Ireland’s ‘mother and baby’ homes report – Church and state complicit in 9,000 children’s deaths

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NINE thousand children died in Irish ‘mother and baby’ homes run by the Catholic Church throughout the 20th century, a long awaited report has revealed.

These homes were established by the state as institutions run jointly with the Catholic Church and staffed mainly by nuns for unmarried mothers and their children.

They were operated as orphanages and adoption agencies but in fact they were nothing more than centres of the most savage abuse and ill-treatment that resulted in the deaths of thousands of children.

They had more in common with concentration camps than orphanages or women’s refuges.

18 of these institutions were investigated by the Mother and Baby Home Commission which found that in total 15% of the 57,000 children died between 1922 and 1998.

The inquiry was forced on the Irish state six years ago following public outrage over the discovery of an unmarked mass grave at Tuam, County Galway.

This was the site of Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, run by nuns between 1921 until its closure in 1961. It was in the disused sewers of this home that the bodies of babies and young children were uncovered – they had literally been stuffed down the drains by the nuns.

978 children died at this home while it was open, 80% of them under the age of 12 months – their bodies left unrecorded and treated as human waste to be disposed of with casual brutality.

Bon Secours wasn’t alone; the investigation revealed that at the Bessborough home in County Cork, three quarters of babies born or admitted in 1943 died.

At the Sean Ross home in County Tipperary, open until 1969, infant human remains were uncovered.

According to the report: ‘All individuals were less than one year old. The skeletal remains of 21 individuals were uncovered in situ. The remains of a further 11 coffins, indicating undisturbed burials, were evident.’

The report uncovered a catalogue of appalling infant deaths due to neglect, poor food and extreme deprivation and concluded that instead of saving the lives of these babies they ‘significantly reduced their prospects of survival.’

Women who went through the horrors at Bon Secours have recounted how, for the ‘crime’ of being an unmarried mother, they were stripped of their names, not allowed to talk to other women and subjected to heavy manual labour while constantly being abused emotionally and physically by nuns who frequently referred to their babies as ‘spawn of Satan’ for being born out of wedlock.

After giving birth they had to pay £100 for the cost after which they could leave or if they had no money they were forced to work at the home for three years to pay and ‘make amends’ for the sin of becoming pregnant. Any who escaped were arrested by the police and returned to the home, such was the complicity of the Irish state with the cruelty being meted out by their partners in the Catholic Church.

Michéal Martin gave a formal state apology in the Dáil on Wednesday saying he found the report shocking and difficult to read while being quick to put the crimes of the state in its complicity with the deaths of 9,000 children firmly in the past.

The report itself went out of its way to try and deflect responsibility from the State and Church by placing blame on the families of these women for ‘forcing’ them into the homes out of shame.

It exonerated these homes saying that for all their faults – including being responsible for the deaths of 9,000 children and slinging their bodies in a sewer – they did provide refuge when the women’s families ‘provided no refuge at all.’

This repugnant attempt to whitewash the culpability of the two entwined entities of State and Church will be rejected by the Irish people who have demonstrated that they are no longer in thrall to the reactionary Catholic establishment.

They proved this when they defied both Church and state by voting by a landslide to legalise abortion last year.

The task ahead for the Irish people is to complete this break by smashing the twin pillars of Irish capitalism – state and church – through the Irish socialist revolution.