Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 10 Jun 2014

Vol. 843 No. 4

Death and Burial of Children in Mother and Baby Homes: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

acknowledges the scandal that occurred at the Bon Secours Sisters institution in Tuam, County Galway, where almost 800 children died while in the ‘care’ of a religious order, in a State regulated institution, and were placed in a mass unmarked grave over a period of five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s;

notes the Government’s intention to give early consideration on the best course of action to take into investigating the deaths of these children and the appalling manner of their interment;

recognises that the abusive practices which occurred at the Bon Secours Sisters mother and baby ‘care’ home were not unique to that one institution and were replicated in similar institutions across the State including what occurred at Bethany Home; and

calls on the Government to:

— immediately initiate a fully independent judicial inquiry, with terms of reference agreed by the Houses of the Oireachtas, into this latest shameful episode involving a religious order and the failure of the State in its duty of care to its most vulnerable and defenceless citizens; the inquiry to consider the so-called ‘care’ regime in place, the infant mortality rates and the burial of children in unmarked graves at all mother and baby homes in the State; and

— set a date for the establishment of this inquiry before the Dáil summer recess and all of the report’s findings be published.

Molaim an rún in ainm Theachtaí Dála Shinn Féin. I move the motion in the name of the Sinn Féin Deputies.

I want to avail of the opportunity to urge all Deputies to support the motion. We moved quickly to table this motion when it became clear that an inquiry is absolutely necessary and must be undertaken as soon as possible. We have been of this view for many years in the context of matters of this nature. I wish to show goodwill towards the Government in the context of its announcement earlier today that it is to establish a statutory commission of investigation. We await the full details and terms of reference relating to said commission.

We have known for a long time that women and children placed by the State in the so-called care of religious orders and other church institutions in the five decades from the 1920s to the 1970s were treated as the outcasts of society and as non-people. We have seen fully revealed the horrors of the industrial schools for boys and young men and of the Magdalen laundries for girls and young women. We know something of the regime endured by young mothers and children in mother and baby homes, which included the effective imprisonment of pregnant women, forced adoptions and the sale of babies by religious orders to wealthy Irish-American families. The most recent revelations in respect of Tuam have, as I said during the statements taken earlier this evening, highlighted more of the horrifying aspects of the regimes which obtained in mother and baby homes. Immediate action is required in order to uncover the full truth. Foremost in our thoughts should be the surviving mothers who endured what effectively was incarceration in the institutions to which I refer and also the surviving adopted children who wish to discover the truth about the identity of their parents, siblings and wider families.

As I and others noted in the statements taken earlier, great credit is due an ordinary Irish citizen, Ms Catherine Corless, who painstakingly researched the Bon Secours mother and baby home in her native town of Tuam, County Galway. Ms Corless has pursued this matter for the past number of years and in 2013 her research revealed the scale of children's deaths and burials at the Bon Secours home. Between 1925 and 1961, 796 children died at the home in question. Their names are recorded in the register of births and deaths in Galway and it was from there that they were accessed by Ms Corless.

What has brought this sorry story to national and international attention is the manner of the children's burial, namely, anonymously, without any kind of individual identification or markers and, apparently, in a mass grave. This has caused widespread revulsion and reopened and highlighted anew the scandal of mother and baby homes in this State. In the past week, some have suggested that what has been highlighted is nothing new. In one sense, that is correct. We knew these homes existed and that they were places of suffering for women and children. We did not know, however, the full extent of what occurred in them and nor do we know the records relating to them that might still be available or what facts may yet be revealed. The importance of this point was highlighted by the historian, Dr. Conor Mulvagh, in a comprehensive article in The Sunday Business Post on 8 June last. Dr. Mulvagh indicated in his piece that last week he made contact with the Dublin diocesan archives and was informed that a number of files previously closed to the public are now open. Some of these files relate to mother and baby homes. Crucially, they were never examined by the teams which carried out the investigations relating to the Murphy, Ryan and McAleese reports. Careful searches will have to be conducted in respect of other records, particularly those relating to mother and baby homes outside Dublin.

One such institution was the Bessborough home in Cork city. In her 1998 book, The Light in the Window, Ms June Goulding, a former midwife at the home, described the horrors inflicted on women in Bessborough, including the denial of pain relief to those in labour and of proper medical attention after they had given birth. The author described a silent, prison-like regime where pregnant women and young mothers were treated like criminals. Even for a woman to cry out during childbirth was forbidden. The founder of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Support Group, Helen Murphy, was born at the home and left when she was seven months old. On Sunday last she spoke for all those directly affected by the regimes in these so-called homes when she said, "We want the truth to be known. We want justice to be done, and we want Bessborough to be included in any form of inquiry the Government is now going to order." She continued:

We founded the Bessborough Mother and Baby Support Group as an outlet for all those whose lives were affected by this place. The purpose of it is to remember the people who were there, and especially the babies who died. But also to remember all of the mothers who gave birth there. We want to add our voice to the call for an inquiry into what went on at the mother and baby homes, how many babies died, and where are those babies buried. We want answers.

The full facts and figures, or as many as can be uncovered, need to be revealed from the records and from the testimony to the statutory investigation. We know from the research so far, that 796 children died in Tuam between 1925 and 1961. In 1933, of 120 admissions to Tuam, 42 babies died, a shocking 45% mortality rate. The rate in Bessborough was 39%, at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea it was 37.5% and at Pelletstown in Dublin it was 34%. At one stage, the death rate at Bessborough reached 61%. Between 1922 and 1949, 219 children died in the Protestant-run Bethany Home in Dublin. Of these, 175 were aged between four weeks and two years. A further 25 were aged from a number of hours up to four weeks and 19 were stillborn. Cemetery records indicate that the causes of death included 54 from convulsions, 41 from heart failure, 26 from starvation and seven from pneumonia.

One of the shocking aspects of mother and baby homes that requires answers is the use of children for medical experiments. Vaccination trials were carried out on 58 children in 1960 and 1961. Those children were from the mother and baby homes at Bessborough in Cork, Castlepollard in County Westmeath, Mount Carmel industrial school in Moate, County Westmeath, Dunboyne and Stamullen in County Meath and St. Patrick's on the Navan Road in Dublin.

Over a decade ago when the Government of the day tried to initiate an investigation into these trials, members of the medical profession took legal action to prevent the investigation and their appeals were upheld by the courts. It seems that professional reputations are more important in Irish law than finding out the truth about the gross violation of the rights of defenceless and voiceless children.

