When we hear the term “mass grave”, we normally associate it with countries in conflict such as Rwanda, Cambodia, Iraq or Bosnia but we now have a mass grave in Ireland, which is disturbing. As the Minister said, these revelations are a reminder of our darker past when children were far from cherished. The oft-quoted principle in our Proclamation about cherishing the children of the nation equally was not adhered to. This issue also demonstrates society’s attitude to women at the time. They were not cherished or valued. Men were involved in every pregnancy but the blame and shame, rightly or wrongly, lay with the women. The horrible expression, “fallen women” was used but we never heard about “fallen men”.
The homes were society’s way of getting rid of the problem and the religious orders were under pressure to assist in this regard. This is also an indictment of a class driven society because there was one way for the pregnancies of women of a certain class and a different way for those who came from poorer backgrounds. This issue is a further indictment of previous Governments, which did not respond to calls from organisation for investigations. I refer to the work of Dr. Deeney who was a lone voice and who faced the ire of both church and State when he called for the closure of one of the homes. However, it was closed.
I heard the Minister on the radio news at lunchtime talking about the commission of investigation. Lessons must be learned from the drawbacks of the McAleese report and the Ryan commission for the investigation to be successful. All parties need to be involved and all the documents must be released. Will the laundries be included in the commission’s terms of reference, which a number of organisations calling for, given the close association between them and the mother and baby homes?
We often ask whether we ever learn from our history and I am not sure that we do because we are creating a Magdalen laundries-industrial school scandal for the future through the direct provision system and the deplorable conditions in which some foreign national children live. Has the Minister a recorded mortality rate for infants and children in direct provision? If so, how does that compare with the national rate?
We have to learn to deal with the horrible atrocities of our past and we have had many dark moments. These not only concern industrial schools and mother and baby homes. Many atrocities happened in the North during the Troubles and I refer, in particular, to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Yesterday, President Higgins referred to remembering those conflicts ethically and to use our memories as tools for “reconciliation and not revenge”.
Above all, there is a need for sensitivity because many of the women who lived in mother and baby homes did not reveal the details of their background to their families and that has to be respected.