Commission chair declines to attend children’s committee

Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy asked to attend on alternate date or nominate other member

The chairwoman of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has declined an invitation to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Children.

The committee had written to Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy asking her to come before it to discuss the commission's lengthy report, published last month, but was told she was not available on the suggested date this month.

The committee has written again to the judge to ask her to provide an alternate date for her appearance or to nominate another member of the three-person commission to attend.

No judge chairing a commission has previously been subject to questioning before an Oireachtas committee. The clerk of the children’s committee informed TDs and senators that legal advice suggested there was nothing in the commission’s terms of reference or in the Commissions of Investigation Act to compel the report’s authors to be accountable to the committee.

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Methodology

TDs and senators wanted to ask Ms Justice Murphy about the language and methodology of the report and allegations that a number of its conclusions contradicted the testimony of survivors.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, a member of the committee, had called for the term of the commission to be extended beyond February 28th, the date it is due to be dissolved, amid criticism about the manner in which some of its records were destroyed.

In its report, the commission said the 550 witnesses to its confidential committee were told that a record of evidence would be used “only as an aide memoire” and would then be destroyed. This was to assure witnesses that their confidentiality would be guaranteed.

Ms Whitmore claimed consent was not given by survivors to the destruction of documents. She appealed in the Dáil to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman to ensure the commission remained in place for another year to allow survivors’ questions be asked and answered about the transcripts and recordings and for “the recovery of any information possible”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary correspondent with The Irish Times