According to coverage from the Waterford News & Star, Waterford was mentioned in the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes more than 120 times. The report detailed abuses and neglect in several types of institutions, including mother and baby homes, county homes, industrial schools, and Magdalene laundries.
The publication of the report on January 12 has led to new discussion about the legal liability of
the State with regard to the harms suffered by survivors of mother and baby homes. Redress for
mother and baby home survivors has already been sought in court cases in previous years.
The government has committed to a general restorative justice scheme for former residents of
these institutions. However, if you suffered harms that you feel are beyond the general scope of
that scheme, you may be entitled to seek more extensive compensation by pursuing a case.
What Creates an Entitlement to Compensation for Mother & BabyHome Residents?
There are a wide variety of documented types of abuse and neglect in mother and baby homes
and other institutions that would generally entitle plaintiffs to redress. These include:
● Emotional abuse,
● Sexual abuse,
● Wrongful death,
● False imprisonment, and
Mother & Baby Homes & Other Institutions
Though “mother and baby homes” are referred to directly in the title of the Commission’s report,
it covered abuses in other institutions as well. Mother and baby homes were set up for women
with one so-called “illegitimate” child; those with more children born out of wedlock, or people in need of support for entirely different reasons, went to other institutions.
County homes were set up to house a range of different types of people, including the physically
and mentally ill, along with unmarried mothers. According to the Commission’s report,
conditions in these institutions were actually far worse than in mother and baby homes in the
early part of the 20th century.
These institutions took in unmarried mothers and their children, putting the women to work. This labor was typically unpaid, and residents suffered severe abuses of various kinds. Official statistics estimate that at least 10,000 women and girls passed through Magdalene laundries
between 1922 and 1996.
These organizations housed thousands of impoverished children in Ireland from the mid-19th century onward. The 2009 Ryan Report covered abuses in industrial schools in detail, and the government officially apologized to industrial school detainees in 1999.
Private Mother & Baby Homes
Not every mother and baby home was a public institution. The report estimates there may have been as many as seven private maternity homes in Waterford.
What Types of Redress Are Available?
As noted above, the State will grant financial relief to thousands of mother and baby home survivors, although the specific details of this scheme have yet to emerge.
The report does not create any binding legal obligations, and it reminds us that governments have a duty not to treat people in the same situation differently. This complicates the issue of general redress. The report does note that compensation has been granted in similar situations in the past, and points to the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme and the Magdalene laundries scheme as examples of frameworks that might be relied upon here.
If the State does commit to a scheme like this, applicants may be required to prove certain things to access compensation. For instance, you might have to be able to verify that you resided at a mother and baby home and that you suffered abuse or neglect.
You may be entitled to seek further financial compensation through the courts. These damages would be assessed on the basis of the specific harm you suffered; they would take into account any medical expenses you may have incurred, including costs related to psychiatric care. There could also be financial redress for any pain and suffering you experienced in an institution.
The report also mentions that certain services should be made available to survivors, including counselling and enhanced medical cards.
Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to Mother & Baby Home Cases?
The Statute of Limitations Act 1957 provides for a time limit of two years for general personal injury cases and six years for assault cases, including sexual assault. These time periods begin on the date on which the plaintiff discovered the harm, not the date on which they actually sustained it.
If strictly applied, the Statute would make mother and baby home claims impossible. However, because of international law, it’s likely these lawsuits would be able to circumvent this problem. The United Nations’ 2005 declaration on reparations for gross violation of international human rights law states that statutes of limitation should not apply to cases such as this. The State
may, therefore, amend the legislation to allow courts to ignore the usual limitation periods for mother and baby home cases.
Pursuing Justice After Trauma
Mother and baby homes, as well as the other abusive institutions that were common in Ireland, have left a dark stain on our shared legacy as a country. However, the publication of January’s Commission report represented an important step away from that chapter of our history. Now is the time for those affected by this scandal to seek justice.
If you’d like to discuss a potential institutional abuse or neglect case, or you want to know more about your likely redress entitlements, get in contact today. Our litigation team will be able to advise you on the best course of action to take. We are based in Ireland’s south-east.