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Ireland apologises for the 9,000 babies who died in Ireland's church-run mother and baby homes

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Thousands of infants died in Irish homes for unmarried mothers and their offspring mostly run by the Catholic Church from the 1920s to the 1990s, an inquiry found today (12 January), an “appalling” mortality rate that reflected brutal living conditions, write and

The report, which covered 18 so-called Mother and Baby Homes where over decades young pregnant women were hidden from society, is the latest in a series of government-commissioned papers that have laid bare some of the Catholic Church’s darkest chapters.

Around 9,000 children died in all, the report found - a mortality rate of 15%. The proportion of children who died before their first birthday in one home, Bessborough, in County Cork, was as high as 75% in 1943.

Infants were taken from mothers and sent overseas to be adopted. Children were vaccinated without consent.

Anonymous testimony from residents compared the institutions to prisons where they were verbally abused by nuns as “sinners” and “spawn of Satan.” Women suffered through traumatic labours without any pain relief.

One recalled “women screaming, a woman who had lost her mind, and a room with small white coffins”.

Relatives have alleged the babies were mistreated because they were born to unmarried mothers who, like their children, were seen as a stain on Ireland’s image as a devout Catholic nation. The inquiry said those admitted included girls as young as 12.

Government records show that the mortality rate for children at the homes where 56,000 women and girls, including victims of rape and incest, were sent to give birth, was often more than five times that of those born to married parents.

“The report makes clear that for decades, Ireland had a stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture, where a pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future,” Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said.

Prime minister Micheál Martin will make a formal apology to those affected by the scandal in parliament this week for what he described as “a dark, difficult and shameful chapter of very recent Irish history.”

The government said it would provide financial compensation and advance long-promised laws to excavate some of the remains and grant residents, including many adoptees, greater access to personal information that has long been out of their reach.

A coalition of survivors’ groups said the report was “truly shocking”, but it had mixed feelings because it did not fully account for the role the state played in running the homes.

“What occurred was but an aspect of the newly established State which was profoundly anti-women both in its laws and in its culture,” the group said, and described Martin’s statement that Irish society was to blame as a “cop out”.

The investigation was launched six years ago after evidence of an unmarked mass graveyard at Tuam was uncovered by amateur local historian Catherine Corless, who said she had been haunted by childhood memories of skinny children from the home.

Corless, who watched a virtual presentation by Martin for survivors and relatives from her kitchen ahead of publication, told Reuters that she felt “quite deflated” for the survivors who had expected “an awful lot more” from the prime minister.

Other survivors and advocate groups criticised the inquiry for concluding that it was impossible to prove or disprove allegations that large sums of money were given to agencies in Ireland that arranged foreign adoptions from the homes.

The report found no statutory regulations were in place for the foreign adoptions of 1,638 children - mostly to the United States. Vaccine trials for diphtheria, polio, measles and rubella were also carried out on children without their consent.

The Church ran many of Ireland’s social services in the 20th century. While mainly run by nuns, the homes received state funding.

The former Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who retired two weeks ago, said the report highlighted how the Church “way outstepped its role and became a very controlling Church.” The Church and religious orders who ran the homes should apologise to residents, he told national broadcaster RTE.

The Church’s reputation in Ireland has been shattered by a series of scandals over paedophile priests, abuse at workhouses, forced adoptions of babies and other painful issues.

Pope Francis begged forgiveness for the scandals during the first papal visit to the country in almost four decades in 2018.

While Irish voters have overwhelmingly approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums in recent years, the Mother and Baby Home scandal has revived anguish over how women and children were treated in the not-too-distant past.

Brexit

Commission proposes to amend the EU's 2021 budget to accommodate the Brexit Adjustment Reserve

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Following the proposal for a Brexit Adjustment Reserve the Commission put forward on 25 December, the Commission has today proposed a €4.24 billion increase (equal to €4bn in 2018 prices) of the EU's 2021 budget. This will ensure sufficient resources are available this year to support EU countries in addressing the immediate effects of Brexit. The total amount for the Brexit Adjustment Reserve is €5bn in 2018 prices, or €5.37bn in current prices for the MFF 2021-27. This would bring the budget to €168.5bn in commitments and €170.3bn in payments.

Commenting on the decision, Commissioner Hahn said: “The EU budget has always been and continues to be a tool to deliver on EU's political commitments. The Brexit Adjustment Reserve is yet another example of European solidarity. The Commission will now work with the European Parliament and the Council to ensure that money becomes available to businesses and companies, regions and local communities as soon as possible.”

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) added: “Our motto in Cohesion policy is to leave no one behind. The Brexit Adjustment Reserve will come in support to those most impacted by Brexit. European unity was key throughout the negotiations and European solidarity will be crucial to deal with the outcome.”

