'You deserved so much better': Irish premier apologises to victims of mother and baby homes

13 January 2021, 17:09

A list of the names of child victims on an unmarked mass grave at the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home
A list of the names of child victims on an unmarked mass grave at the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Irish premier has apologised to the victims of mother and baby homes for the "profound generational wrong" inflicted on them.

A report found the institutions for women who fell pregnant out of wedlock produced high levels of infant mortality, misogyny and stigmatisation of some of society's most vulnerable.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the mothers and children were failed by the State.

Speaking in the Irish parliament, the Dail, he said: "I apologise for the shame and stigma which they were subjected to and which, for some, remains a burden to this day.

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"In apologising, I want to emphasise that each of you were in an institution because of the wrongs of others.

"Each of you is blameless, each of you did nothing wrong and has nothing to be ashamed of. Each of you deserved so much better.

"The lack of respect for your fundamental dignity and rights as mothers and children who spent time in these institutions is humbly acknowledged and deeply regretted.”

He said the duty of care of the Irish State, “as the main funding authority for the majority of these institutions”, was “not upheld”.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the mothers and children were failed by the State
Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the mothers and children were failed by the State. Picture: PA

"The State failed you, the mothers and children in these homes," he added.

Mr Martin said the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report recognises a "profound failure of empathy".

The Taoiseach said the Government will implement the recommendations set out by the commission.

He said a suite of memorialisation, educational and research commitments will support national reflection and enduring remembrance.

The Government has also pledged to introduce information and tracing legislation as well as bringing in a range of supports to allow the survivors to access personal information.

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dail that for too many years, Ireland was a "cold house" for children born outside of marriage.

A section of the memorial to 222 children from the Bethany Mother and Child Home, at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin
A section of the memorial to 222 children from the Bethany Mother and Child Home, at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. Picture: PA

"This report exposes the chilling consequences of such a mindset," he said.

"Too many children were seen as a stain on society, but the truth is that it was our society that was deeply stained.

"As the report shows, this was a stifling, oppressive and deeply misogynistic culture. A cold house for most of its people.

"It's shocking to read that more than 9,000 babies died in these institutions but in some ways it is more shocking that this is not a revelation.

"The statistics were known at the time. It was known that children in mother and baby institutions were more likely to die in infancy than other children, including other children born outside of marriage.

"There was no public outcry, no Dail debates or motions, no media inquiries or interest.”

There were about 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children in the 18 mother and baby homes and county homes investigated.

Many of the homes were run by Catholic nuns.

The report said the women often suffered emotional abuse and were subjected to denigration and derogatory remarks.

Almost 9,000 children died, approximately 15 per cent of all youngsters who were in the institutions, the investigation found.

Major causes included respiratory infections and gastroenteritis.

Some of the institutions were owned and run by the local health authorities - the county homes Pelletstown, Tuam and Kilrush.

Others were owned and run by religious orders; for example, the three homes run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Bessborough, Sean Ross and Castlepollard (the Sacred Heart homes).

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