Appointment of judge to mother-and-baby home inquiry questioned

Minister says Judge Yvonne Murphy ‘ideally suited’ to challenging role

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: said much would depend on the terms of reference presented to the Dáil in the autumn

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: said much would depend on the terms of reference presented to the Dáil in the autumn

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 01:00

The appointment of Judge Yvonne Murphy as chairwoman of the forthcoming commission of inquiry into mother-and-baby homes has been questioned in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin expressed concern about the judge because the former minister for health James Reilly had also appointed her to report on symphysiotomy and she “produced what was, in my view and the view of many, a fundamentally flawed report”, he said.

“I hope the judge takes note and I hope she takes the right approach this time,” Mr Ó Caoláin said.

Worried

He was speaking during a debate introduced by Minister for Children James Reilly. This was on the report, by an interdepartmental group of civil servants, the office of the Attorney General and a number of agencies, informing Government decisions on the scope, format and terms of reference of a commission of investigation. Mr Ó Caoláin said much would depend on the terms of reference presented to the Dáil in the autumn.

“It is essential that the Government sets the proper and appropriate terms of reference for the commission of investigation.”

The inquiry has to cover all the key issues involved in the scandal of mother-and-baby homes, he said. “At the same time the terms of reference need to be clear and comprehensive, while making possible a timely conclusion to the work of the investigation.”

Independent TD Clare Daly echoed Mr Ó Caoláin’s remarks and said she was worried about Judge Murphy’s appointment.

The Dublin North TD said the UN Human Rights Committee “has disagreed with the conclusion of her report on symphysiotomy, particularly that it did not hold anybody to account”.

Ms Daly acknowledged that Dr Reilly had told the committee on children that, as chairwoman, it was open to Judge Murphy “to bring others on board and that the Minister would favour international involvement. It should be a requirement that this should be done,” she said.

‘Strong track record’

The Minister for Children however, praised Judge Murphy as “ideally suited to this challenging role” and said she was a widely respected person with “a strong track record in effectively establishing the truth in important and sensitive matters”.

He added that “the Government may give consideration to the appointment of further members to the commission but I believe Judge Murphy’s agreement to undertake the role of chair of the commission is a positive development in the process to establish an effective and independent investigation”.

Dr Reilly said the mother-and-baby homes were a manifestation of attitudes to, and treatment of, unmarried mothers and their children.

But “those confined to institutions represented only a small proportion of women and girls who became pregnant outside of marriage”.

He noted the report’s view that “the institutional features to such treatment cannot arguably be properly investigated without a wider examination of the social history of the period”, when figures showed that an estimated 89,247 births to unmarried women were recorded between 1922 and 1973. The statistics were distorted by an under-registration.