Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has abandoned a promised review of testimony given by survivors of Mother and Baby Homes because he believes an alternative “initiative” can best address the exclusion of their personal experiences from the official report on the scandal, his department has said.
Mr O’Gorman promised in June of last year that an international human rights expert would examine the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes which examined practices in mother and baby homes. The review would hone in, particularly, on the commission’s handling of personal testimony of survivors, he had indicated.
However, it emerged on Monday that the Minister decided not to proceed with the review some time ago. A spokesman was not in a position to supply a specific date for the decision but said it was made over the past couple of months. It came to light following media reports arising from a Freedom of Information request.
The alternative “initiative” now being pursued by the Minister is a programme that will encourage survivors to tell their personal stories afresh, or allow the testimony they gave to the commission’s confidential committee to be used.
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“It could then be formally recorded and accepted as part of the official record. These personal accounts or ‘lived experiences’ will be housed in the National Centre for Research and Remembrance, which received Government approval on 29 March this year,” said the department.
A former home on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin has been earmarked as the future location for the centre.
Survivors strongly criticised the final report of the commission of investigation published in January 2021, for downplaying or excluding their personal testimonies. These were given by survivors to a confidential committee but did not form part of the final report because they were not taken under oath.
Human rights issue
On Monday, the department also alluded to legal challenges taken against the commission. A spokesman also said that outgoing children’s rapporteur, Prof Conor O’Mahony, had included a chapter on mother and baby homes in his annual report for 2021. Prof O’Mahony’s examination of this issue was done independently and without reference to the department. The department said his report had addressed many of the human rights issues that would have been the subject of the review.
Breda Murphy of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance told RTÉ radio that survivors have been treated terribly the decision was a “kick in the teeth”.
The decision by the Minister to halt the review was a “betrayal” of survivors, said Social Democrats spokeswoman on social justice Holly Cairns on Monday.
She said he had promised a review in response to the considerable anger and distress of survivors but had now reneged on the commitment. “It transpires that this review has been quietly shelved. In fact, it appears that it was an option that was never really pursued by the Minister”.
The department statement said Mr O’Gorman has acknowledged the deep hurt of survivors, who felt the truth of their experience had not been reflected in the report.
In his examination of the commission’s findings, Dr O’Mahony expressed the view it had downplayed the question of forced labour. He said his analysis noted “quite a significant level of forced labour”.
He also differed from the commission on the question of alleged deprivation of liberty. He said that while the commission had said the women were not incarcerated in the strict sense of the word, his analysis was that the definition of deprivation of liberty was met in quite a number of cases in the homes.
He also criticised the redress proposals of the Government saying they had excluded children who were boarded out to foster homes, many of whom had experienced abuse and neglect.