Martin spoke after the long – awaited release of a report of 3,000 pages from Commission for Mothers and Babies Homes, which investigated the conditions for 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children who went through the system in 18 state-run homes and Catholic charities from 1920 until 1998, when the last building was closed.
Unmarried mothers, often poor, desperate, and young, with nowhere else to turn, sought refuge in the last ditch in the home, or were pushed inside after being expelled from their families.
Infant mortality in institutions was for many years double the national average. About 9,000 babies died 15 percent of all those born into the system, a statistic investigators call horrific.
Most of the surviving babies were offered for adoption, often without the full consent of the mothers.
Martin said, We treated women extremely badly. We treated the children extremely badly.
The Irish leader said his society had suffered from a distorted attitude towards sexuality and intimacy, with a very striking lack of kindness.
We honored piety, but failed to show even basic kindness to those most in need, he said.
New details of what happened to the women and their babies still have the ability to shock even though testimonies, novels, movies and news reports have told about the homes for years.
The publication of the report has dominated the conversation in Ireland, even though the country faces the world’s highest rate of coronavirus infections.
The Irish Times called the findings a condemnation of Irish society in the past days, its rigid rules and conventions regarding sexual matters, its savage intolerance, its harsh judgment, its non-Christian cruelty.
The impetus for the report came from detection of baby debris at the Bon Secours Sisters home in Tuam, western Ireland. Suspected historians uncovered death certificates for nearly 800 babies at home, but found no burial records until gloomy excavations began.
While much blame has been placed on the Catholic Church and its religious orders, the report notes that some of the homes in the most miserable conditions were run by local health authorities.
Martin in his remarks to parliament highlighted extracts:
My family was treated like a second class citizen. The company had a fixation on hiding everything, a witness said.
No one will want you now, said the mother of a witness, pregnant at 14 years old.
Get rid of it! were the words of a 19-year-old father when told of her pregnancy.
Home survivors have told their stories on Irish television, too.
Terry Harrison went to London when he found out she was pregnant, to be tracked down by a priest and the nuns, who brought her back to Ireland and placed her in a home for mothers and babies.
It was 1973, and Harrison was 18 at the time.
They dehumanized and distanced us, but kept reminding us how dirty and filthy we were, she said.
Her son was placed in a closed nursery and she was allowed to see him only at meal time. And then one day her son was gone.
I fed him at 6 in the morning. This was the first meal on Saturday morning. He would have been five weeks old. I went upstairs, and his barn was empty, she said.
Harrison said, They threatened me with high courts. They would call my dad at his workplace. They would put me in the national newspapers and under no circumstances would I ever be allowed to pick up my son because he was happy with his mom and dad.
She said, I could not fight them, I did not have the means.
The authors of the report note that the experience of women and children in the 1920s was extremely different than in the 1990s. In the early years, Ireland was a poor country, among the poorest in Europe, and life was difficult for many, and homes for unmarried mothers were run as work homes. In later years, there was schooling, counseling, and more services.
But the report notes that for unmarried mothers, Ireland was not simply poor, but a harsh cold environment.
The investigation found that the highest number of admissions was in the 1960s and early 1970s: The percentage of Irish unmarried mothers admitted to maternity and infant homes or county homes in the twentieth century was probably the highest in the world.
The report makes for difficult reading: Many of the women suffered emotional abuse and were often subject to denigration and derogatory remarks. It seems that a little kindness was shown to them and this was especially the case when they were giving birth.
The sisters of Bon Secours, a Catholic religious order who ran the mothers and children home in Tuam, offered her deepest apologies in a statement Wednesday.
The order wrote, We were part of the system in which they suffered hardship, loneliness and terrible injuries. We acknowledge in particular that infants and children who died in the Home were buried in a disrespectful and unacceptable manner. For all this, we are very sorry.
Colm OGorman, executive director of Amnesty Ireland, said the report absolutely confirms the testimony of many survivors and victims during the years of forced labor, horrific acts of abuse and forced adoptions.
Adoption without freedom of consent is not consensual adoption. “I do not know how else it can be described,” he told the Washington Post.
These should have been the safest places for the children to be born; instead, they were the most dangerous places, he said.
OGorman said that while the church had apologized, we still had not seen the church fully accept the degree to which it created and implemented culture, rather than saying it was merely part of a culture.
He said it was a mistake to focus on the role of society, as opposed to the role of the Catholic Church and the state. As if somehow people were free to oppose that dogma and the norms of the time. The reality is that until relatively recently, Ireland was actually a theocracy.
In Ireland, the once dominant Catholic Church shared power with the government, overseeing daily life, running schools, hospitals, nursing homes, social welfare and poverty programs. But in recent years, the Irish have consistently rejected directives from the church, overturning constitutional bans against divorce, birth control, same-sex marriage and abortion.
If the church is to be completely honest, it must acknowledge that it was not merely somehow an equal partner in all of this, OGorman said, but rather it led and dominated a culture that stigmatized women, that violated the rights of women and children. , which brutalized the people in this country and hundreds of thousands of women in particular.
The Irish Prime Minister vowed to act in accordance with all the recommendations of the report, including a recovery justice program, and to carry out the legislative change necessary to at least begin the healing of the wounds he endured.
Amanda Ferguson in Belfast contributed to this report.
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