The past week has been difficult for Alice McEvoy. Like the thousands of survivors across the country, she believed their day had finally come with the publication of the final report by the Commission of Investigation into mother-and-baby homes across the country.
ow they feel let down by the state again.
Alice (65), who lives in Brosna, is highly critical of the report, not least due to some of its recommendations, particularly the exclusion of women who were in the homes after 1973 for the Redress Scheme. The reasoning behind the highly criticised recommendation is the Unmarried Mothers Allowance was available after that year; therefore women had ‘options’.
But that was not the case for Alice and for thousands like her. They had no options.
“There was a big increase into admissions to mother-and-baby homes in the 1970s, the world had changed. Women were in college but there was no contraception, no abortion,” she said.
Alice’s is one such story; she was in college in UCC when she became pregnant. She hid her pregnancy successfully for the entire duration and was sent to Dublin by taxi, on her own, when she went into labour to St Patrick’s on the Navan Road – one of the 18 institutions covered by the Commission of Investigation.
She was sent to Dublin with the instructions not to return to Cork with the baby and to hide ‘the incident’ from neighbours. Unlike many other survivors, Alice’s time in the home was brief. She did not stay, but her baby was taken from her.
“I was literally traumatised. This awful nun called me to the office and said you’ll pay for your sins, and another nun came swishing down the hall, they wore habits at the time, and they took the baby. I lost my temper and attacked the nun. I know I lost it, I don’t know what happened. They pulled me off her and threw me out,” recalls Alice.
“When the door closed behind you, you felt like you were in a prison and they were in control of you; it’s an institution, not a home. I wanted to get out of there, I would have said anything. They told me to come back and sign the papers in the morning.”
Alice signed the initial papers and fled back to Cork but during those early months considered keeping her daughter. She visited her and had a job and a bedsit, but she knew she would be unable to keep her.
While the Commission report fails to acknowledge any forced adoption, Alice feels she was forced to sign the papers.
“I was forced to sign the papers… Nobody stood over me with a stick, but I was forced to sign them by circumstances… You don’t want your child in a home, you want them to have parents.”
The adoption of her daughter, whom she has never met, was a secret Alice kept for many years.
“I never talked about it… I told no-one and came back to Cork. It was never spoken about in my house again,” she said.
Over the years, close friends and family became aware, along with her husbands and son. Alice now lives in Brosna with her second husband, Colin, having left her home-place of Cork for a quieter life. She loves her adopted home, but the peace of her quiet life has been disrupted by the anger she now feels at the Commission Report. Alice is a member of the collaborative forum for mother-and-baby homes and believes, despite the publication of the report, there is still a long battle ahead in many areas, including in many of the recommendations. She also says that survivors are unhappy with some of the testimonies, claiming the full detail of the lived experiences are not included. Alice is also critical that many survivors have yet to read the report as hard copies are unavailable and many elderly women don’t have online access.
She says this is ‘scandalous’, that those who suffered in these very institutions are suffering again waiting to see the full report.
She is also scathing of the report and the language and content.
“I am absolutely disgusted. The language is so offensive. It is like it was written by the church. I am so disappointed,” she said.
“This report is a white-wash.”
She believes the report wrongly ‘exonerated’ the church and that recommendations like the aforementioned rule around re-dress are to ensure compensation claims are not too costly.
“They are saying you have to spend six months in a home before 1973,” she says. “We must get ready to do battle on everything.”