That brings us to the question of why these crimes were perpetrated and why were they allowed to happen. Following the foundation of the Free State, as it was then described, in 1922 an unholy and deeply reactionary alliance was formed between the political elite and the Catholic hierarchy. This was part of the carnival of reaction to the revolution of 1916-21. It was a denial of the democratic and egalitarian principles on which Dáil Éireann had been founded. In the democratic programme of the First Dáil, adopted on 21 January 1919, it was stated: "It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland". It was also stated: "The Irish Republic fully realises the necessity of abolishing the present odious, degrading and foreign Poor Law System...". The Minister knows a good deal about history. As he is aware, the poor law system treated the poor like burdens on the local community. Rather than provide social welfare support to them, it imprisoned them in poorhouses and workhouses. In the Free State the poor law system was replaced but not by the social support envisaged by the democratic programme. Many workhouses were converted to institutions run by religious orders and these became the prisons of those regarded as the outcasts and non-people of Irish society. The most scorned among these were women who became pregnant outside marriage. Let us remember that these women had not broken any law of the State. They had, supposedly, in the minds of those who held to that view, violated the moral code of the churches, Catholic and Protestant, and breached the perceived norms of Irish society of the day. The State was content to see the churches punish them in this way and, in so doing, failed disastrously in its duty of care not only to the woman concerned but also to the children of the nation as a whole.

There have been attempts to place the blame on wider Irish society dating back some time and again in recent days because of the deeply conservative social attitudes that dominated in those decades. It should be acknowledged that the social attitudes of the times were disdainful of great numbers of people and cast them out of society. However, this can too easily be twisted into a view that since everyone was to blame, no one was to blame. In turn, this allows the powerful in Irish society to evade accountability and responsibility once again. The reality was that there were powerful social and economic forces, powerful men of church and State, who ruled this society and ensured women, children, the poor and the marginalised were kept in their place or what those same powerful men decided was their place. Much has changed for the better but much has yet to change. Earlier this evening the Joint Committee on Health and Children heard a report from the Ombudsman for Children. Before concluding I will cite part of it. In the investigation the Ombudsman for Children found a lack of consistency across many areas of the country in how the reporting of child abuse, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, was handled, despite the existence of national guidelines for almost ten years. The findings include references to poor inter-agency co-operation between the Garda and the HSE, poor record-keeping, evidence of insufficient efforts to drive forward implementation of the Children First guidelines, poor quality assurance and a lack of consistent local procedures. Furthermore, there was a lack of a 24 hour external access mechanism for people reporting child abuse.

It is very important to investigate the truth of past wrongs and abuses such as those in mother and baby homes, not only for the survivors but also for the well-being of our society today and into the future. We must learn how to do better and ensure a safer, healthier and more fulfilling future for all the children of the nation. Accordingly, I appeal to the Minister and Members to agree that when we conclude the debate tomorrow evening we do so with one voice and go forward together to resolve what has been hanging over all of us for decade after decade: a litany of tragedies and dreadful abuse of innocent women and children.

Whenever we start to digest the full horror of all the stories that have emerged not recently but for several years we must go back to its roots. Where did it all go wrong? What was at the root of it? Let us consider this building, in particular. We are surrounded by the leaders of the 1916 Rising and icons of our struggle for independence. They helped to formulate the Proclamation, the vision for the people, that is to be found in the main foyer and which represents the hopes and ambitions they had for the people. Their thoughts would have been framed by the Dublin of 1913, as reported on during the Lock-out, when the conditions of poverty were even worse than on the streets of Calcutta. The city had some of the most appalling examples of poverty in the world and that was the challenge that faced the new State. We thought we had had a revolution. We thought we would develop a state of which we could be proud and that would address this poverty with real gusto. What we got was a counter-revolution. What we got was people who were mean and cruel in their conservatism, who wanted to control the lives of others. They turned the colonial institutions that had been so hated by the people into even worse manifestations of what they had been previously.

The people who ran these institutions professed to be Christian. I am a Christian and have faith in Christ. When I think of Christ, I think of love, empathy, compassion and everything that could be beautiful and challenging about this life. I do not think of malice or cruelty. I do not think of a desire to isolate and punish vulnerable women, push them away, take their children from them or have them adopted, vaccinated or let them die from malnutrition. All of this was for some ideology or to adhere to the teachings of Christ and this is what was done in our name. We are all part of it because we knew it was happening in our communities. We knew about the young women who had been banished to these institutions. We knew about the children who had escaped and had subsequently been sent back to these institutions. There had to have been reports in newspapers.

Where were the coroners? Were there coroners' reports into these deaths and were they published in local newspapers?

This is the great shame of our people. It is based on a deeply conservative, malicious and cruel interpretation of faith, one that seeks to imprison people rather than liberate them, one that seeks to be cruel to them rather than give them the love, empathy and compassion they deserve.

Government after Government protest when they must deal with issues like this. We will have another commission and more findings, speeches and apologies from the Taoiseach in the Dáil. However, the response in the case of Bethany Home is, given the overwhelming evidence, a denial of what happened in the name of the State and a failure to vindicate that handful of people who need to be told they were right. We on this side of the House know they are right. Will this issue be addressed? Will the Government's actions match the noble words often voiced by the Taoiseach? This is the challenge. Will the Magdalen women get their full recompense speedily? Will we acknowledge that there was a conservative counter-revolution that hijacked the promise from ordinary, working class people? It was hijacked by a mean, cruel and conservative political establishment. Will it be acknowledged that all of this was part of a collective abuse of the people and their hopes and ambitions? I recall Professor Diarmaid Ferriter's series, which documented in the most brilliant and obvious fashion the counter-revolution that took place in this State. It was that environment of meanness, cruelty and narrow-mindedness that failed our people. Only when we own up to it can we set free ourselves, those women and those souls.

No Deputy could be unmoved by the discovery of nearly 800 babies buried in a mass unmarked grave. In fact, the grave was a septic tank. Added to this are recent reports of old medical records showing that 2,051 children and babies in care homes were given a one-shot diphtheria vaccine for the international drugs giant Burroughs Wellcome between 1930 and 1936. The report adds that no evidence exists that consent was ever sought. This is the stuff of war crimes and holocausts.

I must take this opportunity to pay tribute to Ms Catherine Corless, the local historian and genealogist who brought to light this truth about the 800 babies. No Deputy, no matter how long he or she has served in the Dáil, could fail to be touched or moved to tears by the many testimonies that followed the discovery. However, emotion and tears are not enough. We were elected to legislate. This debate gives all Deputies on both sides of the House an opportunity to work together in a spirit of co-operation and to support this motion. We owe Catherine a great debt of gratitude. Unlike many others, she did not turn a blind eye or pretend it never happened. We must follow her lead and take immediate action.

The failure of the State to take immediate action and of the Garda to seal off the area and treat it as a crime scene has echoes of denial. If a mass unmarked grave was found in any other part of the world, the Government, the EU and the UN would rightly treat it as a crime scene. They would demand that those who perpetrated the crime be brought to justice.

This debate is not about party politics or political point scoring. It is about acting on behalf of the women and children who were kept at the Bon Secours Sisters institution in Tuam, County Galway, and all mother and baby homes across the State. No party will be remembered for its own motion. Instead, we must be remembered for moving speedily to bring the light of truth and justice to a very dark and oppressive time in our history.

