Magdalene Laundries adoptee Samantha Long was speaking to Colm Ó Mongáin on The Late Debate on Wednesday the 22nd of February, following the passing of The Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme Bill (2022) in the Dáil. The Bill is now before the Seanad.
Samantha joined other survivors on in Dublin to watch the Dáil vote in person. The proposed law includes financial redress and a medical card to survivors, but excludes those who spent less than 6 months at an institution. Samantha and her twin sister qualify for the scheme, but a younger sister (whom they have never met) does not. Samantha told Colm she was dismayed at the way the scheme will operate:
"The ones from 0-6 months would not be entitled to any redress for the suffering that they went through, which was suffering by being separated from their mothers. And other things that they went through, not just the separation."
Colm put it to Samantha that the separation lasts a lifetime. Samantha agrees, saying she sees no justification for the 6-month rule when you take the lifelong impact into account:
"That baby is a real person. That baby has real needs and real emotions and traumatic effects to various things that have happened to that baby."
Survivors were invited to make submissions on the shape of any redress system, and Samantha says that the group were clear, whatever the circumstances, no-one should be left out:
"They wanted various things, including all to be recognised and for that to be on a sliding scale, depending on how long they were in, but not for others to be left outside."
Some elderly survivors had travelled long distances to come and witness the proceedings in the Dáil on Wednesday. After being separated from their birth mother, many experienced lives of hardship, abuse and exploitation:
"I sat with men from Galway probably the same age as my dad, who were boarded out; they won't be recognised. They lived in sheds with animals, they were beaten with nettles. They will get nothing. I sat this evening with the mixed-race survivors, some were adopted and some weren’t. Their pain won’t be recognised because they were in institutions that won’t be recognised in this scheme."
Samantha says she was devastated at the difference in treatment of different groups of survivors:
"All I could actually do was sit beside them and squeeze their hand and feel ashamed that I am entitled to that redress and they are not."
A total figure of €800 million has been mentioned as covering this scheme. Samantha says she doesn’t understand how the government are making their calculations, as many people who qualify may be dead. Samantha spoke about her mother, who would have been entitled to financial compensation if she were still alive, but she died aged 51, having lived in an institution from the age of 2 until her death. She says there are a number of other reasons why people may not apply:
"We don’t know how many people will actually apply for the scheme. That’s a very arbitrary figure of who may apply, who is dead, who will not apply, who is illiterate and won’t be confident enough to apply, who wants to keep a secret and won’t apply."
Samantha describes the deep disappointment that spread through the assembled group of survivors, once it was clear that the redress bill was going to pass the Dáil vote:
"Tonight was just so sad. The atmosphere was so sad. The people came from various parts of Ireland. Some of them came from the UK. They were sitting in the Dáil looking through the glass. They moved around to look the government in the eye as the votes were happening. And they went back out in the dark, it’s a cold night. They had the expense of coming to Dublin and they just kind of shrugged their shoulders and went, 'You know, we tried our best.’"
Having been asked for their opinion at the consultation phase, Samantha says the rules of the scheme seem baffling:
"Why did they not listen to us? Why are all the children not cherished equally? There’s no answer. Nobody can answer them."
Samantha and her sister Etta have decided to use the money in a way that honours the memory of their mother:
"My sister and I have decided that we are going to put that money towards our daughters’ education in memory of the grandmother they never met. And we are grateful that something will be paid as a legacy of what she went through for 36 years."
Colm also spoke to Fianna Fáil senator Lisa Chambers about what happens next, as well as Mark Wall, Labour Senator, Mick Barry, PBP/Solidarity TD, and Adam Higgins, Political Correspondent with the Irish Sun in the full segment which is available to listen to here.