Commission dealt with 1.3m documents and held 195 hearings

Report from body states that its conclusions ‘may not accord with prevailing narrative’

Judge Yvonne Murphy chaired the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Judge Yvonne Murphy chaired the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission states in bold type in its report that “the conclusions it reaches may not always accord with the prevailing narrative”.

As well as adhering to its terms of reference, it says: “It must look at all the available evidence and reach conclusions based on that evidence. It must be objective, rigorous and thorough.”

Since the report was published, some observers have questioned whether the commission was given sufficient legal staffing – a criticism it is unlikely to have anticipated.

The body was chaired by Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy, a Circuit Court judge who also led inquiries into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese and Cloyne Catholic diocese.

A second member of the commission was Dr William Duncan, former professor of law at Trinity College Dublin and a former member of the Law Reform Commission. Up to 2011 he was deputy secretary general of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, in which capacity he had general responsibility for the Hague Children’s Conventions dealing with international child abduction, inter-country adoption and international child protection.

The third member was Prof Mary Daly, former professor of Irish history at UCD, a founding director of the Humanities Institute of Ireland and president of the Royal Irish Academy.

Commission director Ita Mangan is a barrister, while staff member Maeve Doherty is a solicitor.

As listed in the report, its principal legal researcher was barrister Dolores Sullivan, while junior counsel researchers included Sarah Lea, Meg McMahon, Jeffrey Horahan, Victoria Kilfeather, Kim McDonald, Charles Murray and Mark Ryan.

Barrister Donal McGuinness was involved in commission investigation, particularly that into the Tuam Children’s Home site, while other lawyers who provided services included barristers Ellen Gleeson, Conor Feeney and senior counsel John Healy.

Documents

The commission dealt with more than 1.3 million documents and held 195 hearings which involved 64 former residents of the institutions, 30 advocacy groups, 16 sisters/members of religious congregations, 14 experts, 22 social workers, 13 local authority officials, seven Government officials, six workers in the home, three priests, three gardaí and 12 “others” who dealt with related matters.

All were people who offered to give evidence to the commission, which they did at its offices in Dublin, in private as agreed.

Five people asked to give evidence in public but the commission “did not consider this necessary”, as the report said. “One group requested a public hearing. When asked for reasons why, no reply was received. This group has put its submissions to the commission into the public domain as have some of the individuals who sought public hearings,” it said.

The group referred to was the Clann Project, which involves the Adoption Rights Alliance, Justice for Magdalenes Research and the law firm Hogan Lovells, from its London offices.

In 2018 it published a report, Ireland’s Unmarried Mothers and their Children: Gathering the Data, in Dublin. Hogan Lovells presented 32 affidavits as evidence to the commission.

Members of the commission’s confidential committee are barristers Kevin Healy, former director of radio programming and director of corporate affairs at RTÉ, and Lucy Scaife, who served on the Redress Board and the Mental Health Commission.

They were assisted by researchers Ms Lea, Ms McMahon, Roni Buckley and Maeve DeSay, with Nóra Ní Dhomhnaill as witness support officer.

People who had been in the homes were invited to contact it through local, national and international media campaigns. Those who agreed to meet the committee were assured they “would be heard in private” and in “a sympathetic atmosphere by experienced people” where “the evidence you give will not be open to challenge”.

Majority

Of the 549 who appeared before the confidential committee, 304 were mothers, 228 had been babies/children in the homes, and 17 were involved with the homes in other ways. The great majority lived in Ireland; 12 per cent lived in the UK, and 3 per cent in the US with a small number in other countries.

The confidential committee report “outlines the experiences of those who chose to recount their experiences. They are not a representative sample of the residents of the institutions under investigation,” it said.

And while there was “no doubt that the witnesses recounted their experiences as honestly as possible”, it had “concerns about the contamination of some evidence. A number of witnesses gave evidence that was clearly incorrect. This contamination probably occurred because of meetings with other residents and inaccurate media coverage,” it said.

In its introduction, the commission drew attention to “an incomplete HSE document from 2012” which had been “widely quoted and assumed by many to be accurate”.

This HSE document claimed there was “a large archive of photographs and other documentation relating to children from the Tuam home sent for adoption to the USA”. Details from the document were repeated many times “including during a Seanad debate of 17 May 2017. It appeared to be accepted by commentators and politicians that the allegations and suppositions made in these documents were statements of fact,” the commission said.

In evidence to the commission, the HSE official who prepared the document said she “could only recollect finding two photographs which appeared to be passport photographs for children being adopted to the US”.

As regards the document claim that “there was ‘more than one letter asking for money for an infant who had been discharged or died’,” the official said “she had no recollection of finding more than one letter if even one letter”.