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.

Order of Business, 19 February 2013

Tuesday, 19th February 2013

I thank everyone who attended a joint briefing I organised on the Magdalen report with Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Justice for Magdalenes. I hope we will debate the issue at the earliest opportunity, and I hope that today is day one of justice. When we have the debate I ask for appropriate time to scrutinise any proposed redress scheme; there should not just be reflection of the past but also consideration of how to restore into the future.

I welcome the publication yesterday by the Children’s Rights Alliance of its report card for 2013, which is a really comprehensive report on the Government’s promises to children. Overall, the Government got a C grade, and I will refer to Senator O’Brien’s comments with regard to child poverty. I do not know if it is “the” Mangan report but the first report of the Mangan group was put online today, and it is dated March 2012. I would like to see clarification on the report and its content. I am concerned by the leaks we read over the weekend. As a legislator, I cannot believe I must speak about leaks of a report. We have had debates on the Social Welfare Bill and we have been asked to act responsibly but we have not been provided with the relevant information.

In the Children’s Rights Alliance report and relevant to child poverty, the Department of Social Protection got an F grade. Rarely does the Children’s Rights Alliance hand out an F grade. We have seen increasing child poverty figures in Ireland and if child poverty is left unaddressed, the issue can continue into a person’s teenage years and cause significant life poverty risk.

Reading the reports at the weekend on whether we should means-test or tax child benefit, as well as what the Mangan report would come out with, it felt like it was Groundhog Day. It was first mooted in April 2009 by the then Minister, the late Brian Lenihan, that we should examine this issue and I recall when debating it that I used the same speaking points that I am using now. I have not had to change them. The debate should be moving on. I ask for a debate on the matter in this House.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality for clarity on when the family leave Bill will be published and the consultation process on it with the social partners is envisaged? As the EU parental leave directive needs to be transposed into law by March 2013, the clock is ticking. I know the Bill is on the legislative list, but when will it be published in order that we can uphold our obligations?

Services for People with Disabilities – Motion

25th January 2012

I welcome John Dolan from the Disability Federation of Ireland, who is joining us tonight, as well as the aforementioned people. I would like to focus in my statement on what I believe are three fundamental failings in the provision of disability support services. One is that there are currently no independent inspections; the second is that the €1.5 billion of health budget that is spent on disability services is allocated to service providers rather than individuals; and the third is Ireland’s current capacity laws, which date back to 1871. Each of these is totally unacceptable and leads one to question what we have learned from our egregious failings towards vulnerable groups in State care in the past.

We can all agree that the only way to ensure we never repeat our past failings is to understand why they happened and for current and future policy to embrace what we learned. This is exactly what the recent Amnesty International report, In Plain Sight, responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports, sought to achieve. Its aim was encapsulated by its executive director, Colm O’Gorman, when he said “The past only becomes history once we have addressed it, learnt from it and made the changes necessary to ensure that we do not repeat mistakes and wrongdoing.” In fact, the report identified a number of causal and contributory factors to the institutional abuse of children in State and church-run institutions, which unfortunately I see as being equally valid in today’s debate: the absence of a voice, the absence of statutory inspections, deference, and the failure of the State to operate on behalf of the people and not interest groups. While the debate we are having is in the context of disability supports and services, it is not really about disability – it is about justice, equality and human rights for all of our citizens.

With regard to the regulation and inspection of disability services, recommendation 11 of the Ryan report implementation plan states that independent inspections are essential. I will quote from the implementation plan, but I will take the liberty of substituting the word “children” with “people with disabilities”.
All services for [people with disabilities] should be subject to regular inspections in respect of all aspects of their care. The requirements of a system of inspection include the following:

– There is a sufficient number of inspectors.
– The inspectors must be independent.
– There should be objective national standards for inspection of all settings where [people with disabilities] are placed.
– Unannounced inspection should take place.
– Complaints to an inspector should be recorded and followed up.
– Inspectors should have power to ensure that inadequate standards are addressed without delay.

We are all aware of the commitment in the programme for Government, which we welcome, to put the draft national standards on a statutory footing. In fact, the second progress report on the Ryan report implementation plan, which was published last year, notes that a new target date of the fourth quarter of 2012 has been set. The report also notes that the commencement of the Health Act 2007 by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to allow the independent registration and inspection of all residential centres and respite services for children with disabilities is contingent on the aforementioned action being taken. We still have not learned from our past and we still do not have the required systems in place. When will the Minister be in a position to give the necessary mandate and legal power to HIQA to inspect the centres?

