Aitheantas Participation, Validation and Memorialisation Survey
Overview of survey
Following the publication of the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and Related Matters in January 2021, Aitheantas ran a short context survey of adoptees’ opinions and views on the report. The survey was shared to adoptee related support groups and on social media platforms.
Inclusion and exclusion
Respondents were evenly divided between those within the remit of the Investigation and those who were not within the remit. There is a shared dissatisfaction between those who could participate in the Commission of Inquiry and those who could not. Neither group was satisfied by the Commission of Inquiry nor its final report.
When participants were asked their opinion on the fact that they were not eligible to participate in the Commission of Inquiry, many expressed feelings of rejection and frustration, as evidenced by the quotes below:
“[I felt] that my experience did not matter, that I did not matter, that I had nothing useful to contribute”.
“I felt that it excluded me and other people that should have been given the chance to have our [mother and baby] home examined”.
“Rejected once again”.
“I would have valued an opportunity to participate. My voice would have been heard. [I was] upset about it at the time”.
“Excluded, silenced, discriminated against, unrepresented, ignored and forgotten. Nothing new there then!”
“I feel my opinion, my experiences and my issues are ignored due to an arbitrary decision yet another stranger made about me, without me, but completely affecting me”.
“I feel strongly that the investigation, the report’s findings, the apology and any reparations, further exclude me”.
“It’s a whitewash”.
“[I] asked for a copy [of the final report], still waiting. My part was not included under the [section about] the [mother and baby] home I was in. But my story was symilar [sic] to what came out in report. I was there under X months [,] I wasn’t [sic] treated great in [the] home. But it was one of the best run [homes]. Just because my mother was in the same time as me, I was lucky to see her for a short time during the day.”
One respondent who was within the remit of the Commission on Inquiry, but who did not have an opportunity to participate, noted:
“It was difficult, I thought when the [mother and baby] home I was in was included that I could go to talk to them [the Commission]”
Opinions on report
All respondents were disappointed and frustrated by the final report of the Commission. The quotes below highlight respondents’ anger at the report’s style and content:
“It is an unmitigated insult and the whole thing from beginning to end has been extremely abusive, even by going under the 2004 [Commissions of Investigation] act”.
[..] I think the report was also poorly written and poorly presented. The recommendations were badly set out. The tone of the report was condescending”.
“All that time, money and effort for what?”
“The untimely apologies, despite our protestations, the inexplicable exclusion of so many from so many institutions, the sheer lack of even the bare minimum of respect and therefore the blatant contempt shown to a vulnerable and traumatised marginalised community, are all a resounding shame and an utter disgrace!”
The use of the report’s findings for academic research was noted, but its inadequacy for victims was emphasised.
“Some of its findings are of benefit, probably to academics, the media and historians, but of little benefit to victims and survivors. The language, the press leaks from the Dept, the conclusions of ‘No evidence’, the contradictions, the destruction of testimonies, the way the Minister mishandled the database sage [sic] in Oct ’20, the fact [that] testimonies are not word for word and incorrect, the way people did not receive a hard copy of the report, the webinar, the rhetoric & the whitewash, the phenomenal cost, the Commission’s doubling down and lack of communication, the societal blame and the already ignored recommendations… survivor centred approach my adopted xxx!”
Respondents noted that the limited nature of the Commission’s remit affected its ability to effectively carry out an investigation, as elaborated in this quote:
“If it were a scoping exercise to check the viability of further investigations then to some extent it would have been understandable, but as a stand-alone investigation it makes no sense. The Commission covered so little and interviewed so few that it is hard to see the sense of it, it effectively shut out so many people. Then proceeding as if it were done and dusted, we have all the answers and we’ll move on focusing on the tiny section that the commission focused on is upsetting, it’s like a loss of franchise all over again.”
The full text and a video of An Taoiseach’s apology was provided in the survey. However, the apology delivered by An Taoiseach was seen as being insufficient by all respondents. It was felt that the commission excluded far too many who were directly affected, a fact the respondents believe An Taoiseach should have acknowledged.
All respondents felt that there needed to be a full investigation into the practices of forced and coercive adoption in Ireland, and that this investigation should include all mother and baby homes, agencies and institutions. They also agreed that the history of mother and baby homes and forced and coercive adoption should be taught in schools and colleges at secondary and third level.
The majority of respondents felt that the focus of any museum or repository of records should be adoptee/survivor-led with priority access for adoptees/survivors and their families.
A majority also felt that any future repository or museum should be in a neutral location that had no prior association with this past.
There was also a clear preference for an interpretative–based, survivor-led model which gives the social context of mother and baby homes, features permanent exhibitions and provides priority access to records for adoptees, survivors and their families.
Survey results indicated that adoptees who had taken a DNA test were more likely to prefer an interpretive-based model as opposed to a records–based model, whereas adoptees who had not taken a DNA test were more likely to prefer a records-based model.
Based on the result of this and other surveys, Aitheantas believes that adoptees who have taken DNA tests are further along in their information tracing process and now see the practices of adoption in a wider societal context.
As the numbers of adoptees taking DNA tests and conducting their own information tracing increases, Aitheantas believes that an interpretive-based model that gives the wider societal context is the most appropriate and suitable model for any repository/museum.
Respondents had many thoughts on the potential location and model of such a museum/repository, as highlighted in the quotes below:
“I think having something in Galway would be good, Tuam is there and even if the home is long gone there should be something there to remember them, I don’t know that a centre would be a good idea […] far too painful for people to go back […] so something new and modern [would be good]”.
“I think there are a few good ideas here that I have not heard before. The [one-off genealogy support] grant is a good idea for people who have already had to pay a lot of money to find records or documents and are further along. The museum focused on survivors [is] a good idea because we can see from the commission what happens when it is records based and [carried out] by people who do not know the background”.
“We need something for the mothers and children in the north [Northern Ireland], no one remembers the homes in the north”.
Respondents were strongly in favour of a one-off grant for adoptees to support genealogical research, as opposed to this service being made available through a centre or museum. Genealogists and family history researchers have proven to be an ongoing and useful support for adoptees.
This is reflected in the majority of responses that wanted this help supported and acknowledged in the form of a one-off grant to support information tracing. Individuals who responded to the survey are at different stages in their own tracing journey and in need of different supports at different times. A one-off grant was seen as fairest and meeting all needs while also providing autonomy.
“[I] especially agree with the grant aspect for tracing as a lot of adoptees, myself included, would have already paid to have a lot of research work done or paid for ancestry test which being quite honest I would never have done if there had been any other way to get the information”.
Location of museum/repository
Model of museum/repository