The Irish Government commissioned an inquiry into one of the darkest pages of Ireland’s history and to provide a comprehensive account of the events affecting unmarried pregnant women and their babies in institutions and homes from 1922 to 1998. The 3,000-page Report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes revealed a “cold and uncaring” picture of Ireland’s attitude towards single mothers, placed in homes and institutions where they were subjected to physical and emotional deprivation, where infant mortality was high and where women felt they had no other choice than to put their children up for adoption. The comprehensive Report – the result of five years of investigation – thus stands as a strong indictment not only of the institutions but also of society as a whole that requested them. The Taoiseach Micheál Martin the Report describes
“a dark, difficult and shameful chapter of very recent Irish history” where an “extraordinarily oppressive culture” had “treated women exceptionally badly.”
About 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children passed through the institutions’ doors, according to the Commission’s estimates. Most admissions occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Commission said there were likely a further 25,000 unmarried mothers and a larger number of children which were not investigated. Although these homes are not peculiar to Ireland, the figures recorded in the country were “the highest in the world”, the Report said. As many as 80% were aged between 18 and 29, while 11.4% (5,616 women) were underage. The investigation also revealed that some pregnancies were the result of rape; some of the women had mental health disorders, others intellectual disabilities. Many of them were indigent. Some of the women sought refuge in the homes for “privacy” and fear of their families and neighbours discovering their pregnancies. Some, for the same reason, decided to move to Britain. The fact is that the vast majority of children born in these institutions were ‘illegitimate’ and, because of this, faced discrimination for most of their lives. However, the child mortality rates came as the greatest shock to the members of the Commission, with an estimated 15% of children dying in these institutions. Institutions with different governance, agreements and financial procedures were part of the ‘system’. Some were run by local public health authorities. Others were owned and run by religious orders, such as three homes run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Bessborough, Sean Ross, Castlepollard or the Bethany Home established by an evangelical Protestant group.
The voice of the Catholic bishops. “As a Church leader today, I accept that the Church was clearly part of that culture in which people were frequently stigmatized, judged and rejected. For that, and for the long-lasting hurt and emotional distress that has resulted, I unreservedly apologise to the survivors and to all those who are personally impacted by the realities it uncovers“, reads the opening paragraphs of a statement released yesterday by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, signed by the President of Catholic bishops, Msgr. Eamon Martin. The archbishop blames above all the “the culture of isolation, secrecy and social ostracizing” which has made such a cruel system possible. “Together we must ask ‘How could this happen?’”, the Archbishop writes. His thoughts go to the courageous testimonies of the witnesses to the Commission who have helped “bring to light this dark chapter in the life of the Church and society”, calling upon everyone, according to their responsibility, to help and support these people. The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland made an appeal to further investigate all burial grounds that have not yet been discovered. In 2017, a mass grave of some 800 babies and children was found at Tuam in County Galway. “I appeal to anyone who can help to do so. All burial grounds should be identified and appropriately marked so that the deceased and their families will be recognized and never be forgotten.” “This Report will hopefully speak not just to our past but will also have lessons for today and for future generations. As Church, State and wider society we must ensure together that, in the Ireland of today, all children and their mothers feel wanted, welcomed and loved”, concluded the Archbishop.