The response by survivors to the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes is certainly not what the Government must have hoped for.   Most survivors are angry and disappointed with many of the findings of the Commission, especially the interpretation of “forced” admittance into the homes and “forced” adoptions.  The Commission’s legalistic interpretation of “forced” appears to be at odds with the testimony of survivors’ lived experiences, recounted in harrowing detail in the Report, and may also be at odds with the definition of “forced” in international human rights law.

It is quite incredible that survivors’ groups were not provided with copies of the 3,000 page Report well in advance of publication but instead were invited to a webinar hours in advance of the Report being made public. What consideration was given to the likely impact of the Report on survivors, many of whom are vulnerable, and their need to absorb and process the painful contents? This is reminiscent of the publication of the Ryan Report into institutional abuse in 2009 when journalists were invited to a briefing by Judge Ryan but survivors were excluded from the event.  Words fail me.

The Government has made several commitments to survivors and we can only hope that they will be met.  A national memorial seems appropriate, though eleven years after the Ryan Report institutional survivors are still waiting for their memorial. 

Financial redress is important and hopefully will be speedily put in place, though the survivors of sexual abuse in schools are still waiting for a compensation scheme, years after the O’Keefe judgement in the European Court of Human Rights. 

The most difficult issue is perhaps that of access to records and birth certificates.  It is imperative that the existing records of the homes be placed in the National Archives.  Access to birth certificates presents a delicate ethical and legal issue between the right to privacy of one group of people versus the right to access of another group.  There is talk of a constitutional referendum but many legal experts hold the view that that will not be necessary and this issue could be addressed through legislation.  Access to information about one’s own identity is surely a fundamental right and this issue must be resolved.

The list of Inquiries is now long – Ferns, Cloyne, Dublin, Ryan, the Magdalene Laundries – and each documents the shameful collusion of Church and State in the first 80 years of this Republic to coerce, abuse and institutionalise a cohort of its citizens.  The Inquiries reveal a misogynistic, sexually perverse culture where the vulnerable could be abused with impunity.  We owe it to all that who suffered, men, women and children, to ensure that generous reparation is made and that the failings of the past must never be repeated.

Maeve Lewis, CEO, One in Four