all point to a process that has put survivors last where they should be front and centre. As the focus must now turn to access to information, burial inquests, redress and memorialisation, I want to know everything that has been learned from the abject failures of the past. These are outstanding issues. Will the Minister guarantee that survivors will be given full and unredacted access to their own records held by the commission? On access to information held by the commission, I am still hearing that survivors are being denied subject access requests under GDPR due to the Commissions of Investigation Act, despite everything that has happened and the primacy of EU law over any national law.

Will the Minister explain this and confirm that a balancing of rights under GDPR will be undertaken as part of every subject access request made by survivors? On access to information more generally, it is, frankly, appalling that today survivors are still being denied access to their birth certificates. Will the Minister commit to supporting the Opposition's legislation on making an emergency amendment to the Civil Registration Act to guarantee access to the most important personal document there is? In the longer term, will the Minister commit to a speedy enactment of legislation on information and tracing for adopted people? We must reject the insulting approaches of the past and take the route of complaint through international human rights law, especially in light of the recent decision of the Court of Appeal, which found our Constitution contains an unenumerated right to have one's identity correctly recognised by the State. I intend to introduce legislation shortly, if a Government Bill is not immediately forthcoming.

With regard to redress we need to know the Government has learned the lessons of the past. Today, we are still fighting for the Magdalen women to have access to the expanded HAA medical cards they were promised by Mr. Justice Ryan. This is from a Government that has been forced to wind down the body set up to fund redress to survivors of industrial schools when Caranua was found to be adding further to the trauma with its intransigence and hostile practices. Any redress scheme must be generous and accessible with a holistic, sensitive and trauma-informed approach. There must be no waivers with regard to criminal liability or the non-disclosure of information if people participate in the redress scheme. This is a red line. The UN committee against torture found the Magdalen redress waivers to be in violation of human rights law and, therefore, invalid. We need to know that the lessons on the silencing of women have been learned. I wish the Minister the best of luck in the coming months and ask him to put the needs and concerns of survivors above all else.

I draw the House's attention to the fact that from now on speeches will be six minutes, as per the Order of the House. I asked Senators to co-operate with this as a number of people are waiting to speak. Colleagues have come up to me to say they will have no chance to speak if people do not respect this.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I thank all of the mothers, children and survivors who gave their testimony to the commission of investigation and all those who could not do so for various reasons. I am humbled, as I think we all are, by their courage and strength. It is a huge privilege to be here today to contribute.

The report of the commission of investigation was never designed to deliver justice. It is hugely disappointing and I will not repeat all of the criticisms made already. The Minister has heard them and I believe he and the Government will take action on these criticisms. The report was far too limited. As other speakers have mentioned, it was never going to capture the breadth and depth of experiences. The testimonies of the more than 500 survivors are what enriches the report and gives it value. The language, tone and conclusions, if we want to call them that, although I reject them as conclusions because I do not think they are reasonable, are what make the report less valuable to us. It is our job to take it and make it somehow of value.

In earlier contributions many examples were given but there is one sentence that epitomises the inaccuracy and wrongness of some of the language.

It states: "Women were admitted to mother and baby homes and county homes because they failed to secure the support of their family and the father of their child." That these women could be accused of failing anything is unacceptable. They did not fail at any level. Their courage and strength should be commended, celebrated and respected. I know that neither the Minister nor this House have the power to delete that sentence but that and many of the other conclusions should be rejected. None of us has the privilege of choosing the family we are born into and few of us are always lucky in love. To be born into a civilised society, democracy and republic, we should expect to be treated with human dignity and respect at a minimum. These women and children were not. They were denied humanity, dignity and respect. That should be a basic expectation of any citizen in any civilised democracy.

