Rights of eight mother and baby home survivors breached over report, State says

Women identifiable in commission report, not provided with a draft before submission to Minister

Philomena Lee (pictured) and Mary Harney, were chosen as test cases to address a core claim in eight  similar actions. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Philomena Lee (pictured) and Mary Harney, were chosen as test cases to address a core claim in eight similar actions. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The State has acknowledged in the High Court that the rights of eight former residents of mother and baby homes were breached by the failure to provide them with a draft copy of the report by the Commission of Investigation into the homes 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.

The State consented to a court declaration that the commission breached its statutory duty under section 34 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, by failing to provide each of the applicants, who are identifiable in the report, with a draft before the final report was submitted to the Minister for Children.

An acknowledgement by the Minister that each of the women do 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.

Michael Lynn SC, for the women, told the court the State was also agreeing to pay the women’s legal fees.

Both Ms Lee and Ms Harney had claimed in their actions that they were readily identifiable within the final report, despite not being named, and they submitted this triggered a requirement under section 34 for them to be provided with a draft copy of the report so they could make submissions on it, including the treatment of their evidence.

As the commission has been dissolved, the challenges were brought against the Minister for Children, the Government, Ireland and the Attorney General, who had initially denied their claims.

Mr Lee, whose 50-year search for her forcibly adopted son was documented in the 2013 film Philomena, said the commission had failed in its duty to “impartially and fairly investigate and establish the truth”.

“The commission’s findings are deeply hurtful and troubling to me. Those findings deny what we lived. They deny the truth. I call on the Government to denounce this report now, and to open up the commission’s archive of documents to survivors and adopted people so that they can access information still withheld to this day.

“The secrecy and obstruction by State and church must end. It has gone on for far too long.”

Ms Harney, who was born in the Bessborough mother and baby home in 1949 and was fostered to an abusive family aged two and a half, said that survivors had been “vindicated”. She said that the High Court decision “demonstrates that the Commission of Investigation failed in its statutory duty to witnesses and that the Government is not willing to stand over its work”.

Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Sinéad Gibney paid tribute to the two women and other survivors “who are fighting to see their accounts accurately told, and to vindicate their right to truth and dignity.

“This case should never have needed to be taken” she said. “We must see a change not only to the political rhetoric but a systemic change in the State’s attitude and responsibility towards anyone who is a victim or survivor of State wrongdoing.”