Mother and baby homes: What did Prof Mary Daly tell the Oxford seminar?
Commission member’s comments were first in public since report published in January
One of the three members of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Prof Mary Daly, addressed an online academic event hosted by the Oxford University on Wednesday to discuss the commission’s work. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times.
One of the three members of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Prof Mary Daly, addressed an online academic event hosted by Oxford University on Wednesday to discuss the commission’s work.
It was the first time any of the members had discussed the process since the publication of the final report in January and dissolution of the commission.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said the appearance had retraumatised survivors as he called in the Dáil for the final report to be “repudiated”.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the decision of Prof Daly, retired professor of Irish history at UCD, to appear before the seminar was “disrespectful” to survivors and the Oireachtas, given the commission had turned down invitations to address a committee of TDs and Senators.
Did Prof Daly explain why commission members have not appeared before an Oireachtas committee?
No, although she was not directly asked despite a number of journalists posing the question in the chat function of the online seminar. Prof Daly said she had turned down “countless invitations to give history talks”. She said she was effectively precluded from commenting in such forums previously.
What did she say about the workings of the commission?
Firstly, Prof Daly was asked what legal constraints the commission faced in carrying out its work. She singled out what she described as “incredible” and lengthy terms of reference.
She said any displeasure that people may have at the report “needs to be seen in the light of the rules and regulations under which we operated”. At one stage she said there was a threat of legal action against the commission during the course of its work and that it had to be “ultra-careful”.
“If the report reads as legalistic, if the report doesn’t include some evidence that people gave to the confidential inquiry there is a reason why it’s not there.”
For example, she said the commission experienced “heavy pushback” from religious orders who ran the homes.
Did she explain what this ‘pushback’ related to?
Yes, she mentioned the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and questions the commission asked about burial practices there.
“Tuam came with this extraordinary assertion... that those burial tanks were actually purpose-built burial vaults. The kind of thing you see in continental Europe used by royal and other families.
“Now, apart from the idea that a cash strapped local authority would have constructed something like that in the 1930s... They had the nerve to send that back to us.”
Some survivors have complained that testimony they gave to the confidential committee was misrepresented. Was this addressed?
Yes. In the seminar’s chat function, one woman wrote that she found her personal testimony in the confidential committee report in two places. She said there were 14 identifying factors in each piece and wrote “it was me”. However, she said it was “littered with inaccuracies and misrepresentations” which changed the context and accuracy of her story.
“Did the fact I did not swear an oath impact this,” she asked.
What did Prof Daly say?
“This woman gave evidence to the confidential committee. The evidence to the confidential committee was treated and incorporated into the report of the confidential committee,” she said.
“It was never brought within the… I mean, those writing the chapter on, we will say Bethany, would have looked at what had come into the confidential committee about Bethany to see did it flagged issues that they might address. But beyond that, the incorporation of evidence given by somebody who had been in Bethany into the confidential report was left to the confidential committee.
“There was a commitment not to identify individuals or institutions. And I don’t know, I have not seen this person’s evidence, I accept that she said that it is her statement....There were times, I can say myself from some sections of the official report that I was writing, that you made very minor changes. You wanted to put in a particular story. You made some very minor changes to prevent a person being identified.”
Prof Daly added: “I do think running the two side by side, which was not our decision, was not a wise idea.”
What further detail did she give about how evidence given to the confidential committee was treated or used in terms of the overall findings and main work of the commission?
“I have spoken to my colleagues about how could we have integrated the confidential inquiry into the report. Well first of all, it would have taken a lot of additional time. It would have taken hundreds of hours of cross checking, re-reading against the other evidence available from registers and so on. Then maybe interrogation… and then maybe working out how to integrate the two.”
Did she say anything else about the nature of the women’s contributions?
“We used what we could. The strange thing is that a lot of the evidence, the amount of time we spent listening to people, a lot of it was very moving and interesting but an awful lot of it was about ‘how I found my mother, how I didn’t find my mother, how I found my child, how I didn’t find my child’. An awful lot of it was not particularly within our terms of reference.”
She added: “One woman said it was like boarding school. We decided not to put that in the report, we thought people would go up in arms over it... We got descriptions of cleaning, other jobs, nobody described really heavy work to us. I think what most of them talked about was the monotony of the place.”
What did she say about whether there should have been an expert in trauma and memory employed by the commission to work with the survivors?
“I think basically we have done a job. And I think let it stand. Nobody ever suggested this was going to be last word on it,” she said.
“Let others go and take it further.”