‘I feel defeated’ – families and survivors react to mother and baby homes report

Survivors and their families have reacted with shock and dismay at the report into Ireland’s mother and baby homes.

The Commission of Investigation into Ireland’s mother and baby homes, where unmarried mothers and pregnant women were sent from the 1920s right up until the 1990s, has revealed a shocking infant mortality rate of 15%.

After years of delays the report was finally published on Tuesday, but those most affected appear frustrated and let down.

Annette McKay, 66, is a Manchester woman whose mother, Maggie O’Connor from Co Galway, was sent to the mother and baby home in Tuam when she was 17.

She believes her older sister could be among the 800 babies and infants thought to be at the home, which was run by the Bon Secours, a Roman Catholic religious order.

Annette McKay
Annette McKay

For years she has lived with the hope that her sister’s remains could be exhumed and identified – until now.

She told the PA news agency: “I’m very sad. I was never optimistic. I was always full energy, that a fight could be won, and now I don’t feel that. I feel defeated.”

She added: “It’s very, very hard today to look at a picture of my mother and think ‘another year mum, and we’re no further on.’ It’s been a tough day.”

While the report talks about a process of “respectful reburial”, it won’t begin until 2022, and falls far short of what people like Annette were previously promised.

A man adopted from the St Patrick’s Mother and Baby home has criticised the report’s failure to condemn “forced adoption”.

Survivors groups have campaigned for recognition of the alleged forced adoption that took place at the homes, where children were forcibly taken from their mothers, and often sold, to adoptive parents.

The Commission said it found “very little evidence that children were forcibly taken from their mothers”.

It continued: “It accepts that the mothers did not have much choice but that is not the same as ‘forced’ adoption.”

This is despite the fact that the same report contains witness testimony from women who explicitly state they had not consented to their child being adopted.

Niall Boylan, who was born in the St Patrick’s home on the Navan road in Dublin, has criticised the report’s failure to deal with forced adoption.

Mr Boylan, 55, now a DJ at Classic Hits FM, slammed the finding, saying: “It’s only consent when it’s informed consent. This wasn’t informed consent.”

He said he has a receipt for IR£300 that his father gave to the adoption agency.

Mother and baby homes report
Mother and baby homes report

He said: “My father had donated £300 I think. He had to donate. Although they say they hadn’t charged people, they took donations.

“You were expected to give something. I’m pretty sure that the donations for richer people would have been a lot more. People did pay.”

Mr Boylan, who reunited with his birth mother in his 50s, said she had told him some of the traumatic experiences at the home.

“She said some of the mothers would put little notes with the babies in their nappies, with their names and addresses just in case they came back and their babies were gone” he told PA.

He added: “I think the report is a deep insult to all the women who had their babies in those homes, and to all the children who were born in those homes.

“I think its ridiculous to try and apologise for something that the report doesn’t acknowledge happened.

“The report doesn’t acknowledge that there was abuse, and they don’t acknowledge that there was forced adoption. It’s ridiculous.”

A survivor of one of the largest mother and baby homes said she has been left “dumbfounded” by the mother and baby home report.

Campaigner Teresa Collins was born in December 1963 at Sean Ross Abbey in Co Tipperary. She was six-months-old when her grandparents paid money to the religious order so Teresa and her mother could return home.

The 57-year-old said: “I was very disappointed because they never took blame for what happened – not the State or religious order.

“The religious orders said that families did this and we were put in there but if they didn’t want us they should have put us out. They made money out of us.

“I am dumbfounded by what I have read so far. My grandparents brought me back and I lived with them – they brought me back home proudly and I put that into the commission report.”

She said she was “shocked” by the mortality rates at Sean Ross mother and baby home.

Susan Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, was critical of the report and said the commission has “trivialised” human rights issues.

“They haven’t used the big ticket headline such as “forced adoption” and “child trafficking” – there is nothing deemed to be international human rights language,” she told PA. “It’s deeply disappointing.”

The Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary, a mother and baby home operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary from 1930 to 1970
The Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary, a mother and baby home operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary from 1930 to 1970

“We also discovered that they have dismissed critical evidence given by survivors, particularly people of mixed race ethnicity.

“The commission rather boldly stated that there was no evidence that such individuals were discriminated against when it came to adoption.

“Any person of mixed origin I met have told me they weren’t put forward for adoption and it said on their file they were not suitable for adoption because of their race – it’s appalling. The commission is telling those people that their evidence is not credible.

“We are going to have to spend months rebutting the worst conclusions of the commission of investigation.

“It is a disgrace from what I can make out and my worst fears have been realised.

“The Taoiseach also seems to be determined to go ahead with an apology on Wednesday when survivors won’t even have read the report.

“It is deeply disappointing but not surprising.”