Mother and Baby Homes: Statements

Wednesday, 11th June 2014

I warmly welcome the Minister to the House. Everyone in the Chamber will agree that the recent revelations are yet another deplorable stain on our collective conscience. In preparing for my statement, my personal shame as a member of the collective that turned a blind eye to the abuse and suffering of women and children, out of fear and deference to the powerful, is as acute as ever before. It is the same shame I felt reading each of the reports – Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne – into the systematic abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children in State and church institutions in Ireland. It is the same shame I felt reading the harrowing testimony from survivors of the Magdalen laundries and symphysiotomy procedures performed by medical professionals in Irish hospitals.

I share the overwhelming sense of shame and compunction over the unthinkable fate suffered by our sisters, cousins, friends and daughters labelled “fallen women” by church and community for becoming pregnant out of marriage and sent to these homes for their sins and rehabilitation. The isolation, hardship and suffering to which these young women were subjected in the name of honour and respectability is almost unthinkable in contemporary Ireland. How many of these young women fell pregnant against their will, by way of rape, incest and familial abuse, and found themselves arbitrarily and extra-judicially detained in these homes? It is the worst injustice imaginable when the victim is punished. It reminds me of punishment by stoning for adultery under Sharia law for women who have been raped.

Due to the time limit, I will limit my main observations to the issue of adoption, including the legality of adoptions prior to the Adoption Act 1952. Although the national adoption contact preference register contains data on only a small number of adoptions, the 2011 Adoption Authority of Ireland audit of the records found 50 cases of illegal adoptions. Given that the vast majority of adoption records are held by the Health Service Executive, HSE, and Child and Family Agency, CFA, we have seen only the tip of the iceberg of illegal adoptions. The area of adoption legality is extremely complex and technical and the commission will need an expert on adoption law to deal with what is likely to be a huge body of work. The Mahon tribunal had two to three experts working together.

So many of the issues thrown up by the mother and baby homes are not just legacies of the past but prevailing issues today, from which an examination of the past can yield lessons for legislation and policy today. Earlier today, I met several survivor groups, and we must ensure any inquiry, and the process to establish it, will hear their voices and involve them. The latest revelations have once again brought to the fore the trauma and suffering of many of the survivors. We must ensure we care for the living. I welcome, so early in the Minister’s new term of office, his speedy and committed response to establish a statutory commission of investigation. We are all waiting to find out the scope of the inquiry and which homes and what period will be included. Will the State take responsibility for collating all the records or will it do the same as in the report into the Magdalen laundries, namely, receive the records and then return them to the church-run institutions?

The inquiry must deal with many inter-related matters. The prevailing issues are adoption, the right to identity, lone parents, the role of women, poverty, social strata, and the rights of unmarried fathers, whose names are still not necessarily recorded on birth certificates. Will the investigation have the resources it needs and the appropriate expertise to deal with the myriad issues I have outlined? We must find a way to prioritise the truths from which there can be learning. We have recently seen the role social historians and archivists have played and can continue to play in investigative teams. Can we learn from the Murphy report experience? Should the inquiry find a way to do its work by sampling to find the appropriate balance between truth, expediency, bearing witness, and establishing and identifying causal and contributing factors, thereby maximising the scope to learn lessons?

Lest we forget, each and every one of these children had a name, and to ensure they get the memorial they deserve, their names must be listed in their honour. They are the children we promised, at the formation of the State, to cherish equally.

Human Trafficking and Prostitution – Motion

12th October 2011

I welcome the Minister of State. The impetus for this motion has been the tremendous work of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign to end prostitution and combat sex trafficking in Ireland. I commend the campaign on highlighting the intrinsic link between the demand for prostitution and the trafficking of women and girls to meet this demand. The majority of members of Turn Off the Red Light are civil society groups and NGOs that have direct experience of the devastating effects of prostitution on women, children and men throughout Ireland. These devastating effects are physical, such as sexually transmitted infections, injuries sustained as a result of beatings and rapes, gynaecological problems owing to multiple terminations of pregnancy and many other health conditions relating to prostitution. There are also mental and emotional injuries deeply embedded in the psyche of sex workers and victims of trafficking which are likely to be carried throughout their lives.

Senators Zappone and Mac Conghail have excellently outlined the views of our group, which I fully support. Therefore, in my intervention I will focus on the situation for children. As devastating as these effects are on adults, the impact is almost unimaginable for children and child victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. I have researched with interest some of the arguments against criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland and I find myself wholly unconvinced by them. One argument contends that criminalising the purchase of sex in an effort to curb prostitution violates a sex worker’s right to exercise self-determination over her own body. I must respectfully disagree. It is my belief that when the complex layers of how and why women and men find themselves selling their bodies for sexual gratification of others are peeled away, their paths into prostitution did not start with the simple exercise of their right to self-determination of their bodies. For those who argue that prostitution is an issue of consent, I would ask these people to be mindful that the age identified internationally for entry into prostitution is 14, an age at which consent cannot be given.

