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Sinn Féin criticises Government apology to mother and baby home survivors

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Opposition parties have criticised the Government over its handling of the apology to survivors of mother and baby homes.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said hopes that the report would bring truth and accountability were “dashed” for many victims and many were instead left “deflated and angry”.

“There was still a slight hope it would bring hope and real accountability, but for many that hope was dashed,” she told the Dáil.

“Many are deflated and angry by what they read in the report.”

Ms McDonald added: “The overarching attempt to shift responsibility from State and church has left them shocked and outraged.

“They are furious that barriers to accessing information are placed in their way by the State. The circulating of wagons only adds to their trauma and exacerbates the failures of the State.”

Ms McDonald added it was “plainly untrue” to suggest the whole of Irish society was responsible.

“That is a distortion of history,” she said.

“Any idea we did this to ourselves is deeply insulting to survivors and is a cop-out. The death rate was multiple of the infant mortality rate in Ireland at that time.”

‘Ultimate abuse of authority’

While acknowledging the Taoiseach’s apology to victims on behalf of the State, she said it was not true to say what was witnessed was simply a failure of empathy and compassion in Irish society.

“More profoundly it was an abuse of power,” she said. “It was the ultimate abuse of authority. It was a brutality inflicted on women and girls and on the poor in particular.”

Ms McDonald added that the value of any sincere apology was always found in the actions that followed.

She called on the Government to ensure survivors received full redress and compensation as well as access to information, adding that the Government’s commitment to establish a “national archive of institutional, adoption and other care-related records” must be fully realised.

The Dublin Central TD also said it was “crucially” important that provision was made for excavation of sites at former homes where she said families know their relatives were buried.

She described the legacy of the mother and baby homes as one of “shameful crimes” by the State, by the churches and other institutions.

“For the tens of thousands of women robbed of their futures, for the children robbed of their childhoods, to those who died behind those high walls and iron gates in unmarked graves, for those who made it out and survived to tell the harrowing tale, let today though imperfect, and unfinished, be the start of the final length of that long road to justice.” she said.

“This is not over.”

She said Ireland owed the “greatest debt” to historian Catherine Corless.

Redress

Labour leader Alan Kelly also paid tribute to Mrs Corless for her tireless work, describing her as a “hero to this nation”.

Mr Kelly said the Dáil should introduce legislation to secure assets from religious institutions if they do not contribute to the State’s redress scheme.

“We need to ensure that this time around that those institutions make their contribution in relation to the redress for all of the families and women affected,” he said.

“If they do not make the contribution we will pass legislation, I will draft it myself, to ensure we can take their assets to ensure they make their contribution.”

Mr Kelly also said the Government’s deadline of the end of the year for the introduction of tracing legislation to give survivors access to information needed to be revised.

“I am concerned,” he said. “We cannot wait until the end of the year for this legislation. We’ve bailed out banks, we’ve brought in Covid legislation. Let’s prioritise it in the coming weeks. We’ll all work with you to ensure it’s brought through as quickly as possible.”

The Tipperary TD also said he supported a call from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties for a separate investigation to examine the “system of secret adoption and family separation to add to our knowledge about this shameful history”.

He described the treatment of the women and children as “horrendous”.

“When this State was founded, there were warnings about the level of mortality in these institutions and nothing was done. A blind eye was thrown,” he added.

“It continued for another 60 years. Politically, we are all at fault.

“Women and children, their families, have no blame at all.

Ireland

‘The State failed’: Taoiseach apologises to surviv…

“The institutions, the Catholic church, have a lot to answer for and we must look at our relationship between the State and the religious institutions.”

Mr Kelly said that society went along with what happened, which he described as “our collective shame”.

He added that he hoped the Commission of Investigation’s report would “belatedly put some of the truth on the record”.

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Ireland

Nothing rushed about special education reopening says Foley

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The Minister for Education has denied there was anything rushed about the botched reopening of special education, as talks with unions continue.

Norma Foley says every effort is being made to ensure children with special educational needs can return to school.

Students with special education needs had been due attend classes in-person once again from today, before talks between the Department of Education and the unions collapsed on Tuesday.

Union representatives said staff were hesitant to return to the classroom with the current high levels of Covid-19 in the community.

Ms Foley accused the unions of being “disingenuous” saying it was regretful they would not accept the public health advice that schools are a safe, controlled environment.

Describing Ireland as an outlier when it comes to students with special educational needs not attending classes in-person, Minister Foley said opposition assertions that the plan was not thought through are wrong.

Referencing the Minister’s comments regarding the talks with teachers’ and special needs assistants’ representatives, Labour’s education spokesperson Aodhan O’Riordain said Ms Foley should not make comments in public if she wants to get a deal.

“Say what you have to say in private with those unions who have also committed to do the same thing and then potentially we may have a road map for achieving what we all want, which is that education can be delivered [to] those who need it most,” said Mr O’Riordain.

Despite the difficulties, Fórsa, which represents special needs assistants, has reaffirmed its commitment to resuming education for students with additional needs, resuming engagement with Department officials this afternoon to “improve safety provision and re-build confidence”.

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Ireland making ‘clear progress’ says CMO but Level 5 likely for February

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Ireland is making “clear progress” when it came to reducing the incidence rate of Covid-19, but still has a “very large burden of infection” according to the Chief Medical Officer.

Dr Tony Holohan added the incidence of the virus in Ireland is now 10 times higher than it was when the Government eased public health restrictions in December and the country’s efforts to drive down the rate of infection must be maintained.

His comments come after Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Level 5 restrictions will likely continue “well into” February.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Speaking at the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) briefing Dr Holohan said: “On December 1st, when we last eased restrictions, our five-day moving average was 261 cases per day, today it is almost 10 times that number at 2,430 cases per day.

“It is evident that the population is working as one to reduce contacts and interrupt further transmission of the disease. However, we are witnessing the effects of high levels of community transmission through our hospital and ICU admissions and reported deaths.

“We need to continue to work together to drive this infection down and bring the disease back under control.”

It comes as the chief executive of the HSE said the Covid-19 situation in hospitals is at the “highest level of concern that we’ve ever had”.

Thursday saw a further 51 deaths due to Covid-19 and 2,608 new cases of Covid-19 recorded by the Department of Health.

Asked how long Covid-19 restrictions may remain in place Dr Holohan said Nphet did not have any reason to disagree with the Taoiseach’s expectations that Level 5 would continue for a number of weeks.

Dr Holohan said: “We have a very significant burden of infection. Looking at infection levels two weeks ago: they were very high, clearly very high.

“We’ve now reduced substantially in relative terms since then, but we have to look back to the beginning of December. We’re still 10 times higher.”

“It is simply a level of infection that’s way too high,” he added.

“We have further progress we have to make.”

The Taoiseach told Virgin Media’s Ireland AM that transmission rates of the virus were still too high to ease restrictions.

The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 is expected to meet on Monday to finalise plans to extend the current restrictions before Cabinet ministers approve the measures at a meeting on Tuesday.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn told the briefing that more than 500 people had died of Covid-19 in Ireland so far this month.

He warned that the trend was expected to continue over the coming days.

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Coronavirus latest data: How many cases are there…

“Sadly so far in the month of January there have been 532 deaths associated with Covid-19,” he said. “This compares with a total of 174 such deaths in the month of December and 164 such deaths in November.”

Earlier it emerged Dr Holohan had warned the Government last week that the death toll was likely to be up to 1,000 by the end of the month.

In a letter to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on January 14th, Dr Holohan said the latest modelling data suggested that there could be at least 25 to 30 deaths a day.

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