I accept what other Senators have stated, namely that it was not society. I do not think anybody in government is trying to shift the blame. The Taoiseach stood up and immediately gave an apology on behalf of the State because that was what was needed. It will not be the last apology and that apology, in and of itself, is not sufficient. More than 100,000 of our citizens were involved and they are only the ones who are captured in the report. We all agree that the report is not extensive or comprehensive. The report only deals with 14 mother and baby homes and 4 county homes over 75 years but there were many more. There were 56,000 women and the 57,000 children involved and when one thinks of the population of Waterford or Galway, this is a dark period in our State's history. The church, the State and every organisation involved in the State have to apologise to those women whom they rejected, abandoned, shamed, neglected and abused. The descriptions and testimonies are so powerful. The cruelty leaps out from when they were abandoned at the gates or from when they were brought there. There are testimonies of childbirth and of the deaths and the mortality rates are detailed, with 9,000 infants having passed away.

I want us to use the publication of the report to move forward in a survivor-centred way and I know the Minister and the Government will do so. It is critical that all organs of the State are answerable on this, including the local authorities that regulated and funded the system and the Garda. The Minister's commitments regarding access to personal records have to be accelerated, as do the supports for the survivors and the creation of a permanent archive.

By way of clarification and lest there be any misunderstanding, I exhort to let everyone here get an opportunity but there will also be an opportunity next week. I should have said that earlier. We continue on this next week, given the gravity of what we are discussing.

I thank the Minister for the contribution he made at the outset of this debate because his determination to do the right thing by our survivors and their families and children is evident every time he speaks.

I do not in any way underestimate the complexity of the task the commission of inquiry into mother and baby homes undertook. Much of the report is a valuable and comprehensive history of a period of Ireland's history that most people would want to forget and pretend never happened. It is, however, something we will never forget. By God, it is very hard to fathom that a commission of inquiry established by the State to reveal and investigate a sordid, horrible past has caused so much hurt in the past week because of the report it published, particularly its executive summary. The Minister should be in no doubt that that hurt is incredibly real and raw and it is evident in the painful stories we have all heard the women and their children share with us over the airwaves in the past week. This group of women has been galvanised by the commission's response to them. They will no longer stand in the shadows of Ireland's history. I will go out on a limb and suggest this group of women is supported by every single woman and nearly every man in the country as a result of the wrongdoing that has been done to them.

The report lacks empathy. It is legalistic - overbearingly so - cold and callous. Some of the assertions it makes are not just hurtful but downright disrespectful and, in many places, wrong or inaccurate. In many cases, the report completely ignores the testimony of the women's lived experiences. We invited these survivors to come forward to what we told them would be a safe space where they would be able to share their experiences with us in order that the State would learn from them, make reparations and ensure this kind of horrid behaviour never happened again. We then have the gall to tell them they are wrong, that some of their memories are not accurate and to discount their testimonies. We nearly told them again that they do not matter or they do not count. In places the report actually questions the accuracy of survivors' memories. It tells them their memories and lived experiences, as recounted, are wrong. Imagine being a survivor and being told the story one came forward to tell is not true or real. I cannot even begin to imagine how that must make these survivors feel. I want to tell them on the record of the House that we fundamentally believe them. There is not a doubt in my mind and, I believe, in the minds of everybody else here and everybody in the nation that the experiences they recounted to us are absolutely real. In some cases, they probably did not go as far as telling us the cruel and sordid treatment they experienced.

The report is filled with the mantra that there is no evidence. It states there was no evidence of collusion, forced incarceration or forced adoptions, yet we have the evidence of 550 women who were brave enough to come forward and tell of their experience of being called housemates when they were incarcerated. They were not free to leave. The testament to that is the women who told us that those who were lucky enough to escape were dragged back, kicking and screaming, to the institutions.

As other Members stated, the report suggests that the homes were a refuge, albeit a harsh one, when no refuge was offered by the women's families and that the women were not asked to do anything in the homes that they would not have been asked to do in their own homes. We know that is not true. Heavily pregnant and post-pregnant women in Bessborough were forced on their hands and knees to cut the bloody grass with nail clippers. Ireland was a cold, cruel place but I do not know of any home where loved ones were treated in that way. The chapter on the confidential commission report lays bare the cruel, cold and harsh reality of what happened in mother and baby homes and county homes.

The claim that women were not forced to give up their babies is the most callous. If someone does not or cannot give consent, how is that not forced? The report appears not to appreciate the concept of consent, which is particularly hard to understand given the number of women and children incarcerated in mother and baby homes who were rape victims. How is it that pregnant girls as young as 12 were dropped at the doors of these homes and gardaí were never called? I appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is looking into the investigation but that is generations too late in some of these cases.

