Work of mother and baby home commission not ‘adequately acknowledged’

Micheal McDowell defends massive effort ‘to uncover a huge scandal’ in Irish history

Independent Senator Michael McDowell said the 3,000 page report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was a piece of substantial work that should be acknowledged. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

Independent Senator Michael McDowell said the 3,000 page report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was a piece of substantial work that should be acknowledged. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.

 

The “massive” work of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby homes “to uncover a huge scandal” has not been fairly or adequately acknowledged, the Seanad has been told.

In a staunch defence of the three commissioners, Independent Senator Michael McDowell said their 3,000 page report was a piece of substantial work.

The former tánaiste told the Upper House that “the commissioners have not got fair or adequate acknowledgement of the massive amount of work they did to uncover a huge scandal in the way Ireland dealt with its most vulnerable people in the past”.

The Cabinet is to consider appointing an independent expert to examine and report on testimony given by survivors of the homes to the commission, “through a human rights lens”.

The proposal follows criticism of commission member Prof Mary Daly for speaking about the investigation during an online event hosted by a UK university, the first public comments from a member since the report was published last January. Her comments prompted calls from some survivors for the report to be repudiated for failing to reflect their testimony.

The commission has since turned down a further invitation to come before the Oireachtas Committee on Children to answer questions about its work.

In a letter to the committee, the head of the commission Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy said they “do not intend to participate in any process that could compromise the independent findings of the commission”.

“The independence of the commission cannot simply be abandoned because its findings are not acceptable to some at a political level.”

Seen to be independent

Mr McDowell described the letter as respectful and clear and said it set out precisely the requirement for commissions and commissioners “to be seen to be independent”.

The framework for such projects “envisages the commissioners doing their best to come up with a clear, unequivocal and objective view of the matter and putting that in to the Minister”, he told the Seanad.

He added that the commissioners had said the terms of reference for their work “were ones which were objected to at the very start”.

“The commissioners made the point that a good deal of their critics were the people who now say that the report should be rejected on the basis that it did not conform to the terms of reference that they would have liked.”

Mr McDowell said the idea of the confidential committee “was always to be one where a general report would be developed based on what people, who wanted to have their input, gave their particular experience and “were given and many of them availed of a guarantee of confidentiality”.

He added that they were “given the privilege of having input into what would be a general report on their particular experiences without any obligation to be cross-examined or challenged or to stand up their events”.

Umbrage

However, Seanad leader Regina Doherty said she took umbrage at Mr McDowell’s suggestion that the women were “given the privilege of telling their stories to the commission”.

“It was not a privilege to tell their stories. I am sure it was harrowing and something they wished to God they never had to do,” she said.

“It is all of the subsequent actions and inaction arising from those women giving their stories that we are expressing concerns about rather than anything beforehand.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Fiona O’Loughlin earlier said it was very shocking that the testaments of more than 500 women to the commission “were not used”.

“It is very clear that the terms of reference establishing the commission were flawed. It is very regrettable that the commissioners will not appear before the Oireachtas committee. Ultimately, the report is flawed.”

She added that “it is important that we get redress for the victims who have been so severely impacted by all of this”.