Galway County Council issues apology for role in Tuam Mother and Baby Home

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Galway County Council has issued an apology today for the horrific conditions and treatment endured by woman and children at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, and for its complicity in their ill-treatment and failures of care.

The county council debated the final report from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation today at its annual plenary meeting.

The report, which was published last week, detailed appalling unsanitary conditions at the Mother and Baby Home which endured for decades.

978 children died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home during its years of operation up to 1961, at rates massively above what was normal.

Both County Manager Kevin Kelly and Cathaoirleach James Charity made statements of apology for the failings of the council in caring for the woman and children at Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

Councillor Charity said that he had a “deep sense of shame” while reading the report as it detailed the county council’s efforts to have women who were pregnant for a second time sent to the Magdalene Laundry.

The report highlighted a council “more consumed with mundane budgetary and financial oversight” than in caring for the most vulnerable people in society who needed its protection.

He added that it was a matter of “shame and sorrow” that the council did not ensure that the children who died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home were accorded a proper resting place.

Galway County Council lacked the “courage and foresight” to show more compassion, charity, and kindness to the people under its care he said.

“To all those with a personal connection to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, in particular, the frightened mothers and innocent children, to their families and to the people of County Galway, Ireland and beyond, this Local Authority is humbly sorry.”

Chief Executive of Galway County Council Kevin Kelly said that the council must be willing to accept “hard truths” about its past, and work to try and rebuild its relationship with survivors of the home.

He acknowledged that “appalling conditions” at the Tuam Home outlined in the report, and that while the death rate among infants was “multiple of the general population”, it did not result in appropriate action from the council.

The “lack of respect” shown to women and children in death at the home was “particularly upsetting”, and the council failed to ensure that they had the dignity of a proper resting place he said.

Both Councillor Charity and Mr Kelly acknowledged the role that survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home played in bringing this repressed shame in Ireland’s history to the spotlight, and their courage in sharing their stories.

Councillor Charity praised the “dedication, commitment, determination and perseverance” of survivors, and those who helped them, in campaigning not just for themselves, but for everyone who did not live to see this brought to light.

Mr Kelly said that hearing of the “sadness, shame, pain and suffering” endured by survivors of the home, and their loved ones, was a profound moment when they “powerfully and eloquently” addressed the council in 2019.

The full statements of Both Chief Executive Kelly and Cathaoirleach Charity can be read below.

Statement by the Cathaoirleach of the County of Galway – Cllr. James Charity

It is important to note at the outset that this week, perhaps almost prophetically, marks the 60th anniversary of the decision to close the Tuam Mother and Baby Home which the final report of the commission notes was passed by this authority on the 28th January 1961. However, the legacy of the Home’s operation and oversight, from its opening in 1925 to its closure in 1961, and indeed in the operation of its predecessor at Glenamaddy which operated from 1921-1925, continues to cast a long and onerous shadow over this Council, a shadow which we as a body must confront and acknowledge on this day with heavy, open and contrite hearts.

It is important to acknowledge that today is only possible because of the dedication, commitment, determination and perseverance of the survivors, their advocates and researchers, who campaigned not just for themselves, but for the countless others that did not survive to tell of their experience and to right the wrongs done to them.

It is also particularly appropriate that here, a few short miles from Tuam, we acknowledge the tireless and unselfish work of Catherine Corless in relation to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. There is no description which can more aptly or appropriately apply to Ms. Corless other than to acknowledge her as a “heroine”, whom is deserving of all of our admiration, and of our profound and deepest respect, for bringing the dark history of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home out into the open.

On this day, we remember all of the survivors of the Tuam Home. We remember the 2219 women whom we know were admitted to Tuam from the findings outlined in the report, we remember those born in the home and we remember those who sadly died there.
The content and findings of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, and particularly those relating to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, make for difficult, uncomfortable and upsetting reading. For those who us who have been elected to this local authority to represent and act in the best interests of all of our communities across County Galway, and who share a sense of civic duty and responsibility, it is almost incomprehensible that a time could have existed where a resolution would be passed by this Council calling for legislation to commit women who were pregnant for a second time to Magdalene homes. But happen it did and I am sure that all members of this Authority will have shared the deep sense of shame that I have no difficulty in saying I personally experienced, as the extent of the long standing failures of this Council were set out in black and white for all to see. The Commission’s findings identify a Local Authority which was far more consumed with mundane budgetary and financial oversight than its role as custodian of those who were most vulnerable and required its care and protection.

The vulnerable in our society should always feel the comforting protection of those entrusted by a nation’s people to lead, show example, demonstrate good moral judgement, to be fair and non-judgemental, to protect and nourish, to extend a helping hand when required, and to care with dignity and compassion. It is clear from listening to the survivors and reading their testimonies, that they were failed by the State and they were failed by Galway County Council.

Entrusted with the great honour to lead and represent, this Council failed in its most basic and principal duty. This Council should have put the needs and welfare of the most vulnerable in our society to the fore. The invisible and voiceless, in particular vulnerable women, innocent beautiful precious new born children; little girls and boys, who should have survived, grown and thrived, learnt and laughed, worked and played, participated in society and perhaps even led it. But to our eternal shame, this Council failed both mothers and their children at a time when they most needed its support and protection the most.

