Thursday, 7 February 2019
Fourth Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. In particular, I would like to update Deputies on the commission's fourth interim report and what I have been doing to progress issues since the work of the commission began. As Deputies are aware, the commission submitted a fourth interim report to me last December, which I published after securing Government approval on 22 January. The report is available to view and download on the Department's website. The commission advised that it would not be able to issue its reports within the previously agreed timeframe and requested an extension of one year to allow it to complete its work in full. The Government has agreed to this extension request and the commission is now due to submit its final reports by February 2020.
In making a case for an extension, the commission outlined the sheer scale of the work involved in investigating the matters set out under its terms of reference. The investigation includes multiple lines of inquiry relating to the operation of quite different institutions over a period of more than three quarters of a century. The scope of the terms of reference and timeline for this commission has always been ambitious and we remain ambitious for the outcome of the commission. The public interest and, most importantly, the interest of former residents is best served by facilitating the commission to conduct the comprehensive analysis required to make accurate and robust findings on the extensive range of sensitive issues before it. I know that many former residents have been eagerly awaiting the completion of the commission's work and I understand that many who contributed to the process and shared their information are disappointed and frustrated by this development.
The commission's fourth interim report provides an update on its important work engaging with former residents and others connected with these institutions. It has captured the personal experiences of 519 witnesses through the work of its confidential committee, and this process was expected to be completed by the end of January. Hearing these stories grounds the work of the commission in the lived experiences of those who spent time in these institutions. The commission is continuing to take evidence about conditions in the institutions from former residents, workers and the authorities that ran the institutions and this work is not yet complete. The commission also stated that its wide terms of reference have necessitated the collection and analysis of a vast range of documentary material relating to the institutions under investigation. While this process is ongoing, I can confirm that the Department has furnished the commission with all relevant records in its possession.
Significantly, the commission now plans to deliver by 15 March 2019 a substantial report on the burial arrangements for persons who died while resident in these institutions. The report will include extensive technical reports prepared in the course of the commission's work on the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway and the commission's assessment of burial arrangements at other major institutions. I will seek formal Government approval to publish the report as quickly as possible after I have had an opportunity to consider its findings.
Upon receipt of the interim report, I consulted with the commission to explore whether any of its three reports could be completed in advance of February 2020. The commission is strongly of the view that it will not be possible to complete any of its reports in isolation from its companion reports. When I met Judge Yvonne Murphy I was reassured by the absolute commitment of the commission to establishing the full facts of what happened to women and children in these institutions. I accept that the commission is using its best endeavours to conclude the investigation as quickly as possible. The chair wants to conclude matters, and I know the Deputies in the House want the same thing. It is clear that the commission is seeking to collate and analyse information on these institutions at a level of detail that has never been done before. This will greatly assist public understanding and possibly assist individual citizens with their personal stories and experiences.
I can confirm that the extension of time for the commission will not impact on the planned forensic excavation of the Tuam site. These are separate processes. However, the commission's burials report is expected to assist and inform the ongoing work to advance the legislative and operational arrangements for this priority project. If a decision had been made not to grant the extension sought, the commission would, effectively, be obliged to submit incomplete reports this month. Clearly, such a scenario would ultimately undermine its findings and impact on the opportunity within this process for Irish society to acknowledge and start to understand the harrowing manner in which single women and their children were often treated during this period. This would be placed at risk. In these circumstances, the Government's approval of an extension was the only viable option. The Government will continue to make available whatever resources and supports are required for the commission to continue its vital work. The commission has confirmed that despite the extension, it expects total costs to remain within the initial costs estimate of €21.5 million.
In October 2018, the Government approved the recommendation for the phased forensic excavation of the available site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. As the Minister responsible, I was honoured to make a recommendation to colleagues, which was not only supported by the best experts in science and law but, more importantly, was also informed by the voices of survivors, families and loved ones. Implementing this decision will not be straightforward. New legislation is needed to provide specific lawful authority for the proposed course of action.