The rationale offered by the report for the huge disparity between infant mortality rates in the homes and in the community was that the crowding of vulnerable children allowed mini-epidemics of infection to occur, as if that happened by accident or was not deliberate.

Many of the documents seen by the commission reflect the implicit, almost automatic, assumption that public policy should be in line with the views and the wishes of the then Catholic Church. Such was the relationship that existed for generations between the church and the State, yet the writers of the report chose in the executive summary to place the greatest burden of responsibility on the father and on the families, as well as on society and community and, by God, that has really angered and saddened our survivors.

Of the 923 babies that died in Bessborough, we know the whereabouts of 64 of them. In Tuam, without an excavation, we will never know, yet the commission said it does not consider further excavation or investigation is warranted.

I am running out of speaking time. I want to say to the Minister sincerely that what is required now, in my humble opinion, is that we invite the survivors to write their own executive summary, in their own words and their own language, to allow their representation of their own testimonies to stand alongside the report. We should, in fact, invite the survivors who offered testimony to have their factual transcripts published and laid alongside the archive, in order that the commission’s report can be put in context. We should clearly lay out a timetable for the details of the Government's commitments and reparations, the adoption and tracing legislation and the redress scheme. Perhaps the most important thing that we can do for women is to say we will give them a commitment to excavations, to DNA tracing and to a proper, dignified burial for all of those thousands of babies whose lives were lost, because we certainly did not show them any dignity in the history of this country.

I welcome the Minister and I welcome this report. I understand why criticisms have been made and I sympathise with the people making those criticisms. Yet, I believe, looking at the commission, that it did try to be fair. I think a word of thanks to Judge Murphy and her commission is not out of place.

It is a report that paints a sad and sobering picture of how women and children were failed by the State and by wider society, including in institutions run by religious orders and by the church in Ireland, which did much to mould and was itself moulded by Irish society. I do not think we can say often enough how important it is that we listen to the stories of the mothers who were in the mother and baby homes and the county homes and to the children who were born there and lived there. To all those who suffered hardship after getting pregnant or at the beginning of their lives, and whose suffering was made worse by the harshness of life in the homes or in the community afterwards, I offer my personal sincere sympathy. I hope that they can feel heard in these days and that they can take some comfort in the acknowledgement by the wider community of the truth of what happened to them. I also hope that their needs will be prioritised now and that, as a community, we can make it up to them as much as possible for what they have suffered.

Some things can never be undone but it seems to me that the most important thing now is that there is real attentiveness to the desire of former residents of the homes to make contact with their birth mothers and relatives, in so far as that can be achieved, consistent with everyone's right to respect for their dignity and privacy, and guarantees that were given to them. It must surely be possible to ensure, in any event, that people receive information about their medical history and anything that is on file that is relevant to them personally. All of this should be a priority for the Government and the necessary resources must be in place in order that this can happen speedily. Counselling and redress are, of course, also part of the story of trying to put things right.

I sat down the other day to think about the catalogue of sadness and neglect alleged and, in most cases, sadly, shown by this report to have actually occurred, this catalogue that we have heard about in recent years. There is the committal by family and authorities of pregnant mothers to the institutions. Yes, the report lays primary responsibility – controversially, in the eyes of some - on families and, indeed, on those who fathered children who were born in the home but it is a sad reality of what happened in Irish life, and we have heard much about the sociological context that contributed to that. Disrespectful attitudes to mothers and children are a big cultural problem that persists in some ways to this day. There was poor hygiene and healthcare, and high mortality. This is what will have scandalised and shocked most people first, to think that in Bessborough, in 1943, there was a 75% mortality rate. And people knew. Ms Alice Litster, who is, if one likes, one of the heroes of the report, wrote about this back in 1939. She is mentioned 440 times in the report but her name appears just once on the record of these Houses.

There is the question of disrespectful burial. There is uncertainty here and I, for one, am uneasy about the frequent recourse on the national broadcaster to the story of the sewage tank in Tuam.

