Commission of investigation into mother and baby homes ‘not fit for purpose’

Katherine Zappone: Nothing should be said or done to undermine commission’s work

A shrine, with an image of the Virgin Mary on part of the site of the former mother-and-baby home run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam, Co Galway, where the remains of an unknown number of babies and toddlers were found buried. Photograph: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

A shrine, with an image of the Virgin Mary on part of the site of the former mother-and-baby home run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam, Co Galway, where the remains of an unknown number of babies and toddlers were found buried. Photograph: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

 

The commission of investigation into mother and baby homes established two years ago is not fit for purpose and has “only scratched the surface” in dealing with what happened to women and children there, the Dáil has heard.

Sinn Féin spokesman on children Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said its terms of reference and the model were “utterly inadequate” and survivor groups had criticised the behind-closed-door hearings and lack of transparency.

He said they had to ensure that the system established for survivors “is something they can engage with and have trust in”.

In the wake of the discovery earlier this month of significant human remains in the mother and baby home in Tuam, Mr Ó Laoghaire was introducing a private members’ motion to introduce a truth commission based on best international practice of other countries such as South Africa and Colombia.

The Cork South-Central TD said there had been a failure to recognise that the experience of those who were sent to mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, county homes and other institutions.

He said the regime in mother and baby homes was underpinned by an appalling attitude to women, particularly unmarried women and their children and that point of view had been ignored by succeeding governments.

Mr Ó Laoghaire criticised amendments to his motion introduced by other parties as lacking in substance and compassion.

He said the Government motion “is a pat on the back for what they have done to date”.

The Fianna Fáil motion removed the right of access to records for victims and survivors, he said.

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“If there is one thing survivors want is the right to their own identity and their own words.”

He also stressed the requirement for an injunction to prevent any interference in the sites of mother and baby homes and county homes where there were unmarked graves and to ensure work ceased until all sites had been inspected and checked.

However Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said “it is important that we do not say or act in any way which would undermine the ongoing work of the Commission of Investigation.”

She said the Dáil had approved its establishment. “There should be no confusion about its role, and there should be no duplication of its important work.”

She had significant concern that the motion “seems to ignore almost entirely the work which the mother and baby homes commission of investigation was established to do two years ago”.

The Minister said the motion was taking “a narrow view of the complex truth and reconciliation demands which follow the violation of human rights.

“Before deciding on any future course of action it is important to restate our continued support for the existing Commission - which must be allowed to continue its work.”

Ms Zappone said that for truth recovery to succeed it must be not a ‘one size fits all’ truth commission.

“For survivors and for future generations we cannot afford to get this wrong,” she said. “The questions and issues before us are complex and will need proper consideration - there cannot be a rush to action.”

The difficulty survivors, their representatives and historians in this area were having in accessing records was disconcerting, she said.

“I am mindful too that many survivors and the loved ones of those who have passed are elderly and want answers. The questions and issues before us are complex and will need proper consideration - there cannot be a rush to action.”

Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on children Anne Rabbitte described the Sinn Féin motion as premature and said “it cannot usurp the present commission”.

She said the motion did not acknowledge the ongoing commission and while imperfect it was making progress in documenting and investigating the abuse in homes.

Sinn Féin junior spokeswoman on children Kathleen Funchion said everyone was shocked and horrified by scandals in Irish society, but if “we are genuine about creating justice then we must listen to people” and act.

Sinn Féin party whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh said some of the women who had survived mother and baby homes did not want their testimony broadcast. They were ashamed of what had happened. He highlighted the case of one woman who could barely function in society because of the horrors wrought on her in the home in Blackrock, Dublin.

He said many women were left with health, mental health and educational issues and they had not been addressed. The first part of dealing with the issue was through the State admitting to its failures.