In my research I was appalled to find that there has been no official audit of the number and location of centres, so we actually do not know where all the centres are and who is running them. I hope the Minister of State can show me evidence that this is not right. I also ask the Minister of State to explain why interim measures such as instructing the HSE and social services inspectorate to commence inspections of centres where children or those with disabilities live have not been put in place until an inspection regime is operational.
The second issue I want to discuss is the individual resource allocation system. Everyone agrees that we need to provide an individualised budget. We have spoken in the past about deference to the State and the church, but what about the deference that people in receipt of disability services are forced to pay to the HSE and service providers in circumstances in which they are unable to question or provide any input into the services they receive, where they receive them or who provides them? I have heard of cases in which an individual has chosen not to avail of a service, yet the State makes payments to the service provider, so the State is paying for a service that is not being accessed. It does not make sense. As the system currently operates, it seems that people with disabilities are expected to feel lucky and grateful for the supports and services they receive. The supports and services are provided by the State because we value all of our citizens. We recognise that we have different needs at different stages of our lives, and our system should reflect this.

We are all aware of and welcome the commitment in the programme for Government to introduce modern capacity legislation. I will not rehearse what has already been said, but I will give a quote from one of our briefings which clearly shows why the law is so archaic. Frieda Finlay, the chairperson of Inclusion Ireland, described the situation of herself and her daughter. She said: “As the parent of a 38 year old woman with an intellectual disability, who is a citizen by birth of an independent sovereign republic, I burn with anger every day at the thought that her capacity to make basic decisions about her life is governed by an Act signed into law by Queen Victoria and brought in by Gladstone’s Government 140 years ago.” The failure to repeal this law flies in the face of Ireland’s commitment to the right of all people in Ireland to live with dignity and exercise self-determination.

In conclusion, we all know what needs to be done. What we do not need is more reports; we do not even need more debates. We do not need pilot projects or think tanks. We need action and implementation. That is the reason for my disappointment that amendments have been tabled by both the Government and Sinn Féin. I urge my colleagues not to push them to a vote. The original motion that was tabled should be a catalyst for change. Let us show this to be a Seanad motion. It does not have to be an Independent Group motion. Let us collect around this motion and make it a Seanad motion, and let us show a strong sign of unity. That is what I urge my colleagues to do.

Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne

27th July 2011

I wish to begin by thanking the Leader and the Cathaoirleach for ensuring that this important debate is taking place before the House rises for the summer recess.

Article 19.1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse. Ireland ratified this convention in 1992 and the Holy See ratified it in 1990. The Cloyne report covers the period from 1996 to 2009. This debate must focus on the role of the church. We can discuss the role of the State on another occasion. I hope we will have an opportunity to do so when the forthcoming reports to which the Minister referred, including that relating to the 200 children who have died in the care of the State, are published. I assure colleagues that I will have plenty to say at that time on the role of the State. Today, however, I wish to focus on the Cloyne report.

The people of Ireland are hurting and they are angry. Those who were sexually abused by Catholic priests in the Diocese of Cloyne and elsewhere are hurting, as are their families, friends, partners, spouses and others who love them. There is much pain among members of the wider community. Many Catholics, including me, feel betrayed by the actions of those priests who sexually abused children and the actions or inaction of those within the hierarchy who covered up those crimes. Many priests must surely feel that pain, that hurt, that sense of being so badly betrayed.

People are angry because this is the fourth report to deal with the neglect or emotional, physical or sexual abuse of children by priests or religious in this country. There is massive anger as a result of the fact that a great deal of this abuse was perpetrated by people whose actions were covered up by others. There is also outrage because so much of the abuse of children was carried out in an environment where many adults had knowledge but where they chose to remain silent. People are incensed because so much of the abuse of children about which we have read in these reports was totally avoidable. Something has fed the anger to which I refer, namely, the responses of those who bear responsibility for causing the abuse of children, for covering up such abuse or for remaining silent while others around them engaged in abuse.

The Christian Brothers apologised for the shocking abuse of children revealed in the Ryan report when it was published. Only days beforehand, however, the Christian Brothers had written to the Residential Institutions Redress Board rejecting any allegations of systemic abuse and stating that the only form of corporal punishment allowed was moderate slapping on the palms of hands. By that time, the Christian Brothers would have known that such denials were not borne out of honesty. When survivors of industrial schools and members of the wider public learned of those denials, the apology rang rather hollow. The reluctance of religious congregations to pay their fair share of the cost of redress did not reveal an appreciation of the revulsion many people felt on reading about the degrading and disgusting treatment of children that was related in the Ryan report, nor did it demonstrate an act of remorse or recompense which many would have expected as an absolute minimum.

