An adoption rights activist born in one of Ireland’s notorious ‘mother and baby’ homes has described a move to seal records about the institutions for thirty years as a denial of justice.
Legislation which passed through the Dublin parliament this week means that the illegal actions of the state and religious orders in abusing pregnant women and their children could remain secret.
At some homes, mass graves were found, including one in Tuam, County Galway, where the remains of almost 800 babies were found in a septic tank.
Former residents of the homes may no longer access even the transcripts of their own testimonies to the Commission of Investigation into the abuses, or their own medical records or documents.
Noelle Brown, 54, said that the legislation which has passed both houses of parliament was a “shameful” way to treat those born in the homes and the women who were held in them.
“Thirty years. That is so offensive. There has already been years of delays, and now the records will be sealed away,” she said.
“It seems to be delay, deny until we die. What is the point of sealing records for 30 years? It means no justice will be done, and people like me will probably be gone. Everyone will die, and that will be it.”
The legislation passed narrowly through parliament with the support of the three coalition parties, controversially including the self-styled ‘progressive’ Green Party.
The Data Protection Commission said the government has contravened both European and Irish law by passing the legislation.
Green Party Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman drew particular criticism after he refused to accept amendments which would have allowed former residents of the home to access their records. TDs said they had received thousands of emails and letters from survivors regarding the fast-tracking through the parliament of the Bill.
Left-wing TD Richard Boyd Barrett of Solidarity-People before Profit -- who is himself adopted from a mother and baby homes and describes himself as “one of the lucky ones who escaped” -- spoke powerfully about what he believes is a cover-up.
He said he has been left “dumbfounded” by the response from the government, particularly the move to force government TDs to support the legislation.
He added: “I think this stinks, this actually stinks because, if it didn’t, why would you impose the whip? Why would you not just say ‘you can have a free vote on this, it’s a matter of conscience’?
“The people who have been most abused by the state are concerned about what you are doing, and don’t want you to do what you are doing and you are going to ram through a Bill, despite those appeals and impose a whip.
“Why would you do that? There’s more to it than you are saying and your explanation doesn’t add up.”
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said families were being blocked from accessing information about disappeared family members or babies buried in unmarked graves.
“It also means all the information that shows how abusive the system was will be withheld from the very people who are entitled to the truth. The role of the state and government should be to remove the veil of secrecy surrounding the mother and baby homes, not to reinforce it.”
Ms McDonald said the scandal “casts a long and dark shadow” over the state’s history.
“For decades these homes were shrouded in secrecy, and the awful abuse of single mothers and forced separation of families and the horrors of what happened in places like Tuam is still hard to comprehend,” she told the Dail. “Those who survived these institutions, those who didn’t survive and their families are entitled to justice and entitled to truth.”
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said it was a sad reality that in thirty years’ time many of the former residents’ survivors would be dead.
“We’ve all heard the stories of people who have spent years trying to find their birth mother. People currently involved in the tracing or searching process are acutely aware that as the clock ticks their chances of reunion are fading.”
He said people would be prevented from tracing their birth mothers and deprive them of their own personal records and family history, “the thing they want most, and the answers they are so desperately looking for”.