A decision not to proceed with a legal review of testimony given to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was taken following reflection on what survivors’ “key ask” was, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has said.
What survivors wanted, he said, was that their testimonies were “on the record” and properly “memorialised”. Recording their voices at the new national records and memorial centre would meet this “ask” he said and serve as a “really powerful oral history of what happened”.
Mr O’Gorman was speaking to The Irish Times following confirmation this week that his department would not appoint a legal expert to independently review testimonies given to the commission’s confidential committee. The commission, established in 2015, submitted its final report to the Government on October 30th 2020.
Many survivors complained about the manner in which their testimony was used in the report which was published in January 2021, highlighting instances where testimony was misrepresented or amalgamated. As the controversy escalated, Mr O’Gorman said he would seek approval to appoint an international human-rights law expert to review the testimonies. In recent days it emerged this will not happen.
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Asked why, the Minister replied: “At the time I spoke about potentially a legal review of the 500 testimonies but as we reflected on it, and reflected on what survivors were saying is their key ask, it was that their words are part of the record.
“So that is what we are seeking to do in terms of the new national records and memorial centre [NRMC] that the Government gave approval to a number of months ago — that one element of that will be a process whereby survivors who gave testimony can either ask that their recording of their testimony be lodged here and be reproduced.
“Or survivors can come back and either give their testimony again to the NRMC, or other people who didn’t give evidence to the committee but equally want to stand part of the historical record, can do so as part of the historical record that will be based in the NRMC. So I think that can be [a] really powerful oral history of what happened in the mother and baby and county institutions.”
The centre will be at the former magdalene laundry on Dublin’s Sean McDermott Street, ownership of which has been transferred from Dublin City Council to the Office of Public Works.
Asked if the testimonies could be appended to the commission’s report, he replied: “I don’t think we can change the commission report.”
The decision to halt the review was criticised this week by several survivors’ groups and was described as a “betrayal” of them by Social Democrats spokeswoman on social justice Holly Cairns.
Defending the decision, the Minister said since he took up his portfolio two years ago he had “met a lot of individuals and groups” and their “asks” had been “information, redress, sorting out what happened in Tuam and proper memorialisation. I feel as Minister we have addressed the information issue. We have finally got everyone the full right of access to information. We will be bringing redress forward in this term of the Dáil.
“We have passed the legislation to allow for the excavation of Tuam and on the first week of the Dáil we will be bringing forward the order to set up the agency to start that work in Tuam, and we have brought forward the proposal for the records and memorial centre. It will be a mechanism to make sure, in terms of the history and understanding of what happens, that survivors’ voices will be on the record.”