Mother and baby homes recordings should be destroyed – commission
Investigative body says it would be legally and morally wrong to retain testimony
Head of the commission Judge Yvonne Murphy: ‘The report is there, it is not going to be revised. What would they possibly ask the commission to do – redo the report?’ Photograph: Eric Luke
The Mother and Baby Homes Commission believes “very strongly” that tapes of hearings at its confidential committee should be destroyed.
The views of of the commission, which is headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, were made “quite clear” to Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman on Monday, a spokeswoman for the investigative body said.
In its report, the commission said it told witnesses who appeared before its confidential committee that a recording of their testimony would be destroyed to protect their anonymity, but some survivors have since disputed this, saying the plan to destroy recordings was never communicated to them.
Recordings were deleted last July but back-ups were found last week. “We are strongly of the view that they [the recordings] shouldn’t be retrieved, for legal and moral reasons,” said the commission spokeswoman.
“Our IT people are looking at [the tapes] to see if [the recordings] are actually there and, if so, whether they are retrievable,” she said, adding: “It will be the Minister who will have to retrieve them.
“All our material has to go to the Minister when we end, and that would include the back-up tapes. I think it’s wrong and feel very strongly about it. We made our views on the subject quite clear to the Minister” on Monday morning, she added.
The commission said it was very unlikely that its life would be extended beyond this week as some TDs now demand, even were existing members available and willing to continue.
“Extension requires primary legislation, which would have to be passed within two days, through the Dáil and Seanad. Technically, yes, I suppose they could do it. But what would be the point?” the commission spokeswoman said.
“The report is there, it is not going to be revised. What would they possibly ask the commission to do – redo the report? The answer to that would obviously be no. It makes no sense.”
Separately, retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness said the relentless criticism of the commission by politicians and advocacy groups could make future commissions less likely.
“I do think it will make it difficult for people. They may not want to take part in carrying out investigations if they feel that at the end of it everyone is going to criticise them so highly,” she said.
She also criticised attempts to bring the commissioners – Ms Murphy; international child protection and adoption expert Dr William Duncan; and historian Prof Mary E Daly – before an Oireachtas committee.
Referring to her own past appearances before Oireachtas committees, Ms McGuinness said “a lot of the questioning” offered by TDs was “designed for getting a newspaper headline for the guy that’s asking the question”.
Politicians “had their usual lark of people walking into the committee meeting, sitting down and asking the question that they have decided was going to get them the most publicity, not even really listening properly for your answer”.
She said she had never led a commission of investigation that was subsequently criticised, “but I would think that if that was me, I wouldn’t be too pleased if I was being criticised heavily for not doing something that was never part of my remit”.
The Department of Children was involved in continuing discussions last night with the commission and the Attorney General in an effort to resolve the controversy over the deleted recordings.
The Social Democrats have tabled a Dáil private members’ motion calling for the term of the commission to be extended for a further 12 months from its dissolution date at the end of this month.
The two main sponsors, Jennifer Whitmore and Holly Cairns, argue that dissolving the commission on February 28th would greatly impede any review of the decision to destroy the tapes to be carried out by the Data Protection Commission or other relevant authorities.
It is expected that the Government will oppose the Social Democrats motion but there were indications that it might try to find a compromise with the Opposition.
Former minister for justice Michael McDowell, who created the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 used to set up the independent commission, said the Government could not unilaterally extend its life.
It “doesn’t appear” that the Oireachtas has any power to extend the commission’s life “without its consent and without a request” from it. “It has submitted its final report and I think that’s the end of it,” he said.