At a Cabinet Meeting just before Christmas, the Irish Minister for Health, Simon Harris outlined plans by the Irish Government to spend €5 million on expert advisors, counselling staff and an extensive research project to address the legacy of mother and baby homes and the effects of that legacy on an estimated 57,000 former residents.
The proposed funding breaks down as follows:
- €1.4m to the Health Service Executive the Irish equivalent of the NHS for 25 additional counselling staff to support the psychological needs of former residents of the mother and baby homes;
- €600,000 to fund the appointment of four expert advisors who will be tasked with creating a “bespoke” counselling and well-being service including computer costs and support staff.
The Health Research Board will also fund a dedicated research study aimed at improving the health and well-being of former residents of mother and baby homes, which is estimated to cost €1m.
The total costs of the proposed supports will be added to the health budget for 2020.
The measures were proposed by an inter-departmental working group which was appointed to assess the recommendations made by a survivors’ forum. The forum of former residents officially called the Collaborative Forum of Former Residents of Mother and Baby Homes was appointed at the same time as a Commission of Investigation into the burial of infants at mother and baby homes. It is a 20 person forum, 16 of which are former residents of the mother and baby homes.
The survivors’ forum reported to Minister Zappone in April, 2019 and made 44 recommendations. However, to date only the recommendations have been published, the full report of the work of the forum is being withheld by Minister Zappone until after the publication of the final report of the Mother and Baby Homes’ Commission which is expected in February, 2020.
Other recommendations made by the survivors’ forum were rejected by the working group including a call for free access to private health insurance on the grounds that the cost to the State could be €130m.
Survivors also called for all former residents of mother and baby homes to be placed on the HAA (Health Amendment Act) card scheme, which entitles recipients to free GP services and a wide range of medical support and therapies. These enhanced state medical benefits were made available to the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland. However, the inter-departmental working group also rejected this recommendation.
While the Second Interim Report from the Mother and Baby Homes’ Commission published in early 2017 recommended a redress scheme for the survivors along the same lines as the residential institutions redress scheme the Minister for Children has ruled out redress to survivors until after the Commission concludes its work.
The publication of the final report will be keenly awaited not only by the former residents of the mother and baby homes but also those organisations, religious and otherwise who operated the homes and who will likely be asked to contribute to any redress payments that the Government decides to make.
Written by James Chambers at BLM