Mother and baby homes commission accused of ‘disrespect’

Survivor say evidence was misrepresented and call for accountability of commission

Survivors of mother and baby homes have condemned former members of the commission which investigated the institutions over its refusal to appear before an Oireachtas committee.

Noelle Brown, who was born in the Bessborough mother and baby home in the 1960s and adopted as an infant, said the refusal was “disgraceful” and “deeply disrespectful” to the Oireachtas Committee on Children and to the survivors who spoke to the commission.

“My testimony was messed up in that report. I have never had any apology. I have never had any contact. I have never had any acknowledgement that this report was bad. It is necessary that they come forward and talk. They have disappeared, essentially,” she told The Irish Times.

Mari Steed, who was 18 months old when she was taken from her 26-year-old mother at Bessborough and adopted by a family in the United States, said the commission members "need to be held accountable" for their report before an Oireachtas committee or a committee of survivors.

She urged the Government to repudiate the report formally and for a body such as the United Nations to investigate or use evidence collected by the commission to draft “a better evidentiary document”.

“We have come to a reckoning now with this report and its multiple flaws,” she said, adding that it did not address “any of the issues towards real restorative justice for survivors”.

Oxford University event

Historian Catherine Corless, whose research revealed the deaths of children at the mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway, questioned why commission member Prof Mary Daly could not appear at the committee when she spoke about the report at an Oxford University event just over a week ago.

“Why can’t she say the same things in front of the Oireachtas – what’s the difference?” she asked.

She called on the Taoiseach and the Government to address the problem with the inquiry’s report and tell the commission: “You didn’t do the right job; we have to do something with this report.”

Archivist Catriona Crowe, a prominent critic of the commission's work, said its decision not to appear before the committee was "a kick in the teeth" for the survivors.

“They cannot be compelled to appear before an Oireachtas committee; the whole world thinks that they should,” she said.

Ms Brown said it was “deeply offensive” to survivors to suggest that the report’s independence could be brought into question by appearing before an Oireachtas committee when the commission was not open to listening to the voices of people “affected deeply by the report”.

This was “arrogant and offensive”, she said.

“They must come forward and at least engage. They haven’t contacted the survivors to talk about the issues we had with it or the fact that our testimonies were taken out of context and incorrectly transcribed,” she said.

The final report was “not fit for purpose and that needs to be acknowledged,” she said.

“What stands in there are our testimonies but we need to be given our words back with the accuracy that we gave them,” she said.

She said she listened back to her recording of her meeting with the commission’s confidential committee and was shocked with what finally appeared from her testimony in the final report.

“I gave them such respect and such honesty around the deepest personal details of my life and what I got was a truncated version – two tiny paragraphs quoted inaccurately – and that is so many people’s experience with that report,” she said.

Dr Katherine O'Donnell of Justice for Magdalenes Research said the decision not to appear before the committee was "disappointing" and that there was a "moral obligation" for the commission members to appear for the purpose of "standing over" publicly funded work.

“We need to discuss and understand their findings because they don’t seem to be borne out in the evidence in the report itself; the findings contradict the evidence in the report,” she said.

NUI Galway human rights lecturer Dr Maeve O'Rourke said the Government should insist on a notice being affixed to the report stating that it had not accepted the commission's findings in light of concerns around the research methods followed by the commission.

“It is a very good example of how not to investigate massive human-rights violations,” she said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent