Irish PM Apologizes To Victims of Ireland's Mother and Baby Homes

The prime minister of Ireland has apologized to thousands of victims who faced widespread abuse and death at institutions for unwed mothers and their children.

A government-commissioned report revealed some 9,000 children died in the country's so-called mother and baby homes over several decades, a mortality rate far higher than the rest of the population.

The homes, run by the state and religious orders, saw unmarried women and girls sent to give birth in secrecy before being pressured to give up their children for adoption. The institutions were also responsible for unethical vaccine trials and traumatic emotional abuse, the report found. For decades, the atrocities carried out in the homes were hidden as victims were shamed into silence and shunned from society, the extent of their trauma finally revealed upon publication of the 3,000-page report, the culmination of a six-year investigation.

Speaking in the Dail, the lower house of the Irish parliament, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said: "On behalf of the government, the state and its citizens, I apologize for the profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers and their children who ended up in a mother and baby home or a county home. As the commission says plainly - 'they should not have been there'. I apologize for the shame and stigma which they were subjected to and which, for some, remains a burden to this day.

"In apologizing, I want to emphasize 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."

There were about 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children in the mother and baby homes investigated by the commission. The first opened in the 1920s but the last of the facilities was only closed in 1998.

Mother and baby home mass grave Tuam
A well wisher lays flowers at the shrine which stands on a mass burial site which was formerly part of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby home in Tuam, Ireland Getty/Charles McQuillan

Throughout the 20th century in Ireland, society was deeply influenced by the teachings of the Catholic Church and pregnancies out of wedlock were seen as scandalous. Many of the victims were underage and some were the victims of rape. The majority of admissions were made in the 1960s and 70s, the report found.

According to the testimonies of victims, young women and girls were taken, typically against their will, and forced to sign papers giving up any right to their unborn infants. They were given little to no medical support during labor before their babies were taken, and some sold to wealthy adoptive parents. Several of the religious orders which ran the homes have apologized since the report's publication, including the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Welcoming the publication of the report, Martin said he accepts that the Church was part of a judgemental and oppressive culture. He said: "For that, and for the long-lasting hurt and emotional distress that has resulted, I unreservedly apologize to the survivors and to all those who are personally impacted by the realities [the report] uncovers."

The commission that investigated the institutions was set up after reports emerged that the remains of nearly 800 babies and children were placed in an unmarked mass grave at a home run by nuns in the town of Tuam in County Galway. The work of local amateur historian Catherine Corless uncovered the mass grave and led to "significant quantities" of human remains being discovered at the site. She now campaigns for the bodies to be exhumed and given a proper burial and was praised by Martin as a "tireless crusader of dignity and truth."

The Irish government has said it will provide financial recognition to specific groups identified in the report, and push ahead with laws to support the excavation, exhumation and, where possible, identification of remains at burial sites.