Researchers respond to the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes

Jan 28 2021 Posted: 13:09 GMT

As researchers – historians, social scientists, journalists, legal experts, researchers on Irish culture -and survivors who have been forced to do our own research we reject the conclusions of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and in particular its claims about the evidence, which are deeply flawed.

The report does no justice to the survivors whose testimonies are at the centre of the inquiry, and it draws conclusions based on a partial and biased review of the evidence, which systematically downplays survivor testimony. Many of the leading experts in the area have already put their rejection of this approach on record.

There is ample expertise available in Ireland and internationally to tell a far more detailed, accurate and precise story about the institutions of the mother-and-baby homes and the women and children who spent time in them than the one presented in the current report. The report’s conclusions ignore the existing research on these subjects and falls far behind them in its methods and understanding.

The historic record is ill-served by this document, and we do not accept its conclusions as fact or its methodology as credible.

As has been observed many times in the past weeks, the report contains multiple inaccuracies and presents survivor testimony in an unethical and unreliable way. We wish to draw attention to specific aspects of the report that are most egregious:

  • It is not the case that there is no evidence of forced adoptions. Indeed the Commission acknowledges testimonies from women who did not give free, full and informed consent for the adoption of their babies – but concludes that “there is no evidence that this was their view at the time of the adoption”. Similar problems exist with the claims that there is no evidence for money changing hands or for physical abuse. The Commission ignores existing research as well as the survivor testimonies it collected.
  • The report is deeply inadequate in its treatment of the subject of discrimination, particularly as regards race and disability. The conclusion that there was no evidence of discrimination in relation to mixed race children or children with disabilities is narrow and overlooks extensive reports of discrimination and exclusion in mother and baby homes and following adoptions.
  • Survivors have raised serious challenges as to the accuracy of how the Commission has represented their testimony. There are serious ethical questions around many dimensions of its investigative process, which also ignores human rights aspects. The systematic marginalisation of survivor testimony in this context is deeply offensive and makes for inadequate research.
  • The framing of the report, from the opening paragraphs of the Executive Summary to the final page, is designed to avoid direct and actionable attribution of responsibility. “Women who gave birth outside marriage [in early 20th Century Ireland] were subject to particularly harsh treatment”, the report states, going on to say: “Responsibility for that harsh treatment rests mainly with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families.” This attempt to deflect liability is woefully inadequate. Fortunately, the collusion of church and state to create the “cold harsh environment for women” which the report references has been carefully examined by academics, researchers and reporters in numerous independent analyses which are familiar to scholars and indeed the general public. Since the commission was directed by its terms of reference to look only at the running of the institutions themselves, it is not in a position to draw conclusions about where responsibility for the treatment of women in a smotheringly patriarchal system lay. Interested parties must look elsewhere for such analysis, grounded in actual research.

We the undersigned note that the information gathered by the Commission of Inquiry is of immense importance, most especially the 500 survivor testimonies collected. However, the ensuing report is in no way the final word on the experiences of thousands of women and children who passed through Ireland’s institutional architecture in the 20th century, and falls far short of existing research in the field. Future research must endeavour to understand the full extent of the systematic discrimination against women which enabled this system of institutional harm, and continues to influence Ireland’s polity today. It will need to focus in depth on questions of profit and loss; of Church and state relations of power; of marginalisation, exclusion and intersecting discrimination – for instance against black and mixed race women and children, the Mincéir community and women and children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

In all of this the experience and concerns of survivors must be centre-stage, along with the meaningful forms of redress they are asking for. We fully endorse the recommendations of the Clann Project, the joint initiative of Justice for Magdalanes Research and the Adoption Rights Alliance. A detailed list of recommendations can be found here; in sum, they are:








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