Mother and baby homes report ‘lacked political will’ to involve those affected

The Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary, which was the mother and baby home operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary from 1930 to 1970. Photo: PA
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Vivienne Clarke

Campaigner and human rights lawyer Dr Maeve O’Rourke has criticised the mother and baby homes report saying that it had not given the people affected the opportunity to participate in the inquiry beyond being treated like a witness.

There was a “lack of political will”, she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. There were many small steps that could have been taken that would have made “a massive difference”.

The inquiry into mother and baby homes did not behave like any ordinary procedure, she said. The people affected had suffered “gross and systematic constitutional and human rights violations, they were not given an opportunity to participate in this inquiry beyond being treated as a witness.

“Their evidence was taken and they were told to go away, not even allowed to have a copy of their evidence to check that it was recorded in its entirety, that it was correct and what they didn’t have was access to any of the evidence from the institutions across the board, from the State, the private institutions.


“They didn’t have access to testimony, to individuals who were in positions of responsibility or are in positions of responsibility — no access to the administrative files, to the State or the Church — that’s something that prevents them from getting to court properly now.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin alongside Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman during a live video call with survivors after the publication of the mother and baby homes report. Photo: Julien Behal

Public hearings

Dr O’Rourke said that even though the inquiry had “a veneer of being a legal procedure” — it had not given reasons “for why it refused all those mothers their requests to have a public hearing, didn’t give us reasons why we couldn’t have a public hearing at the very beginning when we were making submissions about the need to consider rights violations under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

There could have been “a very flexible and inviting interpretation of the Constitution” applied, she said. “Inviting those to tell us how to understand those rights — we clearly didn’t implement them in the past, so how should we understand them now?”

Dr O’Rourke pointed out that nothing to date had given individuals access to their own files. “This has all been an exercise in talking to the public in general terms. There still are no statutory rights and in practice people’s rights are being denied — to their own information, to their own family files.

“We have a situation of enforced disappearance which is one of the most serious violations of international law — where someone is institutionalised with the involvement of the State following which their fate and whereabouts is not disclosed by the State to their family. That’s needs to be remedied by the Government.”

'Very hurt'

Historian and campaigner Catherine Corless has said that mother and baby home survivors were very hurt by Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s comments on Tuesday.

Mother and baby home survivors 'very hurt' by Taoi...
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Ms Corless told Newstalk Breakfast that a broader apology was needed, highlighting the role of the Church and State rather than putting so much weight on the role of society in general.

“He specifically pointed out society in general, and the parents and grandparents of these survivors. They were very, very hurt over that. They all have their own stories. They gave their own stories, like how it was impossible for their mothers to stay in the village because of the Church and the attitudes they created at the time.”

Ms Corless said she would have preferred if the Taoiseach had said all were at fault and that there was a need for an apology “from all around.”


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