Editorial: Time is of the essence in baby homes investigation
Published 11/06/2014 | 02:30
The Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan has moved with commendable speed to establish a proper Commission of Investigation into mortality rates and related issues such as adoptions and vaccination trials at state-established mother and baby homes, which were largely staffed by orders of nuns and were in existence from the mid-1920s to the mid-1960s.
This is a mammoth task and it now seems that tens of thousands of mothers and babies were confined to these homes. While it is important to shine a light on what is now called "a dark period" of our history, the commission may be able to take a more dispassionate view of what exactly happened at these homes, taking into account the circumstances of the time and the widespread political and social desire for such institutions.
Of course those of us lucky to live reasonably prosperous lives in the 21st Century can afford to look back with a certain amount of outrage at a moral and political solution adopted by the new state to what was perceived as the 'problem' of girls and women who became pregnant outside of marriage. While an investigation may show a very different picture of a very different time, it is still imperative that we find out why death rates and infant mortality were so high at these homes.
According to historian Ann Matthews, meticulous records were kept of the mothers and babies at all of these state-run homes. These are now held by the religious orders or the HSE and will be available to the Commission of Investigation. They should certainly provide a historical record as a basis for the inquiry. Taken with personal testimony from those still alive, the commission should be able to provide a comprehensive report of what went on and why 'official Ireland' went along with this solution. It is imperative that the commission begins its work as soon as possible and concludes it with as much speed as is humanly possible, given the scale of its task it will have to undertake.
We must work towards ending welfare traps
Welfare traps have been well known and, indeed, well documented over the years. But neither successive ministers for social protection, nor the troika, have been able to get to grips with this situation, despite various working groups, consultants reports and promises of reform.
In fact the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found such is the Irish system of benefits and entitlements that many of those in low-paid work would be better off on the dole, but for various reasons have taken the commendable decision to work instead. Now the ESRI say that at least 45,000 workers who are out of the workforce would not see any financial benefit from taking a job, and some 22,000 of those would actually lose money.
The problem is that this feeds into a system of dependency and generations of the same families opting for a 'benefits lifestyle'. It also means that when the economy needs workers, they are not available and there is the double blow on the exchequer of having to make welfare payments and forgo income tax.
People forget that at the height of the Celtic Tiger, when employers were crying out for workers, there were still almost 100,000 people on the dole.
Given this latest evidence from the ESRI, it is time that the Department of Social Protection drew up a proper strategy which would ensure that low-paid workers would not lose benefits, and certainly not all at once, once they take up employment. Trade unions might also usefully take a look at this area. It is in no worker's interest that some people are be better off on welfare than taking up gainful employment.