MOTHER AND BABY HOMES: HISTORY, ADOPTION, REDRESS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Mother and baby homes redress scheme

The Report issued by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation (“the report”) contains 38 chapters which details the commission’s investigation into the mother and baby homes and the county homes which operated within the state between the years 1922 and 1998. The county homes are distinguished from the mother and baby homes and are described in the report as “the successors to the workhouses established under the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act 1838”. The recommendations outlined by the Commission currently focuses on information, tracing and redress. Information and tracing focuses on the right of a person to access their adoption records to establish their family of origin. The recommendations further refer to the rights of families to information about burials of children who died in the mother and baby homes. A further report has been prepared by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon entitled “Human Rights issues at the former site of the Mother and Baby Home, Tuam” which addresses the issue of the rights of families to information about burials in more detail.  For updated information please click here

The Report, Recommendations & Redress

Insofar as redress is referred to in the report, the Commission has currently recommended that any women who entered a Mother and Baby Home after 1973 do “not have a case for financial redress”. This is in view of the fact that Section 8 of the Social Welfare Act 1973 introduced the unmarried mothers’ allowance which for the first time provided financial assistance for “unmarried mothers”. It is of note that witness testimony outlined in the report includes reference to the fact although the financial assistance was available, many “unmarried mothers” remained unaware of its existence. The Commission has drawn upon previous schemes in order to provide a comparison, mainly the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme and the Magdalene Laundries Scheme.

The commission notes that the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme applied to children under the age of 18 and as such is comparable for the purposes of establishing a redress scheme for children who were resident in both the county homes and the mother and baby homes for extended periods. The Commission also notes that mothers who were under the age of 18 when they entered the mother and baby homes may also be eligible under this arm of the redress scheme. Insofar as the mothers of the children are concerned, the Commission has drawn upon the Magdalene Laundries Scheme to provide a comparable model. The Commission notes that there is evidence that women in mother and baby homes spent “lengthy periods” in the homes and were required to carry out work without pay. It is proposed that any such women should be eligible for redress.

Adoption, Right of Access to Birth Records

The issues that arise in relation to information and tracing relates to persons who wish to access their adoption records in order to establish their family of origin. The commission notes that “adopted people do not have a right to access their original birth certificate nor do they have the right to access information on their families of origin”. The Commission has also recommended that such a right of access should exist in light of the fact that a “persons right to his or her identity is an important human right and should only be denied in very exceptional circumstances”. The Commission also notes that a mechanism should be put in place to “allow a birth mother to argue that her privacy rights are being eroded”. In this regard, the commission has referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in IO’T v B and the Rotunda Girls Aid Society and MH versus Rev GD and the Rotunda Girls Aid Society which the report outlines held that that a person’s unenumerated constitutional right to know the identity of his/her birth mother………had to be balanced against the birth mother’s right to privacy. It stated that neither set of rights was absolute.” A right of access to birth records has been recently debated in Dáil Éireann with a view of discussing the possibility of legislating for a right of access which complies with the General Data Protection Regulation 2016.

History and Context: Adoption and the Mother and Baby Homes

The Commission’s terms of reference when examining the issue of adoption in the mother and baby homes and the county homes focused on the extent to which a child’s welfare and protection was considered when placing a child in Ireland or abroad. The Commission was further tasked with examining the extent of participation in relation to any decision to place a child in Ireland or abroad. The Commission also examined the issue of a mother’s consent and whether any such consent was “full, free and informed”. Adoption in Ireland was legalised in 1953 following the commencement of the Adoption Act 1952 which was commenced on 1st January 1953. The Commission has outlined that adoption was a significant “exit pathway” for children in the mother and baby homes and as such the Commission looked at both the informal arrangements that took place prior to enactment of the Adoption Act 1952 and the legal adoptions which took place following the enactment of the Adoption Act 1952.  The Commission also notes that children were placed into Industrial schools during this period. The Adoption Act 1952 has since been repealed and replaced by the Adoption Act 2010.

Prior to the introduction of legal adoption in Ireland, the report notes that families took responsibility for the children by way of an informal arrangement. The informal arrangements did not confer any legal rights upon the families. As such the commission outlines that following the introduction of legal adoption in Ireland, “a number of the first adoption orders were made in respect of children who had been informally adopted”. The Commission’s report includes an outline of numerous “agreements” which were put in place between a mother and the various mother and baby homes prior to the introduction of legalised adoption in Ireland. These informal “agreements” which although vary in the language that is used all relate to the informal placement of a child with foster families either temporarily or permanently. The following is a form of consent that was used in Bethany Home. The consent form reads as follows:

“I, […] of […] in the county […] being the mother to the infant […] do hereby surrender the said infant to Mrs […] of […], and do renounce absolutely and forever all rights of whatever kind over the said infant and I understand that I shall make no claim upon the body or effects of the said infant at any time hereafter. Signed this [date] nineteen hundred and forty nine by me […] in the presence of the Reverend […]

signature:

witness […], Clerk, The Rectory”

The commission notes that the above consent was obtained shortly before the child was placed with a family. The commission then describes the scene whereby a child was placed into the care of a family. The report states that the “preselected couple would…..come to the home and take the child, while the mother took her leave. A blind was drawn between the parties, with minimum exchange of information”. Following the introduction of legalised adoption in Ireland on 1st January 1953, the commission notes that the vast majority of children were adopted.  

The report outlines testimony from witnesses who describe “parental pressures” to consent to the adoption of their child. The report further outlines testimony from witnesses who stated that they had no choice but to consent and were ‘forced’ to place their child into adoption by “parents, adoption societies, mother and baby home staff, social workers or priests”.

The above matters which are discussed in more detail in the report as published by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation which can be accessed by visiting www.gov.ie . Should you wish to discuss any of the above matters, please get in touch by contacting us at (01) 833 8147 or alternatively you can email us at info@collierlaw.ie. Telephone, Video Call and Skype consultations are available by appointment.