Protests against sealing of Mother and Baby home records in online rally

Róisín Cullen

Credit: Laura Hutton Rollingnews.ie

An online rally in protest of the government’s choice to seal the records of Mother and Baby homes was organised by Uplift.ie and Aitheantas.

The #RepealtheSeal Zoom rally took place on Tuesday, October 27, and built from the momentum of the online petitions that called for the seal on the Mother and Baby Homes testimony to be lifted.

The Uplift petition has over 16,000 signatures at the time of writing, while the Aitheantas petition has over 194,000.

Those who signed the Uplift petition were emailed details of the Zoom rally and urged to have their phones on hand in order to ring local TDs during the event.

Aitheantas campaign to give Irish adoptees access to their own information and acknowledgment of their identity rights. Patrick Ryan-O’Brien, Head of Technical Operations and Media Manager of the organisation said the aims of the rally are to “get our message across, explain the aims of the #RepealtheSeal campaign. Our message for the Government is simply that the policies of the past have no place in the future.”

Survivors and adoptees shared their own personal stories using the chat feature and through their webcams. Attention was raised to the travelling community’s experience.

Participants and organisers alike were visibly moved by a performance by Mary Coughlan. The Irish singer and actress sang “Magdalen Laundry”, a song she has performed across the globe.

 

“I knew I was not bound for Heaven.

I’d be cast in shame

Into the Magdalene laundries”.

 

Participants were asked to hold candles and observe a moment’s silence as a screenshot was taken of the call. Many displayed pictures of candles on their phones.

Others held clocks, memorial cards and pictures of loved ones.  There was an opportunity given to mute mics and ring local TDs.

However, this action was not possible for those joining from countries outside of Ireland.

Ryan-O’Brien believes that the public’s “overwhelming anger” and the vast numbers that signed the petition were by no means unprecedented.

“We had an idea based on the litmus of our supporting council motions of which we had obtained 21 supporting motions through various county councils around Ireland nearly all with unanimous cross-party support,” he said.

A press release yesterday revealed that the organisation is now calling for immediate free mental health supports for adoptees and survivors of Mother and Baby Homes.

Founder of Aitheantas, Maree O’ Brien said that “the debates in the Oireachtas over the past week were really difficult for our community and have caused huge distress, with severe implications for people’s mental health.”

Although clarifications issued by the government in relation to the community’s access to their personal data were welcomed, Aitheantas has called for a national apology from an Taoiseach and Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderick O’Gorman.

“We are calling on an Taoiseach and Minister O’Gorman to commit to a national apology for the decades-long practice of concealing and obstructing access of records pertaining to Mother and Baby Homes,” they said.

The organisation feels this apology is needed to move forward in the “process of national healing.”

Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke of the determination in government to have the report on the Commission into Mother and Baby Homes, published “as quickly as possible.”

He stressed that the government had “no agenda to bury anything.”

Minister O’Gorman explained to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that he is willing to meet with survivor groups.  He acknowledged that survivors must be at the forefront and that he made a mistake by not engaging with groups originally.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins attended and spoke at the #RepealtheSeal rally. She believes that the event was a “really strong, important expression” and acknowledges that a “deep culture of secrecy” has affected many Irish people in different ways.

She said that “there isn’t a seal in law. There is a seal in practice.”

She highlighted the misinformation that was spread over the last week.  “In 30 years, these documents must go to the archive but it doesn’t actually preclude anything happening in the meantime.”

While the government later announced that survivors would be allowed to access their data, Higgins believes that the call to #RepealtheSeal had another strong message.

“In the repeal the seal call that came from survivors, adoptees and their families… It’s really [that] they are saying to move away from the culture and the policy of sealing information away, of blocking access, of obstructing people when they seek their own information.”

Higgins explains that a massive task is still ahead, and an opportunity for the government to handle the information is a positive and responsive manner.

The Galway senator hopes to push for more answers in the coming weeks. “We still haven’t been given assurance that people will be given copies of their testimonies.”

She believes this week may lead to change for the better.

“I really hope that this process and seeing the depth of concern and the depth of damage that silencing and secrecy can do, that there may be a wider evaluation of the government’s approach in terms of other issues, other past tribunal commissions.”

Róisín Cullen

Image Credit: Laura Hutton/Rollingnews.ie