PAYMENTS up to €125,000 can be claimed under a new €800 million compensation scheme for those who suffered in mother and baby homes.
In the first concrete action since the commission of investigation into the homes controversially reported last January – causing anger among survivors over treatment of their testimony and a blaming of society in general – those who experienced the institutions will also be entitled to an enhanced medical card.
There are an estimated 34,000 survivors, and it is estimated that up to a quarter live either in the UK or United States. There can apply for a additional payment of €3,000 in lieu of a medical card.
But the scheme will not be set up under legislation until next year, meaning the first payments may not take place before 2023. There are, however, low levels of proof required and survivors can make a statutory declaration where records are missing for a particular institution.
The compensation payments will be based on length of stay in an institution, with nothing for babies who were in homes for less than six months since they will have no memory of their conditions. Mothers will qualify for any time incarcerated, rising to a maximum of €65,000 for more than ten years. Mothers who were made to work will also be paid a further amount, rising to a maximum of €60,000 for a woman imprisoned for more than a decade.
But of 13 religious orders and charities written to repeatedly by children’s minister Roderic O’Gorman this year, not a single one has suggested any cash contribution they might make, much less made any payment. Mr O’Gorman put on record that they would have to make “appropriate and necessary” contributions “if their apologies are to mean anything”. He will begin negotiations shortly with them, he pledged.
Meanwhile, the minister pledged that exhumations would go ahead at Tuam in 2022 after the burial there of 796 babies and children was highlighted again in the recent RTÉ television documentary The Missing Children. If there were scientific indications to extend beyond the sewage tank area in which “significant” human remains have been found – but covered back over in 2017 – then this would be done, Mr O’Gorman said. There would be DNA analysis and respectful reburial.
Mr O’Gorman is meanwhile promising to legislate for full access to unredacted birth records as an “absolute priority”, although this is not expected before late next year after pre-legislative scrutiny threw up a number of thorny questions.
And he said the testimony of survivors – which earlier this year threatened to be sealed for 30 years before emergency Government action in the face of howl of protest – would now be the centrepiece of a new memorial centre.
The State had been looking at the last Magdalene laundry to close, on Seán MacDermott Street in Dublin, but some survivors have objected and no new site has been identified. A similar national memorial was promised at the beginning of this century following the Ryan report, but has failed to materialise.
Mr O’Gorman admitted, however, that his department has not been in touch with that of Foreign Affairs after Fergus Finlay of children's charity Barnardo’s claimed in the RTÉ programme that there was a “mass of material” in its basement. This material, he said, related to foreign adoptions, in which Irish babies are suspected of being sold by Catholic Church organisations to predominantly US couples with the Irish State colluding in the provision of false papers to accompany the illegal export of Irish citizens, most commonly in the postwar years.
The Bon Secours sisters did pay €2.5 million towards the scoping excavation at the former Tuam Mother and Baby Home carried out by forensic pathologists and archaeologists which proved the truth of allegations of septic tank burials of babies and children who died there. The scandal was originally exposed by local researcher Catherine Corless, who has deplored the lack of action since, as have a number of the scientists involved.
Mr O’Gorman said those burials had been “shameful” and “manifestly inappropriate”, insisting his exhumation Bill could allow other sites around the country to be excavated where there were convincing indications that the same had happened.