The preparation of legislation is a key priority in the Department and a new dedicated unit has been established for this task with additional staff from other Departments expected to be assigned to the unit in the coming weeks. The wider interdepartmental group on Tuam, led by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, will continue to assist in terms of strategy and overall approach for the project. Scoping of the required legislation has commenced. There is no precedent for this kind of project in an Irish context and it is vital that we get it right in the interests of the survivors and the relatives and dignity of those buried at the site in Tuam. The approach taken will be further informed by the forthcoming report in March on burials at these institutions. In parallel to the legislative project, work will be carried out on sourcing appropriate expertise to carry out the works. As Minister, I will continue to examine the ways we can respond to the wider concerns of the advocates, families and survivors.
While the commission's work and the work regarding Tuam is ongoing, I am committed to engaging with former residents about their needs. The collaborative forum of former residents, which I established last year, has assisted in constructive engagement with former residents. It was established as a progressive response to the theme of "nothing about us without us", which emerged from facilitated consultations with former residents and their advocates. I recently received the collaborative forum's report, which identifies a number of issues of concern to former residents and includes a series of recommendations on matters of priority to them and their families. I am considering the recommendations made in the report that fall under the Department's remit, which include access to records and concerns about how Tusla deals with requests for information, tracing and access to records. There are arrangements in place with Tusla in regard to these services. I will look at ways in which these services could be improved where possible.
The report also makes recommendations on access to health services. Memorialisation and commemoration are also strong themes in the report, as is the appropriate use of language and terminology. Many of the recommendations do not fall within the remit of the Department. However, I am engaging with my Government colleagues and their respective Departments to discuss and progress these matters further. I propose to bring the report to Cabinet shortly to facilitate its consideration by the Government and I hope to have responses to at least some of the recommendations when I do so.
Picking up on questions and concerns raised by Deputies recently regarding Bethany Home, it might be helpful to set out some of the background on the matter.
As Deputies will be aware, my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, is responsible for the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 legislation and related arrangements. The redress scheme established under the Act has not been extended to any additional institutions since 2005. When the Ryan report was published in 2009 there were a number of calls for the redress scheme to be extended to include additional institutions, including the Bethany Home. The Bethany Home is one of the 14 named mother and baby homes currently being examined by the current commission.
Mother and baby homes and related institutions have never been the focus of a statutory investigation before. The decision regarding extending the scheme has been reviewed on a number of occasions by this Government and the previous Government. There is no change in the decision not to extend the scheme. In its second interim report, the commission suggested eligibility for the scheme be re-examined. We examined it carefully and concluded it was not possible to implement redress at that time.
In reaching that conclusion the Government was conscious the commission has made no findings to date regarding abuse or neglect, and believes it would not be appropriate to deal with the question of redress in advance of any conclusions by the commission. Deputies may also wish to note that the Bethany Home survivors are represented on the membership of collaborative forum and the report contains powerful contributions from the member representing the Bethany Home and Protestant survivor groups. I met representatives of the forum when it presented me with its initial report in December. I heard from some of the members at first hand and was deeply moved by that testimony from them. Information on the forum can be found on my Department's website.
This is my third time to stand here as the Minister seeks an extension regarding the commission of investigation. On the two turns before this I was favourable to, approving of and co-operative with the request. Today, I am disappointed. The Minister will understand why I am disappointed to see yet another extension to the commission of investigation timelines. That is particularly the case for the survivors and the families affected by what happened in the mother and baby homes and who have been awaiting this report for years at this stage.
Only the other night, the "Prime Time" programme covered this issue from Tuam. Three gentlemen, Peter, Pat and Tommy, spoke up. I spoke about Tommy in this House before. His final comments on that programme referred to the survivors getting old. He hoped this issue was not being dragged out so that no one would be left to talk about it or fight for the survivors. That is how he sees it, which is unfortunate because that is not the intention of the commission of investigation. I have no doubt the commission and the Minister want to get to the bottom of this matter. It is, however, unfortunate that we are going into another year of waiting.
