State response to mother and baby homes report challenges to be outlined next month

Seven High Court actions brought over commission of investigation’s final report

The Government and the State will set out the nature of their opposition to seven challenges brought over the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes next month. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

The Government and the State will set out the nature of their opposition to seven challenges brought over the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes next month. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

The Government and the State will set out the nature of their opposition to seven challenges brought over the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes next month.

On Tuesday in the High Court, when case managing the seven separate cases, Mr Justice Garrett Simons suggested that one or two ‘lead’ cases might be selected to decide the core issues raised in all of them.

The cases, including one by retired nurse Philomena Lee, have been brought against the Minister for Children, the Government, Ireland and the Attorney General. The judge said he considered selecting lead cases would save court time and legal costs and result in a speedier determination of issues.

That was only a suggestion, he said, as he was aware of the sensitivity of the cases and is flexible concerning how they are dealt with. If the parties considered it was not possible to select lead cases, the court would hear all the cases.

Siobhán Phelan SC, for three applicants, said lawyers for the various applicants had agreed with the State respondents that its opposition papers would be filed on June 15th. She wanted to see these before making any decision concerning whether lead cases were the most appropriate way to proceed. Counsel for other applicants shared that view.

David Fennelly BL, for the State parties, said the cases raised “very difficult and sensitive” issues. There were some common issues across them, but also different ones, and his side might be in a better position after June 15th to decide whether proceeding via lead cases was the best course. The judge adjourned the cases to June 22nd for further case management.

Inaccurate reflection

The cases involve claims that the commission’s final report does not accurately reflect the applicants evidence to it and breaches their rights to fair procedures and natural and constitutional justice.

The claims include that section 34 of the Commission of Investigation Act 2004 required that they, as persons unnamed but allegedly identifiable in the final report, be given the commission’s draft report and the opportunity to make submissions on that.

It is claimed the failure to do that breaches section 34 and their fundamental rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights. Other issues concern the nature of a redress scheme and the constitutionality of provisions of the 2004 Act.

Orders preventing identification of a number of the applicants have been made.

An anonymity order was not sought in the case by Philomena Lee, now aged 88 and living in England. She was sent to the Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, when she became pregnant aged 18. When her son was aged three, he was sent for adoption by a US couple. Ms Lee’s life was subject of a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, by Martin Sixsmith, and a film, Philomena, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench.

Her solicitor Wendy Lyon, of Abbey Law, said in an affidavit that the commission’s findings included that there was ‘no evidence’ for the opinion of some women that their consent to adoption was not full, free and informed.

Not given time

Ms Lee’s evidence was that she was not given any time to consider a document which she was told to sign and which relinquished her rights to her son, Ms Lyon said.

The other applicants include Mari Steed, of Virginia, US, born in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, Cork, in 1960 and adopted by an American family in 1961; and Mary Isobelle Mullaney, of Blackrock, Co Dublin, born in the Sean Ross Abbey home in March 1965.

Ms Steed claims her rights were damaged by being subject to the Quadrivax vaccine trial while in Bessborough and she was entitled to an opportunity to address the commission’s finding there was no evidence of injury to the relevant children as a result of the vaccines.

Ms Mullaney, represented by KOD Lyons, claims the report gives an inaccurate impression she was unhappy with her adoptive parents.