Ireland asks forgiveness for victims of its “mother and baby houses”

A mother and her daughter pay tribute in the cemetery of Tuam, Ireland, to the babies who were discovered in the “house for mothers and babies”.

It is a historic moment for Ireland. A century after its independence, the Republic faces a dark past and not so distant: its society was, until the end of the XXe century, deeply Catholic and rural, but above all brutally misogynist. After five years of work, an official commission of inquiry on Tuesday, January 12, issued a huge report (3,000 pages) examining the operation of eighteen “homes for mothers and babies”, most of them managed by Catholic congregations, where tens of thousands of women about to give birth were placed between 1922 and 1998.

Rejected by their families and by the parents of the babies, the young women (sometimes still children, and for the most part from poor backgrounds) hid there pregnancies considered as shameful. They were treated harshly and children were often placed or adopted without their consent.

The infant mortality rate there was staggering. In Bessborough in County Cork (south of the country), in a house run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, three quarters of babies born in 1943 died within the year. In all, 9,000 children died in these houses, or 15% of the total of those who stayed there. And many were denied a decent burial.

What went on behind the walls of these destiny-breaking institutions was known and tolerated “Local and national authorities at the time”, specifies the report, in public access since Tuesday, after having been transmitted to the families of the victims.

Prime Minister Micheál Martin issued a solemn apology on behalf of the Irish state on Wednesday, “For the shame and the stigmata” of which these generations of women have been the object. “You were in an institution through the fault of others. You have nothing to reproach yourself with, you don’t have to be ashamed, each of you deserves so much better ”, Mr Martin added, speaking to the victims from the Dail, the lower house of the Irish Parliament in Dublin. The day before, the leader had recognized that “The whole of Irish society has shown itself to be an accomplice” and that the investigation report described a pan “Dark, difficult and ashamed of our recent history”.

“This is an Irish holocaust”

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin holds a copy of the report of the Irish Commission of Inquiry into 'Homes for Mothers and Babies' in Dublin on January 12, 2021. Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin holds a copy of the report of the Irish Commission of Inquiry into 'Homes for Mothers and Babies' in Dublin on January 12, 2021.

Already in 2013, Enda Kenny, the then Prime Minister, issued a national apology following the publication of a report denouncing the existence of another national system of oppression of women: the “Magdalene laundries “. Supposed to take in unmarried mothers, widows without income or prostitutes, they were in reality real houses of forced labor.

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