Survivors of mother and baby and county homes are blameless and did nothing wrong, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil in a formal State apology.
Mothers “did nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of,” Mr Martin told TDs in the National Convention Centre.
The treatment of women and children is something which was the direct result of how the State, “and we as a society acted,” he said.
“The report presents us with profound questions. We embraced a perverse religious morality and control, judgmentalism and moral certainty, but shunned our daughters.
“We honoured piety, but failed to show even basic kindness to those who needed it most.
“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.
“To confront the dark and shameful reality which is detailed in this report we must acknowledge it as part of our national history.” he told Deputies.
“And for the women and children who were treated so cruelly we must do what we can, to show our deep remorse, understanding and support.”
He then declared: “On behalf of the Government, the State and its citizens, I apologise for the profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers and their children who ended up in a Mother and Baby Home or a County Home.
“As the Commission says plainly: they should not have been there.
“I apologise for the shame and stigma which they were subjected to and which, for some, remains a burden to this day.
“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 the fundamental dignity and rights as mothers and children who spent time in these institutions is humbly acknowledged and deeply regretted, he said.
The Irish State, as the main funding authority for the majority of these institutions, had the ultimate ability to exert control over these institutions, in addition to its duty of care to protect citizens with a robust regulatory and inspection regime, Mr Martin added.
“This authority was not exerted and the State’s duty of care was not upheld.
“The State failed you, the mothers and children in these homes.”
“This detailed and highly painful report is a moment for us as a society to recognise a profound failure of empathy, understanding and basic humanity over a very lengthy period.”
The report gave survivors what they have been denied for so long: their voice, their individuality, their right to be acknowledged, he said, paying tribute to the “steady determination” of the former residents, researchers and campaigners.
“Throughout this report former residents talk of a feeling of shame for the situation they found themselves in,” Mr Martin noted.
“The shame was not theirs – it was ours,” he said.
“It was our shame that we did not show them the respect and compassion which we as a country owed them. It remains our shame.
“I want to reassure survivors, their families and the country, that this Government is determined to act on all the recommendations of the report and to deliver the legislative change necessary to at least start to heal the wounds that endure.”
He said a critical part had been played by Catherine Corless “whose work at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home site led directly to the establishment of the Commission.”
Support and protection for the mothers should have been forthcoming from the fathers of the children, their family and friends, community and State, the Taoiseach said, but it was not.
“The most striking thing is the shame felt by women who became pregnant outside of marriage and the stigma that was so cruelly attached to their children.
“One speaks of not being allowed to return to school after becoming pregnant because it would bring shame on the school.”
He quoted extracts from witness accounts —
“I was treated like a second class citizen by my family, society had an obsession with hiding everything.”
“Nobody will want you now” said the mother of a witness, 14-years old when it was discovered that she was pregnant.
“Get her put away!” were the words of a father of a 19-year old when told of her pregnancy.
A dearth of sex education often left young women confused and unaware of how and why they had even become pregnant, Mr Martin remarked, adding: “Some of these pregnancies were as a result of rape and/or incest.
“Children born outside of marriage were stigmatised and treated as outcasts in school and in wider society.
“Some children who were subsequently boarded-out experienced heartbreaking exploitation, neglect and abuse within the families and communities in which they were placed. This was unforgivable.”
The sense of abandonment felt by many of these children is palpable in the witness accounts, he added, and it had become a terrible burden in their lives.
“Many women, children and fathers left these shores to escape this unfair judgement and life-long prejudice and because they thought it was the only way to protect their families’ reputations.
“Many did not overcome the impact which these formative experiences had on their lives, and suffered and struggled with serious personal problems.”
The report had brought previously unknown information into the public domain and exposed the truth, he said. It had revealed “significant failures of the State, the Churches and of society.”
The Taoiseach said women were admitted to mother and baby homes and county homes because no supports were forthcoming from any other quarter.
“They were forced to leave home, and seek a place where they could stay without having to pay. Many were destitute.
“Women, terrified by the consequences of their pregnancy becoming known to their family and neighbours entered mother and baby homes to protect their secret.
“The pressure to maintain this secret added insult to injury and was a large part of the mother’s trauma.”
But many women suffered emotional abuse in the homes too, “and were often subject to denigration and derogatory remarks from the religious, with little kindness shown, especially when giving birth.“
“The overall picture is of a hard, cold and uncaring environment,” he said.
“One of the most disquieting features of the report is that up until 1960 mother and baby homes appear to have significantly reduced the prospects of survival of children.
“The death rate among infants in mother and baby homes was almost twice that of the national average for children born outside of marriage. A total of about 9,000 children died in the institutions under investigation - about 15% of all the children who were in their care.”
It is “deeply distressing” to note that the very high mortality rates were known to local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications, he said — with little or no evidence of State intervention in response to “these chilling statistics.”
Mr Martin said he know it would be a disappointment that the report does not answer all questions on the burial of children who died in these institutions, with many locations remaining unknown.
But he said options for dignified remembrance and memorialisation will now be implemented.
“Overall, the Commission concludes that Ireland was a cold and harsh environment for the majority of its residents during the earlier half of the period under investigation.
“It was especially cold and harsh for women. All women suffered serious discrimination. Women who gave birth outside marriage were subject to particularly harsh treatment.”
The Taoiseach acknowledged: “An apology on its own is not enough. We, collectively in this House, will be judged by our actions. Actions always speak louder than words.”
And he pledged: “The Government accepts and will respond to all of the recommendations made by the Commission.”
More to follow…