It evokes so much anger, fear and concern, yet we still do not know the truth. We need to get to the truth so that we can consider it in a calm, measured and unflinchingly truthful way.

On the forced adoption issue, there is uncertainty here too. It has caused much hurt but it is quite clear that if a woman was in the home, she had very little choice in life. If it was not a direct forcing, there was still an unacceptable sundering of the relationship between a mother and her child. We have heard about falsified records, inadequate education, unpaid labour - which, we are told in the report, was a feature in county homes to an even greater extent - and cruel treatment on farms. Coming from a rural background, I am particularly conscious of the horrible reality that that was for some.

I also thought about whether it is possible to make peace with our past, with those who were wronged but also with our ancestors, relatives and the modern inheritors of State and church bodies that were involved. This needs some kind of consensus and of course there are preconditions for that. The first is that we prioritise the needs of those who were in the homes, namely, information, counselling and redress. Second, we need a commitment on the part of the political, media and cultural establishment to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The report tries to lead the way here by drawing attention to the various economic and social forces that shaped the Ireland of that era. As we ponder the case for redress and talk about the contribution of church and State, we should perhaps consider whether some kind of national voluntary collection might be organised to contribute a social and family dimension to the redress in this particular case. That is something we should discuss. Most of us are connected with families where this kind of thing happened and we need to personally take some kind of responsibility for the past instead of just demonising our ancestors. There would be a generous response from quite a few members of the public, even if they are not personally responsible, who recognise that there is a communal story here that needs to be told, that is, if we are to be unflinchingly truthful about what happened.

We should of course discuss the story of the church in all this. It is a story of heroic kindness if one thinks of Frank Duff and the Legion of Mary who fought against the separation of mothers and their children. Tragically, it is also the story of the failure to get across the Christian value of mercy. What was against the gospel in 2020 was also against the gospel in the 1950s.

We need to consider what we do in the present. I do not flinch from the fact that I am somebody in this House who has stood up for the rights of preborn children in our law. I do not think we can divorce this issue from how we treat unexpected pregnancy in the present. The State, at the moment, is cold and callous in how it treats this issue. The number of preborn children who died by abortion in the year after it was legislated in this country was 6,666. Can we with integrity talk about the dishonouring of women and children in the past without also considering whether we have found the right track in the present? It was dark then. The Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, was wrong to say so blithely that everything is much better now. It is also dark now but in different ways. We need to bring the light into that situation too.

I remind Members that by order of the House, the Minister is to be given ten minutes to reply. The building is to be shut down at 7 p.m. this evening due to public health guidelines and to ensure we are not stretching our staffing resources too far. The Minister will contribute now and Senator O'Loughlin will be the first speaker when the discussion resumes.

On a point of order, my good friend and colleague, Senator Boyhan, said there was no male Senator here at the beginning of the debate. For the record, I was here for the Minister's speech but I had to step out for about ten minutes to do a prearranged media interview. I have been here for the entire debate since.

Some of us were following it with great care from our offices as well.

I thank the Senators. I call on the Minister to reply to the Senators who have spoken today. He will speak again next week on the issues raised by Members on the report.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I understand I have ten minutes now and will have ten minutes at the end of next week's debate to respond as best I can to the various points made.

I thank all Senators for their considered contributions. I will try to respond to some of the points in the order in which they were raised.

The point made by my colleague, Senator Pauline O'Reilly, is a good place to start. The Government and I will be judged on our actions, on delivering the actions that we have set out in response to this report and on our engagement with survivors.

I ask for silence in the Chamber to allow the Minister to speak.

A number of Senators made that point about how the actions of the Government will be judged and I take it on board. Senator Pauline O'Reilly suggested that an apology may be forthcoming from Galway County Council, and I think that would be appropriate. The theme of the responsibility of local authorities in all of this was one on which Senator Boyhan also touched. Many of us here have served on local authorities and can think of the things we did and the functions we had around parks and planning. Those bodies were intrinsically involved in the payment of the fees for and management of these homes decades ago. As Senator Pauline O'Reilly said, one council met in one of the mother and baby homes. That is at variance with what I think about when I think about the local authority on which I served. I am of the view that an apology would be appropriate in that case and I hope others might also think of adopting that approach.

