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Dear Senators and TDs,
The Seanad has a final chance to demand fairness when it debates the Mother and Baby Institutions ‘redress’ scheme in the coming days. I am calling on all Senators to ensure that the Government re-drafts the scheme and does so urgently.
The Government’s scheme excludes everyone separated from their mother before the age of 6 months in a Mother and Baby Institution or County Home. Minister O’Gorman has no logical explanation for this.
In Dáil debates, the Minister stood alone, without speeches or explanations from his Government colleagues in support of this Bill.
The exclusion ignores the lifelong consequences of forced family separation and loss of identity for these 24,000 people. The Government plans to deny these survivors recognition, in a blatant act of discrimination.
Shockingly, Minister O’Gorman claims that access to identity and early life information is sufficient ‘redress’ for those excluded from the scheme. 60% of people who have applied for their records since last October are still waiting for a response.
Payments under the scheme will be minimal, making the exclusions all the more cruel. For example, a mother detained in an institution for up to 3 months will receive €5,000: in exchange for waiving her rights to sue the State.
The scheme also denies an ‘enhanced medical card’ to mothers institutionalised for less than 6 months.
Furthermore, the scheme does not recognise abuse in adoptive or ‘boarding out’ placements despite repeated survivor testimony which the Commission of Investigation’s Confidential Committee described as a ‘stream of similar accounts of beatings and abuse of all kinds’.
The Minister claims that the scheme cannot make case-by-case assessments and has to be based on records of ‘time spent’ in an institution to be non-adversarial. However, the Government knows from the previous Magdalene scheme that records are not always available nor correct, and affidavits will be needed frequently. Section 23 of the Bill already enables testimony to be provided by affidavit: therefore the scheme couldrespond to individualised harms.
The scheme also prohibits mothers institutionalised in 13 Mother and Baby Homes from claiming a ‘work payment’: the payment is available only to mothers detained in the Tuam Home or a County Home. This exclusion is no doubt based on the Commission of Investigation’s insulting finding that the forced unpaid labour of girls and women in Mother and Baby Homes ‘was generally work which they would have had to do if they were living at home’.
I call on the Government immediately to:
1) Expand the redress scheme to include all those who spent time in a Mother and Baby Institution or County Home, and to make an enhanced medical card available to all survivors.
2) Extend the scheme to anyone abused in a ‘boarding out’/adoptive placement or abused through forced labour, vaccine trials, racial or disability-based discrimination or illegal expatriation outside the State for adoption, by allowing affected people to swear their testimony in a non-adversarial way.
The Government claims its scheme pursues the ‘twin tenets of “act with kindness” and “do no harm”’.
In reality: The scheme’s exclusions heap abuse upon abuse.
The High Court has declared eight times that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation proceeded illegally by denying survivors the same opportunity given to religious and State institutions to comment on the Commission’s draft findings.
In its Final Report the Commission of Investigation characterised affected people as unreliable witnesses whose testimony may have been ‘contaminated’ by meeting with other survivors or the influence of media coverage.
The Commission of Investigation further concluded that the nature of violence suffered by boarded out children ‘cannot be established’: despite its Confidential Committee recording tens of graphic descriptions of extreme violence such as serial rape, routine whipping, servitude, abject neglect and denial of education.
The Government’s own survivor consultation report found: ‘There were numerous harms and human rights violations identified by survivors for which reparation was needed. The primary was the loss of the mother child bond and relationship … The harm caused by psychological, physical and sexual abuse, including degrading and dehumanising treatment received in the homes and in unvetted family placements through adoption, fostering or boarding out was also clearly identified.’
The all-party Oireachtas Joint Children Committee and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have called on the Minister to amend the redress scheme.
Minister O’Gorman: Believe survivors. Do the right thing. Widen the redress scheme now.