AS I SEE IT
BY MARIANNE HERON
IT is said that mistakes are a learning experience. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that they can be … sometimes the same mistakes keep getting made over and over again without the learning so that things would to be done differently next time around. Addressing the issues around Mother & Baby Homes is a case in point.
The weakest members of a society are the easiest to ignore, to abuse, to push around and to mistreat as though they are not entitled to full human rights. In the case of women and children it has been a long, hard struggle to establish those rights and recourse for unmarried mothers, battered wives and abused children.
We have travelled a long way in some respects when it comes distancing ourselves from the past. These days we find the punitive attitudes held by society as a whole, not only Church and State but families and fathers responsible for mother and baby homes and industrial schools shocking and unacceptable. Then unmarried mothers, their babies and children in difficulties were hidden behind the walls of institutions, trafficked into incarceration, forced adoptions, unpaid labour and sometimes death. But it seems attitudes from the past persist.
The 2015 Commission Report on Mother & Baby Homes was tasked with giving “a full account of what happened to women and children in Mother & Baby Homes between 1922 and 1998”. When the report was published earlier this year, instead of fully recognising the harm suffered by women and children it caused further trauma by ignoring much of the evidence given by survivors and sidestepping the culpability of Church and State. Once again, women and children were discounted.
Following a storm of controversy, a team of 25 experts were convened and gave an alternative response, strongly disagreeing with report, having analysed the available evidence differently. The powers-that-be might have learned a lesson from the mistakes of the commission.
But it wasn’t to be. It was announced that the redress scheme set up to compensate the survivors of mother and baby homes was to be limited to those who as children had been in mother and baby homes for more than six months. The dwindling number of mothers were to be compensated fostered children were excluded and the scheme limited to 34,000 survivors. The rational for this decision by civil servants was that the cost of compensating all 58,000 survivors could run to €1.6 billon which “ could derail the support for those most in need.” A conclusion reached in the name of expediency and penny pinching, regardless of the further hurt and distress caused for the excluded.
As a journalist, I heard many stories from those who had suffered due to adoption. The effects are not something that turn on or off at the flick of a switch at a certain point. The trauma of separation from a birth mother, the lack of early attachment, being sent to unsuitable families or America for adoption, not knowing who exactly you are, not having medical information you need about your birth parents, being denied the possibility of tracing your mother or parents or access to records, even when tracing was meant to be facilitated.
The effects of adoption are for life and it’s worth saying that, for survivors in general, the main issue is not about financial compensation but about recognition that harm has been wrongfully done to them.
The initial announcement about the redress scheme caused a storm, more hurt and conflict was caused to survivors side-lined in the interests of expediency and cost cutting. A rethink is on the cards but not before the harm caused by a lesson unlearned has been done