Unmarried pregnant women abused in faith homes in Ireland for record compensation

LONDON – Thousands of single women and their children born out of wedlock who were rejected by Irish society and sought refuge in state-owned homes – where many were subsequently abused by nuns and Church officials Roman Catholic – will be entitled to compensation from a new multi-million dollar initiative that the Irish government has put in place “in recognition of the suffering experienced”.

Known as ‘mothers and babies’ homes, the controversial institutions were prevalent in Ireland from the 1920s to the 1990s. They mainly housed young women hunted by their families for having children deemed illegitimate in a largely conservative religious society. .

About 34,000 people are believed to be eligible for what the government calls the “Mother and Baby Institution Payment Scheme,” which is funded with an estimated $ 900 million, the government said. The compensation program will be the largest such plan in Irish history, he added.

“There is no payment or measure that can ever make up or fully atone for the harm done by mother-child institutions,” said a statement from Roderic O’Gorman, the Irish government minister responsible for children’s affairs. .

“What we presented today is the next chapter in the state’s response to the legacy of these institutions and its commitment to rebuilding the trust it has so severely shattered.”

A report commissioned by the government this year found that infant mortality in institutions has for many years been double the national average. Some 9,000 infants died, or 15% of all those born in the system. Most of the babies who survived were offered for adoption, including to the United States, often without the mother’s full consent. The report also detailed other cases of physical violence at the hands of nuns, including beatings and refusal to relieve pain during labor.

One story that has gained international notoriety is that of Irish mother Philomena Lee, whose son was born in a mother-baby house in the 1950s and sent for adoption to the United States at the age of 3. Her story was portrayed in a 2013 film starring Judi. Dench, and she continues to issue legal challenges and advocate for the rights of survivors.

The payment plan follows “detailed consultation” with survivors and human rights groups, the government said, and will be open for applications in late 2022.

All mothers who have spent time in the hostels will be entitled to payments, with the amount increasing according to the length of their stay. All children who have spent six months or more in institutions and have not received compensation from other programs will be eligible for payment, also on the basis of their length of stay. Others will also benefit from improved medical benefits in Ireland, the government said.

No proof of abuse or medical evidence will be required to secure payment, as survivors and former residents of homes now living abroad may also be eligible for financial compensation.

“The program will take a holistic and non-adversarial approach to ensure that survivors and former residents are not re-traumatized by their engagement with it,” the Irish government said.

However, some commentators have lambasted the government’s approach, criticizing the six-month minimum deadline for children.

Mairéad Enright, a researcher in feminist legal studies at the University of Birmingham, described it on Twitter as “an imperfect project which ignores the nature of the harm suffered”. She said the minimum six-month residency at one of the facilities excluded “those who have suffered very serious harm in a short period of time.”

Conor O’Mahony, a law professor at University College Cork, also wrote online that he was “incredibly disappointed” with parts of the plan that appeared to exclude some children who were living in foster homes.

O’Gorman acknowledged that there are limits to financial compensation. Some survivors may ask for more from government officials or other forms of acknowledgment of their pain, whether it is an apology or a public memorial. But he said the government’s payment plan “represents an important step in the state’s recognition of its past failures and the unnecessary suffering experienced by so many of its citizens.”

In January Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin formally apologized “for the deep generational wrong” and state complicity in the “grim, difficult and shameful” treatment of single women and their babies during the 20th century. . He said there had been a “failure of empathy, understanding and basic humanity.”

The issue emerged this year after the long-awaited publication of a 3,000-page report by the Irish Mothers and Baby Homes Commission, which investigated the conditions of the 56,000 single mothers and 57,000 children who passed through the system in 18 state-run and Catholic charitable homes – from 1920 to 1998, when the last facility was closed.

While the 2021 report placed a lot of blame on the Catholic Church, it also pointed out that some of the homes were run by local health authorities. During a visit to Ireland in 2018, Pope Francis apologized to mothers away from their children in homes run by the church and asked for forgiveness for the multitude of abuse suffered by the victims.

In Ireland, the once dominant Catholic Church shared power with the government, overseeing daily life, running schools, hospitals and welfare programs. But in recent years, the Irish have consistently rejected church guidelines, overturning constitutional bans on divorce, birth control, same-sex marriage and abortion.

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