I would also like to highlight the situation for young homeless people. Focus Ireland estimates that there are as many as 1,500 young people under the age of 18 who are homeless each year in Ireland, 18% of whom are unaccompanied and one quarter of whom are under 12. There is inadequate resourcing in this area and there are an insufficient number of places for children in safe, sheltered accommodation. Some are said to be forced into prostitution. An increase in substance abuse among homeless youths, especially males, has also seen an increased recourse to prostitution and there is evidence to suggest that boys as young as 13 are involved in prostitution in Dublin city.

Separated children or unaccompanied minors are under 18 years of age, outside their country of origin and separated from both of their parents or their previous legal customary primary care giver. Separated children are an extremely vulnerable group owing to their status, the fact they may have experienced war and violence, and the danger that they have been trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation. There have been improvements in the situation for separated children in Ireland under the Ryan report implementation plan, and measures have been taken, such as DNA identification, to tackle false family reunifications.

However, the instances of children going missing from care are of deep concern. This morning in this very Chamber, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs told us that there are 16 cases of children missing in Ireland still outstanding in 2010 alone, and 11 of those are unaccompanied minors. There is strong anecdotal evidence that a number of these children could have been trafficked into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. In September 2011, the Children’s Rights Alliance submitted to the Department of Justice and Equality’s anti-human trafficking unit collated case studies of suspected and confirmed child victims of trafficking in Ireland.

I will now briefly outline these cases which paint a picture of dreadful exploitation. They include the following: a 15-year-old Somali rescued from a brothel in 2006 having been trafficked into Ireland; a 16-year-old Nigerian girl who arrived to Ireland as a separated child in 2009 and was enticed out of HSE residential care by a man who later got her involved in prostitution; and a 16-year-old girl from Burundi, held captive in a house in County Louth and abused. She was taken from her village in Africa at the age of 12 and introduced into sex slavery in different countries before being trafficked to Ireland for more sexual exploitation.
I have also heard dreadful accounts by an NGO, which were subsequently documented, of eastern European girls as young as 14 being trafficked to Ireland, brutally and systematically raped over a number of days to “break them in” and then shipped off to various brothels around Ireland. This intolerable situation is my motivation for fully supporting the motion proposed by the Independent Group.

As Senator Zappone has already mentioned, the sex industry in Ireland is extremely lucrative. Children continue to be victims of prostitution and trafficking because it is good business for organised criminals and traffickers. After much research into this issue I firmly believe that legislation is needed. I understand that the Minister says we need a wider public debate. I would like to say I am reassured by what I have heard both from the Minister and the Government side, but I am not. We have heard a lot of nice words and good sentiments but I would like to have seen much more detail in what is being put before us. I note the six-month timeframe that is given to us and our group must still decide whether we will move this motion to a vote. We will certainly not be going away from this issue, however, because every day that passes there is a possibility of women and children being forced further into sexual exploitation in Ireland. We have to take action. We may have to allow the Minister of State some time, but it is a very short time because this is about human beings and people’s lives.

Civil Law – Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2011 – Second Stage

30th June 2011

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive overview. I take this opportunity to welcome the citizenship ceremony held last week in Dublin Castle. This was a very important ceremony and several people noted it as a very welcome initiative by the Minister.

When reading the Bill last weekend I wondered whether the title should be changed to the lost and found Bill because it was certainly an eclectic collection of albeit very important measures. It has certainly tested my mettle in my breadth of knowledge. I cannot claim to have knowledge in all the areas covered so I will limit my comments to areas on which I wish to comment or to measures I wish to note.

I welcome the Minister’s proposals on civil legal aid in section 26 of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 which will allow the Legal Aid Board to provide legal advice on criminal matters to victims or alleged victims of trafficking. This is a very positive measure as this is an important extension of powers so that any alleged victim of human trafficking will be able to get legal advice. However, I note that this does not appear to extend to representation for the victims in court proceedings nor will it protect the victims of the sex trade who do not come within the narrow definition of trafficking. I do not know if anything can be done at this stage with regard to this issue. I am concerned that while this is a very welcome measure to allow the Legal Aid Board to give legal advice to victims or alleged victims of human trafficking, it does not include legal representation.

Part 3 refers to proposals on good Samaritans. I read this section with particular interest because I am a long-standing volunteer with the Irish Girl Guides and I am bringing 22 girls on a trip this weekend to a 500-strong camp. If I am a little tired on Tuesday I will ask my colleagues to bear with me.

