Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin yesterday apologized on behalf of the state to the parliament following the publication of a long-awaited report into abuse suffered at church-run homes for unmarried mothers in Ireland over a 76-year period.
The apology came one day after he said that the country must “face up to the full truth of our past,” after the report by an independent commission recounted decades of harm done by Catholic Church-run homes for unmarried women and their babies, where thousands of infants died.
Martin said that young women and their children had paid a heavy price for Ireland’s “perverse religious morality” in past decades.
“We had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy. Young mothers and their sons and daughters paid a terrible price for that dysfunction,” he said.
The report said that 9,000 children died in 18 different mother and baby homes during the 20th century.
Fifteen percent of all children in the homes died, almost double the nationwide infant mortality rate, the report said, adding that major causes included respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, or stomach flu.
The report said “the very high mortality rates were known to local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications.”
However, “there is no evidence of public concern being expressed about conditions in mother and baby homes or about the appalling mortality among the children born in these homes, even though many of the facts were in the public domain,” it said.
The report called the mortality rate “the most disquieting feature of these institutions” and said that, before 1960, the homes did not save children’s lives, but rather reduced their chances of survival.
The inquiry is part of a process of reckoning in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Ireland with a history of abuses in church-run institutions, including the shunning and shaming of unwed mothers, many of whom were pressured into giving up babies for adoption.
Church-run homes in Ireland housed orphans, unmarried pregnant women and their babies for most of the 20th century.
The commission of inquiry said about 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children had lived in the homes it investigated, with the greatest number of admissions in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The last of the homes did not shut until 1998.
“While mother and baby homes were not a peculiarly Irish phenomenon, the proportion of Irish unmarried mothers who were admitted to mother and baby homes or [state-run] county homes in the 20th century was probably the highest in the world,” the report said.
The commission said that the women’s lives “were blighted by pregnancy outside marriage, and the responses of the father of their child, their immediate families and the wider community.”
“The vast majority of children in the institutions were ‘illegitimate’ and, because of this, suffered discrimination for most of their lives,” the report added.
Martin said the report “presents all of Irish society with profound questions.”
“What has been described in this report wasn’t imposed on us by any foreign power,” he said. “We did this to ourselves, as a society.”
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