"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
Anne Ferris TD spoke in the Dáil Éireannon on 11th June 2014. It places the discovery of the draft of Irish Journey into context.
These institutions were but pieces in the large jigsaw puzzle known as “religious Ireland”.
I wrote an article last year about a Scottish man who, in 1955, talked his way into the Tuam mother and baby home and the Magdalen laundry in Galway. The man was an author, researching a book about Ireland. His name was Dr. Halliday Sutherland and his experience of both visits is related in a chapter of his book, Irish Journey. It is important to say at the outset that Dr. Sutherland was obliged to receive permission for these visits from two bishops, Dr. Walsh, the Archbishop of Tuam, and Dr. Browne, the Bishop of Galway. The evidence is that the Catholic hierarchy was exercising clear control over the two orders of nuns in question. It should also be said that by instruction of the Bishop of Galway, Dr. Sutherland only received permission to visit the Magdalen laundry on agreement that he would submit his written manuscript to the mother superior of the Sisters of Mercy.
It seems quite clear from this experience that the institutions were not autonomous entities and were, in fact, regulated by the religious orders whose names they carried, under the direction of a church hierarchy. This point carries much significance when considered in light of the repeated refusals by church authorities to pay redress moneys owed to victims and survivors of church abuse.
When Dr. Sutherland visited the Tuam mother and baby home, he took note of the partnership-type arrangement that existed between the State and the Bon Secours Sisters in the operation of the home. Each unmarried mother worked at the Tuam home for one year without payment and, in addition, the institution received a grant of £1 per woman or child from Galway County Council every week. Any child not adopted by the age of seven was sent to an industrial school. If a woman was unfortunate enough to have two illegitimate pregnancies, then she was sent to the Magdalen laundry in Galway to work for the Sisters of Mercy.
From just this one independent eyewitness account in 1955, we can identify a maze of interconnecting pieces of this jigsaw. The church hierarchy, the Bon Secours order, adoption societies, Galway County Council, the Galway Magdalen laundry, the Sisters of Mercy order, the industrial schools and the religious orders running the industrial schools were all linked directly to the Tuam mother and baby home. It is impossible, therefore, to inquire into the operation of a mother and baby home or, indeed, all mother and baby homes without considering all the pieces of the full jigsaw puzzle. For this reason, I look forward to further debate in this House on the terms of reference of this inquiry, which needs to be broad and carefully designed. The Minister’s idea to scope promptly and carefully the inquiry prior to its establishment is a good one.
Because Dr. Sutherland’s 1955 account of his visit to the Tuam mother and baby home and the Galway Magdalen laundry was subject to the prior editorial approval of the mother superior of the Mercy order in Galway, I first wondered, when reading his book, how much the record had been sanitised for public consumption. I no longer have to wonder. Dr. Sutherland’s grandson has provided me with a copy of his grandfather’s original 21-page manuscript, edited by hand, with a sharp blue-inked fountain pen, by the then mother superior of the Mercy nuns in Galway, Sister Fidelma. The marked manuscript, which has been kept faithfully by the Sutherland family for nigh on 60 years, was attached to a covering letter signed by Sister Fidelma and stamped with her convent seal. The original script, together with Sister Fidelma’s edits, tells a shocking story of punishment beatings, food deprivation and attempted escapes from the Magdalen laundry – one with devastating consequences. My intention, with the permission of Dr. Sutherland’s grandson, is to hand this document over to the commission of inquiry.
Given the clear links between the Magdalen laundries and the mother and baby homes, in my view, it is simply not possible to contemplate an inquiry into one type of institution without also inquiring into the other type. I look forward to engaging further on the terms of reference of the commission of investigation. The scoping phase must consider the need to investigate the Magdalen laundries, the church hierarchy and all adoptions that occurred where the natural mothers were not independently legally advised, which really means all adoptions carried out under these circumstances. This may be under one inquiry or, perhaps more effectively, under a number of parallel but connected commissions of investigation. The important point is that all of these various aspects of Ireland’s social and religious history are, in fact, closely connected and must be openly and thoroughly investigated together.