Mother and baby home survivor shares her views on the commission report

Valerie Dalton talks to The Liberty about the findings of the mother and baby home commission and her own hopes of learning more about her past.  

Valerie Dalton was only a few months old when she was adopted from St Patrick’s mother and baby home in 1963.

“My parents always brought me up in the knowledge that I was adopted and that they had picked me for a reason,” she said. “It was always openly discussed in my household and I was always told as much as they knew themselves.” 

In February, the mother and baby homes commission was dissolved, leaving behind many unanswered questions for the survivors of these homes. A protest was held on February 27th outside the office of the commission – campaigners and survivors alike laid baby shoes as a symbol of protest against the closure of the commission.  

The St Patrick’s mother and baby home was the largest of the nine homes and had up to 12,000 residents throughout its 81 years of operation, from 1904 to 1985. It had 149 beds for unwed mothers and 560 cots/beds for babies and children. It was financed by the Poor Law Guardians and the Dublin Union and run by the Daughters of Charity. Estimates suggest that St Patrick’s is responsible for the death of around 2,000 to 3,000 children and babies, in its 81 years of being open.  

Records from St Patrick’s, as well as mother and baby homes in Tuam and Bessborough, have been transferred to the offices of Tusla, the State’s child and family agency. The information in the files includes admissions and discharges, maternity registers and the records of children that were adopted.  

Tusla’s chief executive Gordon Jeyes said on the agency’s website: “Our key priority is to ensure that these confidential records are available, in the first instance, to the individuals whose personal information is contained within” and that “our staff will willingly assist with and contribute to any State investigations that may arise”. 

Dalton said that she is currently in the process of contacting Tusla to find out more about her background. “To be honest, I never really tried to find information about it when I was younger as I was worried it’d hurt my parents. However, I have recently applied to go on the register. 

“I do understand that birth parents deserve to have privacy if that’s what they want, and I wouldn’t want to infringe on that,” Dalton said. “But I do wish I had the knowledge of my birth place and any history of health concerns that might be within the family.” 

“I got quite a prompt reply and they’ve informed me what adoption society I was adopted out of. They have given me the details to get in touch with this society, although I have been led to believe that this contacting process is much longer.” 

The mother and baby home’s commission was established in 2015 and comprised of three people: Judge Yvonne Murphy, Professor Mary E Daly and Dr William Duncan. The commission’s final report was published on 12th January and it founded a high volume of reports of infant mortality, misogyny and discrimination against unwed women in these mother and baby homes – but there has been widespread disappointment at some aspects of the commission and its report..  

“Although I don’t have a large amount of knowledge on my own personal experience in the homes, I feel some people weren’t represented correctly and I’d be a bit disappointed in that after all the investigations that took place,” Dalton said and added that a lot of questions were left unanswered for many survivors alive today. 

After the final report was published, Taoiseach Micheál Martin released a apology on behalf of the Irish people to the survivors of these homes, and said it was “the duty of a republic to be willing to hold itself to account”. 

“You can’t always judge the past by looking at it with present knowledge.”

Valerie Dalton, mother and baby home survivor.

Dalton said it was a difficult situation for the Government to handle while also protecting the privacy of the women in these homes. “In some instances, you can’t always judge the past by looking at it with present knowledge.”  

She added: “There was a huge amount of stigma around unwed mothers by not only the Church and the government but in society in general back then.

“In these institutions unmarried mothers were treated horrendously and they should have been cared for.” 

There is now pressure on the State to create a new system for adoption and for the access to information for people that were adopted to be reviewed. “I am hoping,” Dalton said, “that as promised by the Government that they will come up with a formula that allows adopted people to find more information about their birth place, origins and about health concerns that may be in their family.” 

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