Deleted testimony from mother and baby home survivors can be recovered

Commission believes tapes should be destroyed for ‘legal and moral reasons’

The commission has agreed to transfer the audio recordings to the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman who will become data controller next week. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The commission has agreed to transfer the audio recordings to the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman who will become data controller next week. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Testimony of survivors to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes which was deleted can be retrieved from a backup system, the Government has confirmed.

There was controversy after it emerged that the testimony given by 550 people had been deleted.

The Social Democrats have tabled a Dáil motion seeking a year-long extension of the commission, which is due to be wound up at the end of the week.

The Opposition party wants the extra time to allow for questions on the destruction of the survivors’ testimony to be answered. Now the Department of Children has said the commission has retrieved backup tapes containing the audio recordings from the confidential committee from their off-site storage.

An IT expert has checked whether the audio recordings are retrievable by testing a random sample and “verified that they are accessible and audible”.

The commission has agreed to deposit the audio recordings with the department.

This is said to be in keeping with other actions it is taking to transfer the rest of the archive to the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman who will become data controller next week.

The commission said on Monday it believes “very strongly” that tapes of hearings at its confidential committee should be destroyed for “legal and moral reasons”.

Accessing data

Mr O’Gorman said on Tuesday evening: “The retrieval of audio recordings from the backup tapes and their imminent transfer to my department now provides another avenue for the people who appeared before the committee to access their personal data.”

He said a request by about 80 people to have their identities redacted would be respected.

“If any of the people who appeared before the committee consider that their record is inaccurate or incomplete, they will be able to exercise their GDPR rights with the department once it becomes data controller,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“This will involve them making a request to exercise their right to rectification after the archive transfers to my department.”

His department’s statement said that in the commission’s recent communications with the Minister, it restated the actions it took to preserve the accounts and experiences of the 550 people who appeared before the confidential committee, for future generations.

It said each interview was attended by two commission staff. The commission said the interviews were audio recorded “purely as an aide memoire to ensure that the documented account of the survivor’s experience, which would later inform a published report on their experiences, reflected accurately the personal accounts they shared with the committee.

“Whilst the audio recordings were later deleted, the commission stated that the process ensured that the personal experience of 550 people was heard, documented in an accurate manner and published by way of a summary report,” the department said.

Its statement said it would publish information on how people could access their data once it became data controller next week.

Extension

On Tuesday evening Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore insisted the case for extending the commission still stood.

“It’s welcome that audio has been recovered, but this by no means negates the case for extending the term of the commission,” she said.

“Many unanswered questions remain tonight. We feel survivors will need further guarantees about their data and information. There are complex issues here, and the new information that has come to light will need to be scrutinised.”

The commission said on Monday it was very unlikely that its life would be extended beyond this week as some TDs now demand, even were existing members available and willing to continue.

“Extension requires primary legislation, which would have to be passed within two days, through the Dáil and Seanad. Technically, yes, I suppose they could do it. But what would be the point?” the commission spokeswoman said.

“The report is there, it is not going to be revised. What would they possibly ask the commission to do – redo the report? The answer to that would obviously be no. It makes no sense.”

The Social Democrats’ motion is due to be debated in the Dáil on Wednesday and the party has called for a free vote for all TDs on the matter.