The Government needs to act swiftly and decisively on this issue. The people are outraged by this latest shameful episode. The inquiry needs to consider the so-called care regime that was in place, the infant mortality rates and the burial of children in unmarked graves at mother and baby homes. There is a clear role for the State to deal with this tragedy. The institution in Tuam, along with the many others in Ireland, was regulated by the State. This was not a case of the Catholic Church operating separately from the Governments of the time. These homes were visited by civil servants and supported by the State. Sadly, there was a close, organic relationship between them. These homes would not have existed without the proactive support of the Governments of the day.

The abusive practices that occurred at the Bon Secours Sisters mother and baby home were not unique to that institution and were replicated in similar institutions across the State. I will put on record conversations I held yesterday with two women. One, who became pregnant at only 17 years of age in 1967, was sent to a mother and baby home by her parents. She told me that, even while she was heavily pregnant, she had to go down on her hands and knees to scrub floors. One day when she was not feeling well, she sat back on her haunches only to be kicked in the stomach. Shortly after having her baby, he was taken from her and adopted. She left the mother and baby home, was driven to the airport and was put on an aeroplane and told never to come back. After years of searching for her son, they have recently met and all is going well. She told me that she wanted the State to acknowledge her abuse.

The second lady was born in a mother and baby home in around 1960. She was there for a number of months before being adopted into a good home. She was subjected to vaccine trials. She would like to know with what she was injected and why. After years of searching, she finally made contact with her mother last year. She had another family, but its members knew nothing about her. Her birth mother told her that she had spent 12 hours giving birth to her in a toilet cubicle without pain relief. When she was about to give birth, they put her on a commode, into which she then gave birth. The lady's mother passed away shortly after they met.

Women are hurting all over Ireland and abroad. They were made to feel ashamed. The religious institutions, the State and society in general should be ashamed. We need to get to the truth of the matter. I hope we can do so through consensus and cross-party support for this motion before moving swiftly to establish an inquiry.

There are times in politics when it is difficult to know what to say, we go past disappointment, frustration and anger when we are reminded of what we have allowed to happen in the name of religion or morality and society. This is one such occasion. I am glad the Government has agreed to move quickly on this issue. It would be entirely unseemly for any of us to use this as a political football.

Like Deputies who have already contributed on this motion, others will speak tomorrow about the awful treatment of women whose only "crime" was to become pregnant and of children whose only "crime" was to have been born out of wedlock. Members will speak of how pregnant girls and women were kidnapped by a coalition of church, State and, in some cases, families and local communities to be hidden behind the high, cold and forbidding walls of so-called mother and children homes, which were prisons by any other name. Some Deputies will speak of the fact that children were taken by force from their mothers and sent abroad for adoption never to make contact again, of how they were used as guinea pigs to test experimental drugs or of how they were segregated as second, third or non-class people to be shunned by wider society. Some will speak of the high death rate of children in those detention centres and of how the bodies of some such children were dumped without a prayer, a hug or a tear in unmarked graves on unconsecrated ground.

How could we have stood silently by when this was happening?

We are not talking about something that happened 100 years ago. This is comparatively recent history. Why did we not believe those few courageous people and organisations who have been shouting from the rooftops for years that this has been going on? Are there remaining dark places in Ireland into which we need to shine a light?

I am probably angry and frustrated with myself as well as with the church, Government organisations and all those who kept silent while all this was going on. I should have listened more closely to people who said these things were happening in Ireland. I should have challenged church leaders who preached Christian rules and regulations but appeared to practise disdain, or even hatred, for vulnerable children and women. I should have called daily for local and national Government and their agents to look up from their books of Estimates, regulations and rules and into the eyes of those they were so grievously damaging but I did not, or at least I did not shout often enough or for long enough.

Are there dark corners in today's Ireland in our prisons, our immigrant reception centres or in family homes that do not have the resources or the supports to enable them rear children capable of achieving the best quality of life? Are we listening to or ignoring the voices of those who say there are families in deep distress today?

I believe that until we have minimum standards and conditions listed as fundamental, inalienable rights and we open our ears and our hearts to those who unsettle us by their message, until we have those two conditions in place, we cannot say that this will never happen again.

I welcome the news today that a commission of investigation is to be established into the monstrous discovery in Tuam. I welcome that this has been done with a pace not seen in previous cases where the State might have felt the need to close ranks and protect itself. Many lessons have been learned over recent years, especially during this Government's term, that action has to be taken and that it is only possible for the can to be kicked down the road for so long. I commend the public, who in their outcry at yet another shameful story of Ireland's abusive past, have forced this decision. Credit must also go to local campaigners such as Catherine Corless, who refused to allow this to be forgotten.

This is not a new story. We are all painfully aware of the terrible things done to people in this country by religious institutions under the watch of the State. Unfortunately, I believe we will continue to be shocked, angered and disappointed by more stories of this kind as Ireland continues to open up and deal with its past, but we must do this because it is not just the past of one town or one institution or order. This is the history of a people who for generations were controlled by the Catholic Church and an all-pervasive conservative and patriarchal structure that did as it pleased based on a perverted notion of morality which was the furthest thing possible from Christianity. Our entire society was complicit to some degree and today in our discoveries we are filled with shame to know that this was allowed to happen to young women and children who were treated as if they were not even human. Every family, town and parish has stories of how this repression of our humanity broke us up and damaged us.

The conclusion we must make is that we must unearth the injustices of our past and bring them into light so we can understand how such terrible things can be done and ensure they will never happen again. In doing that, we must then realise the folly of remnants of those brutal times in our society and move forward to a more free culture where people are not raised to feel shame or guilt for their humanity. I speak of misogyny, homophobia, racism and sectarianism, and all bigotries which devalue fellow humans and justify mistreatment.

Seven hundred and ninety-six children died in the Bon Secours institution. Some of them were dumped, not buried, in a septic tank. Two hundred and nineteen children died in the Bethany Home. Mothers were ripped from their families and communities, and then from their children. These deaths happened under the watch of the political establishment, which in some cases benefited directly from the slave labour of the Magdalens. Some in this House were here when the church still operated its prisons 18 years ago. Children are still hurt today by the actions of a State which devalues their lives and prioritises debt servicing and European targets. That is not to say that this issue is the same but when children live in poverty and go without basic needs such as a warm coat or good nourishment, when they are living in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation or sleeping in crowded beds and not living as children should live, we cannot say we have fully learned the lessons of this dark period. Its unearthing is a challenge to us not just to deliver for the survivors, but for our children and the future generations who we hope will look back on these crimes as something alien to their understanding of how we treat each other.

Many years ago there was an old asylum in Finglas where now exists a housing estate, and a main carriageway was put through it. When it was being demolished and the housing built, unmarked graves and bones were discovered. How many more of these things happened? How many other places have we lost in terms of the history of what happened in them?

