Mother and Baby Homes Commission again invited to Oireachtas hearing

Fine Gael Senator questions if redress scheme based on false information

The Bessborough Centre, Blackrock, Co Cork, a former mother and baby home operated by the Sacred Heart nuns. File photograph: Provision

The Bessborough Centre, Blackrock, Co Cork, a former mother and baby home operated by the Sacred Heart nuns. File photograph: Provision

 

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has again been invited to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Children to answer questions about its work.

The commission has previously turned down two invitations to address the committee of TDs and Senators.

The invite was sent on Friday afternoon to the head of the now-dissolved commission Yvonne Murphy. It is understood the Oireachtas committee, which is chaired by Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion, set a meeting date of June 17th.

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

Prof Daly addressed an online event hosted by Oxford University on Wednesday to discuss the commission’s work. Her comments were the first in public by a member of the commission since its report was published in January.

At the event, Prof Daly made comments about the role of the evidence given by women to the confidential arm of the commission about their experiences in the homes.

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, re-reading against the other evidence available from registers and so on.”

Essential processes

Both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have called on the commission members to appear before TDs and Senators to answer questions.

Mr Varadkar said Prof Daly’s decision to address the seminar was “disrespectful” to survivors and to the Oireachtas, given the commission had turned down two invitations to address a committee of TDs and Senators.

Mr Varadkar said such engagement did happen “for previous reports of this nature - the Ryan report, the Scally report, the McAleese report, maybe not the same legal structure but the same essential processes”.

He said the people who were commissioned to do those reports were “willing to explain their report to the Oireachtas and to the people who were subject to that report”.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) said on Friday it was adding its voice to the calls from survivors and members of the Government.

Sinéad Gibney, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said: “The Commission of Investigation Report into Mother and Baby Homes left many important questions unanswered for survivors, their families, and their supporters, in particular about how their personal testimony was dealt with.

“The Oireachtas, having established the Commission of Investigation, is an appropriate forum for members of the Commission to account for how it exercised its mandate, including the limitations of that mandate. IHREC calls on members of the Commission to accept today’s invitation from the Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to answer questions from public representatives, in a public forum, about its work.”

‘False information’

Earlier, former Fine Gael minister Regina Doherty asked if the mother and baby home redress scheme would be based on false information if it goes ahead.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Ms Doherty said that if the scheme was based on the “factualised information” provided in the report of the Commission of Investigation and not “actual testimony” from survivors, the scheme was starting “from the wrong level.”

“They [the commission] told women that they didn’t remember rightly, they’ve told them that there was no evidence, when there was an abundance of testimony – so why isn’t anybody questioning that the redress scheme is going to be starting from the wrong level anyway,” she said.

Ms Doherty said she had wanted the report to be rejected last January after it was published.

“That was before some of the utterances of Prof Mary Daly at the day before yesterday’s conference – to say at a conference that the nerve of people to question or criticise the findings of their inquiry, to tell us that it wasn’t an idea, after the fact, months after the fact that they’d spent five years scouring and sourcing all of the data and the testimonies, to say that it wasn’t an idea to do what they did,” she said.

“I sat at the Cabinet table for four of the five years that they deliberated over this, never once did they come back and tell us there was a problem with the terms of reference, never once did they come back and say actually mid-flow ‘we’ve a problem here’, the only thing they ever came back for was looking for extra time.”

The Senator said that the basis of the redress programme - according to Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman - was “that if we throw the baby out with the bathwater we’re going to be left with nothing. First of all we have the Tracing and the Adoption Bill, that’s definitely going to go through our Houses before the summer, is the redress scheme not based on false information?

“Roderic said at the time he would establish all of the testimonies in an archive itself so that they would sit alongside [the report]. That’s not enough anymore. It isn’t enough anymore because the redress scheme is our only way because we’ve screwed up every other opportunity that we’ve had to give these women their voice, it’s the only way that we can show how we are really sorry as a State for what we put those women through for generations.”

Charity response

Separately, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman said the report is so “fundamentally flawed” that it can not be defended by Government. He said it is an impediment to truth, justice and at points, harms survivors.

“The right to truth is a critical component of survivors’ right to redress. Without full truth, justice will be impossible,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“We wrote to the Taoiseach and Minister O’Gorman in April expressing concern at the serious gaps in the information uncovered by the Commission in its final report, the findings made and their analysis. We noted that many of the Commission’s conclusions are contradicted by survivor testimonies to the Confidential Committee. Recent comments that this evidence was effectively disregarded are shocking. This would be a betrayal of all those who give evidence to the Confidential Committee.”

“This report is far from a full and comprehensive account of what happened to women and children in these institutions,” he added.

The Association of Mixed Race Irish (AMRI), which has campaigned for survivors of mother and baby homes, said it was deeply disappointed by Prof Daly’s decision to giver her first public talk on the report at Oxford University, instead of to survivors, and questioned the commission’s methodology.

“This was highly insensitive and disrespectful, especially given the number of unanswered questions that survivors and adopted people still have today.

“It is important to note Professors Mary Daly’s comments that evidence given by survivors to the Confidential Committee did not inform the final conclusions and findings in the Report, as this evidence was not given under oath. AMRI is concerned at this revelation which explains the obvious contradictions in the Report between the conclusions and the evidence given by survivors.

“We do not believe that any investigations into “systemic” abuses can be properly carried out without including all the evidence and testimony provided by survivors and adopted people. In our view this was a significant flaw in the investigative process and leaves many more unanswered questions.

“AMRI has always rejected the Reports final conclusion that there was no systemic racism. This new revelation further strengthens our position on the validity and credibility of this conclusion.”