A call has been made for the term of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to be extended amid criticism about the manner in which some of its records were destroyed.
It 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.
However, Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore claimed consent was not given by survivors to the destruction of documents.
She said the commission was due to be dissolved on February 28th and she appealed 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 to be asked and answered about the transcripts and recordings and for "the recovery of any information possible".
The confidential committee operated as a sub-committee of the commission with the aim of hearing “the experiences of those who chose to recount their experiences” in an untested and unchallenged manner.
In its report, the commission said: “Witnesses were asked for permission to record their evidence on the clear understanding that the recordings would be used only as an aide memoire for the researcher when compiling the report and would then be destroyed.
“All such recordings were destroyed after the report was added to the confidential committee electronic repository of information,” the report stated.
As to the nature of the untested allegations, the commission noted it had “concerns about the contamination of some evidence. A number of witnesses gave evidence that was clearly incorrect”.
However, Ms Whitmore said: “We must ask why survivors did not give their consent for those files to be destroyed and establish how it was allowed to happen.”
She said the recordings were destroyed “despite assurances from the Minister in October that survivors would be able to access their own stories and also a clause in the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act that the commission is required to retain all evidence it receives”.
The Data Protection Commissioner contacted the commission about the destruction of these files but Ms Whitmore expressed concern that the commission would be wound up within a few weeks.
She said “it’s very important that we do not fail these survivors again”.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he only heard about the destruction of the files “the other day and was quite surprised to hear it, quite frankly”.
He said it would be a matter for Mr O’Gorman to decide if it made sense to extend the commission’s term. He stressed, however, that the commission was independent of the Government.
Mr Varadkar suggested that one of the flaws in the process was that a commission “can spend five years hearing evidence, examining evidence and making its report but then is not there to explain it.
“You’re then left as a Government Minister, trying to explain a report that one had no role in actually drawing up.
“I don’t blame the members of the commission for that in any way but if we are going to do another inquiry on a similar issue, we need to look at a better way to do it.”
Ms Whitmore raised the issue again later with Mr O’Gorman during a discussion on childcare.
The Minister told her : “We are in the process – I must be clear that it is a process – of looking particularly at Article 16 of GDPR on the right to rectification, and gaining an understanding of what the consequences of that will be for my department when the archive transfers to us on February 28th.”