We need to get some answers and to see where this process is going. The "Prime Time" programme the other night brought up many questions I have brought up in this House before. I look forward to getting answers to those questions and I feel those answers will feed into the commission of investigation. I am referring, in particular, to the role of Galway County Council in all of this. I want to know in particular what its role was as it started building houses in the 1970s when the council knew about the sites prior to that. The maps have become available.
Tommy told the story previously about how, after five years and two months, he was very lucky to be "sponsored". That was the word used. He also spoke about later in his life getting the price of a bike when he turned 18. The price of that bike came from Galway County Council. I know, therefore, that there are many records and much information there. I need to know exactly how many other people got the price of a bike. How many other families got that allowance for caring for those people? That will tie up much of the information needed. I need to know serious co-operation is taking place between Galway County Council and the commission of investigation. The survivors would also like to know co-operation is happening.
I also want to know about the role of the coroner in all of this. What information was available to the coroners, what have they shared and how have they engaged? That is a major piece of this jigsaw but nobody is talking about the role of the coroner in respect of the death certificates. We have spoken of birth certificates but death certificates have not been mentioned. I am sure all of the deaths had to be recorded somewhere, at whatever age those deaths might have taken place, be it adults or children. The role of the coroners links back in again to Galway County Council. The council has a major role to play in this investigation. It is the silent body with no statements whatsoever coming out.
I am cross about the council in this regard. The reason is that when I speak of the Pats, the Tommys, the Peters or whoever and when I go to Galway County Council to seek some form of housing adaptation grants for those people I know have been through the mother and baby homes, I can get very little co-operation. This issue has been raised previously. There should be some streamlining of the system in order that I can help some of the former residents of the mother and baby homes when they need adaptation grants. Some of those people have disabilities yet they are being long-fingered. That is wrong. Certain comforts are required for these people. I am referring to day-to-day practicalities. They are not within the remit of the Minister's Department but they are within the remit of local government.
There should be some form of co-operation on that issue while we are awaiting the results of the commission of investigation. I think the final report of the commission is going to be quite damning from the point of view of Galway County Council. I want to see that report and I want to see it soon. Age is not on the side of the survivors. That is wrong. I refer to Peter, who wants to know the story and is going through the High Court now to find the link with his sister. We are denying that man the opportunity to have knowledge of his family. We are forcing him down the road of the courts. That is not right.
The people of Tuam are not proud, by any manner or means, that this is being dragged out for so long. They would like this issue brought to a conclusion. Burials and excavation works are now going to take place. All of that is taking place, however, in a vacuum. We do not know what has fed into it in respect of the commission of investigation. I implore the Minister, and the people she has commissioned to do this work, to please stick to the timelines on this extension. It is essential that we do not have to look for even another hour of an extension. The targets set out by the Minister today in the interim report should be followed through. I state that because I have last year's statement concerning this process running from 2018 into 2019. Now we have it running from 2019 into 2020. That is not good enough. It cannot happen again.
In her report, the Minister also stated the cost would be €21.5 million. One of the initial reports referred to €6 million to €12 million and now the cost has gone to €21.5 million. I can understand an expansion but in respect of the costings we need to keep things in line and within targets. We also need to know exactly where we are spending that money. I do not mind spending it because these people need answers. That is not what this is about. Let us, however, meet our targets and give these people a definite answer.
We stood in this Chamber in March 2017 and I said the Government must to do all it could to ensure the commission had whatever resources it needed to complete its work in a timely fashion. Many Deputies, across this House, expressed their frustration with the delays but by and large, it was understood at the time. With this second delay, that frustration is now turning to anger. I am sure the Minister is aware of the sheer disappointment this delay has caused. The survivors of these mother and baby homes have waited a lifetime for their stories to be heard. To be told, yet again, that they have to wait another year is an injustice.