This was followed by the reaction of the Irish Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican to the Murphy report. Irish bishops were collectively shamed by the extent of the cover up in the Dublin Archdiocese and said it revealed a culture of cover up that existed throughout the church in Ireland but individually they said they had done nothing wrong and insisted that there was nothing in the reports that should cause any of them to have to resign despite the wishes of so many of those who had been sexually abused as children.

In early 2010 Irish bishops went to Rome to meet Pope Benedict who, in turn, sent a papal letter to Irish Catholics. The voices of survivors were ignored and no one took responsibility. Instead of acknowledging that this was a Catholic Church problem on a global scale, everything from secularism, petty gossip, homosexuality and the media were blamed and all this time the anger of the people of Ireland was rising.

Apologists will also decry the lack of attention during this debate to the failings within the State and its child protectionism practices but that is nothing more than an attempt to divert the attention away from the Catholic Church as we discuss the Cloyne report. It makes me think of when I was young and had done something wrong and was caught out by my mother and I would immediately have pointed to my brother and say,”but he did it too”. My mother, who is a wise woman, would have said “wrong is wrong and two wrongs do not make a right”. Today we should deal with the role of the church and equally on other occasions, as we have done recently when we dealt with the Fourth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, deal with the role of the State.

Two weeks ago the Cloyne report was published. It quickly became clear that the oft-repeated claim by Catholic bishops that all the revelations of the abuse of children and its cover-up by them was a thing of the past was seen for what it was, just another self-serving attempt to minimise the findings of previous reports so that bishops could remain in office and manage any loss of reputation to the Catholic Church.

The people of Ireland were rightly angered to learn in the Cloyne report that all the time the church was insisting that the application of its own child protection guidelines meant that such a cover-up could never happen again, the reality was that Bishop John Magee had no interest in those guidelines and he delegated their implementation to Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan who did not even agree with their content and, as a consequence, child protection practices in the dioceses remained dangerous for many years.

Apologists for the Catholic hierarchy, few and far between as they have become, pretend that instructions from the Vatican, like the 1997 letter from the Papal Nuncio sent to Irish bishops on behalf of the Vatican congregation of the clergy, did not contain explicit instructions not to follow civil obligations but it is clear what was intended for bishops was to follow Canon Law only and not the guidelines that they had presented to the Irish people. Wrong is wrong.

Few people in Ireland have had any time for the excuses that some choose to make to justify and explain away the blatant disregard of child welfare, their safety and protection. For many years the response of the Government has not reflected that hurt and anger that the people of Ireland have felt. This failure to properly articulate how the people felt ended last Wednesday in the Dáil when the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, responded to the publication of the Cloyne report. He said: “The rape and torture of children were down-played or managed to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its powers, its standing and reputation”. He went on to say: “There is little I or anyone else in this House can say to comfort that victim or others, however much we want to”. My understanding is that many victims or survivors are more comforted to hear the political leader of this country articulate very clearly their anger, disgust, revulsion and sadness that all of this has happened.

While our anger, disgust, pain, revulsion and sadness are all totally understandable, much more is needed. Many people who deeply care about advancing the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children had been advocating for a long time for many changes in administration, in practice, in legislation and in our Constitution where we need to strengthen the rights of children. I agree with Senator Darragh O’Brien that this rises above party politics and groupings. This is an issue on which we can find common agreement. In this regard, I acknowledge the plans outlined by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and also the plans that the Minister for Justice and Equality is taking on.

The Government, the survivors and the people of Ireland, not just Irish Catholics, await an appropriate response from the Holy See to the revelations of the Cloyne report and to reports which preceded it. What is required is an acknowledgement of their part in the long-standing cover up of the sexual abuse of children in this country by Catholic priests. That should be followed by an unconditional apology for that cover up and an unambiguous instruction to priests and the hierarchy to follow civil obligations, not just civil laws, and to always put children first.

Residential Institutions (Redress) Bill 2011 – Second Stage

19th July 2011

I thank the Minister for his presentation. I also thank Senator Jim D’Arcy for his early support of our motion tomorrow evening. This debate is extremely timely given that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is, as we speak, launching the second progress report on the recommendations arising from the Ryan report.

In considering the legislation before us, I take the opportunity to acknowledge the substantial work carried out by the redress board since its inception in 2002. However, behind all the facts and figures lies the suffering of thousands of children who were entitled to be cared for, cherished and loved at a time when they could not have been more vulnerable. Instead, as we learned from the Ryan report, physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions in which these children were detained. Sexual abuse occurred in many, particularly boys institutions. A climate of fear created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment permeated most of the institutions. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating would come from. Seeing or hearing other children being beaten was a frightening experience that stayed with many survivors for all of their lives. Children who ran away were severely beaten, often publicly, and were often humiliated in public and had their heads shaven. Prolonged, excessive beatings with implements intended to cause maximum pain occurred with the knowledge of staff and management.

