A Donegal born man who spent the first few months of his life in care in Inishowen in the 1970s says the State “cannot be trusted” on the mother and baby homes issue.
Graham Monaghan, who was adopted by a couple from Sligo when he was 11 months old, believes the mother and baby homes issue should instead be dealt with by a commission of international experts.
Mr Monaghan said: “I feel the State cannot be trusted on the mother and baby homes issue. Instead, I would love to see an independent commission put together, comprising experts from outside Ireland, with no vested interest in the matter, to come up with the truth.
“It is only in this way, citizens of this country who have been through the mother and baby home system and are not yet equal citizens in the eyes of the State, would once and for all be given the opportunity to become equal citizens.”
Graham Monaghan stressed he was proud of his Donegal roots and his connection to Inishowen.
“I am Donegal by birth and blood and Sligo by design and very proud of both,” he said.
Graham Monaghan was speaking to Donegal Live in the wake of the passing of the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain Related Matters) Records Bill 2020 legislation at the end of October, which resulted in the “sealing” of the Commission’s archive.
Advocacy groups, the Adoption Rights Alliance and the Justice for Magdalenes, said the “sealing” of the archive “means no-one will be able to access their personal records or information about their disappeared relatives or babies who were buried in unmarked graves.
“All of the administrative files, which show how the abusive system of forced family separation was run, will also be withheld. It will not be possible to question the conclusions of the Commission of Investigation, to do further research, or to hold wrongdoers to account,” the groups said.
Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman said the act is “needed to preserve access to invaluable information, now and in the future, and not to put it beyond reach as has been reported.” Graham said: “If we don't speak up, then nobody will, and the truth of it is, only somebody who has come through the care system can really understand what the obstacles can be and what happened.
“The possibility of the files being locked up or even talk of the possibility of files being locked up, rings alarm bells. It just goes to show, once again, that the State can't be trusted on any of this. I am speaking from personal experience and from knowing so many people who have been through this. The State's track record is there. Anybody who was an orphan or was in a mother and baby home, we are innocent victims of somebody else's circumstances.
“There never seems to be, on the part of either the State or the Church, any recognition that we are actually innocent. Everything along the way is pointed towards defending or hiding what we experienced and of collectively keeping us not even close to equal citizens in our own country.
“I think people need to hear our stories. For instance, I was Christened twice yet I do not have one Baptismal Certificate. I would like to begin by saying, all of us who went through the mother and baby homes, were innocent victims of somebody else's circumstances,” he said.
Mr Monaghan was born in Lifford Hospital in June 1971. He was put in care roughly a month later, according to his social worker.
“I stayed in Inishowen until I was 11 months old, when I was adopted by two lovely people from Sligo. My mum and dad were absolutely fabulous.
“When I was about four or five, I was playing with my dad and he said, ‘Straighten your arms’ and I said to him, ‘That is my arms straight’. Mum and dad thought it was the way I was carrying myself.”
This was the start of a journey of disturbing discovery for Graham.
His mum and dad brought him to the GP who then referred him to a local paediatric doctor.
“I was then referred to an orthopaedic surgeon here in Sligo, who wasn't sure about anything. Then I saw a specialist from Galway, here in Sligo. I actually remember some of these appointments because of all the talk about my arms and I was being x-rayed every time.
“One was saying operate. The other was saying don't operate. My dad and mum decided they wanted to get a definitive answer on whether an operation should go ahead or not. They sourced, through our GP, a Professor Duthie, [Nuffield Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Oxford, 1966 to 1992], and I was brought over to see him.
“I was about nine or ten at this stage and I vaguely remember
some of what happened but I don't remember what he said. To the best of my memory, he was kind of vague with dad as well. The reason why I say that is because of what transpired many years later.”
As Graham got older, he often wondered if there was any definitive diagnosis for his arm condition. He said he would have loved to have got them fixed had it been possible. “I can't straighten either of my arms. I have very, very limited mobility in both elbows and a simple act like taking change from someone, I can't do. I can't turn my hand flat. I have no turn in my elbows.
“Being a child, I wasn't aware of any information that dad had been given. However, when my wife Caroline and I were going to have a baby, I thought I'd better find out if there was ever any diagnosis regarding the situation with my elbows. I wanted to know if it was a genetic condition, which could be treated at a young age, so we could do that if the baby inherited the condition.
“To be fair to him, the GP here in Sligo, who had taken over the practice from our original family doctor, was very supportive. He opened the available medical files for me to start looking through. This is where I got a big shock. I found the letters from the different doctors who had examined me when I was a child.
Between them all, they were questioning whether it was genetic or whether I was a dwarf.
“There was every sort of angle of explaining why my elbows were the way they were. However, the really interesting letter was the one from Professor Duthie in Oxford. He clearly stated that he could find nothing that would mark it down as genetic. He highlighted one strong possibility, and I am paraphrasing here, that it was trauma at a young age. This letter was actually marked in highlighter pen by the GP but the information was never passed on to my mum and dad.”
The GP also never told Graham's mum and dad that Professor Duthie wanted to see him again the following year. He wanted to review Graham's situation and to see where it was going. An emotional Graham said: “That information was never given to my mum and dad because I know my dad would have had me over the following day if he had been told the specialist wanted to see me again.
“I now had a situation where I realised my condition was the result of abuse, which took place when I was in care and it had been ongoing, so I contacted the [Residential Institutions] Redress Board. Dealing with the State turned out to be one of the greatest nightmares of all time. This is important to tell people. I was made out to be the guilty one. If we wanted to proceed to redress, we had to sign non-disclosure agreements.”