I have paid particular attention to this proposal which I welcome. It is important to discuss and encourage good Samaritans and volunteerism. This section will be a welcome addition to any discussion on community life. I read the Law Reform Commission report on civil liability of good Samaritans and volunteers and I note that many of the recommendations in that report are encompassed here. The proposal to deal with the civil liability of good Samaritans and volunteers is important. The Minister also accommodates the range of individuals who may constitute a Good Samaritan or a volunteer or the organisations or types of intervention. While it may be difficult to define, any measure to support people to take the initiative, is important.

I am involved in several voluntary organisations and I have noted an undue expectation of a duty of care. This may arise where, as a result of an accident, a case is brought against an individual or an organisation by a concerned parent. The problem is that the insurance companies will urge organisations to settle before it goes to court, thereby not allowing the courts to intervene as is proposed in this Bill. This results in an increase in insurance costs for the voluntary organisations. I can provide examples of where this has happened.

Part 5 deals with intoxicating liquor and I particularly welcome these provisions and the Minister’s words on this issue. I have been a rapporteur on two significant EU reports on alcohol-related harm. This experience has changed my opinion because I would have been slightly more moderate in my view on the issue of alcohol-related harm but the evidence speaks for itself. As the Minister observed, the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, which came into force in August 2008, introduces firmer penalties for those who sell alcohol to under-18s and it contains other welcome measures. However, enforcement has been limited and weak. I know this Bill cannot change this but I wish to bring this to the attention of the Minister while he is in the House.

Stricter government regulation is required to govern alcohol advertising and marketing. Alcohol advertising and marketing shapes children’s attitudes to alcohol from an early age and it plays a significant role in their decision to drink and how to drink. A review of longitudinal studies was carried out in 2009. This showed that the volume of alcohol advertisement in media seen by teenagers increases the likelihood that they will start to drink, the amount they drink and the amount they drink on any one occasion.

The Minister referred to the voluntary code. In 2003, draft legislation was prepared which was aimed at significantly reducing children’s exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing. Had this legislation been enacted it would have restricted the placement of alcohol advertisements, limited their content and banned the drinks industry sponsorship of youth leisure activities. This draft legislation went to Cabinet and had been approved. There then followed a change of Ministers and subsequently a voluntary code was introduced in place of the draft legislation. I note that this voluntary code mirrors exactly what was produced by the industry, including the grammatical errors. Therefore, the Minister’s comments this morning are all the more pertinent. I welcome the proposals in this Bill but I stress that any consultation cannot just be with the industry. This is an issue that affects society and there needs to be wider consultation. It is clear that a voluntary code alone is insufficient to address the problems and this view is supported by the World Health Organisation which has stated that self-regulation seems to work only to the extent that there is a current and credible threat of regulation by government. I endorse this view.

Part 7 proposes amendment of the Bankruptcy Act 1988. There has been much public debate in recent months with regard to bankruptcy and I welcome the proposals in the Bill. However, I also welcome the proposal by Senator O’Donovan to reduce the term to three years.

Part 8 proposes the amendment of the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976 and this is to be welcomed. It is an area in which the Minister has a wide experience and he is aware of its direct impact. These new measures will provide for a clear distinction between those who cannot pay maintenance and those who actively choose not to pay it.

Part 13 proposes the amendment of the Registration of Title Act 1964. My understanding is that the proposed section 31 which inserts a new section 49A into the 1964 Act, now provides that an individual can make application to register a right of way as a burden which will first require the consent of the landowner and second, this will only apply in circumstances where the land is registered land. The benefit of this measure is that court applications will be avoided where all parties consent and that registration and the ownership of the lands is registered with the Land Registry. It would appear that this section will not provide assistance to those individuals who are seeking to claim an easement over unregistered lands but, hopefully, this will be eased over time, as compulsory registration with the Land Registry is extended across the country.

My understanding is that section 28 proposes will extend the current deadline of December 2012. Is that correct?
I welcome Part 15 of the Bill which deals with miscellaneous measures. In particular I welcome the amendment of the Domestic Violence Act 1996. This is a critical amendment which is long overdue. I am pleased the Minister has taken this opportunity to amend the Act. Women who have a child with an abuser, for example, but who have never lived together or married, are currently a very vulnerable group. Where there is a child in common, there is often continued contact between the parents after the relationship ends and this contact gives further opportunity to abuse. The Minister’s proposal in this section is very important and will have a direct effect.
Women’s Aid has drawn my attention to a lacuna in the current provisions whereby dating partners who are not cohabiting and women being stalked and abused by ex-partners are totally unprotected under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and will remain so. Protection from domestic violence should not be contingent on current or previous cohabitation and, therefore, safety orders should be available to all parties who are or have been in intimate relationships, as set out in the United Nations guidelines on domestic violence legislation. I hope there will be further progress in this area, and I welcome the steps taken in this regard in the Bill.

I thank the Minister for introducing the legislation to the Seanad. I look forward to our future co-operation.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”