In a week where the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, reminded us of her concern that a hierarchy of abuse was being drawn up by social workers today, with neglect often placed at the bottom, let us not forget what the Ryan report said about the neglect of children. Children were frequently hungry and food was inadequate, inedible and badly prepared in many schools. Survivors spoke of scavenging for food in waste bins and animal feed. Inspectors found that malnourishment was a serious problem in schools run by the nuns in the late 1940s and, although improvements were made, food was meagre and basic. Sanitary provision was primitive, hygiene facilities were poor and sanitary protection for girls in menstruation was generally inadequate. Emotional abuse was suffered and the redress board heard cases of witnesses being belittled and ridiculed. Humiliating practices of underwear inspections and displaying soiled or wet sheets were conducted throughout the industrial schools system. Private matters such as bodily functions and personal hygiene were used as opportunities for degradation and humiliation. There was constant criticism and verbal abuse and children were told they were worthless.

It is important we remember this because when we consider the work of the redress board and review the legislation, we should be mindful of the experiences of so many young children that prompted the need for it in the first place. It is unfortunate to learn from many of the organisations supporting survivors that, in some cases, their experience of the redress board caused additional distress. Many were upset when told that they could not discuss their financial awards publicly. They took this to mean they could not talk publicly about the redress and that there was blanket secrecy, which added to the whole feeling of secrecy and humiliation. Once they accepted a settlement, they believed they could not speak about their childhood experiences, which reinforced the feeling of secrecy and the point about their reputation. This hurt them badly.

As Senator Norris said, it is regrettable that the Government has repeatedly refused to allow Bethany Home – a combined detention centre, children’s home and maternity home in Dublin – to be included on the list of qualifying institutions for the residential institutions redress scheme. This deprived survivors of the opportunity to present their cases to the redress board and seek some semblance of justice and compensation for abuse suffered as children there. The passing of this legislation is a timely reminder that survivors of Bethany Home have not had justice and redress. At this late stage, I urge the Government to find a way to address the needs of Bethany Home survivors, for an inquiry into the activities there and for the survivors to be allowed to access some form of reasonable redress.

As this legislation is before the House at a time when there is public debate about the overall cost of redress and specifically by whom the cost should be met, I fully support the Minister in his efforts to ensure the taxpayer is not left to pay a disproportionate amount of the cost of redress. There are clearly others who should pay their fair share, giving the role they played in causing so much harm to so many.

Order of Business, 19 July 2011

19th July 2011

I join with the leaders of other groups in thanking the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the Leader for bringing forward motions Nos. 1 and 2. These will give life to the motion which, though put forward by the Independent group, was worked on by Senators from all sides together. It is great to see this expression of our joint work. I hope we can reap the riches of this in the months ahead and demonstrate the importance of this House.

I ask the Leader to allow time for the House to inform and guide policy and legislation to underpin the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children. In the past week we had the Cloyne report, which was debated during the Order of Business last week. We have had much debate on this matter over the last few days. I send a strong message to all adults that there is only one State authority. If one has reasonable grounds for concern about the abuse of a child one should report it to the HSE or the Garda. That is the only answer.

Yesterday, we saw the conviction of Mr. Michael Ferry, from Donegal. He had been convicted but yet was allowed to continue to work in a school in Derrybeg, Donegal despite that conviction. This resonated with me because I went to summer school in Derrybeg, Donegal.

Later today, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will lay before the Oireachtas the second progress report on the Ryan report, which is something to which the House should give consideration. This report contains 99 actions. It could greatly improve outcomes for children. I note that the Minister, despite previous resistance, decided a few months ago that the oversight group should be more than just a public service group and invited a non-governmental organisation, the Children’s Rights Alliance, to be part of the group. I welcome her decision and I look forward to seeing the report.

It is natural that we Senators should express our hurt, anger or shock at the recent reports, but the House has a stronger role to play. We need to remember that children are being abused in Ireland today. This is not about the past. It is about the here and now. On Friday, the Minister published Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children, and will bring forward legislation. The House could help inform that legislation. We should have a debate on what needs to be done. There is fear among the public about statutory reporting. We should also talk about mandatory protection to ensure that State agencies co-operate and share information.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on what the Seanad can do to underpin the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children in Ireland today.