- 18 Apr 19
The Labour Senator responds to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission’s damning revelations.
Speaking to Hot Press today, Senator Ivana Bacik has called for financial action against religious orders, in the wake of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission’s fifth interim report.
Among the most shocking findings in the report was the revelation that, out of 900 children who died at Bessborough in Cork between 1922 and 1998, only 64 burials are accounted for.
"It's absolutely appalling," Bacik told Hot Press. "There have been witnesses from the [Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary] order saying that they can't recall any children dying over periods in which the Commission knows children have died in the their care. What’s shocking is not only how many children died over this period, but that the order have been so obstructive of attempts to uncover information."
In 2017, the discovery of a mass, unmarked grave at the site of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam shocked the nation and the wider world. Bacik finds that the tragic revelation was yet "another milestone in the fracturing of the Irish state's relationship with the Church", alongside Mary Rafferty's 2002 documentary Cardinal Secrets, the Ryan Commission's report in 2009, and the incredible work of Christine Buckley, among others.
"There have been a whole series of different events over the years in which the true extent of the abuses of children and women by religious orders, church authorities and indeed state authorities have been exposed and uncovered," she says. "This includes the abuse in the Magdalene Laundries, the Mother and Baby Homes, and the industrial schools. We're still only finding out more about the truth."
The fact that the whereabouts of over 800 Irish children who died at Bessborough are unknown has raised serious questions about the relationship between the Church and State in Ireland. Bacik argues that more political, moral and financial pressure must be placed on the government and the religious orders.
"I think it's beholden to all of us who are political representatives to raise this issue in the Dail and in the Seanad," she says. "Ultimately, however, we need to take financial action. The orders have escaped by paying far less than they should have paid for the Redress Board. As a barrister I acted for many survivors before the Redress Board, so I’m very familiar with the processes, but we were all aware that the State was picking up the vast proportion of the bill. The State certainly had obligations to survivors, but there should have been far more due from the religious orders. We need to see the religious orders sanctioned financially, and their assets seized by the State. That’s where we should be at now."
After the Mother and Baby Homes Commission's report was delivered to Cabinet this week, Taoiseach Leo Varadker stated that Ireland "inherits a deep shame" over these findings.
"The religious orders bear enormous responsibilities, but clearly, the State also bears responsibility," Bacik argues, "The State was colluding with religious orders, and the religious orders were doing a job that should have been done by the state. This is a shame that we should all feel, collectively, as a State."
The Church's declining influence in Irish society was on clear display during Pope Francis' visit to Ireland last summer, with numerous demonstrations taking place around the country in solidarity with survivors of clerical abuse.
"It's very disappointing how little the Pope and the Vatican have appeared to make any sort of apology or acknowledgement of the Church's role in not only the Mother and Baby Homes, but in other religious-run institutions," Bacik says. "There's been an abdication of responsibility by the Vatican, over successive popes."
Speaking in front of the Taoiseach earlier today, Bacik repeated the long overdue necessity of a true separation of the Church and State in education and health care in Ireland.