‘Imagine someone clicked their fingers and you had no family or history, that’s the reality for thousands of us’

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Adopted people have called for long-awaited tracing and information legislation to be published as a matter of urgency.

A NUMBER OF mother and baby home survivors and their relatives have called on the government to urgently publish its long-awaited tracing and information legislation.

Under current legislation, adopted people are not entitled to their birth certificate or to information about their families of origin.

The Heads of a new Bill are expected to be published later this month as part of the government’s response to the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

The legislation was due to be published at the end of March but has been delayed as officials at the Department of Children work with the Attorney General to solve a number of legal issues.

The ongoing impact of the current legislation, as well as how people were treated in the institutions, are documented by survivors and their relatives in emails they sent to Taoiseach Micheál Martin in recent months.

The documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín, who said the letters “paint a heartbreaking picture of State-treatment of survivors of abuse”.

The Meath West TD has called on the Taoiseach and Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman to set up a meeting with the survivors and inform them of when the legislation will be published.

“I don’t think the government understand the urgency here – for many of these survivors they’ve spent decades searching for their mothers or children. The clock is ticking loudly, and poignantly,” Tóibín said.

There are survivors who contacted my office during the course of recent discussions, and I’m aware that some of those we spoke to are now dead.

“Any further delay in terms of legislation would represent a further insult and abuse to the survivors of these institutions.”

Tóibín said the content of the emails sent to the Taoiseach is “truly unsettling” and that these people’s voices deserve to be heard.

“The issues raised are all the same – many survivors have struggled to get their hands on the report.

“Many are wondering about their birth parents or their records, and many more are sharing their experiences of growing up in an Ireland where they felt unwanted and unloved.

“There is a deep level of hurt here, that most of us will never understand,” he said.

Some survivors have not yet received a copy of the Commission’s final report which is almost 3,000 pages long. The printing and delivery of the final report to survivors is ongoing.

Personal case studies

One adopted person wrote: “I am a survivor of one of the institutions in which so many babies were forcibly removed from their mothers. Fortunately, I was adopted into a caring and loving family, unlike so many others.

“Taoiseach, you are just looking at a screen reading this, but let me tell you, I am a real person. All throughout my life I have been a lesser person, because of the circumstances surrounding my birth. I am still today a non-entity, somebody less than everybody else.

“I am writing this with tears streaming down my face and have had to start and stop so many times just to get to this point.

Can you imagine, Taoiseach, if someone clicked their fingers and you, yes you, had no name, no mother, no father, no history, no relations, no memories, no background, but somebody had it in their gift to fill in at least some of these blanks. There are thousands of us today like that – but at least I am here to write this, unlike so many others.

Another person wrote that their “mother’s only sin was to be born in a mother and baby home”.

“She spent her life in and out of hospital, unable to cope with being less. I want justice for my mother who, as a child, could hear her screaming for her mother. The memory haunts me to this day.

“Taoiseach, my mother cannot hear your apology nor can the others who have passed. I cannot express in words the damage that was done to her and I will never forgive. I want her records. I want to try to heal and to try to understand why she, on her deathbed, cried out for her mother.”

‘I lost my job, I lost friends’ 

A woman who gave birth in an institution in the early 1970s wrote: “The conditions may have improved considerably by this time, however, the pain endured was comparable.

“We also carried the lack of control, the shame and guilt, the fear of having our babies taken from us and the terrible, terrible sense of loneliness. We also need to be acknowledged. We also need to have our stories told.”

Another woman wrote: “My boyfriend wanted me to ‘get the boat’ and sort it out. He offered to pay for my ‘trip’. I did not get the boat”

Attitudes were very different at the time. I lost the job I had. I lost a lot of friends. There were no congratulations, no gifts, no big christening – these aren’t the important things but they hurt me all the same.

“Being left out of things, ignored, looked down on, being made feel ashamed and embarrassed about the most precious thing in the world to me – my son”.

Another person told the Taoiseach that survivors “need access to the report in physical form for various reasons including age and access to a computer”.

“This should have been considered before this, as victims now have to listen to all manner of commentators discussing our experiences without us having access to the report.”

Legislation and redress

Speaking to The Journal recently, Minister O’Gorman said the government’s “ambitious” action plan in response to the Commission’s final report will deal with a wide range of issues.

“Some of those things can be acted on quite quickly, others will take time,” he told us. 

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O’Gorman said the heads of the Bill on tracing and information are due to be ready soon.

“For a major piece of legislation, that is the system moving far quicker than it ever does and the Attorney General is giving us great support there.

“And we’re looking to get the redress elements done as quickly as possible as well, but also learning from the mistakes that were made in previous redress schemes. As regards the industrial schools and even with regards to the Magdalene Laundries, there were a lot of criticisms there.

“So I’m very conscious of the State having failed survivors in the past, and certainly my focus is to try and get these different resolutions implemented as quickly as possible, particularly because of the age group of many survivors, they need these solutions as quickly as possible.”

When asked about redress, a spokesperson said the Department of Children “fully appreciates and understands the urgency surrounding the establishment of a Restorative Recognition Scheme”.

“As the work of the Interdepartmental Group is currently ongoing, the specific details of the Restorative Recognition Scheme have not yet been decided.

“When this work is complete and Government has decided what format the Scheme should take, every effort will be made to advance its establishment as quickly as possible.”

File photo of a woman holding a baby

File photo of a woman holding a baby

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