Mother and baby home commission should ‘do the right thing’ and address Oireachtas

Minister says member’s appearance at UK event ‘added insult to injury’ for survivors

An appearance by a member of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby at an Oxford University event has ‘added insult to injury’ for survivors with questions about its final report, a Minister has said. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

An appearance by a member of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby at an Oxford University event has ‘added insult to injury’ for survivors with questions about its final report, a Minister has said. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has called on members of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission to come before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions about their work.

In a statement to the Irish Times, a spokesman for the Taoiseach said it would be “helpful” if the members did so. It comes after a member, Professor Mary Daly, spoke about the work of the Commission on an academic webinar on Wednesday, prompting backlash from survivors.

“The survivors must be the number one priority. The Government is committed to following through on the recommendations of the report, in particular with the Information Tracing Bill, the Memorial Centre, the protection of records and redress,” a spokesman for the Taoiseach said.

“We are working with the Minister for Children on that.

“It would be very helpful, and the correct thing to do, for those who were on the Commission to engage with the Oireachtas Committee and to outline their perspectives on the inquiry.”

The Commission members should “do the right thing” and appear before the Oireachtas and talk directly to survivors, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had said earlier.

Mr Varadkar said he could see “no excuse, and certainly no valid reason” for the members not to be willing to do that.

“It behoves the members of the commission to do the right thing, to speak to the Oireachtas, to speak to survivors, to explain the report and then their findings,” he told the Dáil, adding that any reasonable questions should be answered in a non-adversarial way.

Mr Varadkar was responding to Labour leader Alan Kelly who raised the issue after one of the authors of the commission’s report, Prof Mary Daly, told the online seminar that the commission was limited in what it could do because of the terms of reference.

Mr Kelly said “these survivors, their lives, their stories, their honesty needs to be reflected in this report and it wasn’t” and Prof Daly’s appearance at the online seminar “essentially now has retraumatised the survivors”.

The Tánaiste said he knew that a lot of survivors were very upset at what they read about the seminar.

He said that the commission did not engage with the Oireachtas or the survivors, either to explain the report, to tell us how they came to the findings they did, or to answer any questions.

Mr Varadkar said such engagement did happen “for previous reports of this nature - the Ryan report, the Scally report, the McAleese report, maybe not the same legal structure but the same essential processes”. He said the people who were commissioned to do those reports were “willing to explain their report to the Oireachtas and to the people who were subject to that report”.

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No valid reason

He added that given that the academic symposium happened on Wednesday “I can see no excuse, and certainly no valid reason for the commission members not to be willing to do that, to do that without delay.”

Mr Kelly agreed they should “absolutely” appear before the Oireachtas but he said there was a “more fundamental issue” that the report is fundamentally flawed.

“The evidence given by so many women going through such trauma has not been used.”

He told the Tánaiste “this Government is going to have to put forward proposals for a new commission to give some justice to these women”.

Mr Varadkar said it would be “very useful” for the commission members to clarify how they treated the evidence and testimony given by survivors to the confidential committee.

“If they discounted it entirely, that is a serious problem, and that does question the validity of the report in my view. If however, they took it into account, then that’s a different question, because as you would appreciate ...there is a difference between evidence and testimony on one hand, and proof.”

He said “evidence can be true, testimony can be valid, but it doesn’t constitute proof until the constituted fact, unless it’s been open to challenge, dispute and contradiction.”

Commission chair Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy declined a previous invitation from the Oireachtas Committee on Children to discuss the report, which was published in January and has been the subject of criticism from survivors and advocacy groups over its tone, content and how it handled testimony and records related to its work.

Earlier on Thursday, Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris had said the appearance at the Oxford seminar “added insult to injury” for survivors who had questions about the commission’s final report.

Second hand coverage

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman told RTÉ radio’s News at One that he did not believe it was appropriate “that survivors are hearing second hand coverage at an academic event”. He said it was now necessary for the Commission members to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Children’s Committee to answer questions about the report.

The issue was one of great concern for survivors, he added. The testimonies of the survivors had been the chapter that stood out in the report for him. “It was most powerful,” he said.

It was important to get closure for the survivors. The evidence of survivors needed to be given a legislative basis, he added.

When asked if the report of the Commission had been fatally undermined by the comments of Prof Daly, the Minister said the key findings of the report still stood and that new legislation on the right to information and tracing and redress were the Governments priorities.

“To set aside the report would have a major impact on the state’s redress scheme which is based on the report,” he said.

Survivor Teresa O’Sullivan told the News at One that it had been “extremely disrespectful to survivors” to learn via social media of Prof Daly’s comments on the Mother & Baby Commission report at an academic event.

“They have constantly said nothing about us without us. We have every right today as survivors to be angry and upset. I presumed they were going to take the testimony and it would be a huge integral part of the Commission report.”

The Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Children’s Committee, Sinn Féin TD Catherine Funchion, also expressed her surprise and shock at Prof Daly making the comments at an academic forum.

It was now “imperative” that Prof Daly come before the Oireachtas Committee. People felt that she (Prof Daly)had snubbed the previous invitation, added Ms Funchion.

Discounted testimony

Mr Varadkar said: “Essentially the report was left on our desks, and the commission members did not engage with the Oireachtas to explain the report, to tell us how they came to the findings they did, or to answer any questions. And I think that was not the correct course of action on the part of the commission members,” he said.

“And that has been compounded by the fact that one of the commission members felt it appropriate to do exactly that, in an academic seminar. I think that was disrespectful to the Oireachtas, I think it was disrespectful in particular to the survivors and their advocates, and I think it is necessary for the commission members to come before an Oireachtas committee ... and it should do without delay.”

Proper public forum

Dr Maeve O’Rourke, a human rights lawyer who has worked with survivors’ groups, said she was “very glad” Prof Daly had spoken publicly.

“It shows the need for this to a proper public forum, but this is definitely not the way to go about revealing the commission’s methodology, and I do hope they come before the Oireachtas.”

She said Prof Daly, while detailing the legal scrutiny the commission was under “did not suggest [IT]was unable to handle the legal pressure”.