A proposed law to give compensation to mother and baby home survivors has been passed to its next stage by a narrow margin by the Dail.
TDs voted 73 to 62 for the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme Bill 2022 on Wednesday evening.
It will now go to the Seanad.
The proposed law was earlier branded “cruel” by Sinn Fein because it excludes those who spent less than six months in the institutions.
The Government anticipates 34,000 applications for redress and a form of enhanced medical card, with many expected to come from people who now live outside Ireland.
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman was urged during a Dail debate on Wednesday evening to take the last opportunity to address concerns in the legislation.
Social Democrat Holly Cairns said institution survivors asked for a universal inclusive scheme where all mothers and babies would be eligible for redress, regardless of the year or duration of their stay.
“You have ignored this,” she said, describing a “deeply insulting and harmful scheme”.
She also criticised Government for “not pursuing” pharmaceutical companies over vaccine trials and milk formula trials in homes, and said assets should be seized from religious orders which ran the institutions, rather than “kindly requesting a contribution”.
It is one of the biggest schemes of its type as we seek to put right some of the wrongs of the pastLeo Varadkar, Taoiseach
Labour TD Sean Sherlock said that 40% of survivors are not eligible for the scheme due to an “arbitrary” requirement that they must have been a resident of a home for at least six months, which he said is “completely unfair”.
He added it is likely to be challenged in the courts.
“At this eleventh hour I ask the minister, please, to have regard for those babies, those people, those human beings, who were resident for that period of time from birth to six months to please to be included in the scheme on the basis of fairness, justice and equity,” he urged.
Institution survivors watched on from the public gallery as Mr O’Gorman defended the Bill.
He said while the state has surviving records from the institutions, some may need to provide evidence they were residents in a home by way of an affidavit.
He also stated that all applications will be processed “as quickly as is possible”.
Earlier, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald challenged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to intervene to drop the six-month rule.
Mrs McDonald told TDs: “Today, the Government wants to pass through the Dail, legislation establishing the mother and baby homes redress scheme.
“This despite the fact that the Bill shamefully excludes children who spent less than six months in a mother and baby institution or a county home.
“As a consequence, 24,000 survivors will be left behind by the Government’s proposed scheme.
“It is scandalous that this exclusionary, discriminatory provision remains in the legislation.
“The scheme creates a hierarchy of victims by taking the view that some mothers and their children suffered less than others.
“The very idea that a child who spent less than six months in a home suffered no damage or injury and is not entitled to redress is just unacceptable.
“The proposed scheme is a botched scheme. It doesn’t meet the needs of survivors in an equal and fair way.
“The scheme that comes before the Dail today is an insult to those survivors and to the hard road they have walked.
“Somebody needs to listen and that somebody must be you, Taoiseach.
“I am asking you as head of Government to intervene and drop this discriminatory six-month rule.”
The Taoiseach responded: “The Mother and Baby Home Institutions Payment Scheme is currently being debated by the Oireachtas.
“It will include payments to an estimated 34,000 people.
“It is one of the biggest schemes of its type as we seek to put right some of the wrongs of the past.
“While no measure could hope to make up for the traumas and wrongs committed in institutional settings, the Government has engaged and responded in a meaningful way.
“The scheme will open as soon as possible in 2023 once the legislation is passed by the Oireachtas.
“In relation to children who spent less than six months in institutions, who were adopted or otherwise separated from their birth family, the overwhelming priority need which has been expressed is access to records, information about their identity.”
Mrs McDonald said: “In an arbitrary way you have decided that those who were separated from their mother, if they happened to be in the institution for less than six months, are not to be covered by this redress scheme.
“That is arbitrary, I put it to you that it is cruel.”
Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t think it is fair to describe the decision of Government as being arbitrary in this matter.”