By Patricia Devlin
WHEN Francis Timmons held his dying mother’s hand, he felt like the luckiest man on earth.
For not many children who survived the horrors of the 1970’s Irish care system were as fortunate to be with their mothers.
“To be beside her when she was dying and to hold her hand…I was very lucky I was there,” he said. “I speak to so many people who never had and never will meet their parents.”
Mary Timmons sadly passed away in January 2014, two months before her son was elected to South Dublin County Council.
Until her death she had wrongly carried a guilt that had been instilled in her by the church and the State. That she was an unfit mother because she was unmarried.
“Mary wanted her children, but she was told because she was unmarried she wouldn’t be able to look after them,” said Francis
“And losing us had a huge and devastating effect on her life. She ended up in the Simon Community for 40 years.
“Nowadays she would have had all the support she needed. She would have been encouraged to keep her kids. She was judged.
“Luckily we did get to see her now and and again and she always said to us, ‘I’ll be coming to get you soon’. But she was prevented from doing so.
“And years later, even when she was dying, she had this huge guilt.
“I remember I was holding her hand and she looked at me. I just said, ‘you done absolutely nothing wrong’
“And she didn’t. It was her family, the State, the Church – they all judged her.”
The Clondalkin councillor, 45, grew up in the Blackrock-based Madonna House mother and baby institution ran by the Sisters of Charity in the 1970s.
He was later moved to a foster home where suffered horrific abuse – now the subject of a Tusla-led investigation.
Two of his brothers were also placed in Dublin-based institutions.
“Basically what the Church and State did in our situation was they ripped us apart,” said Francis.
“They literally took our hearts out, jumped on them, put them back in and expected us to get on with life. It caused a lot of problems.
“I grew up with one brother, and the other brother had a few different foster families and it was a strange relationship because we didn’t get to see each other that often.
“One of my earliest memories in Madonna House was going off with my other brother and leaving one behind. It’s painful to talk about.
“And that’s one thing I felt guilty about. They were awful places and to leave someone there that you care about was hard.”
Sadly some of the foster homes children were being sent to weren’t much better. Francis, who only recently opened up about the abuse he suffered, still struggles.
“You try to shut a lot of it out as time goes on because you want to sleep at night time,” he said. “I almost drank myself into oblivion. I spent a lot of 20s just drinking and getting very, very drunk. It was the only way I could get a proper night’s sleep.
“And there were times when I just wanted to die, I didn’t want to live. I never tried suicide but I did think I’d be better off out of this.
“I thought I would never get out of Madonna House. I was so relived when I did then I went on to suffer the abuse in foster care, I just thought I’d be better out of the world altogether.”
Since taking his seat the independent politician has been a leading light for abuse survivors where he has tabled countless motions on their behalf.
He is also one of the founding members of the new United Survivors group, which is calling for a State apology to all victims and survivors of mother and baby institutions.
The group is calling on the support of politicians including TDs and Senators to back its bid for justice.
“We aren’t looking for sympathy, we are looking for people to know this affects just as much people today as it did then.
“The last Magdalene laundry shut in 1996 this is relatively only a few years ago. We aren’t going back 100 years.
“What we need from the Minister and the government is that this isn’t a thing that just affected us for a few years in the 70s, this stretches up to the present day.
“One thing I say now is, I am nobody’s victim. I am a survivor because I am here to tell the story.
“All we want is truth and justice and a day where we can all go to bed and get a proper night’s sleep.”