Senator Boyhan, as ever, spoke with great passion and made an extremely considered contribution. He made the point that this commission has looked at just one part of a much wider failure on behalf of the State in the context of children who were in care of different sorts. He suggested that we, in our response to this, need to be aware of the fact that there are many institutions excluded from the ambit of this report. He made an apt point about the reappointment of Dr. Niall Muldoon as Ombudsman for Children. We acknowledge that having institutions such as the Office of the Ombudsman for Children to speak for children is a step forward but, on the other hand, we recognise that that office and other bodies still find fault with the State. We must always be conscious that we can do better for young people.

Senator Boyhan made another point, this was picked up on by Senators Boylan, Ruane and Bacik, with regard to the establishment of the restorative recognition scheme - we are working on that at the moment - in that we have to be very conscious of the mistakes that were made in the past as regards design. I commit now to going back and looking at problems that arose. The issue of the gagging order has been highlighted by a number of Senators and I will go back and look at that and see how we can avoid mistakes like that being made in the future.

A number of Senators also brought up the issue of the vaccine trials and engagement with GlaxoSmithKline. I have not written to GlaxoSmithKline at this point but I will go back and consider what direct engagement my Department should have with that company.

Senators McGreehan, Bacik and others drew attention to the issue of the leak and how devastating it was to survivors during a week that was always going to be full of trauma. The leak opened that trauma anew and ripped a plaster off a wound in a brutal manner. As I have said, an investigation is being undertaken by the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach. It is essential for that to happen.

Senators McGreehan and Seery Kearney also mentioned criminal acts. Full copies of this report are with both the Director of Public Prosecutions and An Garda.

Senators also asked about my engagement with the congregations and charities. As already stated, I have written to them and spoken about the need for an apology and a contribution to the redress scheme, but also access to records. That is particularly important in the context of the importance of information for so many of the survivors. As has been said in the commission's report, many of these institutions took extremely detailed records and it is important that those records are brought into State control as part of this national archive that we are seeking to create.

I will engage with them on that specific point as well.

Senator Seery Kearney spoke about the need to have practical supports in place. The counselling supports, in the form of the national counselling service, are in place now. I spoke with the director of the HSE who is in charge of the national counselling service to reassure myself that that was working. It is up and running. The national counselling service is a weekday service that operates from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. but for the next six weeks at least, an out-of-hours service called Connect Counselling has also been put in place in recognising the trauma felt. Things are so raw this week but people will have the chance to reflect and emotions may come to them in the next number of weeks. We can look at bringing back the out-of-hours service and elongating that more. The service provided by the national counselling service can be for short-, medium- and long-term counselling. Survivors of mother and baby homes are regarded as a prioritised group now within the receipt of these services. That is important as one response that is in place immediately. During the debate on the database legislation, Senators Boylan and Bacik asked for that to be put in place.

Senator Seery Kearney also spoke about the need to provide people with the right to know who they are and that was a theme of a lot of the contributions. To be clear, the database will arrive in my Department from 28 February. We have worked intensively to make sure we have proper general data protection regulation or GDPR compliant policies ready from when we receive it so that we can deal appropriately with the many subject access requests that we will take. These subject access requests will be handled on the basis of a presumption of a right to access under the GDPR. It is only the potential limitations on that as set out in Article 15.4, that is, an interference with the rights and freedoms of others, that will be the consideration our GDPR officer will have in determining if there is any potential restriction to be placed on the access to the right. We are looking to publish those before 28 February and I assure Senators that we are in regular contact with the Data Protection Commissioner. We are working our way through the various data protection impact assessments, DPIAs. As Senators will know, that is a living document. Consequently, we are working closely with the Data Protection Commissioner to make sure that we get that right. Those rights will come in from 28 February. As some Senators have said, that is not going to answer all questions because as we know, the commission's archive does not cover all institutions. That is why the information and tracing legislation is also important to cover wider circumstances as well. It is why the information and tracing legislation is also important as regards the national contact preference register and putting that on a statutory footing to allow for those circumstances where either a mother or a child, for example, does not want contact made by her child or by his or her mother in order that there is a potential that this can be registered there. In as much as people have a right to information, and we believe that is central, information and contact are two different things. People's preferences as regards contact should be referenced and respected. I believe that we need to take that contact preference register, which is a very good service but is not on a statutory footing now, and place it on a statutory footing. Both Senators Bacik and Boylan referenced Private Members' legislation, which I would be happy to look at. Both probably cover the same area. Deputy Funchion mentioned it earlier on in our meeting. I am very happy to look at those.