Mental health institutions were a law unto themselves and operated in an horrific way. Many people were buried on the grounds of some of those institutions. That is an issue we must investigate as well.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo agus molaim mo chomhghleacaí i Sinn Féin as an rún seo a chur síos anocht, mar go bhfuil sé fíor thábhachtach go bhfuil an Teach seo ag plé na ceiste seo. Mar atá ráite cheana, ní seo an chéad uair atá seo pléite, mar ardaíodh an t-ábhar seo - an córas a bhí i bhfeidhm le blianta fada - sa Teach seo agus bhí a fhios ag Teachtaí Dála san am a chuaigh thart go raibh a leithéid ag tarlú. Ní hamháin go raibh fios ag Teachtaí Dála agus polaiteoirí, bhí fios ag daoine i gcumhacht sa Stát sna blianta a chuaigh thart go raibh a leithéid ag tarlú.

Sílim gur díospóireacht tromchúiseach atá ar siúl againn anocht, díospóireacht a bhrisfeadh croí an duine agus é ag smaoineamh ar na máithreacha sin a chuaigh isteach go dtí na hárasáin seo agus gur tarraingíodh a linbh uatha. Duine ar bith a bhí i láthair nuair a rugadh a pháiste a cheapfadh, sa lá atá inniu againn, go dtiocfadh daoine isteach leis an leanbh sin a tharraingt uaidh, bheadh smaoineamh maith aige ar an ualach trom a bheadh fágtha air. Tugann sin le fios nach raibh cúram tugtha do riachtanais na leanaí sin. Ní raibh an Stát ag amharc i ndiaidh riachtanais na leanaí sin mar ba cheart agus fuair méid mór díobh bás faoi chúram an Stáit agus faoi chúram na heaglaise ag an am.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an bhfógra atá déanta ag an Rialtas go mbeidh fiosrúchán sa réimse seo. Tá sé iontach tábhachtach go dtarlaíonn sin go scioptha, ach go ndíreoidh an fiosrúchán sin isteach ar na ceisteanna ar a gcaithfimid freagra a fháil. The inquiry must also examine the regimes that operated the mother and baby homes and the reason the mortality rate was so despicably high. It must also examine why so many of these children ended up in such an undignified burial place and, most importantly, it must look at who was responsible for their deaths.

Between 1925 and 1961, some 796 children died in Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home. The lowest mortality rates in these so-called homes was 34%. That means that even in the least brutal homes, one in three children died. In Bessborough, the figure was 60%.

It was not happening in Catholic institutions only. In the Protestant-run Bethany Home in Dublin 219 people died. The State is still deflecting its responsibility in that case, despite the attempts of the campaigners, Sinn Féin and others to have the issue dealt with. I hope the Government will deal with it in a speedy manner.

What we are speaking about is a very dark chapter in our history - prisons, not homes, in which children and their mothers were treated brutally and a society that turned a blind eye. Children were experimented on. That brings to mind the worst aspects of the most brutal regimes of the last century. These things happened in this State and a conservative and anti-woman mentality allowed them to happen. It is not good enough to say they happened in the past and that the past was a different place. They happened because people let them happen. People - Irish people - committed these crimes or, through inaction, allowed them to happen. Today, vulnerable children are still not given their full rights. For example, the children of asylum seekers are kept in direct provision centres. It is hoped that, if nothing else, this tragic story will spur us on to ensure the children of today are cherished. That is the real legacy that we need to live up to. We have all come into this Chamber to proclaim that all of the children of the nation should be cherished equally, but how many of us will be in it when a future Government apologises to all those held in direct provision centres today? There are more people in direct provision centres than in our prisons. In the words of one asylum seeker:

If the State cares so much for children, why are they allowed to live in such inappropriate conditions? No one is illegal in any country. This is a free world, especially for children and children have a right to grow up in a normal environment.

That is happening. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan needs to intervene. We must move as quickly as possible to get to the facts about what happened in the past, but we also need to prevent what happened from recurring in the future. The children of Tuam, Roscrea, Pelletstown and all of the other so-called homes deserve to be remembered and honoured. The individuals, 0rders, institutions or State bodies that facilitated these horrible events should be held responsible without hand-wringing or an attempt to contextualise or excuse. I thank the survivors, their families and support groups and all those who have fought to bring this horrific situation to light. I am glad that the House is united in its horror and hope this can be translated as soon as possible into a thorough and unrelenting inquiry into what happened during this very dark chapter.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

acknowledges the need to establish the facts regarding the deaths of almost 800 children at the Bon Secours Sisters institution in Tuam, County Galway between 1925 and 1961, including arrangements for the burial of these children;

acknowledges that there is also a need to examine other 'mother and baby homes' operational in the State in that era;

recognises the plight of the mothers and children who were in these homes as a consequence of the failure of religious institutions, the State, communities and families to cherish the children of the nation in the way they should have been cherished and cared for;

acknowledges the valuable work undertaken by historians, archivists and others in relation to these issues;

recognises the fact that there is a clear requirement for records, both public and private, to be gathered for all mother and baby homes in the State to assist in establishing the truth regarding these institutions and the treatment of those who were in their care;

believes that this latest shameful episode in Ireland’s painful social history must be fully and accurately documented in order that a comprehensive account of these institutions is available;

notes that as an initial step, a group comprising senior officials across a range of Government Departments has already been established to gather information and report to the Government on the means by which this complex, disturbing and tragic situation can be best addressed; and

agrees that the Government should:

— complete the process of identifying the relevant information and records, public and private, pertaining to mother and baby homes in the State in an urgent and timely manner;

— use the findings of the initial cross-departmental review which is already under way and is to report to the Government no later than 30 June 2014 to inform decisions on the scope, format and terms of reference of a commission of investigation; and

— report back to Dáil Éireann on the establishment of this inquiry, the findings of which should in due course be published before the House rises for the summer recess.

I wish to share time with Deputy Paul J. Connaughton, in whose constituency the Tuam site and building are situate, and Deputy Áine Collins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to be back in the House to participate in a somewhat lengthier debate on mother and baby homes, following earlier statements. I thank Members on all sides for facilitating statements and the debate on mother and baby homes in the Dáil following the Government's significant decision during a Cabinet meeting this morning to establish a commission of investigation.

As Deputies are aware, it is less than four weeks since my appointment as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. The matters we are considering are ones in which I have taken great interest during my years in politics, in particular as Fine Gael's spokesperson on justice and later on children and youth affairs. I am privileged to be in a position to bring a proposal to the Cabinet to establish a commission of investigation to examine mother and baby homes. As Minister, I intend to drive this process forward and ensure the commission of investigation will get under way in a timely manner. Once established, it will be independent in its work. My role, therefore, and that of the Government and the Oireachtas is to ensure it is given appropriate terms of reference and a suitable expert membership to enable it to succeed in its important work. My primary focus is on the women who spent time in mother and baby homes and the children born to them in these institutions. It is difficult for us in a more modern and enlightened era to understand the harrowing situations in which these vulnerable women and children found themselves. Many times I have referred to our desire as a Government, Parliament and people to discover the truth. In so doing, we must be very respectful of those who were in mother and baby homes, many of whom will want to tell their stories, while others will want to maintain their right to privacy.

