That Dáil Éireann, having been made aware in recent times of the activities in Mother and Baby Homes that operated throughout Ireland in the twentieth century:
— the ill-treatment of the mothers and babies in these homes;
— the forced separation of single mothers and their babies from 1922 to 1998;
— the falsification of birth certificates and the subsequent mistreatment of survivors by the State; and
— that these practices were facilitated through official Government policy and by institutions, such as County Homes, public maternity hospitals and many adoption agencies;
further notes that:
— this has left a dark stain on our nation; and
— the State has refused the survivors justice to the present day, despite irrefutable and conclusive evidence being submitted by survivors and survivor groups; and
calls on the Government to:
— introduce, without delay, a Redress Scheme for the survivors of the Mother and Baby Homes, so as to provide some comfort for this ageing community; and
— set up a Commission of Investigation in relation to the very serious allegations emerging in recent times regarding the widespread and systematic falsification of birth certificates.
I am sharing time with Deputy Broughan.
We have had a number of discussions on the mother and baby interim reports. In that sense, it may seem odd that we are giving our limited Private Members' time to discuss this matter again. We do so at the request of the shrinking survivor community and on their behalf and because there is unfinished business in this area.
The motion calls on the Government to establish an inquiry into the serious evidence which has emerged in recent times regarding the falsification of documents, birth certificates, illegal registration and other irregularities regarding adoptions and forced adoptions that took place in this State. It is five years since the horrific story of the 800 burials in Tuam hit the headlines. At that time, the Government promised all matters in regard to the mother and baby homes would be examined. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said that if this matter was not handled properly Ireland's soul, like the babies of so many mothers, would lie in an unmarked grave. Five years on, the feeling of many of the survivors is that nothing much has changed, except many of their members have died. They feel they are being put down a cul-de-sac into a forum that they never requested, the report of which will not be published.
There needs to be a scrutiny of the illegal adoptions in particular, way beyond the limited scoping exercise to which the Minister, Deputy Zappone, has committed. Some 45,000 adoptions were registered in Ireland since it became illegal in 1952. At least the same number of illegal adoptions or arrangements have been made. Under the terms of our adoption legislation, adopted people do not have access to their birth information. To obtain that information, they must go through the Adoption Authority of Ireland. For those who were illegally adopted, the ability to trace their identity is thwarted even further by a cover-up of the illegal practices that went on over decades, facilitated through the mother and baby homes and other institutions with the knowledge and in collusion of religious orders, hospitals, doctors and State agencies. This is the great unfinished business of these types of scandals in our past.
When the scandal broke about the 126 irregular adoption files, there was shock and consternation but this had been well flagged since the 1930s. It was flagged by Mike Milotte and Catriona Crowe. I put it on the record many times since 2011. We know that altered records from Bessborough have been in the hands of the HSE since 2011. A HSE report in 2012 warned that death certificates were falsified at Bessborough, which potentially could have facilitated adoption under the radar. In 2013 the Adoption Authority Ireland acknowledged that it was aware of several hundred illegal registrations specific to St. Patrick's Guild.
When the commission was set up we asked that illegal adoptions be included in the terms of reference. They were not included. This motion is again calling for them to be included because if they are not included, some of the survivors will have to take their cases to the United Nations. This would mean that, shamefully and yet again, survivors of abuse in this country have to look abroad in order to get access to justice. Those people should get access to justice at home. The Minister must provide an appropriate response on this issue, way beyond her countermotion, which will cause further problems for the community.
The fifth interim report indicates that there are children who are unaccounted for. We have that information, which is not a surprise. People do not know if their family member has died or was sold on to families in the United States. The report also makes it clear that Galway County Council not only knew about Tuam but was involved in covering it up, as the missing minutes from 1937 indicate. That is only one part of it. We have to be very clear that the scandal of the mother and baby homes is not limited to Tuam or the terms of reference of the commission. Those terms of reference only include 14 homes and a sample from the county homes. That will not get to the bottom of the illegal adoptions because approximately 300 private nursing homes were excluded from the commission. On top of that, an unknown number of private arrangements took place in other circumstances, for example, where birth certificates were falsified by adoptive parents registering as natural birth parents and passing the baby off as their own while avoiding State involvement through the adoption process. These cases are almost untraceable.
