Government apology insulting, says UK-based mother and baby homes survivor

Online archive Magdalene Laundries

A UK-based survivor has said the government’s apology to victims of mother and baby homes was “disappointing” and “insulting” to those who have fought years for recognition and change.

Elizabeth Coppin, a survivor of these homes, said she does not trust the government will deliver on the recommendations made by the report despite the Taoiseach’s apology last week.

Elizabeth told The Irish World: “They’re just hypocrites, the government, really. That’s the start and the end of it.

“Leo Varadkar was in charge for a number of years. I have been emailing him: No response. To me, that was abuse. He was abusing his power ignoring his own Irish citizens, the Magdalene women.

“Then he apologises the other day in the Dáil when the cameras are on him. What is he apologising for? Then he says it’s time for seeking the truth or something to that effect. He had his chance. What did he do for us?

“Then you have Micheál Martin. I’m very disappointed in him. I could hear the words of Enda Kenny echoing in his apology. Enda Kenny said similar, ‘We will honour all recommendations’. Nothing has been honoured. Justice for Magdalenes had to go and fight for us to get one piece of Judge Quirke’s recommendation.

“They’re just hypocrites. You can’t trust them and they’re playing with our lives. They’re abusing us again. They’re up and down the corridors of power whispering, laughing, giggling, discussing us, ignoring us.

“The cameras on them: Everything except the tears are coming out.

“They’re waiting until we all drop. They’re waiting until we all die. That’s all they’re doing.”

Ms Coppin, who has been due to take a landmark torture to the UN about her treatment in a Magdalene Laundry, says the government has to look at itself for their involvement with the county homes.

“These women and these young children that they have oppressed for so long grew up to be very angry and I’m one of them. That’s what they have created. Not only have they created angry men and women, they have created a division amongst those survivors because they have this group for that, this group for the other. The government is paying this amount of money for that group and they’re having a great laugh.

“Of course some of the survivors are being used to keep everything quiet. They feel the Irish government is really supporting them. Like Hell they are. The Irish government couldn’t give two hoots about any of us. The Irish government only look after themselves.

“They’re highlighting the mother and baby homes because they were run by the Catholic church but they’re keeping very quiet about the county homes.

“The Irish government owned the county homes.

“It’s a deliberate ploy of the Irish government to hide the nastiness that they have created in Irish society to their own citizens.

“It’s the lies and deceit and nastiness and the disrespect of women’s lives and children’s lives.

“Not only have they sold children illegally, not only have they given children trial vaccinations and used them as guinea pigs, not only have they trafficked and detained women illegally, they’re going around saying, ‘We’re sorrry. We feel their pain’. They don’t know what pain is. They haven’t got a clue.

“It’s so wrong. It’s so misleading. It’s so dishonest.”

Elizabeth was subjected to trial vaccinations herself.

“What I’m annoyed is the vaccination trials. First of all they said, ‘It only happened in the 1930s’. Then we got, ‘It only happened in certain mother and baby homes in the 60s’. Now it happened from the 1930s to the 1970s so why are they lying about all this?

“I personally still haven’t got my medical records and I’m 72 in May. I’ve got nothing and I’ve got four big massive marks on my left arm.”

Elizabeth was born in 1949 to a 19-year-old mother in a home in Killarney. At the age of two she was placed in an industrial school and at the age of 14 she was sent to work unpaid in Magdalene laundries in Waterford and then Cork.

In 1966 she escaped and eventually saved enough money to move to the UK. She now lives in Cambridge, England with her family and has taken a landmark case against the state before the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

An estimated 30,000 women, not all of them single mothers, were locked up in Magdalene Laundries in the 19th and 20th centuries. About 10,000 were forced into slave labour in the laundries between Irish independence in 1922 and the closure of the last one in 1996.

Although then Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologised to survivors on behalf of the Irish State in 2013, and received redress Ms Coppin has continued to fight for answers accusing the Irish State of failing to investigate, acknowledge, or address the abuse she experienced during her time in the three institutions where she effectively worked as a slave

The report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, published last week, said it found an “appalling level of infant mortality” at the homes.

About 9,000 children died in mother and baby homes. This is around 15 per cent of all those who entered the institutions.

Causes included respiratory infections and gastroenteritis.

The Commission of Investigation published its near 3,000 page report on Tuesday last week, revealing decades of abuse to thousands of women and children. The report investigated 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes across Ireland between 1922 and 1998, finding evidence of high infant mortality rates, physical abuse, and deep-rooted misogyny. Roughly 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children went through the 18 homes investigated by the commission.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week apologised on behalf of the state to all survivors of the mother and baby homes saying residents of the homes had been failed by the state and had suffered a “profound generational wrong”.
The Taoiseach told the Dáil: “I apologise for the shame and stigma which they were subjected to and which, for some, remains a burden to this day.

“In apologising, I want to emphasise that each of you were in an institution because of the wrongs of others.
“Each of you is blameless, each of you did nothing wrong and has nothing to be ashamed of. Each of you deserved so much better.

“The Irish state, as the main funding authority for the majority of these institutions, had the ultimate ability to exert control over these institutions, in addition to its duty of care to protect citizens with a robust regulatory and inspection regime.

“This authority was not exerted and the state’s duty of care was not upheld. The state failed you, the mothers and children in these homes.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that for too many years Ireland had been a “cold house” for children born outside of marriage.

“This report exposes the chilling consequences of such a mindset,” he said.

“Too many children were seen as a stain on society, but the truth is that it was our society that was deeply stained.

“As the report shows, this was a stifling, oppressive and deeply misogynistic culture. A cold house for most of its people.

“It’s shocking to read that more than 9,000 babies died in these institutions but in some ways it is more shocking that this is not a revelation.

“It was a conspiracy of shame and silence and cruelty.”

The report listed several recommendations including the the establishment of a redress scheme for survivors of the homes.

The Government says it accepts all the recommendations of the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has said he will set up an interdepartmental group immediately, and that it will bring proposals for compensation for survivors forward no later than April 30th of this year.

There are issues about what level of compensation should be paid to whom, and who should pay for it.

Both the Taoiseach and Mr O’Gorman have said they want the religious orders to pay a contribution to the cost of redress, but that process has not even begun yet, and there is no way for the State to force the orders to pay.

The report recommends giving access to birth certificates. This is something that campaigners have sought for many years and may still prove tricky from a legal point of view.

Survivors can receive support from iCap by calling 0207 272 7906 or going to icap.org.uk, the London Irish Centre by calling 0207 916 2222 or going to londonirishcentre.org, Irish Community Services by calling 0208 854 4466 or going to irishcommunityservices.org or from Leeds Irish Health and Homes by calling 0113 262 5614 or going to lihh.org.

The Irish in Britain website has a dedicated section with information, phone numbers and links to support for survivors across Britain at irishinbritain.org/what-we-do/irish-survivors-information.

 

Register now to keep up to date with all the latest:

  • Irish News
  • Sport
  • Community and Entertainment

Sign up to our Newsletter to be in with a chance to win a snazzy iPad and for all the latest...

  • Email updates
  • Regular features
  • Competitions and give aways