Senator Bacik focused on the concerns. Many have raised some concerns. I stated in my own introduction, as regards the executive summary, particularly how it seems to clash in ways with some of the wider part of the work and I do think that is important. Many Senators have remarked on the fact that huge knowledge, benefit and insight into what happened are contained in those 3,000 pages.

I am lucky, to an extent, in having had the opportunity since October to go through it in detail. One thing for me, and Senators Boylan and Mullen touched on it, is that there were people who were raising concerns about what was happening in these institutions. Senator Mullen referred to Alice Litster, who I mentioned in the Dáil last week. I thought that was important because there was not complete silence. There were people vigorously raising the issue year after year. Alice Litster worked as an inspector for 30 years and, as Senator Mullen mentioned, across all the chapters looking at the institutions, her name is there time and again, flagging the problems. On Sean Ross, she was saying that huge numbers of children were being sent for adoption in the United States, for example, yet this was ignored. It shows to me in concrete terms the failure of State bodies to listen to warnings raised by the State. It is important, regarding criticism of the language in the executive summary and other points, to bear in mind that there is real value. Senator Fitzpatrick and others have spoken of the shocking death toll. Each chapter has a descriptive chapter on that institution as well as a statistical chapter. Numbers are very cold, but take the ages of the women - girls - going into these institutions and the death tolls over the years. We should bear that in mind in our consideration of the overall report.

Senator Bacik drew particular attention to forced labour. Irrespective of what the executive summary says, the commission stated that certain categories of women should be eligible for the redress on the basis of the work they did. That is any woman who was in a county home, any woman who was in Tuam or any woman who was put outside of the institution. The commission identified that there was forced labour in many of the institutions and regarded that this justified specific restitution for the women involved. The same applies to forced adoption. Reading the accounts to the confidential committee, I cannot but understand that women had absolutely no choice in giving their child up for adoption, be it because of the pressure from the institution, the fact that they had been abandoned by their family, perhaps pressure from clergy in the area and, of course, the fact that the State had for so long failed to give any sort of financial support to unmarried mothers. These women had absolutely no choice in their children being given up for adoption.

Several Senators have spoken on a records centre and the commitment given in October to a national memorial and records centre. We reiterate our commitment to that. We will engage with survivors regarding the location and how the material in that record centre will be handled. We must remember that we must protect individuals' privacy and balance that with the individuals who have given testimony. I am sure Senators will know of some survivors who do not want their own very private information being looked at by researchers and the like. We must respect that as well. I have always thought, influenced by the work done by others on what this centre would look like, that this would be an academic centre in terms of the records but also a place where we can provide a living history of what happened in these institutions. The Leader and others have spoken of the need for the testimonies of women to be heard and to be the part of the report that shines out most. The people who curate museums know how to bring together apt and appropriate audiovisual representations of history. They could go a long way in ensuring that every personal account, all 550 of them, could be read onto the record and that there as a constant oral reminder of what happened.

This area is not my forte. I believe, however, that those who understand how best to represent history in ways that are not just words on a page but are visual, audio or a combination of media could go a long way to making sure that what our generation and future generations see is the lived truth of the women and children who were in these and so many other institutions. As I said, the Government has given a commitment to develop that and to work with survivors' groups to ensure we have an archive of that knowledge and a wider sense of commemoration is also provided for. I look forward to continued engagement with Members of the House next week.

I thank the Minister for coming into the House and all the Senators who made important contributions.

Debate adjourned.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Tuesday at 10.30 a.m. in the Dáil Chamber.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.41 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 26 January 2021.