No Home in Sight: New Bill Proposes to Seal Mother and Baby Home Commission Archive For 30 Years

Current Affairs Editor Alana Daly Mulligan examines the contemptuous issue of the potential 30-year sealing and partial TUSLA handover of the Mother & Baby Homes Commission of Investigation Findings. 

When the word “home” is involved, our country is notorious for not getting it right, and perhaps we’ve never got it so wrong as with the institutional terrorism in the Mother and Baby Homes scattered throughout the country. Mother and Baby Homes were places where women who had children outside of wedlock were put by their families, friends and communities to pay for what was then seen as a sin. Girls and young women from the ages of 13 to 30 were incarcerated in these homes until the doors finally closed in 1998. Internationally, the Mother and Baby Homes gained widespread criticism as an abuse of human rights and are part of a tapestry of the church and state’s degradation of women. 

Following the widespread media attention of historian Catherine Coreless’s theory in 2014 of an estimated 796 burials of children in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway, the Irish Government were pushed to launch a national inquiry into the Mother and Baby Homes. 14 mother and baby homes and 4 county houses were chosen to be investigated. Bessborough House in Blackrock, Co. Cork is of note with over 900 infant deaths recorded. Children in some of the homes were recorded to have been used in vaccine trials, including 25 children from Bessborough

After five years of inquiry, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation has its findings, compiled in over 4,000 pages of testimony from witnesses and social history. But there’s a catch. The Commissions of Investigations Act 2004 requires that the records be sealed for a period of 30 years pending their transfer to the National Archives. Along with this, A bill is currently rushing its way through the Houses of the Oireachtas where the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Roderic O’Gorman is proposing the transferral of some of the findings of the Commission to TUSLA, Ireland’s Child and Family Agency. Justice for Magdalenes Research and Adoption Rights Alliance have highlighted that TUSLA is the incorrect body to transfer these records to for a number of reasons, including their practices surrounding providing information to adoptees on their own birth certificates and files. There is no statutory right in Irish law that allows access to this information. 

Following the Seanad debate on Friday 16th October, what is being suggested by survivors, activists, academics, and allies in the Oireachtas are amendments to this bill. These amendments will take the privacy of survivors into account, allowing them access to their own records that otherwise may be blocked by TUSLA or by The Commission of Investigations Act 2004, as well as the establishment of a dedicated “site of conscience” at the former Seán McDermott Street Laundry

The next discussion of the bill is on Wednesday 21st October when the amendments will be debated in Dáil Éireann. The speed at which this bill is passing through the Houses of the Oireachtas without adequate public consultation and the due respect to survivors and their families is quite simply, unforgivable. The overwhelming public outcry over this has led to a filtering of emails for public representatives, with many activists urging people to pick up the phones and call their representatives. What the outcome of the debate on Wednesday will be? It’s not certain. However, given our government’s past history with matters like these, as well as the current railroading of this bill, I’m not particularly hopeful. But for the sake of the mothers and babies in unknown plots of ground around this country, and those stretched across the sea living different lives unbeknownst to one another, I really hope the government gets this one right. 

How You Can Help:

Cover Photograph: Niall Carson/PA