Sinn Fein criticises Government over apology to mother and baby home survivors

Mary Lou McDonald added it was ‘plainly untrue’ to suggest the whole of Irish society was responsible.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Michelle Devane

Opposition parties have criticised the Government over its handling of the apology to survivors of mother and baby homes.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said hopes that the report would bring truth and accountability were “dashed” for many victims and many were instead left “deflated and angry”.

“There was still a slight hope it would bring hope and real accountability, but for many that hope was dashed,” she told the Dail.

“Many are deflated and angry by what they read in the report.”

Ms McDonald added: “The overarching attempt to shift responsibility from State and church has left them shocked and outraged.

“They are furious that barriers to accessing information are placed in their way by the State.

“The circulating of wagons only adds to their trauma and exacerbates the failures of the State.”

Ms McDonald added it was “plainly untrue” to suggest the whole of Irish society was responsible.

“That is a distortion of history,” she said.

“Any idea we did this to ourselves is deeply insulting to survivors and is a cop-out.

“The death rate was multiple of the infant mortality rate in Ireland at that time.”

While acknowledging the Taoiseach’s apology to victims on behalf of the State, she said it was not true to say what was witnessed was simply a failure of empathy and compassion in Irish society.

“More profoundly it was an abuse of power,” she said. “It was the ultimate abuse of authority. It was a brutality inflicted on women and girls and on the poor in particular.”

Ms McDonald added that the value of any sincere apology was always found in the actions that followed.

She called on the Government to ensure survivors received full redress and compensation as well as access to information, adding that the Government’s commitment to establish a “national archive of institutional, adoption and other care-related records” must be fully realised.

The Dublin Central TD also said it was “crucially” important that provision was made for excavation of sites at former homes where she said families know their relatives were buried.

She described the legacy of the mother and baby homes as one of “shameful crimes” by the State, by the churches and other institutions.

“For the tens of thousands of women robbed of their futures, for the children robbed of their childhoods, to those who died behind those high walls and iron gates in unmarked graves, for those who made it out and survived to tell the harrowing tale, let today though imperfect, and unfinished, be the start of the final length of that long road to justice.” she said.

“This is not over.”

She said Ireland owed the “greatest debt” to historian Catherine Corless.

Labour leader Alan Kelly also paid tribute to Mrs Corless for her tireless work, describing her as a “hero to this nation”.

Mr Kelly said the Dail should introduce legislation to secure assets from religious institutions if they do not contribute to the State’s redress scheme.

“We need to ensure that this time around that those institutions make their contribution in relation to the redress for all of the families and women affected,” he said.

“If they do not make the contribution we will pass legislation, I will draft it myself, to ensure we can take their assets to ensure they make their contribution.”

Mr Kelly also said the Government’s deadline of the end of the year for the introduction of tracing legislation to give survivors access to information needed to be revised.

“I am concerned,” he said. “We cannot wait until the end of the year for this legislation. We’ve bailed out banks, we’ve brought in Covid legislation. Let’s prioritise it in the coming weeks. We’ll all work with you to ensure it’s brought through as quickly as possible.”

The Tipperary TD also said he supported a call from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties for a separate investigation to examine the “system of secret adoption and family separation to add to our knowledge about this shameful history”.

He described the treatment of the women and children as “horrendous”.

“When this State was founded, there were warnings about the level of mortality in these institutions and nothing was done. A blind eye was thrown,” he added.

“It continued for another 60 years. Politically, we are all at fault.

“Women and children, their families, have no blame at all.

“The institutions, the Catholic church, have a lot to answer for and we must look at our relationship between the State and the religious institutions.”

Mr Kelly said that society went along with what happened, which he described as “our collective shame”.

He added that he hoped the Commission of Investigation’s report would “belatedly put some of the truth on the record”.

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