Irish government to apologise over mother-and-baby homes

The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway

image copyrightPA

image captionThe plight of the mothers and their children became an international news story after the discovery of “significant human remains” on the grounds of a former home in Tuam

The Irish government is to apologise after an investigation found an “appalling level of infant mortality” in the country’s mother-and-baby homes.

Established in the 19th and 20th centuries, the institutions housed women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage.

About 9,000 children died in the 18 institutions under investigation.

The government said the report revealed the country had a “stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture”.

Taoiseach (Irish PM) Mícheál Martin said the report described a very dark and difficult chapter in Irish history.

“As a nation we must face up to the full truth of our past,” he said.

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The commission that investigated the homes found that the number of children who died was about 15% of all those who were born in the institutions.

There were about 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children in the mother-and-baby homes and county homes investigated by the commission.

media captionPJ Haverty explains what life was like for him after being born in Tuam mother-and-baby home

The greatest number of admissions was in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Many children born in the homes were adopted or taken to orphanages run by Catholic nuns.

The report said “the women and children should not have been in the institutions” and that many women suffered emotional abuse.

The investigators say it appears there was “little kindness” shown to the mothers and “this was particularly the case” during childbirth, which many of the women found “a traumatic experience”.

‘Warped attitudes’

The Irish government will apologise for the hurt experienced by the residents of the homes.

Mr Martin said “one hard truth” was that “all of society was complicit” in the scandal.

“We did this to ourselves as a society – we treated women exceptionally badly; we treated children extremely badly,” he said on Tuesday.

“We had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy and young mothers and their sons and daughters were forced to pay a terrible price for that dysfunction.

“As a society we embraced judgementalism, moral certainty, a perverse religious morality and control which was so damaging.

“But what was very striking was the absence of basic kindness.”

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the report showed that for decades a “pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future”.

The commission has made 53 recommendations, including compensation and memorialisation.

Its report stated that while mother-and-baby homes existed in other countries the proportion of unmarried mothers who were in the institutions in Ireland was probably the highest in the world.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionCatherine Corless carried out research in a bid to find the graves of infants who died at Tuam

“In the years before 1960 mother and baby homes did not save the lives of ‘illegitimate’ children; in fact they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival,” stated the report.

“The very high mortality rates were known to local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications.”

Hundreds of babies buried at one site

The homes became an international news story in 2014 after significant human remains were found in the grounds of a former home in Tuam, County Galway.

Local historian Catherine Corless found that 796 children had been buried there.

In response, the Irish government established an independent Mother-and-Baby Homes Commission.

In an interim report, the commission found that some babies were buried in 20 chambers inside what was a larger decommissioned sewage tank.

The controversial mother and baby homes also featured in the movie Philomena, starring Dame Judi Dench.

It tells the story of a woman seeking to find her son who was adopted by an American couple.

image copyrightAFP/Getty Images
image captionThe Tuam home was demolished but a shrine was later erected on the site

There were also similar Protestant institutions, such as Bethany Home.

Bethany Home was not included in the terms of reference much to the anger of former residents.

Because of attitudes at that time towards babies born outside marriage, it was often the women’s families who sent them to the homes.

The report is expected to be the last in a series to shine a light on a very different and very clerical Ireland.

Mr Martin said it was “regrettable” that the final report was leaked to the Sunday Independent newspaper before those affected had the chance to see it.

Survivors of the homes also expressed their anger.

Related Topics

  • Roman Catholic Church

  • Republic of Ireland

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