Today is an important day as we apologise and work, insofar as we possibly can, to right the wrongs of the past, and to listen to the voices of the many survivors, who for too long had no voice. We also remember today those for whom this apology is sadly too late.
As Cathaoirleach of the County of Galway, on behalf of the Members, the Chief Executive and staff, I offer a sincere and humble apology for the failings of this local authority. We are deeply sorry that this Council did not do enough to ensure appropriate care, compassion and protection to the mothers and babies who passed through the threshold of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, and to those children who were born and died there.

We further deeply regret that Galway County Council did not ensure there were enough safe-guards and measures in place to guarantee and ensure that children boarded out from the Home were better cared for, protected and cherished. To the shame and sorrow of all of us, this Council did not ensure that those who died in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home were afforded the dignity of an appropriate place of rest, which was the very least that they deserved. We are profoundly sorry, that as a local authority, this Council did not have the foresight or courage to at all times to ensure the welfare of those entrusted to its care was paramount, and to be kinder, more compassionate, and more charitable.

To all those with a personal connection to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, in particular, the frightened mothers and innocent children, to their families and to the people of County Galway, Ireland and beyond, this Local Authority is humbly sorry.

 

Statement by the Chief Executive of Galway County Council – Mr. Kevin Kelly

The publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has been acknowledged as an important milestone with deep and personal impact for all those with a connection to the Mother and Baby Homes. Given the detailed and comprehensive nature of the report, it was considered appropriate that the Council, and all of those impacted, could take time, after its publication, to read the report and begin the process of considering its content and findings.

The report contributes significantly to our deeper appreciation and understanding of the past failures of the State, including this local authority, in the provision of care to the women who were forced to enter the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. It is to our shame, that we acknowledge, that there, when at their most vulnerable, in need of compassion, empathy, support and understanding and in need of our care, we failed them.

An Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, has acknowledged the duty of being willing to be held to account, to confront hard truths and to accept parts of our history which are deeply uncomfortable. We acknowledge the need and importance for Galway County Council to also be willing to hold itself to account, to confront the hard truths of our shared past however difficult and to acknowledge our failings.

The report contributes to giving survivors their voice and affords them a long overdue opportunity to highlight the shortcomings of all aspects of the State, including this local authority. All of us here today appreciate the courage and resilience required for survivors to share, their lived experience of the Mother and Baby Home, both from individual survivors and from the contributions of members of the Tuam Mother & Baby Home Alliance who so powerfully and eloquently addressed this Council in September 2019. It was a profound moment for all present when survivors and those with a personal connection to the Tuam Mother & Baby Home shared with us some of the sadness, shame, pain and suffering that they and their loved ones endured.

While it is recognised that context is always important to an appropriate appreciation of any period, we must openly acknowledge that context does not lessen our role and responsibility. The findings of the Commission and the evidence bravely and openly shared in the testimonies dealing with the treatment of women and children in the Tuam Mother & Baby Home is stark.

It is appropriate and necessary that as civic leaders and citizens of this county and country that we reflect and learn lessons from the clearly painful and distressing accounts previously shared with us and from the testimony of many survivors as has been detailed. From our personal experience of listening to and engaging with survivors and those with a personal connection to the Tuam Mother & Baby Home, there can be no doubting our role in the arrangements for their care which resulted in the heavy burden that they continue to carry.

The report identified that in the congregated settings of mother and baby homes poor sanitary conditions had much more serious consequences for disease and infection control and identified Tuam as having appalling conditions. It is also clear that the death rate among infants in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home was noted and while known to be a multiple of the general population did not prompt appropriate action.

The lack of respect and dignity afforded to the women and children in death is also particularly upsetting and a source of great hurt and sorrow. The Council accepts its role in failing to ensure that these individuals were afforded the dignity of an appropriate and respectful resting place.

In relation to the Tuam site the Government’s agreed course of action, includes memorialisation and the Council will continue in its efforts to engage with all those with a personal connection to the site and with the local residents in relation to the actions required to implement this decision. The Council is fully committed to supporting the full range of actions agreed by Government including progressing on the work already undertaken directly by Galway County Council in relation to providing survivors with appropriate access to archives and records.

The Council acknowledges the commitment by Government to advance burials legislation to support the excavation, exhumation and, where possible, the identification of remains together with their dignified reburial. The Council has and will continue to actively assist the ongoing work to implement the Government’s agreed course of action and response for the Tuam site. It is also important that I acknowledge today the dedicated care, commitment and respect the local residents in Tuam have afforded to maintaining the site in Tuam over several decades.

We acknowledge with deep regret that the relationship between this local authority and those entrusted to the care of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home has been broken due to our failings in the arrangements for their care. We have already begun and are committed to the journey to rebuild that relationship and today is a further and important step in this regard. The cooperation and priority we have afforded this process from the establishment of the Commission, through our ongoing engagement with the survivors, and through actions required in relation to the site in Tuam will continue with the work that will follow-on from the publication of the Final Report of the Commission.

Today, I reaffirm the commitment and renewed determination of this local authority to continue our efforts to assist and support the survivors and all those with a personal connection to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. No one can change the past; however, it is important that we accept and learn from it, acknowledge the sad and painful truth, the personal impact and heavy burden carried by survivors and humbly acknowledge our failings.