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In summary, all of the themes considered in this Chapter disclose substantial evidence cited in the Commission Report that is indicative of violations of provisions of the ECHR [ i.e European Convention on Human Rights ].
The Commission Report provided an abundance of evidence of each of these factors in respect of women in Mother and Baby Homes. Religious authority figures at the time accepted that many of the women did not wish to be in the Homes. Nonetheless, residents were forbidden from leaving or from having contact with the outside world. The Homes were physically designed and located to ensure this. Women were told on arrival that they would be returned by the Gardaí if they left. In at least some cases, this actually occurred; in others, the Gardaí were contacted, although they may not have returned the women. There is ample evidence in the Commission Report that State authorities were aware that large numbers of women were being kept in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes against their will, but either acquiesced in the deprivation of their liberty, or failed to put an end to it.
A considerable volume of evidence in the Commission Report demonstrates that women in Mother and Baby Homes undertook unremitting labour against their will and without pay for a period of months or years. Women who sought to leave were threatened with penalties such as prosecution for child abandonment, or being left with physical and financial responsibility for a child which the women could not possibly discharge. Children in foster homes were often fostered for the sole purpose of providing a source of free labour and made to undertake work that was wholly unsuited to their age.
The Commission Report provides extensive evidence that women in Mother and Baby Homes were subjected to emotional abuse that reached the threshold of degrading treatment, as defined in the case law of the ECHR. There is evidence that some women were subjected to physical abuse, and that a considerable number of women were denied adequate medical care during childbirth, or forced to engage in physical labour while heavily pregnant or shortly after childbirth. This treatment would also have reached the threshold of degrading treatment, and would potentially have reached the threshold of inhuman treatment in cases where physical injuries resulted.
The Commission Report provides evidence that a significant number of infants died in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes due to poor living conditions, overcrowding, and inadequate medical care. Many of these deaths were readily preventable. State Authorities were aware of the high rate of deaths in the 1930s and 1940s, but failed to implement effective measures to mitigate the risk of death faced by infants in the Homes.
Children who were resident in Mother and Baby Homes and in County Homes experienced neglect and emotional abuse, while children who were placed in foster homes experienced serious neglect and physical abuse. The State bore direct responsibility for ill-treatment that occurred in County Homes and in a number of Mother and Baby Homes that were managed by local authorities. In the case of ill-treatment perpetrated by private individuals, the evidence suggests that the State was either aware of the ill-treatment or the risk of same (through contemporaneous inspection reports), or ought to have been aware (since some inspection regimes were known to be defective, and the evidence indicates a general level of societal awareness of the harshness of the regime in the Homes).
An extensive body of evidence in the Commission Report details how babies and infants in Mother and Baby Homes were subjected to vaccine trials (including administration of the vaccine drug itself, as well as invasive medical examinations and side-effects) without parental consent.
Free consent has been found to be absent in circumstances where parents instructed their daughter to place her child for adoption, and to conceal her pregnancy and the adoption; and forbade her from bringing the baby home, such that the birth mother “subordinated her own will to that of her parents because of fear which was a product of her upbringing, stress, anxiety, lack of maturity and deprivation of emotional support.”
The degree of direct State involvement in the care of children in these settings varied; but in all cases, the common thread is that the State knew or ought to have known that children were at risk of being abused, but failed to take reasonable steps to mitigate that abuse. Child protection is always the State’s responsibility, irrespective of the setting.
Whatever criteria are relied on to determine eligibility for redress, it is essential that they are devised and applied with a degree of flexibility that allows for recognition of the similarities in people’s experiences, instead of highlighting their differences to justify refusing applications.
Any redress scheme which excludes children who were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, forced labour and medical experimentation in the form of non-consensual vaccine trials would be inherently defective and a denial of the right to an effective remedy. Moreover, redress for rights violations in foster homes should not be confined to children who were placed in foster homes as an exit pathway from Mother and Baby Homes or County Homes, but should encompass all children who experienced ill-treatment or forced labour in foster homes.