Cabinet to consider new proposals for recording mother and baby homes survivors’ testimony

Government receives report on options for ‘lived experience’ project, following decision to drop independent review of survivors’ testimony

The Cabinet is set to consider new proposals which would see survivors of mother and baby homes interviewed about their experience inside the institutions, on foot of a new report from senior officials.

A group of officials in the Department of Children have submitted a 160-page report to Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman outlining the legal basis for the plans and options for the format, sources have said.

It is understood that Mr O’Gorman intends to bring a proposal to Cabinet in the coming months which would see survivors given the option to tell their story or to have their evidence to the former Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation entered as part of a national record.

While this would be a part of a planned new national centre for research and remembrance, that centre will not be up and running for at least five years.


Therefore, the Minister intends to bring proposals to Cabinet this year to set up the process ahead of that and have it completed before the centre opens.

A spokesman for the Minister said the process “will be focused on respectful recording and acknowledging of lived experiences rather than being inquisitorial in approach. It will be underpinned by human-rights principles and overseen and managed by a team with expertise in human rights, trauma and memory, communications and oral history.”

“The department will consult with relevant technical experts and, most importantly, undertake a consultation process with survivors in progressing the development of this new initiative.”

If participants agree, accounts, or anonymised extracts, could be published by the State and would “form the heart of the National Memorial and Records Centre which the Government granted approval for earlier this year”.

“There is significant potential for the accounts to be presented in creative ways which stand as a powerful and enduring living memorial and ensure that these stories can stand as part of the historical record,” he said.

The spokesman said consideration would also be given as to “how the learning from these accounts might be utilised as part of the second-level curriculum. This will ensure that future generations learn of this shameful chapter of Ireland’s history and do so in a manner where the survivor voice is central.

“Officials have examined the potential legal basis for the lived experience piece — looking at considerations around data retention, rights of third parties, etc. The department are now looking at whether legislation will be required for this.”

It comes after the Government dropped plans to have the survivors’ testimony examined by an independent expert.

In June 2021, The Irish Times revealed that Ministers would later that summer consider proposals that would see the independent expert examine the testimonies “through a human rights lens”.

The independent expert was to provide a report with a new analysis reflecting the testimonies and this would sit alongside the commission’s final report, which was published in January 2021.

The Irish Examiner reported this week that the plans have been dropped and reported that they were never significantly progressed beyond a number of draft documents.

One Government source said the plans had not been progressed as the department did not believe, from feedback from survivors, that this was the avenue they wanted pursued. The source also said there was a reluctance to “re-litigate” the commission’s report, which was the subject of much controversy, and the Government wanted to pursue its own action plan instead.

Last December, the State acknowledged in the High Court that the rights of eight former residents of mother and baby homes had been breached by the failure to provide them with a draft copy of the commission’s report prior to its publication.

The court had heard the actions of Philomena Lee and Mary Harney, who were chosen as test cases, to address a core claim in eight similar actions.

An acknowledgment by the Minister that each of the women did not accept sections of the report serve as “true and full reflection” of the evidence given will be published alongside the report online and in the Oireachtas library.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times