The Brexit Adjustment Reserve will be rapidly available and flexible, and will cover expenditure to counter adverse consequences of Brexit in all member states over a period of 30 months. The vast majority will be allocated through pre-financing already in 2021, calculated on the basis of the expected impact of the end of the transition period on each member state's economy, taking into account the relative degree of economic integration with the UK. This includes trade in goods and services, and the negative implications on the EU fisheries sector.

An initial breakdown per member state is available online here. The remaining €1 billion in 2018 prices will be paid in 2024, after the member states have notified the Commission about the actual expenditures incurred. This will allow to respond to unforeseen events, and ensure that the support from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve is concentrated on the members states and sectors most affected by the withdrawal. For more information on the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, see here and here.

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Environment

UK and France can lead mobilization of tropical forest protection investment

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Lack of adequate finance has long been one of the biggest challenges facing natural climate solutions. Currently, the primary sources of revenue from forests, marine ecosystems, or wetlands come from extraction or destruction. We need to change the underlying economics to make natural ecosystems worth more alive than dead.  If we don’t, the destruction of nature will continue at pace, contributing to irreversible climate change, biodiversity loss and devastating the lives and livelihoods of local and Indigenous people, writes Emergent Executive Director Eron Bloomgarden.

The good news is that 2021 is off to a promising start. Earlier this month at the One Planet Summit, significant financial commitments were made for nature. Chief among these was UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to spend at least £3 billion of international climate finance on nature and biodiversity over the next five years. Prior to this announcement, 50 countries committed to protect at least 30% of their lands and oceans.

This is welcome news. There is no solution to the climate or biodiversity crises without ending deforestation. Forests make up roughly a third of the potential emissions reductions needed to achieve the targets set in the Paris Agreement. They hold 250 billion tons of carbon, a third of the world’s remaining carbon budget for keeping temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age. They absorb approximately 30% of global emissions, hold 50% of the world’s remaining terrestrial biodiversity, and support the livelihoods of more than a billion people who depend on them. In other words, ending tropical deforestation (in parallel with decarbonizing the economy) is essential if we are to keep on the pathway to 1.5 degrees and preserve our essential biodiversity.

The question is how to commit this funding in a way that drives toward ending deforestation, for good.

For this, tropical forest protection needs to happen across entire countries or states, working with governments and policymakers, who with the right mix of public and private funding, can commit to reducing deforestation at massive scale.

This isn't a new idea, and it builds on lessons learned over the past two decades. Central among those is that large scale programs will not materialize in the absence of massively increased levels of both public and private support. Even funding support amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars is not always sufficient to give countries confidence that large-scale forest protection programs are worth the up-front investment in monetary and political capital.

The scale of funding needed is far beyond what can realistically be achieved with government-to-government aid flows or conservation funding alone; private sector capital has to be mobilized as well.

The best way to achieve this is by using international markets for carbon credits and capitalizing on the growing demand from the private sector for high-quality, high-impact offsets as they race toward net-zero emissions goals. Under such a system, governments receive payments for the emission reductions they achieve through preventing forest loss and/or degradation.

The key is for donor governments like the UK, France and Canada to help build the infrastructure to value nature properly, including supporting conservation and protection, as well as the establishment and expansion of voluntary and compliance carbon markets that include crediting for forest credits.

On this latter point, following Norway’s lead, they can use part of their pledged funding to establish a floor price for the credits generated by large-scale programs. This approach leaves the door open for private buyers to potentially pay a higher price in light of the soaring demand for such credits, while giving the governments of forest countries peace of mind that there is a guaranteed buyer no matter what happens.

We are at an inflection point where significant new forest protection programs could be mobilized by a quantum increase in public and private finance. Donor governments are in a position now to secure US$ billions in co-funding from a range of private actors in order to support national forest protection programs that generate carbon credits. Channeling additional public and mission-driven funds will catalyze private investment and would be transformative in accelerating the development of this critical market, which would benefit the green recovery, the creditworthiness of forest countries, and the well-being of the planet and humanity.

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Frontpage

Google threatens to quit Australia search market

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Google threatened to pull its search engine from Australia if the nation passes a law requiring the company to negotiate payment terms with local publishers to access their content, writes Joseph Waring.

Melanie Silva, MD for Australia and New Zealand, told a Senate committee reviewing the plan Google would have “no real choice” but to pull its search services if it became law.

Google published Silva’s comments in a blog: she stated the current proposal presents “unmanageable financial and operational risk” for the company, and pressed for an approach which allowed it to pay publishers without withdrawing its search services.

In a blog, Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology said the comments are “part of a pattern of threatening behaviour that is chilling for anyone who values our democracy”.

Lewis noted the threat follows a “secret and cynical experiment” on Google users in recent weeks, where news had been withdrawn from its services without warning.

Fair payment

The government’s proposal is designed to ensure digital platforms agree to fair payment for accessing local news content.

Last week, the US government called for Australia to drop the move and adopt a voluntary code of conduct.

In a submission earlier this week, Google argued the planned code  would require it to pay all registered news businesses for merely having a link to their news content in search: “Such a requirement would destroy the business model of any search engine”.

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