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Council to open Tuam Mother and Baby Home files

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DIGNIFIED BURIAL NEEDED The entrance to the mass grave at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam.

Chief Executive makes commitment following apology

Anton McNulty

Mayo County Council has reassured survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home that all of its archive files will be made available for inspection.
Mayo County Council became the latest local authority to apologise for its role in the operation of mother-and-baby homes at a special meeting of the Council, which was called following the publication of the final report of the Commission of Investigation last month.
The meeting heard that Mayo County Council files relating to the mother-and-baby home in Tuam was transferred to the Western Health Board in 1970. However, Breda Murphy of the Mother and Baby Home Alliance, who addressed the meeting, said that there were still files within the council that needed to be opened in order to reveal the truth of what happened in Mayo.
“One thing I know for sure is Mayo County Council has archives. What tells the stories of mother-and-baby homes, the true story, are the administrative records. Those are minutes of meetings, and those are in your county buildings … The most revealing parts will possibly be around when the Tuam home was closing and what concerns were aired in Mayo County Council at that time.
“I would urge you to open the records … without those records we get a skewed narrative. I am pleading with the Council management to open up those files. If we don’t get access to those files we get part of the picture, and that is not good enough. If we get part of a story we don’t get the truth,” she said.

Apology
Ms Murphy’s calls for the council to make all files available were supported by Cllr Michael Kilcoyne and Cllr Donna Sheridan.
Acting Chief Executive, Peter Duggan reassured Ms Murphy that any and all files on the Tuam home in the council archives will be made available.
“I want to reassure you that it is never the intention of this council to withhold any information or archives that may be available. My understanding is the majority of them would have passed to the health boards, but any records we have are open to you or any member of your group if you wish. It was never my intention that any records would be withheld,” he said.
Almost a third of all mothers admitted to the mother-and-baby home in Tuam between 1925 and 1961 were from Co Mayo, and capitation payments were made by the Council to the Bon Secours Sisters, for the women and children sent from Mayo to the Tuam home.
Both the Acting Chief Executive Duggan and the Cathaoirleach, Cllr Richard Finn apologised for the role the authority had when it came to dealing with unmarried mothers and their babies.
Mr Duggan said it was important that Mayo County Council acknowledged its role in the running of the mother-and-baby homes and expressed his sorrow and apologised for the local authority’s role in the practices employed.
“I want to reaffirm the commitment of this local authority to assist and support those impacted and their families, and contribute to the national effort to atone for the grievous harm which was afflicted on these women and children. These tragic stories are a constant reminder to us of the need to ensure an ongoing public service culture here in Mayo which serves to prevent discrimination and to protect the human rights and dignity of all of our citizens.
“Whilst we cannot change the past, however, it is important that we learn from it and acknowledge the sad and painful truth and the personal impact and heavy burden carried by survivors and humbly acknowledge our failings,” he said.

‘Deeply distressing’
Ms Murphy welcomed the apology on behalf of survivors and in an emotional address said that the women, who had come from the same parishes as many of the councillors, had done nothing wrong, but they were sent to Tuam and their babies were ‘scattered worldwide’.
“It is deeply distressing that it takes us so long to find whatever it takes within us to apologise and reach out as a society and admit the many many failings that caused young women and children to be excluded from society. Many left Tuam and were forced to go overseas due to the power structure that was in place, and I am conscious that I am speaking here to people who are powerful people.
“I am pleading with you to do what you can and find out your history because this history touches all of us. They are our people, and we have erased them from memory. Let me tell you that when the State came into being, and more particularly in 1925, precisely due to the men who were running the country, they took away rights young women had for advancement within Irish society,” she said.

Duty of care
A number of councillors spoke of their shame in what was allowed to happen in Irish society at the time, describing what happened as a ‘dark chapter’ in Irish history.
On behalf of the two largest parties in the council, both Cllr Damien Ryan of Fianna Fáil and Cllr Jarlath Munnelly of Fine Gael, welcomed the apology and reiterated their parties’ full support to the victims in bringing about healing and closure.
The meeting was initially proposed by Westport-based councillor Christy Hyland, who said Mayo County Council had been mentioned in numerous parts of the report, and that in his opinion the council had failed in its duty of care to the mothers and children of Co Mayo.
Cllr Hyland criticised the Commission’s treatment of the survivors when they gave their evidence and proposed that the Council provide a bursary or scholarship to remember the mothers and babies of the Tuam home.
The only two female councillors on Mayo County Council, Cllr Sheridan and Cllr Annie May Reape, both spoke of the horror that the mothers and babies went through and suggested that a memorial to the victims be erected in the county.

County’s shame
The Commission report found that Mayo and Galway County Councils facilitated a longer length of stay for children in Tuam than was the case elsewhere. This was as a result of a demand by the Bon Secours Sisters that they remain at the home until they were of school-going age.
The report also refers to Mayo being an ‘exceptional county in respect of local intrigue’ connected with ‘boarded-out’ children.
The commission said the general attitude seemed to be from the point of view of the foster parent, rather than from the viewpoint of child welfare.
The report also found that some individuals believed that they had a right to a boarded-out child, to carry out work for them.
In the late 1950s, one Mayo councillor complained about the ‘gross abuse of the boarded-out children scheme in the mountainy parts of the county’. The councillor’s concerns stemmed from an assistance officer’s refusal to accept an application from a brother and sister seeking a child. The councillor in question contacted senior officials arguing that the siblings in question ‘were entitled to a boarded-out child’.