Statement | One Family Statement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home

What Ireland has learned about the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, and how callously and disrespectfully babies and infants were treated in life and in death, seems almost impossible to comprehend. It is difficult to think about it but we must; particularly today, on International Women’s Day. What happened at Tuam was reflective of our society, of our state and the Catholic Church. It was able to happen because of attitudes that led to pregnant, usually poor, unmarried women being held in such homes, to being treated as shameful, and to their babies being seen as an embodiment of sin.

We have been thinking about all of those children, women and families who suffered in the past, and those who today still carry pain as a result or their or their family members’ experiences. We hope that the unveiling of the secrecy around Tuam Mother and Baby Home can be the start of a real and true acknowledgment of their suffering.

One Family was founded as Cherish in that time when pregnant unmarried women were ‘sent away’. Our founders were a small group of unmarried mothers who were raising their babies themselves in very difficult circumstances. Through finding and supporting each other, they founded an organisation that would go on to support many thousands of other women; women desperate for help because of the societal and structural attitudes that meant being pregnant and unmarried had cost them their family relationships, jobs and homes. These women were supported to keep and raise their babies. The organisation successfully campaigned to abolish the status of illegitimacy, and for the introduction of the Unmarried Mother’s Allowance, as the One Parent Family Payment was then called.

Our founding member Maura O’Dea Richards said today: “The deep sadness I feel on reading these reports is one I have always carried as a woman who witnessed the suffering of so many others just because, as I had been, they were pregnant and unmarried. In 1972, we, the ostracised, banded together and showed ourselves. We demanded that women be recognised as deserving of value and respect, irrespective of marital or parenting status. We fought for justice for our children and for every child. One Family continues that work today. What will it take for our society to finally see all children and families as equal?”

Today, one in four families in Ireland is a one-parent family. It is forty-five years since we were founded yet many of the parents we work with still experience stigma and shame simply because they parent alone. The reality is, and evidence shows, that what most affects a child’s future is not the form their family takes, but living in consistent poverty. Yet Ireland’s child poverty rates continue to rise, and one-parent family households continue to experience the most deprivation.

Both poverty and judgement are dehumanising. A one-parent family is not “the other”; if someone is poor, they are not “different”. It is time that Irish society truly learns from its past. Each of us must accept responsibility for how we think about and treat the people around us; our family members, our neighbours, the parent we see at the school gate every morning. We must all work to contribute to a future society where every family is equally cherished. Only then can we be proud of who we are.


People parenting alone and their family members affected by the recent harrowing reports may wish to call One Family’s askonefamily helpline for support on 1890 66 22 12 / 01 662 9212.

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One Family Statement on Mother and Baby Homes

One Family Statement on Mother and Baby Homes

One Family, in following recent media coverage in relation to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, shares the widespread concerns voiced in relation to the treatment of mothers and children and to the remains of deceased infants which has led to the start of a wider conversation about how pregnant women came to be in such homes.

This organisation was founded as Cherish by a small group of unmarried mothers in 1972 who, against prevailing practice, decided that they wanted to keep their babies and raise them themselves. Our founders tell numerous stories of their difficult personal experiences in doing this, as well as those of the many women who turned up at their homes, at group meetings, or here to our offices at 2 Lower Pembroke Street, Dublin desperate for help because they were pregnant and not married which in countless cases had cost them their family relationships, jobs and homes.

Through the 1970s and 1980s the organisation worked hard to change the accepted ‘norms’ by lobbying for the introduction of the first social welfare payment to acknowledge the existence of women bringing up children on their own and to abolish the status of illegitimacy. More information on the history of One Family is here. Our founding member Maura O’Dea Richards has also previously published a book, Single Issue, about this era.

Maura O’Dea Richards said today: “One Family welcomes the Government’s Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and we will be making a submission to Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Charlie Flanagan TD, on appropriate terms of reference. We strongly believe that it will be of great benefit to individual members of families who spent time in mother and baby homes, as well as to wider society, if we are able to respectfully establish relevant facts about who lived and died in homes, who was adopted and where to, and we hear the experiences and voices of those who were born and lived in mother and baby homes.”

One Family’s Chairperson, John O’Connell, who was himself born in Bessborough Home and returned with his mother to her family at the age of six months, comments: “Unfortunately we are aware that secrecy and shame can still surround many women whose children were adopted from mother and baby homes. As a society we need to give a clear and strong message that this secrecy and shame was and is wrong. There are still opportunities for adopted family members to be reunited, for children and parents who lived in mother and baby homes to be heard and acknowledged, and for Irish society to finally learn these lessons and treat all children and families equally.”

Lone parents and their family members affected by the recent harrowing reports may wish to call One Family’s lo-call askonefamily helpline for support on 1890 66 22 12.