The Government has proposed a revised motion on mother and baby homes. The motion before us deals with matters of great national concern and tremendous personal significance for many former residents of mother and baby homes. I acknowledge the spirit with which the motion has been laid before the House by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and others. I, too, am anxious that we reach an historic consensus on how to proceed. I welcome the bipartisan nature of the wide support the Government's initiative in establishing the commission of investigation has received. I recognise that Sinn Féin's motion was tabled in a constructive manner. I know that Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Sandra McLellan gave careful consideration to the most effective approach to dealing with these sensitive issues. I know also that Deputy Mary Lou McDonald was particularly concerned that the Bethany Home be part of the proposed investigation. I can now confirm that Bethany Home will be examined as part of the process of investigation we have agreed to today. Moreover, I undertake to continue to engage with spokespersons as the Government finalises arrangements for the establishment of the commission.

In recent days we have witnessed a profound public debate on the role played by mother and baby homes and what it means for the country today. There has also been further questioning of the troubled history of our institutions, State and religious. There have been questions posed for the history of the communities and families to which we are individually affiliated for these institutions did not operate in isolation. Whereas in their day the women and children concerned were unjustly made to feel so much shame, we must now carry the shame for how as a country we dealt with them in their time of need. I was particularly struck by the content and tone of Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn's contribution. I listened carefully to the points made by him. I do not take issue with what he said. I listened carefully to the passionate contribution of Deputy Michael Colreavy. I am sure there are many others, me included, who might have availed of an opportunity in earlier times to question the manner in which we ordered our priorities or dealt with our business. The history of mother and baby homes in Ireland in the early and middle decades of the 20th century reflects a brutally uncaring response by society, religious and State institutions to young women and children when they were in most need and most vulnerable. Young unmarried mothers were socially condemned and ostracised in a harsh and unsympathetic manner. These reminders of a wider and darker past, when children were not cherished, must be fully and openly addressed. The transparency to which we are committed as a Government in how we conduct our affairs must extend to our past.

When speaking about the harrowing situation in Tuam in the past week, I have been particularly mindful of the relatives of those involved and the local community. It is extremely important that the issues arising in Tuam and other mother and baby homes are addressed with the utmost sensitivity. There is no doubt that coverage in the past few days will have inevitably evoked very painful memories for people, many of whom are now elderly. It is for everyone who speaks and writes on this subject to do so with compassion and sensitivity. The known facts are sufficiently disturbing in themselves, without being added to through ill-advised speculation and sensationalism.

I say this to my political colleagues also. Responsibility and balance are important elements of the sensitive treatment and discussion of these issues. The very valuable role currently being played by historians in making their research known to the public is of great assistance in achieving an objective assessment but this must be added to by a formal process of inquiry. The commission of investigation will build upon what is known to bring us towards a thorough and comprehensive public understanding of the many issues involved as quickly and as accurately as possible.

As I indicated last week, the Government is strongly determined to have the issues reviewed, and we will not confine this review to Tuam or County Galway. This review into mother and baby homes will be independent and comprehensive. It will consist of a commission of investigation with full statutory powers and independence. The commission will be established under the Commissions of Investigation Acts, as passed by this House.

The commission's terms of reference, when finalised and brought before the House, will detail the matters to be investigated to ensure the scope of the investigation is described precisely. Under the Commissions of Investigation Act, a commission may consist of one or more members with appropriate experience, qualifications, training or expertise relevant to the matters being investigated. Where more than one member is appointed, a chairperson must be designated. The commission will seek the voluntary co-operation of people whose evidence it requires but is entitled to compel witnesses to give evidence where appropriate. It will also have powers to compel the production of documents. The detailed consideration of the most appropriate terms of reference for the commission will be undertaken speedily. I will welcome the views, submissions and observations of members of the Opposition in this regard. As the Taoiseach said today, I will be happy to engage with Opposition spokespersons in finalising arrangements for the commission of investigation. It is my hope that we can achieve consensus on the resolution approving the Government's draft order to establish the commission when it comes before each of the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval later this summer.

I know it is the earnest wish of this House that the commission of investigation discover the truth and establish what happened to mothers and infants in the mother and baby homes. Doing so will require us to craft carefully the terms of reference of the commission and choose its membership wisely.

The work under way by the interdepartmental committee, which was established last week, is preliminary in nature, but it is nevertheless playing a very valuable role in preparing the ground for the next phase, that of a formal commission of investigation. The issues involved are numerous and made more complex by the elapse of time. The work undertaken by the interdepartmental committee, which has been identifying the information available to public bodies, will assist in the process to establish the commission. The interdepartmental committee has commenced gathering information in relation to such matters as the Tuam site, the high mortality rates in various mother and baby homes, reports of conditions in these homes, and what happened to infants in these homes and what happened subsequently. This initial work will inform the drafting of the terms of reference and the resolution for this House to institute a commission of investigation into mother and baby homes.

It is essential that when we formally move to initiate the commission of investigation, we do so having a clear overview of these issues and the most important sources of information which any inquiry must have available to it. I believe there is all-party consensus on the importance of this matter and I hope that as we finalise the terms of reference for the commission of investigation and place the necessary resolution establishing the commission before both Houses of the Oireachtas next month we can do so on an agreed basis. It is the Government's intention to conclude this process as speedily as possible and return to the House before the summer recess.

Some factors that will need to be carefully considered are the scope of the inquiry and the range of issues to be included having regard to the task in hand and the effective conduct of the commission of investigation. Potentially, there are components that will demand a specific, tailored approach by the commission. A number of commentators have highlighted the fact that an important component of what is required here is a social history of these institutions. Significant historical research has been already undertaken in this area which can be drawn upon but significant further research is likely to be required, including into records held nationally and locally. It is important that the records made available include not just those held by public authorities but also those held by the relevant religious institutions. In this regard, I welcome the ready indications of co-operation that have been forthcoming from church leaders - from the Catholic Church, Archbishop Martin of the Dublin Archdiocese, Archbishop Neary of Tuam and Bishop Buckley of Cork and Ross, and from the Church of Ireland, Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Glendalough. I reiterate my call on all church leaders to co-operate fully with the forthcoming commission of investigation, and hand over all documents and information in their possession in regard to mother and baby homes.

