I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the commission of investigation. I welcome the draft Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Order 2015, and the statement of reasons for the establishment of a commission of investigation. The manner in which single women and their children were treated in mother and baby homes was appalling. We need to investigate how they came to be there in the first place and the circumstances of their departure from the homes.
As a public representative for Galway East, I was shocked last May at reports in the media that a mass grave had been discovered in the mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. Like my colleagues, I wish to apologise to all the people who suffered in these homes and to their families. I was born in the Bon Secours hospital in Tuam and received my second level education in St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam. At the time I was in college there and afterwards I certainly did not know about what happened in the mother and baby home. I know that many of the people involved continued to look for information about their identities. It all became very clear to me when I heard that people’s birth certificates did not correspond with the period of time they attended school because the information on the birth certificates was completely wrong.
I refer to the motion passed by Dáil Éireann last June on the need to establish the facts regarding the deaths of the children in the mother and baby home in Tuam. The Minister has met many people and groups on these issues which arose as a result of the discoveries in Tuam. Much of the information was provided by the local historian, Catherine Corless. There are many issues relating to the mother and baby homes generally and their role in Ireland over a long period.
I echo what my colleagues said about the Minister meeting the committee known as the Children’s Home Graveyard Tuam. This committee also has concerns about the terms of reference for the commission of investigation. Other speakers have referred to the information about children buried in Tuam or maybe not buried in Tuam and whether the mother of the child was married or not. However, there are many more issues to be dealt with. The committee referred to the need for the commission of investigation to investigate the cross-referencing of all the names of children in the Tuam project and to establish for certain that they are buried in the children’s graveyard in Tuam only. It is only then that these children will be recorded for the Tuam project.
Another issue raised was the fact that no reference had been made to the committee in the document. I understand that the committee was mentioned in the report of the interdepartmental group. In my view the committee should be recognised for the work it is doing and for its past work. It brought this issue to the public and to the media and the committee must be recognised and included in all the works and documents relating to the Tuam project. The committee wishes to meet the commission and to be represented.
This committee has done great work, as have many people in Tuam. Clarification is needed on when the group can move forward with other works such as a garden and plaques of remembrance, the question of the road entrance and mapping of the area. The committee is of the view that the site and the children’s graveyard at the Dublin Road, Tuam, should not be excavated as it is a major concern for the people of Tuam.
This site has been well minded for more than 40 years by the community and the residents. They will continue to do so and they are on standby to finish the work they started. I refer to various media reports about the site being much bigger than the one actually discovered. These genuine questions need to be answered. I know that people have tended those plots over the years and there was annoyance that the media talked about the dumping of bodies and the use of septic tanks as graves. That kind of language does not show the true reality that between 1925 and 1961, almost every fortnight children were buried in this plot at the back of the home. This fact is shocking and horrible but it should be reported like that and not in the manner and language in which it was reported. The sad reality is that in the decades of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, child mortality rates were very high. Children in their early years succumbed to a variety of what we now call minor illnesses.
I refer to a proposal in the Seanad to introduce new legislation to give adoptees a right to their birth certificates. I mention this in reference to my earlier remarks about people being very disappointed and saddened that their birth certificates do not seem to relate to the age at which they received their education. Senator Averil Power, along with Senator Jillian van Turnhout and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, sponsored a Private Members’ Bill in the Seanad which is very good legislation. Senator Power stated:
For too long adopted people have been robbed of our identities, denied basic information about ourselves and our parents that others take for granted …Thousands of Irish adoptees do not know their original names, who their parents are or even if there is a serious illness that runs in their family. Not knowing is a source of great pain and anxiety. Our Bill is designed to change this.
I hope that legislation will be adopted by the Government and that it will become law. Women who gave birth in the 1950s and the 1960s have spoken about their children being taken from them by force. This situation is very relevant with regard to the mother and baby homes. We do not have enough information about what happened with regard to adoption.
I refer to another Galway man, Fr. Edward Flanagan, an internationally acclaimed hero of “Boys Town”, who was born in Ballymoe on the Galway-Roscommon border. He visited the land of his birth in the 1940s and he talked about the treatment of children in church and State care as being “a scandal, unChrist-like and wrong”. Fr. Flanagan is often described as a reluctant celebrity because he was the central character in the film, “Boys Town”, starring Spencer Tracy. He was very interested in education and he provided shelter and education for poor and neglected boys in Omaha, Nebraska.
His philosophy was very simple and powerful: “There is no such thing as a bad boy.” When he visited Ireland, Fr. Flanagan commented: “You are the people who permit your children and the children of your communities to go into these institutions of punishment. You can do something about it.” He called Ireland’s institutions “a disgrace to the nation” and said: “I do not believe that a child can be reformed by lock and key and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child’s character.” His words were very true.
I will finish with a comment by the late John Cunningham, who was former editor of The Connacht Tribune and who spent his early years in the Tuam home, as his mother died in his infancy. He spoke of the women there stating: “They nursed the child and looked after it for a year and then they went one way and the child stayed to be adopted, or to be boarded-out a few years later. I don’t know if many of them ever recovered from the heart-breaking parting … It was heart-rending.”