Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary
The doors of these Homes of shame are closed forever. The anguish of craving the comfort of a listening ear is gone. The call to have their voices heard has been answered. The hurt and injustice has been recognised - Deputy Lowry
Deputy Michael Lowry addressed the Dail this week following the publication of the Report that lays bare the horrendous details of Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland.
In his Statement, the Tipperary Deputy said:
"This is a day that will be recorded in the history of country. We lay bare a chapter that is already soaked in the tears of many of our citizens. Today is a day that we publicly acknowledge the shame and suffering inflicted on countless women and their children. Today we take our first steps with them on the long path towards healing. Today should have come a long time ago.
"Last October, I voted for legislation that preserved and protected the Database and transferred it to the control of the Minister. It also enabled publication. Without publication, this day would still be a distant hope for many people. We had no right to deny them their truth.
"I welcome the fact that the Government is committed to passing legislation to give easy access to information and tracing records. I welcome the commitment to establish a redress scheme. I firmly believe that all Religious Orders should also join the State and Church in a public apology.
Tipperary Independent Deputy Michael Lowry
"The report has confirmed to us what many people knew. Inside its pages there are written accounts of what these mothers and children suffered.
"It is distressing and difficult to read this catalogue of neglect. A written account creates a mental image for those who read it. It can tell us the truth about what happened during this shameful era. It can give us a glimpse into the tormented minds of those who suffered. We fervently hope it can help to heal the broken hearts of those who still carry the pain.
"The Ireland of the Mother and Baby Home era was a different place to the Ireland of today. These were the times when men ruled and the role of a woman was to cater for their needs. This applied across the class divide. Disgrace and shame knew no class.
"The Church ruled Ireland with an iron fist. A devoutly Catholic people lived by its teachings. To go against those teachings, particularly by becoming pregnant outside of wedlock, was the ultimate shame. Innocence, naivety, incest, abuse and rape were the cause of many of these girls becoming pregnant. The finger of blame did not point towards the man, but the fist of the Church slammed the woman.
"Even in homes where a daughter was loved and a family tried to protect her, the Church stepped in and insisted she be taken from her family. More commonly, rather than face the disgrace, families took their daughter to be looked after by the nuns until after the baby was born. Looking after a sick relative in England was a typical excuse for a girl suddenly vanishing.
"We can never fully understand what it was really like. The anguish of the family, many of whom had no idea that, in hiding their shame, they were walking their traumatised daughters into the hands of people who would leave them with a lifetime of sadness and emptiness. Church run institutions, funded by the Irish State, would inflict months, years and, indeed, lifetimes of tragedy on these young girls.
"One can only imagine the terrifying confusion these young women felt. To wake up in a place where you were scorned upon. Referred to as a fallen woman – a sinner. Such was their innocence that many did not even understand how they became pregnant. The thought of childbirth was a mysterious terror. They weren’t allowed to mix with each other. Friendships were forbidden by the nuns, although shared suffering drew the girls together. At night, as these frightened girls lay in bed, the screams rang out along the corridor as one of them went through childbirth without a hint of mercy or even a kindly word.
"Yet those were not the screams that haunted these girls for the rest of their lives. It was the almost unnatural heart-rending cries of a mother who discovered that her baby was gone. Gone without any warning. Gone without a mother’s kiss goodbye.
"One of these Mother and Baby Homes was located in my constituency in Tipperary. From the day it opened in 1930, approximately 6,000 girls and women passed through the doors of Sean Ross, in Roscrea. In its opening year, 60 of the 120 babies born there died. Approximately 800 mothers and babies died between 1930 and 1950. The report highlights a glaring absence of official records.
"I visited Sean Ross after it was closed. I instinctively made a sign of the Cross. It is a formidable building. It struck me that the building wore its sadness on its sleeve. Cold, eerie, soulless. Its walls hold hidden stories of appalling mental abuse and neglect. As you meander through the building you can sense the pain, the grief, the sorrow of innocent victims. You are enveloped by the stark truth of a system that condemned women to be enslaved in a nightmare.
"Thankfully the present generation of politicians have faced up to the sins of the past and are prepared to acknowledge in a meaningful way the suffering endured by so many. Much work remains to be done to meet the justified expectations of those grievously wronged.
"The doors of these Homes of shame are closed forever. The anguish of craving the comfort of a listening ear is gone. The call to have their voices heard has been answered. The hurt and injustice has been recognised. We look to a future of hope and healing.