Minister urged to refuse mother and baby home commission request for extension
Zappone faces TDs’ anger over ‘delay and obfuscation’ as Cabinet decides next week
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone met the chairwoman of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, Judge Yvonne Murphy, last week to discuss the request for an extension of time to report. File photograph: Eric Luke
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has confirmed she received a request in December from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation for a further year’s extension before it publishes its report.
She said she would bring a memo to Cabinet on Tuesday about the request as she was urged in the Dáil to refuse the extension.
Ms Zappone who met the chairwoman of the Commission, Judge Yvonne Murphy last week to discuss the request for the extension, faced anger over the delay in reporting.
The Minister said “it would not be helpful to speculate at this stage on what the Government will decide ahead of the Cabinet meeting”.
But she said “following our meeting, I am confident that the Commission is using its best endeavours to conclude the investigation as expeditiously as possible, and there can be no short cut to finding the truth”.
The commission was established in 2015 to investigate living conditions of women and girls in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes from 1922 to 1998, including the Tuam home where the remains of up to 800 infants and children have been discovered.
Independent TD Joan Collins said survivors were “physically and emotionally shattered” by newspaper reports last week that the commission had sought another extension. If the request was made in December there should have been an “early warning” system for survivors.
She said that at the least there should be an interim report to “deal specifically and solely with redress matters” and it should be produced by mid-February, when the final report had been due.
Independents4Change TD Clare Daly said the request was “really the last straw” and it should be refused, given that it was a year after the last extension request for a year.
She said it was “jaw dropping that after four years we’ve had three interim reports comprising of less than 40 pages between them, two of them looking for more time and the other report about processes – no details, no findings. What in God’s name is going on?”
Ms Daly said she did not necessarily blame the Minster but she said “the process is as important as the outcome and the process is an abysmal service”.
The Minister said “I am conscious that the commentary in the media last week on this issue has caused distress and anxiety for those involved in this process. The coverage was misleading and did not originate from my department.”
Ms Zappone said she was committed to “use existing channels to inform them of any developments in this area in advance of a public notice”.
But Ms Daly said “the essence” of the media report was correct. Victims were upset but the website of the commission had no information on it and people had been left in limbo.
Ms Daly called for an itemised list of what needed to be done, a timetable and transparent, monthly progress reports.
Ms Connolly said there had been “nothing but delay, obfuscation and blurring of boundaries” of responsibility from the outset and she called for the interim report to be published.
If there was a reason why the work could not be completed “we should know that in an open and accountable manner”, the Galway TD added.
The Minister said that when she had provided her Cabinet members with the rationale and “when we make a decision we will let the survivors and those primary stakeholders know”.
“I will publish the report and we will publish our decision. And those are the proper procedures,” she said.
She stressed that it was an independent commission.
She was aware of “how awful and difficult it was for people to receive this news” but she said she had done additional work including a parallel collaborative forum of people who represented and were in these institutions” and she would bring their initial report to Cabinet shortly.