The significant passage of time will likely have implications for the work of the commission. I hear what Members opposite have said, namely, that the passage of time should not in any way detract from the task at hand, but, nevertheless, time is a factor and will continue to be in the context of the work being undertaken. Many of those mothers who experienced mother and baby homes, certainly in their earlier days, are unfortunately no longer with us to offer their first-hand account. While many mothers have since passed on, there will be a range of views among all of those surviving - both mothers and children - as to how they would wish to see their records and personal experiences addressed in any inquiry. We need to take account of their wishes in the context of the ongoing public debate.

The challenge is to establish a commission of investigation in a manner that is capable of addressing these and other factors while effectively and properly representing the experiences of those involved and the wider social conditions that influenced how mother and baby homes operated in the State.

As I have done previously and as Members have acknowledged, I pay special tribute to Ms Catherine Corless, the local historian in County Galway whose work has brought this issue to the fore in recent weeks. I know from contact with officials that she has offered her co-operation, and this will be certainly of assistance as we embark on a wider examination of practices in mother and baby homes throughout the country, including that in Tuam, County Galway.

Detailed, painstaking work is required to ensure we can establish a true and clear picture of this part of our history. There are challenges inherent in this task but we must organise an effective investigation process and face up to our past and learn from it. The commission of investigation that the Government intends to establish will be the means by which we will achieve the goal - so widely shared inside and outside this House - to bring into full public view the operation of mother and baby homes in the State since its foundation.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this matter. I welcome the Government’s announcement today that a commission of investigation is to be set up to get to the bottom of it. As someone who represents the constituency of Galway East, I have heard an awful lot about this matter locally in recent weeks from quite a number of people. I have no doubt the same applies to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and to Deputy Keaveney.

We have heard an awful lot about this locally in recent weeks from quite a number of people, probably from people who knew about this for quite a long time and who are somewhat confused as to why it has become such a public issue now, given it had been raised by quite a number of people previously.

The first point is to acknowledge that the commission is being set up. It should be set up as quickly as possible and we must ensure it has all the power it needs to bring people in front of it, and that those people then go on to supply the information that is needed to get a full and true picture of what actually happened.

The people of my generation do not remember these homes and know little about them. We probably know most about them from films such as "Philomena" or "The Magdalene Sisters", which is how we got our information. Therefore, to hear about what went on in Tuam in that period is extremely shocking and something to which we cannot really relate. The one thing I have found most heartening is the number of people who have contacted me to say that we have to get to the bottom of this, one way or another.

The way we start to do that, which is extremely important, is to talk first to those who have survived the mother and baby homes. We seem to want to talk to a lot of experts and people who have a mass of opinions about these topics, and they will all play their part. However, from listening to people who had first-hand experience of this, I believe they need to be listened to first in order to hear what they lived through and survived. We need to allow them an opportunity to get the care and attention now that they deserved to get many years ago, but which was never given to them. If we start to do that in the first part of the commission, it would be a good day's work.

When I listen to people talk about those times, it is clear the church had much more control over the country than perhaps it has now. However, it is all too easy just to blame the church and, while it played its part, there were many other people in society at the time who knew of this and perhaps acknowledged it but wanted to do nothing about it. It is all part of our national shame that this was the case. All too often in politics, we look for a scapegoat, for someone we can blame, and put it all down on top of them, and then, when we have the inquiry, we move on and say that is another good day's work done. However, we have to acknowledge that, in those times, politicians and other people in very professional capacities knew what was going on and decided to do nothing about it. We would be wrong to continue on without acknowledging that Irish society at the time played its part in what went on in these homes, because it is acknowledged that what happened in Tuam was an absolute disgrace and a shame, but that is only one part of the country. We need to get to the bottom of what happened, we need to know who played their part in it and what can be done to help those who have survived.

There is no point in taking part in a report like this on the number of young people and babies who lost their lives unless we learn lessons from it. As a Government, as is true for previous Governments and for Governments to come, we all too often throw around the slogan, "We cherish all of our children equally", when we just do not do so. As someone who has been elected to this House for three years, I still find it quite upsetting that, in this day and age, we have parents coming to us with a child who is looking for an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist, who is on a massive waiting list and is simply not getting the care and attention they deserve. They certainly are not being treated equally or like everybody else. If we really want to cherish all of these people equally, those parents have to have that burden lifted off their shoulders or those children will not have all the opportunities that we have had, in common with those in the mother and baby homes, who were not given a fair chance. In 2014 and further on, we have to do everything we can to support those children and their families.

If this inquiry teaches us anything, it is that no matter a person's income background or social background, they deserve to get that care and attention. Unfortunately, we still have children in our society today who are not getting it. If this Government could set anything to do in the next number of years, it is important we look after those children as well. Let us remember those who lost their lives in a very shameful way but let us ensure we are not back here again in 20 years talking about another lost generation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. There is no doubt the recent highlighting of the treatment of mothers and babies since the foundation of the State has shocked the nation, and rightly so. Despite the fact books were written and reports were made on the issue since 1929, for some unexplainable reason society as a whole did not react to the serious consequences these practices had on women, children and society over a 60 year period. Despite the fact we considered ourselves during the period as holy Catholic Ireland, these massive, unchristian abuses of women and children were taking place.

There seems instead to have been a totally unholy alliance between church and State and, indeed, the establishments of civil society that allowed this premise to continue for so long. This is yet another huge reflection on how our society, church and State ignored the plight of young single mothers and their children. If somebody knew this was happening anywhere else in the world, we would have portrayed the appearance of shock and horror at this uncivilised and barbaric behaviour, yet it happened under our noses and on our watch, and we knew about it. Because of some moral or civil snobbery, as a society, we regarded this kind of treatment of so-called fallen women and their children as acceptable. The very silence of church and State was immoral.

Any inquiry will find it difficult to apportion blame, even though the State and churches were to blame for the day-to-day mismanagement and outrageous neglect of these mothers and their children - our children. Society as a whole, especially the establishment element in our society, by its silence condoned what was happening. It is difficult to understand how politicians, journalists, judges, barristers, doctors, nuns, teachers, bankers and law enforcement agencies allowed these situations to continue over a prolonged period. I am sure that any inquiry will show many very good people were involved in trying to help these mothers and their children, but the overwhelming attitude of society, which regarded these women and children as somehow less equal, hampered their efforts to change the system.

There is no doubt that the attitude towards established religions influenced greatly this social attitude. This was very evident when it came to adoptions. The churches, both Catholic and Protestant, were more concerned that the adoptive parents belonged to the right church rather than whether they were suitable to be good parents. There was a prevalent attitude that these unmarried mothers had no rights whatsoever, but church and State thought they had the right to act as sole guardians and do what they considered was appropriate for these children. They decided they should be adopted, sent to foster homes or exported to places like America. It would seem also that these institutions decided that some of these children could be used in medical experiments.

