Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, County Tipperary
Tipperary County Council has supported a call to introduce a national day of recognition for the survivors and victims of mother and baby homes.
At a heart-wrenching special meeting of the local authority on Monday, a motion, tabled by Cllr Pat English and seconded by Cllr David Dunne, also stated that the survivors should have the right to information about their birth mothers and their full identities.
Cllr English called on the Government to establish a proper redress scheme for survivors and victims, and to immediately provide counselling and other mental health services for survivors.
The Clonmel councillor also called on the Government to support where possible the excavation and identification of remains of babies buried at institutions and to ensure their dignified reburial.
In addition, the motion acknowledged the historical role that county, borough and town councils from Tipperary played in the running of mother and baby institutions.
The meeting heard from survivors of Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, a mother and baby home that opened in 1931 and closed in 1969.
During that time, 6,414 women were admitted and 6,079 children were born or admitted there.
It was owned and run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
‘REPORT OF FICTION’
An emotional Teresa Collins, who was born at Sean Ross in 1963, described the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes as “fiction”.
“We are survivors who went through hell and back and no one has been held accountable for it,” said Teresa, who is a member of the We Are Still Here group.
She requested that the council help locate all the files and maps relating to Sean Ross and called for support for a scan dig of Sean Ross.
“There are 1,090 children out there in Sean Ross unmarked,” she said.
“We are still trying to get the testimonies to find out who we are and trying to get our birth certs. Live a day in our shoes trying to prove who you are and you’ll know you’re not living the right life,” Ms Collins added.
Breeda Murphy of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance said one in four people are affected by mother and baby homes.
“Many of us don’t find out about this story until loved ones pass away,” she said.
Ms Murphy said survivors need the support of the local authority, for example, to improve their homes.
“They are entitled to live their latter years in some sort of comfort,” she said.
“We deserve to raise up all of the survivors,” she said, before adding: “Today is a new dawn for Tipperary County Council.”
‘WAVE OF ANGER’
The meeting also heard from Patrick McDermott, who was born in Sean Ross in 1953 before being sent to Chicago in the United States in 1957 for adoption.
“I never returned to Ireland because I never felt I’d be welcomed. That’s how deep the psychological impact of the conditioning we and our mothers were given,” Mr McDermott said.
Mr McDermott found his mother in the 90s, who didn’t want to acknowledge him, and he only made his first visit to Ireland in 2015.
He said the report has created a “new wave of anger, uncovering old traumas for victims, survivors and their families”.
Cllr Marie Murphy apologised to those affected by mother and baby homes.
“Not everyone survived and that is terribly sad,” Cllr Murphy said.
Cllr Murphy said the language in the report is “very cold and it does little to give comfort to the survivors”.
Cllr Murphy called on the council to fully implement the recommendation of the Commission that local authorities should examine their archives, with a view to identifying all material that is relevant to the issues investigated by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, and that the council should prioritise making these files available to the survivors of Sean Ross, together with their relatives and advisors.
Cllr Roger Kennedy said it’s a “travesty” if the transcripts of survivors have been destroyed.
Added to Cllr English’s motion, he called on the Government to extend the lifetime of the Commission to allow the Data Protection Commission to fully investigate the destroying of records of evidence.
He said the rates of infant mortality at Sean Ross were “absolutely shocking”.
He added: “The wrongs that were perpetrated on these vulnerable girls [who were children] were cruel, inhumane, heartless and unjustifiable.
“These wrongs were exacerbated by society and those in authority, and this was totally inexcusable.”
The Labour Party’s Cllr Fiona Bonfield called on the Government to engage with survivors and their families on points of contention.
“We must, without delay, introduce robust information and tracing legislation.
“The Government’s projected timeframe of 12 months is too long,” she added. Sinn Féin’s Cllr David Dunne said the report has left him “lost for words”.
On behalf of the Independent councillors, Cllr Micheál Lowry said it was a “shameful period of Irish history”.
He said the report shows a “catalogue of neglect”, and that now is the time “to start the process of healing”.
Cllr Richie Molloy described the accounts before the meeting as “shocking”, and said that the bond was broken between mothers and their babies.
Administrator Ger Walsh said the council will make available any archives and documents it has available to the group.
Chief executive Joe MacGrath said the accounts were “sad and deeply disturbing”.
“Each testimony by the former residents and survivors tells a very personal story, whose journey through life was met with lack of understanding, lack of empathy, and the absence of respect and dignity,” added Mr MacGrath, who said the council will assist survivors going forward.