Survivors devastated by compensation redress:“Real emotional trauma not recognised”

by Rose Barrett
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Rose Barrett

Details of the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme were finally published last week, with €800m set aside for compensation to mothers who gave birth in the institutions and county homes, and to children who survived under the ‘care’ of these ‘homes’.

Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman TD quickly came under fire when it was revealed that adults who spent less than six months as infants at the institutions were omitted from the list of claimants.

Despite this being the biggest redress scheme in the history of the state, with 34,000 expected to receive compensation (varying from €5,000 for mothers who stayed in the institutions under three months, and up to €125,000 to those who spent more than 10 years at any one of the homes), survivor groups and individuals have lashed out at the criteria for compensation.

Read more in this weeks Dublin Gazette out in stores now

Clodagh Malone, a survivor from St Patrick’s Mother & Baby Home and a member of  Search Angel for Survivors and Beyond Adoption Ireland, stated survivors in the main were “devastated” on learning of the redress application scheme, and were upset “at the blatant split in our community.” 

Miss Malone likened the omission of 24,000 claimants from the redress scheme to the punishment of women of all ages who gave birth to children outside of marriage from the 1920s – 1990s.  

It has, she felt, split the survivors’ community, just as babies were segregated within the institutions, those of mixed race, disabilities or underlying conditions were sent to the ‘reject’ unit in St Patrick’s.

Having spent 10 weeks at St Patricks, Ms Malone was adopted, and had a happy childhood with her adoptive mother.

“The Tracing Bill, DNA tests for survivors and access to our adoption files – none of these have been delivered. For so many of us, access to our adoption files and recognition for our trauma is more important.

“The biggest trauma for any of us, mothers and babies in these institutions, was being separated from each other, and not having access to our medical records, not even to one’s birth name.

“No one’s experience is lesser or greater than the other; we are ALL survivors of deep trauma. Babies under six months in these institutions, there should be an acknowledgement for them of how they too were wronged by church and state.”

Minister O’Gorman fully agrees that financial payment cannot make up for the suffering that survivors have experienced.

“It is also not possible to provide one remedy by way of compensation to all and for all, nor is it sufficient to do so. For each survivor of these institutions, the experience has had a unique and deeply personal impact,” stated a spokesperson on behalf of the Minister who noted the payment scheme is just one element of the government’s comprehensive plan.

“It was very clear from the consultation process that survivors wanted the scheme to be kind, to do no further harm and to be accessible. The approach taken to this scheme is that it will consist of a general payment rising based on time spent in an institution.

“This approach means that those who spent the longest time in these institutions and therefore suffered most from the harsh institutional conditions will receive the highest level of payment. The alternative to a general payment approach is an individualised assessment which would place the burden on an applicant to submit detailed medical and other evidence which they may not have in order to demonstrate their eligibility. This process in and of itself may be deeply traumatic.”

 For those who were born in institutional care and left shortly afterwards, the department acknowledges that their primary focus is to have access to their birth information and records.

As such, the department has prioritised work on legislation that will deliver this information,  in the form of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill. “Passing that legislation is a priority for the Minister.”

For Tony Kelly from Tallaght, the proposed payments are “insulting.”

Mr Kelly was moved between 10 foster homes and institutions before he was six years old when he was sent to a foster home in Mayo, where he worked on a farm. At 14, he was put to work with Mayo County Council before leaving for the UK, aged 16.

Mr Kelly will not be entitled to any compensation under the redress scheme and he asks, “How did the state look after my welfare as a child? I was physically, mentally and sexually abused throughout my early life.

“I’m entitled to nothing, except the enhanced medical card. I already have a medical card. But I was shunted around from Billy to Jack, never forming an emotional bond. I never knew where I came from, was denied access to my records, pointed in the wrong direction several times by officialdom and I have five dates of birth on record – five!

“I was in my 70s when I finally found siblings on my father’s side. I have since found forensic proof that the signature on the form signing my mother’s rights away, was not, in fact, the signature of my mother.”

Mr Kelly stated he could never form a permanent relationship, nor did he have children because he spent most of his adult life trying to find his birth mother and extended family. 

For Sheila O’Byrne, shame and degradation were the tools used by the nuns and staff in the institutions. Following a disco in her late teens (1976), and trying cocktails for the first time, Sheila says she was raped by a Nigerian student.

“No money will compensate me for what I went through thereafter. The guilt that was laid at my feet and the shame spread to my family.”

Miss O’Byrne talks of so many traumas experienced in St Patrick’s, including a horrendous delivery and rape by the priest who christened her son, Anthony.

“I was left in the grounds walking around for 39 hours in labour. I was lucky, it was during a heatwave. I was butchered, my son was born via forceps delivery in a breach birth. There was no doctor called, no pain relief given; by the time he was born, I thought I was going to die.”  Within hours, she was sent to clean the nursery.

“I fed and looked after the babies in the nurseries. I wasn’t allowed to cuddle or comfort them but I used to talk to them as best I could, but I was forbidden to see my son.”

Like Tony Kelly, Ms O’ Bryne stated her trauma followed her through life, and she feared she would die giving birth to another baby. Her witness statement to the Mother and Baby Commission Investigation where she described her rape by the priest, was ‘sanitised’ within the final report.

Ms O’Byrne has protested outside the Dáil in all weathers over the years and visited the graves of children who died at St Patrick’s, Bessborough, Castlepollard, Sean Ross Abbey and Tuam. “I still travel to them all, to show respect to these forgotten little angels.”

However, Ms O’Byrne praised Minister O’Gorman and stated that he, “at least, listened to us… and believed us. He is a barrister but he showed us compassion. Deputies Billy Kelleher and Anne Rabbitte were also very supportive, and I am thankful for that.”

MAIN PHOTO – Sheila O’Byrne with author/historian Catherine Corless who unveiled the scandal at Tuam

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