Sunday 13 October 2019

Varadkar: Irish society 'inherits a deep shame' over Mother and Baby Homes

Minister Katherine Zappone and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister Katherine Zappone and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tony Gavin
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

IRISH society inherits a “deep shame” and must atone for what happened in Mother and Baby Homes, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He joined children minister Katherine Zappone in calling for anyone with information on the burial arrangements for children that died at the institutions to come forward.

His remarks came in the Dáil following the publication of the fifth interim report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

The report found that more than 900 children died at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork but the Commission has not been able to establish where the vast majority of them have been buried.

The Commission also found that many of the just over 800 children that died in the former institution at Tuam, Co Galway are buried in underground chambers built within a decommissioned sewage tank.

It states that this did not provide for the dignified interment of human remains.

Mr Varadkar said the report makes for “gruesome reading” and “gives us a further insight into a very dark part of our history.”

He said it was a time “when women and their babies were appallingly treated, often simply just for being unmarried, or even just for being poor.”

He said they were badly treated by the State, by the Church, by their own families and also by wider society.

Mr Varadkar added that it “happened at a time when infant mortality was very high, few vaccines, no antibiotics, very poor public health and sanitation, huge numbers of people living at close quarters in congregated settings.

“However, none of that excuses the indignity in the way in which these babies were treated in death.”

He said: “As a society we inherit a deep shame for what was done back then.

“We must now endeavour to learn, to atone and to put things right.”

He said this is the approach the government is taking and, in response to questions from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, said he expects Ms Zappone will make a statement to the Dáil on the interim report after the Easter break.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly asked Mr Varadkar to stop talking about the issue “as if it’s in the past.”

She pointed to one section of the report that said that The Congregation of the Scared Hearts of Jesus and Mary – which ran three institutions including Bessborough – swore an affidavit on burials that’s described in the report as “in many respects, speculative, inaccurate and misleading”.

Connolly also quoted how the Commission was “surprised” at the lack of knowledge of the burials at Tuam on the part of Galway County Council, which owned the institution and the Sisters of the Bons Secours who ran it.

Ms Connolly said: “This is not in the past. This is the present.”

She said it’s “not just of the bodies hidden in sewage under the ground chambers but knowledge hidden under the ground as well.”

Mr Varadkar said that the events happened in the past and all of the institutions are closed and have been for quite some time.

However he added: “It is of course still a real issue and a live issue and a lived experience for those who lived in those institutions in the past.

“I want to join minister Zappone in calling on anyone who has information, anyone alive today who has information that would be of use to the Commission of Inquiry to come forward with that information.”

He said the Commission’s interim report is “not the final say on this” and its work is on-going.

“They expect to produce a final report next spring and we must allow the Commission to do their work without political interference.

“But those who have information should bring that information forward and allow the Commission to have it and analyse it,” the Taoiseach said.

A statement from the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary said: “We will continue to deal directly with the 'Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes' on all related matters.

It added: “The Commission has had and will continue to have our fullest co-operation."

A statement from the Bons Secours Sisters said they have "always cooperated fully with the Commission of Investigation and will continue to do so".

"Every piece of information we have on the Tuam home we have shared with the Commission."

This evening Galway County Council also insisted it has given its full cooperation to the Commission and said it will continue to do so.

A statement said the local authority joins in requests for anyone with information on Tuam to come forward and speak to the Commission.

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