Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Commissions of Investigation
13. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will consider the recommendations made in a report (details supplied) for the commission to hold hearings in public and provide a transcript for witnesses who have given oral evidence to it in private; and if she will consider the request for the archive not to be sealed once it finishes its inquiry. [45789/18]
Will the Minister consider the recommendations made in the Clann project report for the commission to hold hearings in public and provide a transcript for witnesses who have given oral evidence to it in private? Will she consider the request for the archive not to be sealed when the commission finishes its inquiry?
I welcome the submission made by the Clann project to the commission of investigation. I am not in a position to comment in detail on the report, as it was submitted in the context of the commission’s ongoing work, but I thank the Clann project for its work. It is important to recognise that a statutory commission is fully independent in the conduct of its investigations. The precise timing and approach to the gathering and examination of evidence are matters for the commission to decide and progress. The decision to hear evidence in public is a matter for the commission. It is open to an individual to make a case to the commission to do so.
The confidential committee module of the commission of investigation was established to provide a forum for persons who were formerly resident in the homes or who worked in the institutions to provide personal accounts of their experiences in confidence and in private as informally as is possible in the circumstances. I acknowledge the courage it took in providing testimony on personal experiences to inform the commission’s work. The crucial value of first-hand witness testimony to the statutory investigation is reflected in the arrangements establishing the commission. It is open to those who have given testimony at the confidential committee to contact the commission to make arrangements to view the transcripts of the evidence they gave to the committee, if they so wish. The commission will produce a report on the confidential committee’s investigations.
The Commission of Investigation Act 2004 provides direction on what will happen to the records once the commission submits its reports. What will happen to the records will depend on their nature. I intend to discuss these matters with the chairperson of the commission in due course. Before the dissolution of the commission, the chairperson is obliged to deposit all evidence received and all documents created by or for the commission with the prescribed Minister. It is then up to the prescribed Minister to decide what will happen to the records. As the prescribed Minister, I will be obliged to balance all relevant parties’ rights and requests, as well as observing due process, natural justice and respect the Constitution when making a decision on the records, but as a matter of principle, I am supportive of transparency and the widest possible access to them.
As I could not hear all of what the Minister was saying, I will read the Official Report, but I got some hope from it that the Minister would consider some of the recommendations made in the report of the Clann project. I attended the launch of the report and heard some of the people who made statements. It was harrowing listening to them as they told about the abuse they had suffered. The apologies and financial payments are important, but the truth is also important. It was important for some of the witnesses to be able to make their statements in public. They may not all want to do so, but it was important for those who did. When the work is done, it is important that the archive become available because we still have to discuss an appropriate memorial because if the silence continues, the abuse will also continue.
The truth is important.
As I indicated in my response to an earlier question, I spent the last week with many of these people and with all of the authors of the Clann project report and am very familiar with their recommendations. As I also said previously, an independent commission of investigation is currently operating. That said, I understand the desire to have some of the testimony in public and we are considering that issue. I also understand the issue of access to records, which we are also considering both in the current context as well as in terms of future processes. I have heard and understood all of the issues that Deputy O'Sullivan has raised and assure her that we are working on them now.
I acknowledge what happened at the two day conference in Boston University. I read what the Minister said at the conference and am aware that members of the Clann project also attended. One of the themes of that conference was transitional justice and how important it will be. In its report, the Clann project provides a comprehensive account of the countries where access to records is provided, including the UK, Germany, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium. Why should Irish people be treated differently?
I take hope from what the Minister has said today, that some witness statements can be made in public and that she will consider the matter of the archives when the report is finalised.
One of the issues discussed towards the end of the aforementioned conference was whether the term "transitional justice" is appropriate in Ireland. I, too, have been using that language. Various stakeholders, researchers and experts, having spent two days discussing these matters at the conference, asked whether it would be more appropriate to talk about transformation as distinct from transition. If we are able to find additional processes for making the truth public, providing access to records and making the testimony public and doing so across the board, in the context of various institutions that oppressed our children and young people in the past, then perhaps we are in a better position to bring about the systemic and structural transformation of Irish society for the future.