Thursday, 18 February 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I want to take up a question that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Connolly, raised yesterday, namely, the question of the destruction of the files from the commission on mother and baby homes. I am sure the Tánaiste and everybody else in the House is aware of this because everybody will have received emails about it from the survivors and their representatives. I am making a plea to the Tánaiste, in his capacity as a representative of the Government, to find a way to do something to extend the lifetime of the commission beyond 28 February. He will be receiving emails asking him to do this. The reason is that the survivors and their representatives believe - much of legal advice is to this effect - that if the commission closes down on 28 February, there will be no prospect that it will be able to go after the files containing the 550 oral testimonies that we are told have been destroyed.
I note that since yesterday's challenge by Deputy Connolly, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, says he will make further inquiries as to whether the files have been absolutely destroyed or can be retrieved in some way or another. It is hugely important that he said that, but if it cannot be done or he cannot guarantee it will be done before 28 February, there is one thing the Government could do, namely, to bring an amendment to the 2020 Act we passed before Christmas, section 7 of which would allow the Government to extend the lifetime of the commission beyond 28 February. There is no other way it can be done.
Prior to the introduction of the Act, the commission was extended five or six times just because the Government was asked to do so. It did so on behalf of the commission looking for more time. The survivors are now asking for it and I am pleading with the Tánaiste to do his best to get this done. I have no doubt that not a single Deputy or party in this House will stand in the way of it happening. As was eloquently put by Deputy Connolly yesterday, we have let them down throughout the history of this State, we have let them down with the commission report and we have let them down massively by destroying their oral records without their permission. Can we please do this one thing for them and extend the lifetime of the commission to allow investigation into what happened to those precious records?
Over Christmas, I found an old tape of a conversation between me and my ma 20 years ago, and I immediately got it digitised for her anniversary, which was just after Christmas. Those recordings are precious to those who know the people and to us as a society because of what went on in the mother and baby homes and the disparity between what was recorded and what was transcribed. Many witnesses, like Noelle Brown, have said the transcript does not represent their testimony. We need to get those recordings back. If we cannot do it before 28 February, will the Government please amend the Act?