Why I am still fighting for Mother and Baby homes survivors

The Mother and Baby Redress Scheme has let many survivors down, and the Government must be made aware of this, says CONRAD BRYAN
Why I am still fighting for Mother and Baby homes survivors

A candle lit atthe Tuam Mother and Baby burial site in Tuam.

RECENTLY, the Irish government completed its first draft of the Bill for the Mother and Baby Institutions Redress Scheme, which provides payments and health services to people who were in these institutions as single mothers and children.

The Bill is now undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by the Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in the Oireachtas, which has invited submissions from the public for comment on the proposed scheme. These must be made by May 6, 2022.

I’d like to ask Echo readers to participate in my survey on the Irish Mother and Baby Redress Scheme, which I believe has let many survivors down and could be improved.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation was set up in 2015, after reports of the remains of about 800 children interred in an under-ground sewage system at a Mother and Baby Institution in Tuam, Galway, run by the Bon Secours order of sisters.

Local historian Catherine Corless had discovered the death certificates of children who were in this institution, but could not find the burial records, so couldn’t locate where they were buried. After a geophysical survey, the Commission of Investigation subsequently confirmed what Catherine had suspected: a significant number of remains were indeed in a system of 20 underground sewage chambers.

After almost six years investigating 14 Mother and Baby Institutions and 4 County Homes, the Commission found 9,000 children had died in these institutions and a total of about 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children were inside.

At four days old, I was brought by my mother to St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road, Dublin, where the Commission found about 3,600 children died from 1922 to 1998. She remained inside for six months with me. It really disturbs me to think I got out of this place alive. As one of the survivors, I joined the Collaborative Forum in 2018, set up by the government to identify the needs of mothers and children in the Mother and Baby Institutions.

I was selected to chair its Health Sub-Committee. It was not exactly what I was expecting to be honest! But I had to take this challenge forward, not knowing what health issues I would encounter.

We worked hard to find out what the health needs of people were. In summary, they asked for the Health Amendment Act medical card (known as the HAA medical card), which was strongly requested by mothers as it provided private health services such as a private GP/consultant and private pharmacy services to ensure that mothers who have not disclosed the birth of a child to their GP or families can continue to protect their privacy.

This fear stems directly from the stigma of having a child outside marriage that lingers on after all these years in today’s Ireland.

Adopted people wanted to have health screening services, because, under the closed adoption system, they do not have a right to access their medical histories and birth records and certificates. I can’t count the number of times I heard of people who could have prevented illnesses such as cancers or heart complications if they had known it was in the family. Neither of these recommendations have been accepted by the government, instead they have offered a medical card that was provided to the Magdalene laundry women. This was specifically rejected by the survivors we consulted, but the government has gone ahead in spite of our request for the HAA card.

So, one wonders why we ever participated in a consultation if our proposals are ignored. 

It is easy to be cynical about consultations set up by governments, especially if they continue to tell the public ‘We have met with the members of the Collaborative Forum’. It all feels like spin.

What is particularly concerning is the exclusion, from the Scheme, of children who were ‘boarded out’ by local authorities to foster families as child labour and often sexually abused. 

Children who were in the institutions for less than six months do not receive any compensation, despite reports of long-term trauma related to the loss of identity and separation from their mothers.

The scheme also pays on a time basis, so the longer one was in the institution the larger the payment, but this takes no account of serious abuses such as medical negligence or sexual abuse. Mothers inside for less than six months do not get any medical card.

These are just a few of the shortfalls in the Scheme that are deeply disappointing to survivors. I think the Government should consider some form of nuance or flexibility in it, to deal with extreme cases, instead of one size fits all. They also need to widen the scope of survivors that can be included in the scheme to make it more universal, as expressed by survivors in the consultation they held.

I am not saying everything is bad, for instance I understand a non-adversarial process is important to avoid re-traumatisation, but not to have some parallel process or to give survivors options seems somewhat patronising and unfair to certain groups of survivors.

Campaigning for survivors in this process has been a privilege, but I felt most of what we worked for as a forum of survivors, was not given the respect it deserved, or simply ignored.

In addition, the first detailed report we produced for publication was embargoed by the Government’s Attorney General and never released to the public. If they had concerns about its contents, they could have spoken with us to negotiate amendments. Not to do so was simply disingenuous and makes one feel we were not being treated as adults.

Given the significant gender issue (the mothers), it is noteworthy that most of the decision-makers are men.

In the end, I felt I had no option but to leave the Forum, but I am going to continue fighting for survivors from outside.

This is why I have prepared this survey below to give the Irish public and survivors a voice in the process by answering a set of questions in the survey. It is open to all Irish people in Ireland and abroad who may have an interest in this topic.

I will submit the results to the Committee on Children in May as part of their pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The survey results will be made public. It may not make any difference, but who knows?

Survey link: https://forms.gle/KVPjhSuTzw2L5sf96

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