The publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has been acknowledged as an important milestone with deep and personal impact for all those with a connection to the Mother and Baby Homes.
The publication of the final report was the topic of much focus at the recently held Westmeath County Council meeting with a detailed statement issued to elected representatives and members of the executive.
Following the publication this week of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued a formal apology on behalf of the State to former residents of the Mother and Baby Home institutions.
The Government now intends to give detailed consideration to the Report over the coming months with a view to developing a comprehensive Government Action Plan spanning eight themes - a survivor-centred approach; apology; access to personal information; archiving and databases; education and research; memorialisation; restorative recognition and dignified burial.
The Commission’s Report includes detailed information on one mother and baby home in Westmeath, which was located in Castlepollard. It opened in 1935 and closed in 1971 and was run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The public health authorities (including the Council before 1970 ) contributed towards the costs of people admitted there.
The Commission’s Report has identified that during its period of operation, 4,972 women were admitted and 4,559 children were born in the home or admitted there, from several counties; and that there were 247 deaths among children connected with the home, mostly within their first year.
Westmeath County Council wishes to be associated with the State apology issued by An Taoiseach. The Council will actively participate with Government in furthering the development of the Government Action Plan as it relates to local Government. The Council is committed to supporting local measures that form part of the suite of follow-up actions, for example, in relation to memorialisation and access to archives and records.
Reflecting upon the content of the final report, Town Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, noted a lack of feeling with little empathy detailed in the language used within the published content.
“The report of The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has certainly received a mixed reaction since its publication. Personally, like many others, I felt that the report left something significant behind. I thought there was a lack of feeling and no empathy in the language used. So, in many ways it was a missed opportunity.
“At the end we have words written across reams of paper, but very few of them actually connecting with or relating to the people so terribly hurt, distressed and abused at that time. For me, the substance in this report came from the powerful testimonies. Powerfully thorough, personal, heartbreaking, individual stories that made my skin crawl. This was nothing short of institutionalised abuse. These homes across Ireland systematically robbed innocent young vulnerable women of their autonomy, their independence, their dignity, their voice and in some cases it robbed them of their children and of their lives and individuals were treated inhumanly.
“The whole eco system that existed at the time was horrific and poisonous, it was simply shameful. Unfortunately, Westmeath like other counties around the country, played a part in the whole awful situation surrounding the treatment of single mothers and their children. As we now know, Westmeath County Council made financial contributions to the Mother and Baby Home in Castlepollard some 50 years ago. To think that this local authority, at that time, gave it’s blessing by way of financial support to this facility, is at the very least very disappointing and quite upsetting.
“I certainly feel very deflated about the situation and as a member of this current Council I pledge to assist and help those who may have been affected in any way, as part of the follow-up actions that the government will put in train. Or, to help those wishing to access records or information. I am happy to assist in any way I can,” Cllr O’Rourke asserted.
Echoing similar sentiments, Cllr. Tom Farrell noted the “tragic occurrences” within the Mother and Baby Home in Castlepollard.
“The content detailed within this report is a source of great shame for our State and we have to learn from the mistakes of our past and ensure that the necessary supports are implemented for all those who have suffered,” Cllr Farrell remarked.
Local Green Party Councillor, Louise Heavin, stated that content of the report was “shocking to the extreme”.
“It is difficult to comprehend that our local authority supported this institution in Castlepollard and now, we must focus on what we can do to support all those who were effected ensuring the victims have access to their personal records as part of the consideration process,” Cllr Heavin commented.