Richard Boyd Barrett considers himself one of the fortunate. Born at a mother and baby home in 1967, he was adopted into a loving family and was later reunited with his birth mother, actress Sinéad Cusack.
Undoubtedly, I am one of the lucky ones. I was adopted by a wonderful family. And then subsequently I was reunited with my biological family. My mother came and found me. Changes in the law allowed her to do that. And since then, I have met brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles that I had never known. So I am incredibly lucky," he tells the Sunday Independent.
"But I am acutely aware there are other people I know who have had very, very different outcomes. And people will go to their graves not knowing who their mother was, who their father was, what brothers and sisters they may have had. And who have suffered terrible, multi-generational damage as a result of the experiences they went through. The abuse they suffered, the discrimination and stigma that was attached to them. It's heartbreaking what happened to many people."
The Solidarity-People Before Profit TD doesn't see himself as the voice of survivors. But that is what he has become, through impassioned speeches in the Dáil on the scandal.
"My own awareness of the issue, even though I was far luckier, means I suppose I have a certain obligation to speak up for others who suffered very, very badly," he explains. "I'd like to think that good politics is always about speaking from the heart. I certainly always try and speak from the heart. And when you have personal experience, it's of course going to impact on your thinking on issues.
"But I don't really like to over-focus on my own particular experience. Because I'm very aware that compared to the suffering and the trauma, and the hardship and the hurt, and the loss of life that many others suffered in these institutions, it was far worse. The church and State in this country have a very big debt to pay to those people."
Boyd Barrett's biological mother, Sinéad Cusack, has never spoken publicly about her experience in a mother and baby home. And neither will her son tell that story, as it is hers alone. "Everybody suffered who had children taken away, effectively by society and the institutions of church and State," is all he will say on the matter. "So everybody suffered. But my point is, some people's suffering was very much worse than others. One thing survivors have said to me is their fear that their history and their narrative would be hijacked. And I think the critical thing is we need those voices to be heard. Because they were the people who really suffered. I mean, I found my identity and my history. Others are still being denied that. Their voices need to set the narrative and set the terms of whatever process comes out of this."
We know that 9,000 babies perished at mother and baby homes, he continues. "But that is just the number that were dealt with by this report. There is no doubt that the loss of life for innocent babies was far, far greater."
Victims have not been front and centre throughout the process and the archives must be unsealed so that victims can finally access their own histories, he says. Crucial also is immediate excavation of all mother and baby sites, and a halt to all proposed development at some of the sold-off locations.
Boyd Barrett is highly critical of Green Party Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman's handling of the entire matter. "I have to believe him when he says that he genuinely wants to right the wrongs that were done to people in mother and baby homes. So far, he has failed. When you look at the report, instead of being a report that really was centred on the testimonies, and the evidence of hundreds and hundreds of survivors, those testimonies were essentially dismissed as being 'evidence'.
"In the opening pages of the report, it was really quite shocking and offensive and insulting. I hope the uproar and the angry response that many survivors have articulated will force the Government to change tack. The unwillingness of the Government to really stand up to the religious orders and take them on, I think is very worrying."
The Dún Laoghaire TD has been also been a vocal critic of Taoiseach Micheál Martin for some time, leading to a particularly fraught exchange between the pair last month, during which the Taoiseach insisted the banks were not bailed out following the 2008 financial crash. This led to a public outcry and the Taoiseach later backtracked, saying he "misspoke".
"I think it was absolutely extraordinary, bizarre comments by the Taoiseach. But of course, I think Fianna Fáil are still really unwilling to fully acknowledge the terrible mistakes they made that led to the last economic crash. And the fact that they put the priorities of banks ahead of people and we suffered huge hardship as a result in this country. They don't really want to acknowledge that. And I suppose that's what prompted the rather bizarre comments from Micheál Martin, because he was part of that government."
But it is the Government's handling of the Covid crisis that has been dominating debate from the opposition benches in recent months. Boyd Barrett supports the 'Zero Covid' elimination strategy to tackle the virus. This school of thought, championed by the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group, proposes mandatory two-week quarantine for all international travellers, tighter border controls with the North and swift, localised lockdowns during outbreaks to try to suppress the virus, as well as stringent national lockdowns when necessary.
"The Government's 'Living with Covid' approach just isn't working, and it leads into this endless cycle of frightening surges and deeply depressing lockdowns. Whereas an elimination strategy if it was pursued effectively, as we see in New Zealand and Australia and Taiwan, means fewer lockdowns, less economic damage and less psychological and health damage," he says. "So they will slam down very hard and very quickly on any outbreaks. But it means that the rest of society can operate relatively normally. It seems to me a far preferable approach."
Last week he wrote to all opposition parties, asking that they collectively support the Zero Covid approach, in a bid to increase political pressure on Government to consider it. He awaits a response from Sinn Féin, the leaders in opposition, on the matter.
"The Government Covid strategy has created this false dichotomy between protecting the economy and protecting public health. The truth is, there is no economy unless you can protect the health of the people and protect our health services. So that's a very socialist lesson. That if you don't put people first, there isn't a functioning economy to make profits from."
"We wrote this week to the opposition parties and urged them to consider working with us to jointly campaign for an elimination strategy. It would make a huge difference if Sinn Féin supported it. I suspect a lot of their support base would actually welcome a clear alternative strategy that could get us out of the dire situation we're in now."
Speaking of Sinn Féin, does Boyd Barrett feel the main opposition party should have tried harder to assemble a left-wing government after the general election in February?
"I do think that it showed a lack of ambition on the part of parties of the left that they didn't think it was possible to get a left majority. Sinn Féin have instead kept their options open. We think that's a mistake. We intend to continue to try and convince Sinn Féin and others of the possibility of a left government for fundamental changes in the Irish political landscape."