IRELAND: Ireland to lay bare scandal of baby deaths at Church-run homes

Relatives have alleged the babies at mother and baby homes were mistreated because they were born to unmarried women.

 

Al Jazeera (12.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3i783Zv – One of the Catholic Church’s darkest chapters will be revisited on Tuesday when an Irish inquiry into death rates among newborns at church-run homes for unwed mothers hands down its final report.

 

Relatives have alleged the babies at the mother and baby homes were mistreated because they were born to unmarried women who, like their children, were seen as a stain on Ireland’s image as a devout Catholic nation.

 

The 3,000-page report is due to be published by mid-afternoon following the five-year investigation by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

 

It is expected to reveal that 9,000 children – one in seven – died in the 18 institutions investigated between 1922 and 1998, when the last one closed, according to a leaked version of the report obtained by the Sunday Independent, an Irish newspaper.

 

The institutions, which doubled as orphanages and adoption agencies, were established across Ireland throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

While run by nuns, they received state funding and were also regulated by the state.

 

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Monday said the report into their history made for difficult reading.

 

“One of the things that hit me was the extent to which this was an enormous societal failure and an enormous societal shame that we have a stolen generation of children who did not get the upbringing they should have,” he told national broadcaster RTE.

 

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin is expected to issue a formal state apology to the victims in the country’s parliament on Wednesday.

 

Tuam ‘chamber of horrors’ prompts investigation

 

Tens of thousands of women, including rape victims, were sent to the homes to give birth.

 

Government records show that the mortality rate for children at the homes was often more than five times that of those born to married parents.

 

The commission into the institutions was formed in 2014 after evidence of an unmarked mass graveyard at an institution in Tuam, in the western county of Galway, was uncovered by amateur local historian Catherine Corless.

 

Corless found death certificates confirming that nearly 800 children had died at the site, but there were no burial records.

 

She said she had been haunted by childhood memories of skinny children from the home.

 

Excavations in 2017 revealed “significant quantities of human remains” in 20 underground chambers in a decommissioned sewage tank on the site’s grounds, the commission said in an interim report.

 

Then-Prime Minister Enda Kenny described the burial site at Tuam as a “chamber of horrors”.

 

The grim revelations have further tarnished the Catholic Church’s reputation in Ireland, which has been shattered in recent years by a series of tragedies that includes abuse at workhouses, forced adoptions of babies born out of wedlock and priests who have sexually assaulted children.

 

During the first papal visit to the country in almost four decades in 2018, Pope Francis begged for forgiveness for the scandals.




Offence of blasphemy officially scrapped from Irish law

The offence of blasphemy has been officially removed from the Irish constitution.

By Jack Beresford

The Irish Post (18.01.2020) – https://bit.ly/2ulCzdu – Ireland voted to repeal the reference to blasphemy in the Constitution by a huge majority in a referendum held back in October 2018.

65 percent of the population, and every constituency, voted to pass the referendum, with 35% against.

It was first time each constituency has voted in favour of a referendum question since the vote to establish the Court of Appeal in 2013.

The legislation was commenced from today.

Commenting on the change, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the “very notion of criminalising blasphemy, with the risk of a chilling effect on free expression and public debate, has no place in the Constitution or the laws of a modern Republic.”

“Ireland is a country of increasing diversity,” he added.

“The right to express differing viewpoints in a forthright and critical manner is a right to be cherished and upheld.”

Mr Flanagan confirmed that the legislation removes “all identified references to blasphemy” in Irish law – defined as “the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter, defamatory of any religion” – and also relates to the censorship of films released in Ireland.

Mr Flanagan was keen to “emphasise that these changes are not an attack on religious beliefs” and are not “intended to privilege one set of values over another.”

Though the law was largely overlooked, Mr Flanagan explained the new legislation is an “acknowledgement that the meaning of the concept of blasphemy is unclear in a modern State and that the concept is rooted in a distant past where fealty to the State was conflated with fealty to a particular religion.”

He also noted that while it “may seem abstract” to devote time to removing an offence not “prosecuted in practice” he said certain countries hand down severe penalties for it and use the law as justification for the persecution of dissidents.

In these instances, Mr Flanagan argued these countries have used the example of Ireland’s blasphemy laws as justification for their actions, describing it as a “very disturbing reality”.

Executive Director Liam Herrick hailed the change as an important day for freedom of expression.

“It is very positive news that we see from the Government today that they are implementing the result of the Referendum on Blasphemy,” he said.

“We are now seeing a landmark on the road towards free speech and against censorship in Ireland.”

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties also welcomed the new legislation as a “wonderful leap forward” for human rights in Ireland.




Ireland must prioritise female healthcare, urges women’s council

Group seeks free contraception, universal pension system and support for lone parents.

 

By Shauna Bowers

 

The Irish Times (20.01.2020) – https://bit.ly/369TcWN – Ireland has had a “litany of historic health scandals” affecting women and female healthcare must now be prioritised, the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has said.

 

In its “feminist Ireland manifesto”, published on Tuesday, the NWCI called on general election candidates to show their commitment to gender equality by signing up to 10 key issues, relating to women’s health, domestic violence and accommodation.

 

Among the feminist lobby group’s demands were calls for free universal contraception, support for lone parents, establishment of domestic homicide reviews and the introduction of a universal pension system.

 

Orla O’Connor, director of NWCI, said the election has the potential to “set the political agenda for the next five years” and will be “crucial” in deciding the future direction of the country.

 

“We have seen from recent controversies such as CervicalCheck that women’s health must be given consistent focus and dedicated resources,” Ms O’Connor said. “We have to put a sustained focus on women’s health, on the gaps that exist in services and in driving the change that women have been so active in calling for publicly.

 

Delivery of SláinteCare

 

“We’re calling on candidates to commit to the delivery of SláinteCare, to develop women-centred mental health services, to introduce universal, free contraception and to ensure access to the full range of abortion services across the country.”

 

The NWCI also raised the issue of domestic violence and called for an increase in the number of domestic abuse refuge spaces available across the State.

 

“One in four women in Ireland experience physical and sexual violence,” Ms O’Connor added. “After Ireland finally ratified the Istanbul Convention on violence against women in 2019, we need candidates who will prioritise its full implementation, including strengthening legislation and investing in frontline services, and ensuring Ireland has enough refuge places.”

 

Ms O’Connor said Ireland has “the highest childcare costs in Europe, one of the highest rates of women’s homelessness in Europe, and only one third our recommended refuge spaces for women fleeing violence”, adding that it is “critical” that the incoming government tackle gender equality.

 

The 10 issues in NWCI’s feminist Ireland manifesto

 

– End the housing and homelessness crisis

– Prioritise women’s health

– Deliver a public childcare service

– Change Ireland’s record on violence against women

– Ensure safe, legal and local access to abortion

– Eliminate poverty

– End the gender pay gap and deliver decent work for women

– Advance women’s leadership

– Lead a green new deal

– Guarantee access to justice