Statutory inquiry into mother and baby homes must have “full powers”, say campaign groups

Justice for Tuam Babies and Galway Pro-Choice hold vigils

A statutory inquiry into all mother and baby homes must have “full powers” to compel witnesses and secure documentary evidence, particularly against religious orders, that is according to Justice for the Tuam Babies.

The comments were made following the announcement on Tuesday by the Minister of Children, Charlie Flanagan, that the cabinet has agreed to set up a Commission of Investigation into all mother and baby homes. Cautiously welcoming the decision, Justice for the Tuam Babies spokesperson Gary Daly vowed that until the Government releases the terms of reference of this inquiry the campaign group will continue to “press for a full inquiry into the neglect suffered by the children and mothers in all these homes, including medical testing” and that the inquiry must have full powers which are enforceable against the religious orders that operated those homes on behalf of the State.The Justice for the Tuam Babies and its supporters marched from the Department of Children to the gates of the Dáil last night. A candlelight vigil was held to remember the 796 infants believed to have died at the Tuam home, run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours, between 1925 and 1961.

While the Dublin march took place, Galway Pro-Choice also held a vigil at the children’s playground in Eyre Square at 7pm last night and which was supported by John Rodgers, a survivor of the Tuam home. According to Rachel Donnelly, Galway Pro-Choice is demanding sincere apologies from the Catholic Church and the Irish State which “must include a concrete agenda of action on criminal investigations and independent inquiries, compensation, and redress for mothers and survivors, plus any commemorations”. She added that Ireland must learn from its past and that there must be a “separation of Church and State, above all in our health system”.

Making the announcement on Tuesday, Minister Flanagan explained that following a preliminary report, the cabinet agreed to establish a Commission of Investigation, with statutory powers, to investigate mother and baby homes. The work of an interdepartmental group will continue until June 30 when it will then inform the Government’s decisions on the terms of reference and composition of the Commission of Investigation, which is expected to be established before the Dáil and Seanad take summer holidays in July.

In his speech, Minister Flanagan began by acknowledging the Irish women and the children they bore while in those institutions, adding that “their personal stories are harrowing”. “The legacy of past cruelties continues to make itself felt,” said Minister Flanagan, before thanking local historian Catherine Corless for research she conducted and noting that “each one of those 796 children was an individual, a citizen, a son or daughter”.

Minister Flanagan added that it was important to acknowledge the reality that “Irish society as a whole colluded in maintaining the regime” and how the revelations in Tuam, in particular the questions regarding burials and high rates of child and infant mortality, brought to public attention a “dark aspect of our history in terms of how single mothers were treated”. He then explained that the investigation will go beyond Tuam and the issue of infant mortality and burials, asking questions about the nature of adoptions and vaccine trials.

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM ) has called on the Government to include the Magdalene Laundries in the terms of reference in the statutory investigation as there was “huge traffic” between the laundries and the mother and baby homes. JFM’s principal submission to the McAleese Committee, based on limited research in State archives, identified 26 cases of children in the Tuam home between 1953 and 1958 whose mothers were listed as “in the Magdalen”. JFM said the statutory inquiry will need access to the Magdalene Laundries’ records in order to trace the fate of women and children in mother and baby homes and the abuse that occurred.

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