Mother and baby home redress: Taoiseach defends compensation scheme against sharp criticism

Independent TD Catherine Connolly says compensation based on business and cost and ‘absolutely nothing to do with justice or what is right’

Sean Ross Abbey in Co Tipperary is one of the former mother and baby homes covered under the compensation scheme. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended the compensation scheme for women and children who spent time in mother and baby homes, following further sharp criticism in the Dáil.

He insisted that redress came in many different forms and financial compensation was “only one element of that”.

Mr Varadkar was responding to Independent TD Catherine Connolly who claimed the Government had “utterly failed to bring in a scheme that is fair and just”.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Justice for Magdalenes Research and Clann Project groups have already criticised the limitations of the scheme.


The Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme opened to applicants on Wednesday morning.

There are 42 institutions covered including places such as the Tuam Children’s Home, Sean Ross Abbey in Co Tipperary and the county homes across the State.

The scheme will pay compensation to mothers who had to spend time in mother and baby institutions and also those children who spent more than six months there.

The Government has refused to budge on a six months minimum stay for children despite extensive criticism.

The leader of the Social Democrats, Holly Cairns, described the six-month stay requirement in the scheme as a “red herring” in an attempt to reduce the amount of compensation.

In the Dáil Ms Connolly said the scheme excludes all people who spent less than six months in these institutions.

“It is restrictive in every way possible. It is based on business and cost and has absolutely nothing to do with justice or what is right,” she said.

But Mr Varadkar, in his final Leaders’ Questions as Taoiseach, said the initiative, with an expected cost of €800 million, is the largest scheme of its type and is not restricted on that basis.

He acknowledged that the scheme had taken “far too long” but said it was now up and running.

It is aimed at 34,000 people who spent time in mother and baby and county home institutions and the Taoiseach said it went further than was recommended by either the commission of investigation or the interdepartmental group that followed.

However, it is estimated that 24,000 will be excluded under the six-month stay requirement to ensure that all eligible children – including children who were adopted, boarded out and fostered – were resident in a relevant institution for longer than six months.

Ms Connolly said the Government had missed the chance “to learn to do the scheme right. The Government messed up with Caranua, it messed up with the Magdalen redress scheme, which the High Court judge said was maladministered, and it is doing the exact same all over again.”

Highlighting some of the difficulties, the Galway West TD said “the Government is insisting, for example, that people have photo ID. When they ring up to ask about that, they are told there is no way out of it.

“Even on that little issue, there is no humanity and no flexibility. The Government talks about a waiver. Nowhere is it explained in the application form what the waiver means.”

She added that it is simply unforgivable that the Government would persist today with a scheme that is unjust and unfair when it has the opportunity to correct it.

But Mr Varadkar insisted that an extensive information and awareness campaign would take place in Ireland and abroad “and applicants will be supported throughout the application process with the information and advice they need.

“Where a person does not have photo identification, that will be dealt with empathetically and on a case-by-base basis.”

He pointed out that “the overwhelming priority and need, which has been expressed through extensive engagement with survivors, is access to records and information about their births and their early lives”.

About 10,000 people have already received that information, with more to come, he said, adding that “I’m glad that has been possible”.

Speaking on RTÉ radio 1′s Morning Ireland programme, Ms Cairns said it was “callous” of the Government to introduce such an “arbitrary” rule. If the situation was not so serious “it would be laughable”, she said.

The scheme, which opened on Wednesday, will provide financial payments and health supports to those who are eligible.

However, it is estimated that 24,000 will be excluded under the six-month stay requirement to ensure that all eligible children – including children who were adopted, boarded out and fostered – were resident in a relevant institution for longer than six months.

Ms Cairns said it was important to acknowledge that something was wrong with what had happened in the mother and baby homes, which was why the scheme had been introduced, but it was also important not to exclude anyone.

The Government had ignored its own report in relation to redress, she said. Profits had been made by the church and yet the Government seemed to think it was the 1930s in its apparent reluctance to push the religious orders to honour payments.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the opening of the scheme is what survivors and former residents have been waiting for.

“Given its scale, time has been needed to get the structures in place to open the scheme and, as we approach the opening date, staff are continuing to work hard to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible for applicants.”

He anticipated payments would be made starting from the second half of this year.

Mr O’Gorman also announced he has appointed the former chief executive of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, Patricia Carey, to the role of special advocate for survivors, following a recruitment campaign managed by the Public Appointments Service.

Her remit will encompass mother and baby Institutions, county home Institutions, Magdalene laundries, industrial and reformatory schools, and related institutions, and those people adopted, boarded out or the subject of an illegal birth registration.

Ms Carey will take up her role as special advocate for survivors from March 25th.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times