Much has been made of the question of whether the mother gave consent for these adoptions or experiments. This does not really matter. Consent given under such duress could not and should not stand up legally in any event. If a person is in a position where their parents, church, teachers, state and society in general have condemned them, they are broken. That person then has no choice but to concede to what they impose upon them. I believe this societal attitude over many years contributed and still contributes towards women and childbearing. Is it any wonder that, even today, so few women are involved in politics, business and positions of influence in our society? Not only must we investigate and expose the wrongs of the past and deal with those issues, in doing so the religious orders who carried out the wrongs in Tuam and many other places need to make a public apology for what has happened. We must examine our current practices to ensure injustices are not still occurring in a subtle manner. For example, in a few years, will we be examining the way in which we have treated the children of asylum seekers?

The Government is constantly trying to deal fairly with legacies from the past while at the same time putting in place safeguards for the future. The appointment of a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is a huge step in that direction. I welcome the decision of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to set up an inquiry that is appropriate to deal with these issues. Legacy issues need to be dealt with fairly and comprehensively, and one hopes we in Ireland, as a society, will be fair and just to all our people in the future.

The next speaking slot is shared by Deputies Robert Troy, Denis Naughten and Colm Keaveney.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute further to what is an extremely important debate. I welcomed the establishment of this independent commission in an earlier contribution and I compliment Sinn Féin on using its Private Members' time to bring forward this debate.

I outlined earlier how I would like to see the terms of reference for the independent investigation framed. I believe that how we deal with this will determine how we are judged as a society.

This is an extremely dark period in our history. The news and the stories that have emanated in the past number of days are, unfortunately, not new. The recent media coverage has just reignited a debate and brought the issue to the floor of the Dáil this week.

Undoubtedly, the State, religious orders, society and even families were all complicit in the appalling treatment of women and babies in these homes. While some might say that these were different times and that we were a poor country, it is never the wrong time to do the right thing. While I welcome this full independent investigation, we must acknowledge that it is long overdue. I compliment the advocacy groups and historians who over the past number of years continued to highlight the issues and stories and correlate the facts that have again been brought to our attention in the last number of days. We now have an opportunity to get things right and to ensure that the terms of reference are right. At the very minimum, this is what these women and children deserve. There are in the region of 45,000-plus survivors of these homes who have no access to their proper identity. That is something that we can address as legislators in the Dáil.

It is very important that the Minister secure a supplementary budget from his colleagues around the Cabinet table and the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that the children of today do not suffer while we try to compile a report on our past mistakes. We passed the children's rights referendum ensuring the rights of every child would be protected. That in itself was no panacea for all ills. While we can never undo the wrongs of the past, we can ensure that we never again fail children. While we are addressing and acknowledging the wrongs of the past, we need to look at what we are doing at the moment and how we are failing children, regardless of whether the issue is children in direct provision, which is effectively institutionalised poverty, or children in care who are being failed by the system. Representatives from the office of the Ombudsman for Children appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children today. They cited examples from the past two years, including one in which a child in the care of the State was passed around 11 times in four months. Will those who will take our places in these Chambers in the future talk about how we failed the children of today? The biggest thing we can do in terms of acknowledging the wrongs of the past is to ensure that these wrongs are not repeated now or in the future. Another example is how children with special educational needs are not legally entitled to preschool education. This is discrimination and a blatant breach of a human right. These are things we need to address.

Many speakers have spoken about the need to keep this above party politics and the need for a consensus approach. I welcome that and the Minister's consultation with the Opposition spokespersons earlier on. I ask the Government and Sinn Féin not to divide the House on this motion tomorrow night but to come together to agree a formula of words to ensure we can be united in ensuring that the facts are known and the issue is addressed.

I thank Fianna Fáil for giving me an opportunity to speak on this issue this evening. I commend the Minister and the Government for acting so quickly to establish a commission of inquiry into what occurred in the mother and baby homes. It is important that one particular action that went on in some of these institutions is not again brushed under the carpet. I am referring to the use of some children in care homes as human guinea pigs by the State, through its agencies, and the British pharmaceutical company Wellcome as part of the clinical trials of the three-in-one whooping cough vaccine. As the Minister is aware, from 1961 up until the late 1970s children were used to test out vaccines, because during that period there had been a significant increase in the number of adverse reactions to the whooping cough vaccine. A former Minister for Health admitted while in office that the side effects generally recognised as occurring occasionally following the administration of the whooping cough vaccine included mental retardation and paralysis. The trials that took place in 1973 were approved by the National Drugs Advisory Board and a licence was issued to Wellcome for a two-year period, yet these trials were still ongoing in January 1976.

There are serious and significant question marks over the consent, if any, that was sought or obtained to use children in care homes as guinea pigs, as well as the ethics of such trials. The Laffoy commission had powers to compel and secure documents and to provide answers. Documents were obtained but, because of a High Court judgment, they were never acted upon. While the Minister for Health is preparing legislation to preserve testimony given in confidence by abuse survivors of these institutions, despite earlier assurances that such information would be destroyed, we now find out that documents provided by the successors of Wellcome, the religious orders that were responsible for these homes and the State agencies that were involved in these clinical trials were returned to the original owners in 2012. The evidence that was given by victims on condition it would be destroyed is now being retained, but evidence that could throw some light on why these children - some of whom suffered long-term damage as a result of being involved in such trials - were treated as guinea pigs was returned to the successors of those who ignored these children's most basic constitutional right, which is the right to bodily integrity. Is this not a further abuse - current abuse - of the former residents of these institutions?

I refer to a newspaper report from The Irish Times dated 11 January 1940 that contains a criticism of the care of children born to unmarried parents by Dr. W. B. F. Collis. I will quote from the article and I ask Members' forgiveness with respect to the use of some archaic terms. The article outlines Dr. Collis's observation that "as for the illegitimate babies, over 300 per 1,000 died before they reached the age of one year, and many more afterwards." When he was asked the reason so many illegitimate children died, he replied that it was the attitude towards them. He said he believed their deaths arose from neglect and that there was no such thing as an illegitimate child, but that there were illegitimate parents.

It is striking that the mortality rates, forced adoptions, forced labour and the mechanics of shame were largely in the open. Society shamed women and children into homes. Society's shame ensured the existence of these dark events in our past. It involved the unsayable and the unthinkable but not the unknown, because it was known. These homes have to be seen in the broader context of this country's fondness for confining large numbers of our population in various institutions, including the mother and baby homes, industrial schools, Magdalen laundries and mental health facilities. I am told that at some point in our history, more people were locked up as a proportion of our population than in the Soviet Union. As a society, we must face up to our own past with respect to institutions.

In respect of Tuam, we know that almost 800 children died in the mother and baby home - a mortality rate that was far higher than the prevailing national infant mortality rate. We know that their deaths were recorded but the circumstances of their burial were not recorded. We know that some, if not all, of the bodies were buried in unmarked graves in or near the site of the home.