The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors described the second one-year delay as an absolute kick in the teeth for the people who will never see justice or an apology or redress. The Irish First Mothers group has described the delay as a mechanism for evading redress, while the Tuam Home Survivors Network has called the delay devastating. This is powerful. What does the Minister suggest we tell these victims, what words of comfort can we supply?
What do we tell the survivors of the Bethany Home who were wrongly excluded from the 2002 redress scheme? They have described the Government’s attitude towards them as a policy of delay and denial until they die. Many survivors' and relatives' groups are beginning to feel the same, because every time a report is on the horizon there is another pushback. I raised the question of whether it was a matter of resources. Why was it that in December some 26 people were still waiting for their testimony to be heard?
According to the report, the HSE yet again seems not to have a clue where the files are. One institution that is referenced is the Castle in Donegal. It operated until 2006, yet the HSE, which was heavily involved, has not handed over any documentation - zilch. I acknowledge and share the commission's frustration on the matter, but it is utterly shocking.
In the part of the report that covers burial arrangements, it is stated that a geophysical survey has been conducted at the site of the former Sean Ross Abbey in recent weeks and that further investigations may be carried out, depending on the findings. Will similar surveys be conducted at the former Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork? Not only was it run by the same religious order as the Sean Ross Abbey but the death register shows that 470 children and ten women died there between 1934 and 1953. The religious order, however, seems to have provided different figures to State inspectors for the same period.
All the facts I have outlined make it important that this mother and baby home is surveyed in the same manner as the Sean Ross Abbey. It seems that much of what is contained in the interim report has been copied and pasted from the previous one. Each delay to the final report not only means there will be a longer wait for justice and closure for the survivors but also that many people will not see the truth, justice or closure, which is a harsh reality. As I have previously stated to the Minister, justice delayed is justice denied.
We all accept the scale of the commission's task in investigating this shameful chapter in the State’s past. The need to investigate mother and baby homes and the provision of redress to survivors have been debated in the Chamber for the past 15 years. In 2005, my colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, called on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to include mother and baby homes in the work of the Ryan commission. Members of the Opposition in the Dáil and Seanad repeatedly called on Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to recognise the wrongs endured by the women and children who passed through the doors of the institutions but their demands fell on deaf ears.
The Minister's recent apology to survivors for the further delay to the commission completing its work was welcome, for what it was worth. I accept the sincerity of her belief that by granting an extension of 12 months, the final report will provide a better picture of what happened in the institutions. Unfortunately, however, the Minister's sentiments are not matched by her Department's actions. I was alarmed to learn that it took two full years for her Department and the Department of Health to hand over the first tranche of discovery to the commission. Even after such an inexplicable delay, the material provided by both Departments was just one tenth of the documentation that would follow over the next year and a half. As late as November 2018, the commission was informed of many thousands of pages of discovery yet to be handed over.
While that is bad, the HSE has fared even worse. It has been unable to provide documentation of its involvement in institutions from as recently as 2006, as Deputy Mitchell noted. The fourth interim report indicates that the commission is dismayed that so little relevant documentation has been found by the HSE. It also reveals that the HSE does not have a system for storing or archiving material. How can it be that any State agency in 2019 does not have an archiving policy and procedure embedded in all levels of its administration function? As an aside, it is reminiscent of the behaviour of state authorities north of the Border, which seek to hide information from families seeking the truth about legacy inquests and past events.
Many survivors and families simply no longer have confidence in the Government or the State to do the right thing. It is as stark as that. They fear that the Government is dragging its heels in a cynical attempt to limit the State’s redress liabilities to a small group of survivors whose numbers decline with each passing year.
I make particular reference, as the Minister did, to the survivors of the Bethany Home. As she will know, detailed research undertaken by Dr. Niall Meehan on behalf of the survivors provides a catalogue of State culpability dating as far back as 1939. Let us not forget that statutory inspections of maternity homes began in 1934, and the Bethany Home was inspected from 1935. Just four years later, the State’s deputy chief medical adviser ignored the advice of a departmental inspector who wanted a Bethany Home nurse mother to be prosecuted for severe neglect. At least 247 children died in the institution. Some 222 of those babies and children have been memorialised by survivors in Mount Jerome Cemetery, and it is possible that more died. Children were routinely shipped out to unsuitable homes in Ireland and further afield. We know that at least 54 of those children died from convulsions, 41 from heart failure and 26 from malnutrition or starvation. In 2017, by examining the records of undertakers, the group discovered 25 additional children, many of whom also died from malnutrition.
