Mother and baby homes testimony may be examined by independent expert

Ministers to consider new proposal to examine testimonies ‘through a human rights lens’

The Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, which was Mother and Baby home operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary from 1930 to 1970. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, which was Mother and Baby home operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary from 1930 to 1970. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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The Cabinet is set to consider plans to appoint an independent expert who will examine and report on testimony given by survivors to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, it has emerged.

In a sign of the increasing pressure on the Government following weeks of controversy about the commission’s final report, Ministers will shortly consider new proposals that would see the independent expert examine the testimonies “through a human rights lens”.

A source said the Government was conscious that “survivors feel their full experience as they told it is not reflected in the summaries of their transcripts put in the confidential committee chapter and they don’t feel they are fully reflected elsewhere in report too”.

Therefore proposals are being progressed to appoint an expert to examine the common experiences such as forced adoptions or other experiences within the institutions.

The independent expert would provide a report with a new analysis reflecting the testimonies and this would sit alongside the commission’s final report which was published in January. It is understood the final proposals will be brought to Cabinet the week after next by the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman.

It comes as the three members of the commission turned down an invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee. They have been urged by Government to reconsider their decision.

In a letter to the Oireachtas Committee on Children, 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.”

‘Deeply regrettable’

One of the committee members, Labour TD Sean Sherlock, accused the commision of releasing the letter to the media before sending it to the Oireachtas body. However, a commission spokesperson denied this, saying the letter was delivered to Leinster House more than half an hour before a noon deadline set by the committee but it appeared there was no one there on behalf of the committee to receive it.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Mr O’Gorman both called on the commissioners to reconsider their decision, while Mr Varadkar said it was “deeply regrettable” that they decided not to appear.

“I would urge them to reconsider their decision, and to appreciate the imperative to explain their report and answer questions. The commissioners are best placed to answer how they reached their findings. It is long overdue at this point,” Mr Varadkar said.

Sinn Féin TD and chair of the Oireachtas committee Kathleen Funchion said the Government must move to repudiate the commission report.

The committee will meet on Tuesday to decide what course of action to take.

In her letter, Ms Justice Murphy said that that testimonies given by survivors to the confidential arm of the commission were not discounted or discarded. “The accounts given were very much taken into account by the commission.”

She added that “the former commission members reject any suggestion that the confidential committee report is inaccurate”.

A number of survivors have said they found inaccuracies when they sought out their stories in the report.

Up to eight challenges against the report are due to be heard in the High Court from June 22nd. The Government and the State are expected to set out their stance next Tuesday, June 15th.

Several survivors of mother and baby homes strongly criticised the commission’s refusal to attend the committee.

Noelle Brown, who was born in the Bessborough mother and baby home in the 1960s and adopted as an infant, said the decision was “disgraceful” and “deeply disrespectful” to the Oireachtas committee and to the survivors who spoke to the commission.

“My testimony was messed up in that report. I have never had any apology. I have never had any contact. I have never had any acknowledgement that this report was bad. It is necessary that they come forward and talk. They have disappeared essentially,” Ms Brown said.

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