There are some skeletal remains in a tank. It is reported that this is most likely a septic tank or a crypt which lies on a local authority estate on the Dublin Road, Tuam. This is a high mortality rate and this burial practice raises alarm for the community I represent. The Tuam home, however, is not unusual in comparison to other homes, as the Minister alluded to in his earlier statement. There are many questions we need to have answered about such homes, including the Bethany Home, which are mentioned in the motion. The State, the church and society combined to shame these women and their children. They sought to separate them from the so-called respectable society to punish them for actions which were not crimes under statute. These women violated the most harsh and unforgiving social codes that existed at the time and this resulted in this form of treatment for the most vulnerable people. The State and the church combined and engaged in forced adoptions, aspects of which continue to echo in our laws by our refusal to permit those who are peppered across the world to access their information, which rests on files. This long history of forced adoption in the country needs to be faced up to and we need to examine amending the law where necessary.

Worse still, those who were not adopted were often sent as virtual slaves into communities to work on farms or in businesses owned by so-called respectable people in society. I met a number of former residents over the past number of days. They are entering old age, as the Minister said, and they have a living history that needs to be recounted and recorded. I also met others who were not adopted or farmed out but were sent to the infamous industrial schools. A number of them endured physical, mental and sexual torture at the hands of the organisation responsible for the running of Letterfrack industrial school.

Clinical vaccine trials were carried out on children in mother and baby homes. What did the State know at the time? This information is not new. We have known for more than a decade about these trials but we need to know the extent of this practice and the State's complicity in it. Who signed off on them in the Department of Health? Were medical officers in charge of the trials in Tuam and other mother and baby homes? Will the inquiry establish facts around this and assign blame and responsibility to institutions, groups and individuals? I look forward to co-operating with the Minister in that respect.

Tuam is the current focus for this story. A State initiative is needed to establish facts in respect of what is emerging about the absence of a formal burial location for almost 800 missing bodies. The matter is causing considerable distress to many families that suspect that their relatives are buried there. It is also causing significant distress for people living in the area. I have been contacted by a number of them and their distress has been intensified by an accumulation of speculation and rumour. I call on the Minister to move quickly to establish a proper investigation of the site. If only one body is discovered, almost 800 children will still be unaccounted for. Even if all the bodies are found buried in a neat row with obvious care, it will still mean the mortality rate was in excess of the national rate at the time. The site in Tuam should be properly secured, as should all the records connected with it. It should be ensured all homes co-operate with the provision of files. The grave concern around this is the historical aspect of generating a picture with respect to the data, files and ledgers that existed.

The mention of malnourishment being listed as a cause of death is worrying and requires investigation, as does the function and management of the dying rooms. What are they? Who was monitoring them on behalf of the State and of the church? Has the church been spoken to regarding its willingness to co-operate with the provision of records? Who provided oversight at the time on behalf of the State and the church? Were any concerns noted at the time? If so, what actions were taken? Who was negligent? Most important, the finances of the home need to be investigated. Where did the money paid over by the civil authorities to those operating the homes go to? Who benefited from these resources? Are accounts available to the Minister with respect to the conduct of an investigation to establish fact?

I wish to share time with Deputy Pringle.

When we hear the term "mass grave", we normally associate it with countries in conflict such as Rwanda, Cambodia, Iraq or Bosnia but we now have a mass grave in Ireland, which is disturbing. As the Minister said, these revelations are a reminder of our darker past when children were far from cherished. The oft-quoted principle in our Proclamation about cherishing the children of the nation equally was not adhered to. This issue also demonstrates society's attitude to women at the time. They were not cherished or valued. Men were involved in every pregnancy but the blame and shame, rightly or wrongly, lay with the women. The horrible expression, "fallen women" was used but we never heard about "fallen men".

This is an indictment of our society, which had an unforgiving attitude towards women who became pregnant outside marriage. The homes were society's way of getting rid of the problem and the religious orders were under pressure to assist in this regard. This is also an indictment of a class driven society because there was one way for the pregnancies of women of a certain class and a different way for those who came from poorer backgrounds. This issue is a further indictment of previous Governments, which did not respond to calls from organisations for investigations. I refer to the work of Dr. Deeney who was a lone voice and who faced the ire of both church and State when he called for the closure of one of the homes. However, it was closed.

I heard the Minister on the radio news at lunchtime talking about the commission of investigation. Lessons must be learned from the drawbacks of the McAleese report and the Ryan commission for the investigation to be successful. All parties need to be involved and all the documents must be released. Will the laundries be included in the commission's terms of reference, which a number of organisations are calling for, given the close association between them and the mother and baby homes?

We often ask whether we ever learn from our history and I am not sure that we do because we are creating a Magdalen laundries-industrial school scandal for the future through the direct provision system and the deplorable conditions in which some foreign national children live. Has the Minister a recorded mortality rate for infants and children in direct provision? If so, how does that compare with the national rate?

We have to learn to deal with the horrible atrocities of our past and we have had many dark moments. These not only concern industrial schools and mother and baby homes. Many atrocities happened in the North during the Troubles and I refer, in particular, to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Yesterday, President Higgins referred to remembering those conflicts ethically and to use our memories as tools for "reconciliation and not revenge".

Above all, there is a need for sensitivity because many of the women who lived in mother and baby homes did not reveal the details of their background to their families and that has to be respected.

An extract from The Tuam Herald in November 1948 following a visit by two politicians to the Bon Secours mother and baby home concluded that they paid a high tribute to the work of the sisters in charge and the entire management and seemed pleased with the good work in the institution. At the time the visit took place, a child was dying on average every two weeks in this institution. These deaths were repeated in mother and baby homes throughout the country. There is a tendency to blame the religious for the regime in operation in these homes and there is no doubt that it was far from Christian how these children and their mothers were treated but this was done in the full knowledge of the State and many citizens. We were a shameful, craven society and these atrocities continued in mother and baby homes, Magdalen laundries and industrial schools right up to the 1990s.

I welcome the Government's decision to commence a commission of investigation into the events in mother and baby homes and I also welcome the decision to include the Bethany Home. It is the least we can do to ensure the truth is told about the events that took place in the homes. The inquiry has to allow the survivors to tell their story and have it recorded. It is only through this process that people can begin to heal and come to terms with what was done to them in our name. As a society, we must learn from the investigation. We have to make sure such crimes cannot be repeated.

However, unfortunately, there is an ongoing situation, which has been mentioned by previous speakers. A Minister will have to stand in the House in a few years and apologise for the wrongs that have been done in our name to many children and adults in direct provision during the early part of the 21st century and for the treatment of asylum seekers in hostels throughout the State. The system as it is operated is effectively a series of open prisons where people who have come to the country for protection end up being segregated and abandoned in hostels, suffering from isolation and deteriorating mental health. There are children in this society who were born into direct provision and they are growing up in these prisons. What harm are we doing to them? People have been living in hostels for more than ten years waiting for the State to deal with their cases. This wrong has to stop. I call on the Minister to make it his business to make sure this system is ended now in order that we do not have to apologise to these children in the future.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 June 2014.