State planning to fight legal claims by survivors of mother and baby homes : Irish Independent: Shane Phelan [ March 12 -2021 ]
Correspondence shows State plans to argue survivors’ claims fall outside the statute of limitations
The State is planning to fight legal claims being taken by survivors of mother and baby homes, the Irish Independent has learned. Several lawsuits have been lodged in the wake of a Commission of Investigation report, which detailed alarmingly high child mortality rates and the infliction of emotional abuse on mothers.
Despite the damning findings, correspondence from the State Claims Agency (SCA) indicates it plans to fight the cases by arguing they fall outside the statute of limitations. If successful, the approach adopted by the SCA would significantly damage the prospects of survivors who opt to seek damages by way of the courts rather than through an expected redress scheme.
According to lawyers, more than 100 High Court civil actions are expected to be filed in the coming weeks relating to events which occurred decades ago in such homes. The SCA was set up in 2001 to manage claims taken against the State so that the liability is contained “at the lowest achievable level”.
While it pledges to act fairly and ethically in dealing with people who have suffered injuries and damage, it has come under the spotlight on a number of occasions for its handling of sensitive matters such as CervicalCheck cases. Solicitors representing survivors have received letters from the agency in recent weeks stating the statute of limitations would be an issue.
In one such letter seen by the Irish Independent, the SCA said: “It is difficult to see how the statute of limitations does not have a role in a case of this antiquity and such matters will be pleaded in the defence delivered on behalf of the State authorities in due course after receipt of your client’s legal proceedings.”
A six-year statute of limitation applies in cases involving breaches of constitutional rights. While mother and baby home survivors could still argue their case, the defence signalled by the SCA has the potential to significantly elongate and complicate litigation.
Solicitor Matthew Byrne of Burns Nowlan LLP, who represents several survivors, said the SCA correspondence jarred with the apology offered by Taoiseach Michéal Martin on behalf of the State, where he spoke of the “profound generational wrong” visited upon Irish mothers and their children in such homes.
“Given the issues that have gone on in these cases, to get letters back from the State Claims Agency along those lines is particularly distressing for clients,” said Mr Byrne.
A spokesman for the SCA said it does not comment on individual cases.
“It has received a number of claims in respect of mother and baby homes. As with all claims managed by the SCA, each of these claims will be considered on their own facts,” the spokesman said. Mr Byrne said he was also concerned the SCA might attempt to put time limits on the redress scheme currently being discussed by an inter-departmental group.
A six-year statute of limitation was put on the last significant State settlement scheme, introduced last year for inmates who were forced to “slop out” in prison. Although the Mother and Baby Home Commission recommended a redress scheme, the model it proposed would exclude many survivors. Those left out would include women who entered mother and baby homes following the introduction of the Unmarried Mother’s Allowance in 1973 and children who were resident in five specific homes examined.
A spokesman for Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the inter-departmental group is to report to the minister on what form a “restorative recognition scheme” should take by the end of April. He said the group would have regard to the commission’s recommendations but is not bound by them. Earlier this week, the minister launched a consultation process for former residents, their families and advocacy and representative groups which will run until the end of the month.