Cork mother and baby home survivors say State apology is 'not enough'

Cork mother and baby home survivors say State apology is 'not enough'

Maureen Considine, researcher and Catherine Coffey-OBrien survivor representative of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance at the City Hall, Cork, to hand in a planning application objection to building proposals at Bessborough, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan


A MOTHER and baby home survivor said that today’s State apology alone won’t bring closure to mothers still haunted by their experiences decades later.

Cork woman Catherine Coffey O’Brien, who has become an advocate for mother and baby home survivors, ran away from Bessborough as a young pregnant woman due to what she experienced there. She said that while the State apology to be delivered by Taoiseach Micheál Martin today is welcome, it will not provide closure for the women affected.

“We will take the Taoiseach’s apology but this is lip service at a time when more action is needed than words,” she said.

“Because of what happened, women’s destinies are forever changed — but we are not looking for pity. We are looking for acknowledgment that mothers and babies died in Bessborough and that their graves need to be marked and protected. Realistically, words and actions are two very different things.

“I know what went on, so realise that this can’t be just lip service. These graves need to be marked as an act of closure so society can finally move on.”

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report published yesterday shows that an estimated 9,000 children died in the institutions under investigation.


Joan McDermott was interned in Bessborough. Picture: Denis Minihane
Joan McDermott was interned in Bessborough. Picture: Denis Minihane

A SURVIVOR of Bessborough Mother and Baby Home has said the Commission of Investigation report published yesterday did not go far enough to reiterate the church's complicity.

Joan McDermott was interned at Bessborough at just 17 where she gave birth to a baby boy in disturbing conditions. It wasn't until 50 years later that she got the chance to see her son again. 

"I am perturbed that nothing that was said by the Taoiseach gave any indication that the church and state were complicit," Ms McDermott said of the report. 

"The Taoiseach said this was a 'dark and shameful chapter of our very recent history'." 

"He went on to add that we did this to ourselves as a society. 

"This is a shocking statement to make because it suggests that the church and the state were somehow not complicit. It would mean something if the Taoiseach just stood up and said I'm sorry. Instead, we are being told that society is to blame."

She also felt the timing of the apology was inappropriate.

"I had called for the apology to be pushed back until next week out of courtesy and to allow us time to read the report. Many of the survivors are elderly and don't have access to technology. They would have benefitted from having their relatives go through the report with them."

Ms McDermott said she the leaking of the report ahead of its unveiling came as a huge shock to her.

"For someone who went through a very traumatic time, it shook me to the core. I thought the leak was disingenuous as well as disrespectful to survivors. This was a major breach of trust and a major breach of the law."

Nonetheless, the advocate for survivors said there have still been positive outcomes for survivors.

"As a strong woman, I was fortunate to be able to deal with these issues. However, to this day, there are still women suffering. I am just glad they recognised that people have psychological issues relating to what went on. There are still some positive outcomes. Hearing that this part of our history can be included in the future curriculum is welcome as is the news that a memorial will be dedicated to survivors."

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