Rejecting mother and baby homes report risks survivors’ redress, Minister says

Opposition calls for rejection of commission report over treatment of women’s testimony

File photograph taken at Regina Coeli Hostel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

File photograph taken at Regina Coeli Hostel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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The State’s planned redress scheme for the survivors of mother and baby homes could be impacted by any move to repudiate the final report of the recently-dissolved commission of investigation into the homes, the Government has warned.

Opposition parties, including Labour and the Social Democrats, have called on the Government to reject the final report amid mounting concerns around the treatment of testimony that women gave to the commission’s confidential committee.

A spokesman for the Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman, said that “some of the findings in the report, particularly around the number of deaths, the conditions in the institutions and the failure of the State to act on reports of these conditions, form part of the basis for the State undertaking the redress scheme.

“These findings also form the basis for the State’s engagement with the congregations in respect of their contribution to the redress scheme. The Minister has to be conscious of the impact that any possible repudiation of the entire report would have on the redress scheme.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has joined Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in calling for members of the commission to appear before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions about their work. There has been criticism from survivors about inaccuracies in the report.

It comes amid continuing fallout after a member of the commission, Prof Mary Daly, appeared before an academic webinar earlier this week where she made her first public comments on the report since its publication in January.

She said she had spoken with colleagues about how they could have “integrated the confidential inquiry into the report”, but said “it would have taken a lot of additional time” and “hundreds of hours of cross-checking, rereading against the other evidence available from registers and so on”.

Invitation

The Oireachtas Committee on Children will on Friday issue a further invitation for the three commissioners to appear after two previous invites were declined.

The three members were Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy, Prof Mary Daly and Dr William Duncan.

Senior sources in the Oireachtas say it would be in order for members to attend on an individual basis if invited, but they said there would be an issue if a serving judge was to be invited.

Mr Varadkar said on Thursday it would be “very useful” for the commission members to clarify how they treated the evidence and testimony given by survivors to the confidential committee.

“If they discounted it entirely, that is a serious problem, and that does question the validity of the report in my view.

If, however, they took it into account, then that’s a different question, because as you would appreciate... there is a difference between evidence and testimony on one hand, and proof.”

He said that given the academic symposium happened on Wednesday he could see “no excuse” and “no valid reason” for the commission members not to be willing to answer questions.

Confidential committee

Concerns around the role of the confidential committee were raised as far back as 2016, it has emerged.

In a letter to the commission the legal firm Hogan Lovells, which was assisting campaign groups and survivors to make statements, wrote that some people who went to the confidential committee “seem to have absolutely no idea about the difference between giving evidence to the confidential committee and giving evidence to the main investigation committee, or indeed the fact that there are two options open to them”.

This, the letter warned, was a major deficiency.

Some 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children passed through the homes during the period examined by the commission, 1920-1998.

In a damning conclusion the report found the homes “did not save” the lives of “illegitimate” children in the years before 1960; in fact “they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival”.

The term “illegitimate”, referring to children born to unmarried mothers, was used in Ireland until 1987.

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