Zappone apologises for latest mother and baby homes delay

Commission of investigation criticises HSE over lack of documentation

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has apologised to survivors of mother and baby homes after another delay in the work of a commission of investigation examining the experiences of the institutions' former residents.

The Government has granted a one-year extension to the commission, which had been due to report next month.

In its fourth interim report, the commission said the delay was partly due to the late arrival of documents from the Department of Health which it needed to examine. It also criticised the HSE for the lack of documentation it holds in relation to institutions under its remit.

“The commission acknowledges the efforts made by HSE staff to find relevant documentation but is dismayed that so little has been found. It is clear that the HSE does not have any system, much less a proper system, of storing and archiving material,” it said.


‘Recent documentation’

It said the inability of the HSE to “provide relevant material” may be due to changes in health service structures over the years. “However, it is difficult to understand how relatively recent documentation is not available,” the commission said.

For example, it said the HSE held no documentation about its involvement in an institution called the Castle in Newtown Cunningham, Co Donegal, which opened in 1984 and closed as recently as 2006.

The commission said a further interim report in March will offer a comprehensive analysis of what happened in terms of burials at various institutions.

Ms Zappone apologised to the former residents, saying she was “deeply sorry” about the delayed report.

However, she said “I do believe that in their request for extension, that we will have a much better picture for the individuals and the survivors and their families themselves in terms of what they seek for the future”.

Court challenges

The Minister said she anticipated that the only potential cause of a delay in future would be possible court challenges to its reports.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said many of those awaiting the findings of the commission " are elderly and some have died. They want closure in order that they can have some resolution to this aspect of their lives".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that the delay in the commission's work was also due to a raft of new documentation being received recently, running to more than 100,000 pages. He said Ms Zappone was examining ways to give former residents of the homes some form of support while the findings of the commission are awaited.

The commission also noted that new information had come to light after the Government announced there would be excavations at the former site of the Tuam mother and baby home. The commission has met 519 former residents of the institutions, but still has to speak with 26 other residents.

“Since then, a number of people have come forward with further information about burial practices in a number of the institutions under investigation. The commission is in the process of interviewing these people and checking the information being provided.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times