Conrad Bryan – a trustee of the Association of Mixed Race Irish – spent his early life in St Patrick’s Mother and Baby home in Dublin, before being sent to an industrial school.
A long-time social justice activist, he was one of the few members of Ireland’s Collaborative Forum of Former Residents of Mother and Baby Homes (established in 2018) to stick with it even after the government refused to publish its report in 2019.
He recently quit the group – others had done so before him, but, he says, he felt he might be able to influence it by remaining until a conversation with Ireland’s Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman disabused him of that idea.
The views of survivors – many of whom made new lives here in the UK – are being ignored by the Irish Government, he explains to Irish World readers as he seeks help to improve the scheme.
Last month, the Irish government completed its first draft of the Bill for the Mother and Baby Institutions Redress Scheme, which provides payments and health services to people who were in these institutions as single mothers and children.
I’d like to ask Irish World readers to participate in my survey on the Irish Mother and Baby Redress Scheme.
I believe it has let many survivors down and could be improved. The Bill is now undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by the Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in the Oireachtas, which has invited submissions from the public for comment on the proposed scheme.
Submissions must be made by 6 May 2022. As readers may be aware, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation was set up in 2015, following reports of the remains of about 800 children interred in an under-ground sewage system at a Mother and Baby Institution in Tuam, Galway, run by the Bon Secours order of sisters.
A local historian called Catherine Corless had discovered the death certificates of children who were in this institution – but could not find the burial records and so couldn’t find where the children were buried.
Following a geophysical survey at the site, the Commission of Investigation subsequently confirmed, what Catherine had long suspected, that a significant number of remains were indeed in a system of 20 underground sewage chambers.
After almost six years investigating 14 Mother and Baby Institutions and four County Homes, the Commission found that 9,000 children had died in these institutions and a total of about 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children were inside.
As a four-day old mixed race child, I was brought by my mother to St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road in Dublin, where the Commission found that about 3,600 children died over the period 1922 to 1998.
She remained inside for six months with me.
It really disturbs me now to think I got out of this place alive.
As one of these survivors, I joined the Collaborative Forum in 2018, which was set up by the government in 2018 to identify the needs of mothers and children who were in the Mother and Baby Institutions.
I was selected to chair its Health Sub-Committee.
This was not exactly what I was expecting to be honest!
But I had to take this challenge forward not knowing what health issues I would encounter.
We worked hard to find out what the health needs of people were.
In summary they asked for the Health Amendment Act medical card (known as the HAA medical card), which was strongly requested by mothers because it provided private health services such as a private GP/consultant and private pharmacy services to ensure that mothers who have not disclosed the birth of a child to their GP or families can continue to protect their privacy.
This fear stems directly from the shame and stigma of having a child outside marriage that still lingers on after all these years, even in today’s Ireland.
Adopted people wanted to have health screening services, because, under the closed adoption system in Ireland, they do not have a right to access their medical histories and birth records and certificates.
I can’t count the number of times I heard of people who could have prevented illnesses such as cancers or heart complications if they had known it was in the family.
Neither of these recommendations have been accepted by the government.
Instead, they have offered a medical card that was provided to the Magdalene Laundries women.
This was specifically rejected by the survivors we consulted, but the Irish government has gone ahead in spite of our request for the HAA card.
So, one wonders why we ever participated in a consultation if our proposals are ignored.
It is easy to be cynical about these consultations set up by governments especially if they continue to tell the public, “We have met with the members of the Collaborative Forum”.
It all feels like spin.
What is particularly concerning is the exclusion, from the Scheme, of the children who were “boarded out” by local authorities to foster families as child labour and were often sexually abused.
Children who were in the institutions for less than six months do not receive any compensation despite reports of long term trauma related to the loss of identity and separation from their mothers.
The scheme also pays on a time basis – so the longer one was in the institution, the larger the payment.
This takes no account of serious abuses such as medical negligence or sexual abuse.
Mothers who are inside for less than six months do not get any medical card.
These are just a few of the shortfalls in the Scheme that are deeply disappointing to survivors.
I think the government should consider some form of nuance or flexibility in the Scheme, to deal with extreme cases instead of a ‘one size fits all’.
They also need to widen the scope of survivors that can be included in the scheme to make it more universal, as expressed by survivors in the consultation they held.
I am not saying everything is bad.
For instance, I understand that a non-adversarial process is important to avoid re-traumatisation.
But not to have some parallel process, or to give survivors options, seems somewhat patronising and unfair to certain groups of survivors.
Campaigning for survivors in this process has been a real privilege over the past few years.
But most of what we worked for as a forum of survivors, was not given the respect it deserved or simply ignored.
In addition, the first detailed report we produced for publication was embargoed by the Irish Government’s Attorney General and was never released to the public.
If they had concerns about its contents, they could have spoken with us to negotiate amendments to the report. Not to do so was simply disingenuous and makes one feel like we were not being treated as adults.
Given the significant gender issue (the mothers), it is noteworthy that most of the decision-makers are men: the Minster for Children, Minister for Health, Minister for Finance, and 11 of the fifteen members of the Irish Cabinet are men.
One wonders if this is a factor in depriving the medical card from mothers who gave birth in these institutions and who were less than six months inside.
In the end, I felt I had no option but to leave the Forum after sticking with it so long.
I am still going to continue fighting for survivors from outside.
This is why I have prepared this survey below to give the Irish public and survivors a voice in the process by answering a set of questions in the survey.
I understand that about 40 per cent of survivors of institutions emigrated from Ireland to the United Kingdom so it is important to reach our Irish community here.
Many Irish single mothers who gave birth in England were forced back to Ireland to these religious run institutions.
The Survey is open to all Irish people in Ireland – and abroad – who may have an interest in this topic.
I will submit the results to the Committee on Children by 6 May as part of their pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill.
The survey results will be made public. It may not make any difference, but who knows?
My biggest weakness is over-optimism.
The survey, Survey – Redress and Health Scheme: Mother and Baby Institutions in Ireland, is online and can be accessed by clicking here.