Under Section 28(6) of the Redress Act 2002 Inish Times cannot publish any information concerning an application or an award made under this Act that refers to any other person (including an applicant), relevant person or institution by name or which could reasonably lead to the identification of any other person (including an applicant), a relevant person or an institution referred to in an application made under this Act.
In June 2002, the then Fianna Fáil Government and 18 religious orders signed a deal which awarded the latter indemnity against all legal claims if the orders paid €128m in cash and property.
The religious orders concerned included the Sisters of Mercy, the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, the Christian Brothers,the Good Shepherd Sisters, the Presentation Brothers, the Rosminians, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Hospitaller Order of St John of God, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Sisters of St Clare, the Institute of St Louis, the Presentation Sisters, the De La Salle Brothers, the Dominicans, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, the Brothers of Charity, and the Sisters of Nazareth.
The Redress Board was set up in 2002 in order to make awards to people, who as children, were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions subject to State regulation or inspection.
During its 16 years in operation the Board has processed 16,650 applications for awards worth almost €970 million.The average value of awards was €62,250, with the largest being €300,500.
Graham said, dealing with the State, he constantly felt as if he was looking for something to which he was not entitled.
“I was not even permitted to sit with family members. As a result, I was denied family support. There was no-one with me other than my senior counsel and my solicitor, while the State was represented by two or three people. There was also a judge.
“When my medical evidence was not accepted, I was not happy with that, so I continued my fight. I ended up going to Newcastle in England to see a specialist in elbows. “He knew the background to the story. I had sent on all of the relevant information we had. When he looked at the x-rays and he examined my elbows, he came to the conclusion, without any doubt at all, that the only way that the elbows could have ended up the way they were was through trauma. It was repeated trauma. It wasn't just a toddler who fell and broke his arms.
“The lack of movement in my elbows had been caused by repeated abuse. They actually damaged my growth plates in the elbows and all through the time of seeing all these doctors when I was a kid, they kept treating the elbows as if they were the same. This is the daftness of it. The glaring, obvious thing, and it is amazing when it is pointed out to you on an X-ray is that they were similar but not the same, so it could not have been genetic. My childhood doctors were ignoring the glaring facts right in front of their faces. They were trying to find any reason other than the obvious one.”
Based on this evidence, the State ruled in Graham's favour. But, even then, he said, he was made to feel that he was still guilty.
“It was absolutely horrendous how we were treated,” said Graham.
“It was a terrible, terrible and I can only imagine how horrible it might be for someone who was older in life and had actually experienced physical, sexual or psychological abuse through their years.
“The only thing was it happened to me before I was 11 months old, so the recollection of pain or anything like that doesn't exist. However, I still carry these broken arms every day with me and they are unfixable. They can never ever be fixed. My arms were so badly damaged.
“In addition, there was so much time lost after I saw Professor Duthie. If he could have reviewed my situation, who knows? “He knew something was wrong but he couldn't put his finger on what exactly it was. His reason for not wanting to operate initially was that operating on a child at that stage would have been wrong because I was still growing and going in and messing with the elbows before they had fully grown could have been a dangerous thing. However, he obviously noticed there was something wrong with the growth plates and the growth wasn't happening properly, so he wanted to see me, to keep a track on what was going on. But he was never given that opportunity. My mum and dad were never given that opportunity to bring me back over.”
In his teenage years Graham was very ill and said his mum and dad, who are now both deceased, always made sure he got the very best possible medical care available.
No medical records
Graham's situation was complicated because there were no medical records from his time in care.
“From birth to 11 months there are no medical records to go on. They could never find any records. I was told they were burned in a fire.
“Other than, it turns out, my arms were damaged and there is also a scar on my face, which I still carry to this day, a little scar on my cheek. When my mum and dad came up to collect me, dad actually questioned it.
“I had also been baptised twice but I cannot find a Baptismal Certificate. As an adult, I realised I had no Baptismal Certificate prior to receiving the sacraments in school. Teachers were obviously saying, ‘Let that one go', which is shocking. When I got married my dad had to provide and affidavit, a legal document, swearing I was who I said I was. How humiliating is that?” said Graham.
Looked the other way
Reflecting on his situation, Graham said the adults collectively looked the other way.
“Everyone who came through the mother and baby home system was the innocent victim of somebody else's circumstances.
“Nobody would choose a life with so many blanks, part of your life where you don't exist. God love the people who were given up in mother and baby homes, who don't even have that basic piece of information, which I had, the adoption papers. Nowadays so many people love to go back and trace their family trees. We don't even have that right. We don't have a proper Birth Certificate, I only have a short birth certificate.
“When it was eventually recognised there was a serious issue amongst our society, the Government of the day, the State handled things in such a horrible way. We were once again treated as the guilty ones and not treated as the victims of all this. The State has a bad track record on this,” said Graham.
Graham questions why the records of people who have been through the mother and baby home system are being handled by Tusla or the Children's Minister.
“We are not children. Any future laws or legislation that is passed could now include Tusla and the Minister for Children. However, this is in the past. None of us are children any more. Why do our issues have to be dealt with by the Minister for Children?
“It is like saying, you are still only the little children of the State. Thankfully, our country got rid of the awful phrase of illegitimate many, many years ago, but the we are still treated as illegitimate.
“We are not entitled to the same basic information that every one else who is born in a 'normal' situation is entitled to. There is no communication with us by the State and the Commission. The miscommunication the Children's Minister spoke of as having taken place around files being sealed for 30 years was absolutely disgraceful.
“The minister actually admitted that he didn't communicate with anybody, nobody ahead of talking about it. If this happened to any other part of society, that minister would have been hauled over the coals but again, because we are still perceived as the children, not adults, we are still treated and spoken about as if we were children," said Graham.