EU dispatch: Ireland approves legislation to compensate for decades of abuses in church-run Mother and Baby Homes Dispatches
EU dispatch: Ireland approves legislation to compensate for decades of abuses in church-run Mother and Baby Homes

Law students from the European Union are reporting for JURIST on law-related events in and affecting the European Union and its member states. Ciara Dinneny is a trainee with the Law Society of Ireland. She files this dispatch from Dublin.

The Irish Government approved legislation last month that will provide for a payment scheme and access to health care services without payment for those who were residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions in Ireland. 

Mother and Baby Homes were institutions predominately run by the Catholic Church that emerged in 20th-century Ireland. These institutions were a response to societal views at the time that stigmatised having children outside of wedlock. Unwed mothers were sent to these institutions to have their children. These homes acted as an early form of shelter for mothers and their children with some homes acting as adoption agencies. However, the institutions became known for abuse and maltreatment.

In 2012, Irish historian Catherine Corless published an article entitled “The Home,” which garnered significant attention as it highlighted not only the abuses, but also the high level of infant mortality that occurred in these Homes. Corless established that between 1925 and 1961 800 children died in the Tuam Mother and Baby home without proper recognition. The article gathered international attention due to speculation that these children were buried in a mass grave near the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. 

As a result, the Irish Government in 2015 established the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters. This was a judicial commission of investigation set up to provide a full account of what happened to vulnerable women and children in Mother and Baby Homes during the period 1922 to 1998. The final report of the Commission was published in January 2021. The report found that 9,000 children died at 14 of the country’s Mother and Baby homes which were subjected to the investigation, a mortality rate far higher than the rest of the population. The report also detailed that the Homes were responsible for unethical vaccine trials, traumatic emotional abuse and forced adoptions. 

The Government hope to atone for the abuses of the past through the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme Bill 2022. The Payment Scheme under the legislation will provide for the following:

  • all mothers who spent time in a Mother and Baby Institution will be eligible for a payment, with the amount increasing based on their length of stay
  • all children who spent 6 months or more in an institution will be eligible for payment based on their length of stay
  • there will also be an additional, work-related payment for women who were residents in certain institutions for more than three months and who undertook what might be termed commercial work
  • an enhanced medical card will be available to everybody who was resident in a Mother and Baby or County Home Institution for 6 months or more

It is expected that approximately 34,000 people will qualify for a financial payment under the Scheme, with 19,000 also qualifying for the enhanced medical card. The Applicants will only be required to provide residency, they will not need to show they suffered from any form of abuse. The sum an Applicant received is dependent on the number of days they were resident of the institutions. The amounts are set out in Schedule 2 of the legislation. Temporary absence will be considered when tallying the total number of days an Applicant was a resident in certain circumstances such as when a person was hospitalised. 

If the Applicant is a child they must show that they were a resident for a minimum of 180 days to qualify for the scheme. Several individuals have spoken out criticising this element of the legislation as it fails to acknowledge childhood trauma including trauma that emanates from separation from the primary caretaker. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission have called for the abolishment of this eligibility requirement as it does not reflect Ireland’s human rights and equality obligations and therefore is not an adequate mechanism for identifying the full universe of survivors. The eligibility requirement means that only 40% of those affected by the Mother and Baby Homes will be eligible for the Scheme. Other criticisms include the lack of compensation for forced and illegal adoptions, forced labour, and unlawful vaccine trials.

The legislation is currently at the third stage before the Dáil. It will be required to pass through a further eight stages before it can be signed into law by Ireland’s President. It is expected that the scheme will be open for applications in early 2023. The Government have approved €800 million for the scheme. It has been reported that the six religious orders involved in the Mother and Baby Homes have not yet agreed to pay towards a redress scheme a year after it was announced.