When the story of the 126 cases of illegal registrations broke I was contacted by a man - coincidentally, a constituent of mine - who, at the age of 38, after his parents had died, was told by a friend that he had been adopted. In his own words, he was a married man with four children who did not have a biological identity. He said it took him about a year to come to terms with that fact, saying that he felt that he did not exist, that he was not here and that he wondered about his birth. He was 70 when he contacted me, and said he searched at length throughout his life to find out who he was and where he came from. When the 126 cases of false registration emerged, he thought that perhaps he was one of those affected and it gave him an opportunity to find the answers he sought. However, he did not get an answer. He only got an answer when we put him in touch with Sharon Lawless, a wonderful person who has done so much work in this area, who helped him, via DNA testing, to find some answers and, happily, some other siblings, which was a tremendous story. That may not happen for everybody and we really need, as part of the redress scheme, practical steps and support for those who need access to DNA testing. However, the continued delays in the publication of the investigation's finding is pushing back the possibility of a redress on an ageing population which cannot wait. This is an incredibly time sensitive issue and it is highly regrettable that the Government has not heeded the commission's call for redress to be put in place.
Many of the unofficial arrangements were made in the maternity wards of our public hospitals where young women were forcibly separated from their babies through intimidation, deception and collusion between the hospitals and religious orders, and indeed some adoptive parents. We know that Cónal Ó Fátharta from The Irish Examiner has done heroic work in this area. He recently highlighted the case of Jackie Foley, who was 16 when she gave birth in Bessborough in 1974. She signed a consent form to have her son adopted but did not sign her own name. Instead, instructed by a nun and in the presence of a solicitor and her mother, she was forced to write a different name, that of Micheline Power, a woman who does not exist. The documentation was deliberately falsified. She signed the paper in a false name for a child that she had already registered under his own name, Dermot Foley, but he was given the bogus name of John Power. An adoption order issued by the State's regulatory body, the Adoption Board, was contracted on the basis of these false identities. Instead of acknowledging the wrong, the agencies involved did what they always do; they circled the wagons, delayed and denied. In responses to freedom of information requests, these cases are described as "possible illegal registration". That is why we have consistently called for the handing over of all files and records by all of the institutions and religious orders and the introduction of appropriate legislation to allow adopted persons full access to their records. That is the purpose of the motion before the House and the reason we called for these matters to be included in the commission before it was set up. It is also the reason we are calling for them to be included now.
The Minister's response, which mentions a limited audit, is not appropriate. We know there will be a review of around 1,500 files. That is just 1.5% of the 100,000 files in the hands of the Adoption Authority. The review is limited to looking for evidence of illegal registrations, not illegal adoptions. The issues around this are much broader than illegal registration and they are not currently being examined. I note that the Minister's amendment refers to her leadership in this matter in respect of sampling, among other things, but I have to stress that this is ignoring all of the other illegalities around this issue. On top of that, we were promised that the audit would be released by Easter. Has the Minister received it? If not, why not? When can we expect it to be published? It will inform some of the other areas of work that have to be dealt with.
We have to examine the issue of redress as a matter of critical importance. Members of the survivor community, some of whom have joined us in the Public Gallery, will be absolutely gutted to read the Government's response to our motion. The collaborative forum's recommendations, which have been unfairly published out of context and in the absence of the full report, asked for health and well-being packages and a programme of memorialisation. This is repeated in the Minister's amendment but it is not declared that this will be acted upon. The amendment calls for a co-ordinated approach from Government and for an analysis to be conducted. There is no actual implementation. Some five years on from Tuam, a health package is still at the developmental stage. How long will it take for survivors to get redress? They are suffering from trauma and ill health because of this, yet the Minister's response to our motion is that she will look at it. The same thing was said five years ago. The survivor community would have hoped to have perhaps been allocated a medical card as part of a redress scheme. The issue of redress begins when these people are believed and acknowledged. The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors, which represents the vast majority of survivors, has asked to meet the Taoiseach to discuss this, but so far he has refused to meet it. Why will he not meet it to hear, from the mouths of its members, what it means not to be acknowledged, properly recognised or believed, and the effect the lack of action is having on them? They do not need nice words but rather action to address the trauma that many of these people are experiencing.
We are calling for an urgent and comprehensive response to deal with the delays in the reports of the commission and the adoption audit, a package of basic supports for the remaining survivors to be rolled out without delay, a full audit of all the adoption files in the hands of the Adoption Authority and the illegally adopted to be included in the commission of investigation.