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Ireland’s Dark History: What Were Mother And Baby Homes?

Ireland’s Dark History: What Were Mother And Baby Homes?

Alannah Murray

The Mother and Baby Homes of Ireland are something that have been on many people’s mind over the past few days and proceeding months.

Recently there was a vote by TD’s in The Dáil to seal recording pertaining to the Mother and Baby Homes, which has left many people angry, confused and appalled at this rushed decision. 

And then this week the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was published by the government. The report lays bare the harrowing experiences of mothers and children in these homes.

Once again we have to confront Ireland’s dark history. And once again the Irish State is failing women.

If you have been following the investigation into the Mother and Baby homes scandal or if you have simply seen it been talked about on social media, here is a breakdown of everything you need to know about exactly what is going on and why people are upset.

What were the Mother and Baby homes?

The Mother and Baby homes of Ireland, or the Magdalene Laundries, were institutions run by the Catholic Church and the State all over the island of Ireland during the 20th century.

These institutions were set up for the purposes of housing and looking after ‘fallen women’. Fallen women being women who were “seduced” out of wedlock and left unmarried and pregnant, or women who worked as prostitutes. 

However, these homes were abusive and cruel institutions dressed up as safe centres for women. When the last Magdalene Laundry closed down in 1996, survivors harrowing stories of how these places really treated their women began to come to light. 

Women were stripped of their human rights and made to work in order to repent for their so-called sins. Many women and children died in the unsafe environment created in the Mother and Baby homes; their deaths covered up and hidden and their bodies placed in mass graves, one of which was discovered in Dublin in 1993, with 155 bodies. 

These Mother and Baby homes were also known to have facilitated over 1,000 illegal adoptions of children born into their care to wealthy couples in the United States. In many cases these adoptions took place without the mother’s consent.

Why are the Mother and baby homes in the news again?

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In 2015 the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation launched its investigation into 18 different Mother and Baby homes around Ireland. The investigation managed to attain around 60,000 records from these institutes. 

However, the decision was taken in October by TD’s in the Dáil to keep these records sealed for another 30 years.

The legislation has been signed into law by our president Micheal D Higgins, and while he did express his worries still signed as per his constitutionally responsibility as President of Ireland. 

The controversial, at best, legislation signed into law now means that these records will be transferred over to Tusla, the child and family agency and sealed for 30 years making them incredibly difficult for survivors of the Mother and Baby Homes to access their own files. 

Why are people upset?

Regarding the decision for these records to be sealed for another 30 years, it was felt that the decision was rushed and made without proper consideration for the survivors of these homes. 

These survivors, many of whom either born in or gave birth in these homes, feel disregarded and left helpless without access to their own records. 

The legislation that hands these digital records over to Tusla is considered to be against the interests of the survivors and has been considered an outrage, by many included those who protested against the seal outside Áras an Uachtaráin. 

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People are upset, as it seems the government has put no real emphasis or importance on this dark piece of Irelands history and have instead in an act of cowardice, swept these records under the carpet to be sealed away until 2050.

The  Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was published this week. It found that over 9,000 children died in Mother and Baby Homes during the course of the 20th Century. The report leaked in the press before survivors had a chance to read it themselves.

What happens now?

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The complicated question of what happens now is almost unanswerable, however there are a few things currently happening. 

There is a petition to ‘Appeal The Seal’ which has already gained up to over 197,000 signatures, for the decision on the seal to be rethought and considered again. 

The government claimed that there are legal issues as the records and data that was collected. Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has defend the Bill, arguing that the advice he received from the Attorney General was that access to the records was explicitly restricted by the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.

However, a source inside the Data Protection Commission told the Irish Examiner that was, in fact, incorrect.

What is important to remember is that this dark and harrowing part of Ireland’s history cannot be hidden away any longer and that the stories of the victims and survivors of these institutions must be listened to.

The survivors of the Mother and Baby homes must know that their own government stands for them and that they are not being forgotten about as they were, not so long ago.

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