LONDON (AP) – Ireland’s Prime Minister said on Tuesday that the country must “face the full truth of our past” as a long-awaited report tells of decades of damage caused by church-run homes for unmarried women and their babies, where thousands of infants died.
Prime Minister Micheal Martin said young women and their children had paid a high price for Ireland’s “perverted religious morality” in recent decades.
“We had a completely skewed attitude towards sexuality and intimacy. Young mothers and their sons and daughters paid a terrible price for this dysfunction, ”he said.
Martin said he would make a formal apology on behalf of the state in Ireland̵
The final report of a study of mother-and-baby homes said 9,000 children died in 18 different mother-and-baby homes in the 20th century. Fifteen percent of all children in homes died, nearly double the nationwide infant mortality rate, the report says. The main causes were respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, otherwise known as stomach flu.
The report said “the very high mortality rates were known by local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications.”
But the document continued, “there is no evidence of public concern being expressed about the conditions in mother and baby homes or about the horrific mortality among children born in these homes, even though many of the facts were publicly available.”
The investigation is part of a billing process in overwhelming Roman Catholic Ireland with a history of abuse in church-run institutions, including evasion and shame of unmarried mothers, many of whom were pressured to abandon babies for adoption.
Church-run homes in Ireland housed orphans, unmarried pregnant women, and their babies for most of the 20th century. Institutions have been subjected to intense public scrutiny since historian Catherine Corless in 2014 asked for death certificates for nearly 800 children who died at the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway in Western Ireland – but could only find one funeral record for a child.
Investigators later found a mass grave containing the remains of babies and young children in an underground sewage structure on the grounds of the home, which was run by an order of Catholic nuns and closed in 1961.
The Commission of Inquiry said about 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children had lived in the homes it examined, with the largest number of admissions in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The last of the houses did not close until 1998.
“While mother and baby homes were not a particularly Irish phenomenon, the proportion of Irish unmarried mothers admitted to mother and baby homes or (state-run) county houses in the 20th century was probably the highest in the world,” reports said.
The Commission said that women’s lives were “ruined by pregnancy out of wedlock, and the responses of the father to their child, their immediate families and society in a broader sense.
“The vast majority of children in institutions were ‘illegitimate’ and therefore suffered from discrimination most of their lives,” the report added.
The Prime Minister said the report “presents the whole of Irish society with deep questions.”
“What is described in this report was not imposed on us by any foreign power,” he said. “We did this to ourselves as a society. “