Minister says extending Mother and Baby Commission could hamper access to information
Social Democrats TD brands Roderic O’Gorman’s suggestion ‘ridiculous’ in television debate
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has outlined how the commission has informed him a back-up system off-site may contain the audio files of personal accounts. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
Extending the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes for a year could hamper access to personal information for survivors, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has said.
Mr O’Gorman raised the concern ahead of a Social Democrats motion seeking an extension to the commission which is due to be wound up at the end of the week.
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns branded Mr O’Gorman’s suggestion “ridiculous”.
The Social Democrats want the commission to continue in existence to allow for questions on the destruction of around 550 testimonies of survivors to be answered.
Mr O’Gorman has outlined how the commission has informed him that a back-up system off-site may contain the audio files of personal accounts.
He has told the commission that he wants a data retrieval expert to have access to the system to see if the testimony is still available.
During an appearance on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics on Sunday, Mr O’Gorman was asked if he was willing to extend the work of the commission.
He said he was awaiting final advice from the Attorney General on whether that was legally possible.
Mr O’Gorman said a “practical concern” was that the commission’s archive was due to move to his Department once the commission dissolves.
He said once the archive moves, survivors will be able to seek, subject to access requests, “valuable personal information that’s in the archive”.
Mr O’Gorman suggested that if the archive does not move his Department cannot provide the information.
He said this was because if the commission is left in operation “for the sole purposes of being investigated by the DPC [Data Protection Commissioner] it has to have access to its archive in order to be able to respond to the queries”.
Ms Cairns claimed this suggestion by Mr O’Gorman was “quite frankly ridiculous”, suggesting the archive could be transferred to his Department even if the life of the commission is extended.
She said Mr O’Gorman could “surely” allow the DPC access to the transcripts if the archive is moved to the Department.
She said he should be more concerned that the witness testimonies were deleted and raised concern that if the commission is dissolved on February 28th “there’ll be nobody left” to answer questions about it.
Mr O’Gorman said he is “absolutely doing everything” he can to secure the deleted audio files.
He said: “I can absolutely understand the real anger, the real frustration that survivors feel about the deletion of those files particularly in circumstances where many say that their consent for that deletion wasn’t clearly obtained.”
He said that if the commission itself is being investigated it needs access to the archive.
Mr O’Gorman said it would be an “incredibly difficult situation” to try and allow for a process where an extended commission could access the archive at his Department at the same time that it would be used to deliver information to survivors.
But Ms Cairns said: “It is absolutely essential that you can do both.”