The horrors of some of Ireland’s church-run Mother and Baby Homes have been outlined in a government report published this week, finding that 9000 children who were born or lived in such facilities over eight decades, died.
More than 56,000 mothers and girls were sent to the 18 homes analyzed, mostly run by nuns and members of the Catholic Church. They were forced to give babies up for adoption — with at least two babies adopted in Australia — and shown, as the report says, “little kindness”, particularly as they were giving birth. Anonymous accounts in the report said women were “verbally insulted, degraded and even slapped” during childbirth.
The much anticipated five year commission of investigation delivered the almost 3000 page report, highlighting how the network of homes for unmarried mothers and their children inflicted shame and abuse on victims. It details the misogyny, stigma, deprivation and emotional abuse women suffered, alongside the horrendously high infant mortality rate.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheál Martin will issue a full apology to the victims of these homes. He told reporters that Ireland “treated women exceptionally badly” and that “all of society was complicit in it.”
The Irish Government has noted the “appalling level of infant mortality”, with one in seven of the 57,000 babies and children in these homes dying. It also noted the country’s “stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture.”
“We had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy and young mothers and their sons and daughters were forced to pay a terrible price for that dysfunction,” Martin said.
“As a society we embraced judgementalism, moral certainty, a perverse religious morality and control which was so damaging.”
“What was very striking was the absences of basic kindness.”
Most of the admissions to these homes occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, with the report finding that: “In the years before 1960 mother-and-baby homes did not save the lives of ‘illegitimate’ children; in fact they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival.”
In 2014, the grounds of one former home made international headlines when a substantial amount of human remains were found. According to one local historian, 796 children were buried in the Tuam mother and baby home, described back in 2017 as a “chamber of horrors”. These findings led to the independent Mother and Baby Homes Commission, which then led on this report.
These homes received state funding and in some cases acted as adoption agencies, with children adopted as far as Australia. More than 1400 children were adopted to the United States, 146 to Great Britain and 39 to Northern Ireland. Two children were adopted to Australia, as well as two each to Egypt, Italy and Venezuela.
The report found that while women were not forced into these homes, they often had no other choice — having been shunned by their own families. The last of these homes closed in 1998.
The report includes 53 recommendations, including memorialisation and compensation for those impacted.