I often drove by a former home in Castlepollard in my own county – regrettably I never thought deeply enough of the history associated with buildings like this.
Mother and Baby homes were large, prominent places. Like with industrial schools, Magdalen laundries, and mental institutions – they were where Ireland hid her unwanted in plain sight.
What could not be seen, however, behind those walls, was the hurt, the humiliation, the abuse inflicted on so many. Inside those institutions, those experiences, while not universal, were definitely widespread.
What happened once the report of the Commission was leaked and then published, was partly a continuation of that hurt.
In plain sight, and in a considered act of contempt, the report was leaked to one media outlet, before it was shared with survivors. The person responsible should be identified and sanctioned.
And, when it was shared with survivors, it was provided electronically only. I do not accept a hard copy could not have been provided to each Survivor.
There was a conspiracy involving at least one person in leaking the report. But there was NONE in the manner it was shared.
Very simply, official Ireland, with a thoughtlessness that was inadvertently cruel, treated this as just another business document and proceeded on a “business as usual” basis.
For those who survived those institutions, and for those who died in them, the Commission’s report was not business as usual, it was the story of their life, and of their death.
On my own behalf, I apologise to them for the events of the past ten days. I share their anger and distress. Survivors deserve better from us in government. Politicians are not an annex to official Ireland. Our vocation is to lead by challenging consensus and doing things differently and better. On this occasion, we failed and that is unacceptable.
It is an irony I am deeply embarrassed by; having historically established a consensus that shuttered people by the tens of thousands – abandoned at their most vulnerable – we would re-enact by design and default those same attitudes again.
Much discussion over the past week has been about where blame lies.
Unfortunately, the role and responsibility of individual families in this dark part of our social history cannot be wished away. I will leave to historians the complex, circular conversation about where between the prevailing popular culture, the unjustified power of the Catholic church and political responsibility the ultimate cause lay.
The truth I want to speak about today is the responsibility of the State, on behalf of all the people, to step forward now as I am certain, responsibility for what happens next lies here in this House and with our leaders in the Church.
The concern in government and indeed all members of the Oireachtas must be about what we will do next, about how quickly we can deliver on the comprehensive range of supports identified by the commission and how sensitively and appropriately we can do so.
Countless apologies from men across this House may run shallow in the ears of the survivors – but I must add my voice to it also. I am sorry.
For our part, as members of the Irish Government, it is our duty to make life better for survivors. That can only happen based on a real relationship of respect. This respect begins by truly listening to our survivors.
We have a duty as government to explain in detail how we will advance the rights of survivors to their own information. I am delighted Minister O’Gorman (whose sincerity is not in question) has confirmed that this now possible, and it must be immediately advanced. In parallel deep thought and appropriate resources must be provided for facilitating contact between children from the homes and their parents.
Survivors must have access to their testimony to the Commission. An appropriate forum should be provided, for those who wish to put on record, their dissatisfaction with the Commission’s report. Mothers in the homes, must now have access to their files. A system of compensation must be brought forward quickly.
Irish history has long been his-story. Women were and remain completely absent from all decision making roles in the Catholic Church. They were almost as absent from the deliberations of the state. As a practising Catholic I am deeply ashamed that such a system could exist, let alone be inflicted on the vulnerable, in the name of mercy.
I say today….. not in my name.
Not in the name of my neighbours who I meet at Mass. Not in the name of priests and nuns, now old and few, who serve faithfully and compassionately. –
We live in a society where half of our population still face pay discrepancies, who face difficulties in accessing healthcare, access to work, access to childcare. Who are considered a token candidate on a ballot paper, who face a litany of targeted, gendered abuse on social media. Who are not part of the decision-making process on areas that have a direct impact on their lives. Who are not fully part of decision-making processes full stop.
I genuinely believe our apologies today are futile unless we learn from these mistakes. The time for words has seriously passed and its time for action.
Unless equality is truly achieved and the rights of women, men and children are respected equally – we will have failed.
Unless we have equality in our governance, in the board-room, and in our institutions of Faith – we are not truly sorry.
I know I cannot speak for the Church here today, but I truly believe the time has come for the church to recognise women as equals!
The report while flawed in some respects does commit to a comprehensive range of supports – so too had previous reports which remain at best partially implemented. There is a justified sense by some little will change. Our task in Government is to realise that and act on it. Because things can change and it is our job to make sure that they do.