Dáil Eireann at the Convention Centre.
“This is my second time to take part in this debate. My anger has increased, as has my sense of despondency. Once again, I will take courage in my hand, with my privileged position and decent salary, and speak up. If the Minister wants to put the survivors – I hate that word, but I will use it because they have used it themselves – to the fore, he might explain how there was a leak. He has had time to investigate.
He might explain why the survivors have not got copies of the full report yet. He might explain why Deputies did not have copies of the executive summary last week when they spoke in the Dáil. Does he think he could do that? These explanations were not included in his speech.
He might confirm that those who had the courage to go before the commission and the confidential committee will be given copies of their full testimonies. Could he do that? It would be a start. He might publish the report of the collaborative forum, which he mentioned in his speech. God help us, but he also mentioned that he would set up a new interdepartmental committee. Lord protect us from interdepartmental committees. He will also engage with the collaborative forum. Its recommendations were published in April 2019 but not its report.
Perhaps he might balance the power between an interdepartmental committee with no representation by a collaborative forum or survivors and the collaborative forum and the people on the ground. He might confirm that he will make full copies of the commission’s report available to all of us who want them, beginning with the survivors. He might explain how half of the €23 million that was allocated was used last October, although not to print a single copy. He might say that the Government made a mistake in having a webinar without giving out the report in the first place.
Enough on that for the moment and I will now turn to the report. The report refers to all of society. For a change, I will quote a philosopher rather than a poet. When one attributes blame in that manner, one has no responsibility. I touched on this point last week. I will cite Dr. Hannah Arendt, who was speaking in a different context but whose words are equally applicable to this report. According to her, the person who says that we are all guilty, as was the case in Germany, is unknowingly covering up for the ones who did it.
That is why we should not generalise guilt because doing so would be to cover up for the guilty. I do not believe that this finding has been laid out in the report unknowingly. I will bow down to anyone who has read its 3,000 pages – it is not possible. I have spent hours spending 500 to 600 pages. I have read the whole executive summary and what I was given by the Department.
I have read the chapter on Tuam, the statistical analysis of Tuam, the chapter on discrimination and the chapter on vaccines, to which I hope I will have time to return. I glanced at a few other chapters. All of this has taken hours and hours.
The Minister gave his speech, some of which I welcome in terms of the specifics for urgent legislation and access to records, including birth certificates, which is a basic human right. We did not need a report to tell us that, but I welcome it anyway.
However, when the Minister follows other recommendations without even listening to the people on the ground who have not had a chance to read the report, then he is doing exactly what was done to these mothers and children before, in that he is patronising them and carrying on a patriarchal mode.
Let us halt that for a minute and do what the Government should do, that is, legislate and provide access to records. It should set up an archive and so on, but bear in mind that the National Archives have been under-resourced for years. Is the Minister now making a distinction between the 18 institutions in question and the other institutions where mothers and babies were kept?
The report tells us that it is unrepresentative because it has only taken a sample. That is good. This point should have guided the conclusions, but the commission seems not to have followed it. As such, we have an unrepresentative sample and the report makes strong conclusions that are at odds with witness testimony.
The report then adds insult to injury on page 12, which shows a beautiful picture in autumnal colours, but all colour disappears quickly when one reads the witness testimony. That testimony jumps off the page – sexual abuse, rape, babies taken and an absence of any sense of understanding of the bond between mother and child.
This testimony should be preserved and acted upon, but the conclusions were that there was no evidence of forced adoption – I could not possibly accept this – and no evidence of pressure to put people into mother and baby homes.
[Fianna Fáil] Deputy Jim O’Callaghan reinforced the myth that society was responsible. It was not society, but the powerful in society, led by the church. I am not here to scapegoat nuns because the nuns reported to the bishop, who reported to the archbishop, who reported to Rome. What did our Governments do? They bowed down in deference. The Minister mentioned what our local authorities did. The county managers played a powerful role.
All of this has been set out in the report, but we are then told that the evidence from some of those who came forward – only residents, mind you – is “contaminated”. Sin an bhfocal – “truaillithe”. Imagine telling people who had the courage to come forward that some gave evidence that was contaminated. How many is “some”? In what way was their evidence contaminated?
Equally, was the same measuring stick used for the professionals that came before the commission? I refer to the doctors, priests, nuns, social workers and the witnesses from the county councils? The reason it was contaminated was because the former residents spoke to each other. Presumably, the nuns and the county managers did also, but their evidence was not contaminated.
I am not sure if the Minister read it. I am openly telling him that I have not read the report’s 3,000 pages. Our former President [Mary McAleese] tells us that she read it, and as a result of reading it she tells us it is scholarly and profound.
With the greatest of respect, I fundamentally disagree that this is scholarly and profound. If somebody has read 3,000 pages then he or she must have had the report before the Minister published it.
We will again look at the conclusions. There is a conclusion regarding vaccine trials. [Fine Gael] Deputy Naughten went through this forensically today. I have read that chapter. There is a paragraph in the summary that tells us that the trials did not comply with the regulations or the law at the time but, magically, there were no ill effects.
If one reads the chapter on the vaccine trials, one sees children getting sick with diarrhoea, convulsions and so on, not to mention the 10,000 deaths at a minimum, yet this commission of three people tell us there were no side effects.
They do not even pose a question on whether there could have been side effects or if more money changed hands. It was pointed out that it went to the doctors. Did more money change hands? What about the other trials? We only looked at seven institutions. Were there trials in other institutions? Does the Minister think the commissioners might have raised a question in regard to that?
Will the Minister indicate whether any of the three commissioners sat and listened to the 500 or so residents who came before the confidential committee? I know there was a tiny overlap of fewer than 100 between some residents who went to both. Did the commissioners sit in? This reminds me of paint-by-numbers pictures. Does the Minister remember that? One was allowed a little discretion in what colour one put into the number, but the picture was predetermined.
The picture was predetermined here because on page 2 the commissioners tell us that it might disappoint somebody that they are going against the prevailing narrative. That is to add insult on top of injury because they confirm the prevailing narrative of the powerful, which is that all of society was to blame.
They add insult to injury by even twisting language. The Minister has a golden opportunity to lead and to bring about transformative action and language. I will back him every step of the way, but he has got to lead. He must break away from the four and a half pages that he delivered here today, which is more of the same.”