EXPLAINER: The Mother and Baby Homes Commission, all you need to know with John Lynch

This week's legal column

John Lynch

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John Lynch

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John Lynch of Lynch Solicitors

Ireland’s mother and baby homes were church-run institutions where unmarried pregnant women were sent to deliver their children under a veil of secrecy, silence and shame for decades.

While the last mother and baby home shut its doors in 1998, it wasn’t until 2014 that the secrets of the Tuam mother and baby home started to be unearthed. The fearless work of Catherine Corless revealed that 796 children, most of them infants, died between 1925 and 1961 at the Tuam mother and baby home.

The “Tuam babies” controversy then prompted the Irish Government to set up an investigation into the operation of mother and baby homes, in a bid to shed light on the lives and deaths of thousands of infants.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation was officially established in 2015. Under its terms of reference, the Commission was tasked with investigating practices in Irish mother and baby homes over a 76-year period, from the foundation of the state in 1922 through to 1998.

What was the Commission asked to do?

The panel was asked to examine the living conditions in the homes as well as mortality rates; general causes of death among residents, burial arrangements and participation in vaccine trials.

They were also tasked with investigating adoption processes in the homes, including whether or not birth mothers were able to give “full, free and informed” consent for their children to be adopted.
The members of the three-person Commission are: Judge Yvonne Murphy (Chairperson), Dr William Duncan, and Professor Mary E Daly.

Originally scheduled to issue its final report by February 2018, the Commission was granted a series of extensions. In January 2021, the final report concluded that approximately 9,000 children, one in seven of those born in the 18 institutions covered by the Commission’s terms of reference, had died in them between 1922 and 1998 representing double the rate of infant mortality in the general population.

Is anything going to be done?

Following the publication of the report, the Taoiseach apologised on behalf of the State to former residents of mother and baby homes for the way they were treated over several decades.

In a statement in the Dáil, Micheál Martin said the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes highlighted a “profound failure” of empathy, understanding, and compassion over a long period. He commented that the fact that children born outside of marriage were treated as outcasts was “unforgivable”.

The Taoiseach said he wished to apologise on behalf of the State for the “profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers and their children” in mother and baby homes and county homes”. He said: “Each of you was in an institution because of the wrongs of others. Each of you is blameless, did nothing wrong, and has nothing to be ashamed of. The lack of respect for you is deeply acknowledged and deeply, regretted.”

Mr Martin said “the Irish State-funded these institutions” and had authority for directing their operation. “This authority was not exerted, and the State’s duty of care was not upheld. The State failed you, the mothers and children, in these homes”.
A new inter-departmental group led by the Department of Children is to decide on the design of a redress programme.

The Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has promised that these proposals will be brought to Government before April 30, 2021.

What are the indications?

The Commission report has proposed two separate redress schemes, one for some children born in the homes and another for some women who gave birth in the homes.

The Commission has recommended that if it is to implement this redress scheme then the relevant compatible schemes would be the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme (RIRS) (for the children) and the Magdalene Laundries scheme (for the mothers).

The former will be relevant for children who lived in mother and baby homes and suffered abuse and the latter for women who resided in the homes and had to do work for which they should have been paid.

The Residential Institution Scheme (in place for former residents of industrial schools, some orphanages, and hospitals that suffered abuse) had paid out 15,581 awards by 2018 totalling €970 million.

The administration is still in place even though the scheme is nearly complete.

Redress could be financial or in the form of enhanced services.

The Magdalene Laundry scheme was an ex-gratia scheme where women were paid certain amounts depending on how long they had been in the laundry.

Lynch Solicitors have a history of assisting clients to get the right and proper redress they deserve. We have advised clients in securing redress from these statutory schemes. If you have been affected by this scandal, you can contact a member of our team on 052-6124344 or at reception@lynchsolicitors.ie.
The material contained in this article is provided for general information purposes only.
We advise you to seek specific advice about any legal decision or course of action.