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‘I hope this finally puts an end to our culture of silence’

January 31st, 2021 11:50 AM

By Southern Star Team

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Anne Harris gave birth to a baby in Bessborough who was given up for adoption in 1971. Based in France, Anne – who holidayed for years near Bantry – has been reunited with her son. Her novel Unspoken is based on her experience. Here she reflects on the report into the Mother and Baby Homes

Tuesday, January 11th, was to have seen the end of a process that should have been cathartic and healing for the very many people who gave evidence to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

But also to the very many people who did not    either because they couldn’t face raking up memories they had hidden away for so long, or because they were still feeling the shame inflicted on them. 

A webinar was to take place with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Children, to which ‘survivors’ would be invited and where we would have the chance to learn what was in the report before it was released publicly.

The week began with the leaking of sections of the report. 

Listening to the radio on the previous Sunday, I felt anger and a deep sense of betrayal. 

By the time Tuesday arrived, I had heard discussions taking place all over the media on a report I hadn’t yet seen.  

The webinar itself was a great disappointment. As I waited in front of my computer for the meeting to start, I thought I had logged into the wrong page. 

In the list of participants, I could only see one name – mine. 

I had no idea how many others were there, or how they were reacting. 

The meeting started late, and there was no message telling people they were logged on, adding confusion to the stress. I felt alone and unsupported as I listened to the two men telling me what I knew already. 

We were invited to type our questions in the chat box, but only three were answered.

I am disappointed on a number of levels, not least with the way the report was presented to the survivors. The people who gave evidence should have been consulted and allowed to look at their transcripts and have a say over the way those transcripts were used in the report. 

Time should have been allowed for us to read the report before releasing it into the public domain, and I am annoyed at what appears to be an attempt to push the blame onto families and ‘society’. 

The various apologies from Church and State will be meaningless if not followed up very quickly by action. Priority needs to be given to information and tracing legislation, right of access to records, redress and the whole issue of burials.  

The question of the grounds of Bessborough being built upon, while the burial places of so many children have not been established, needs urgent attention.

I have not yet read all of the report, but reading the personal accounts takes me back to the months I spent in Bessborough and makes me realise that although each woman’s experience was different, we shared a trauma that cannot easily be erased.

One of the few positive aspects of this for me has been the possibility to exchange with the many groups and individuals who have been actively supporting survivors for many years. 

Without their hard work and perseverance, we would never have reached this point. 

I hope also that the fact that so many people are sharing their stories will now encourage others to come forward and put an end to the culture of silence which has dominated Irish society for so long.

Anne Harris’ novel ‘Unspoken’ is available now in bookshops and on Amazon.

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