Mr. Derek Leinster, arguably the leader of the group, has outlined his heartbreaking story of abuse and neglect, as are those stories of survivors who have since passed away without justice or redress. In 2016, the commission stated in its second interim report that, logically, children resident at the Bethany Home and similar homes should be eligible for the residential institutions redress scheme. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Minister has not taken it upon herself to champion that cause. I do not accept her blithely setting the matter aside and telling us that the Government position remains the same.
On Tuam, which the Minister mentioned, if legislation is needed for the gathering of DNA, let us have it promptly. We must listen to victims and survivors.
My position on this issue is on the record of the House, as Deputies Clare Daly, Connolly and I brought it to the Minister's attention during a Topical Issue debate three weeks ago. Deputy Daly raised it again during Leaders' Questions. Mother and baby homes are one of the darkest parts of our history.
It was mainly working class women and kids who were treated so badly and with such neglect that it is almost unbelievable.
Last year when we got the third report there were probably arguments for the investigation to be extended. The commission indicated it had yet to meet many of the large numbers of people and this clearly had to be done. It indicated that the records were old and many were paper files, meaning the commission had to go through all of them. These amount to a strong enough argument and we could not close the commission at that point because of it. A third point was that extensive information had still to be provided by religious congregations and Departments served with discovery orders. I had a quick look through last year's debate and every Deputy who spoke indicated support of the commission and the Minister. However, many of them made the point that the investigation could not go on after 2019. They argued that all the required resources should have been given to the commission to ensure that in 2019 we would have the report and the survivors would at least be able to have some closure.
Why did this not happen? The fourth interim report states, "The first tranche of discovery was delivered in March 2017." That was from the Health Service Executive and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The report continues:
This consisted of over 12,000 pages. The second tranche was delivered in March 2018 and consisted of over 54,000 pages. Two further tranches were delivered in June 2018, consisting of approximately 36,000 pages. The Commission was informed in November 2018 that a further 277 relevant files were available. The Commission does not yet know the extent of the material.
That seems to be where the commission was in December. When these tranches were coming through, surely a red flag should have been raised so as to indicate that the commission needed more resources to get the job done because it would not be able to get through this in the time given. The Minister must address that point. Why did the commission not raise an alert and say there were problems? Whatever about 277 files coming in late last year, the matter could have been dealt with more quickly if a flag had been raised and more resources had been allocated to examining those tranches of documents.
The Minister does not want to see the commission not fulfilling its role but this affects older people. They are not just anxious and they were hoping that the commission would bring final findings to them this year; now they are getting angry. These people have lost confidence or trust in the commission and the Minister. The comments from Tommy on the "Prime Time" programme reflected that feeling that justice delayed is justice denied.
I really cannot express how the survivors must be feeling at this stage as some of them will not survive another year. They will not see the closure they need, even when there was an expectation they would have that closure on the matter. I am very angry and bitterly disappointed that we have had to come to the Chamber to discuss another year for the investigation. Irish First Mothers has expressed very clearly how its members feel about this. The Minister said some moneys or support would be given to survivors over the next year but that group called for Judge Yvonne Murphy's commission of investigation to split its historical investigations from redress considerations. Could that happen? The group voiced its support of Catherine Corless and her call for comprehensive historical investigations at Tuam and other sites but argues that the commission has enough evidence to issue a redress finding immediately by way of an interim report. Could that happen? It is something we could consider if we are to deal with the matter of redress for survivors. The group described the delays as being like "a kick in the teeth" for survivors and it is.
We should also consider what happened in the Bethany Home. Mr. Derek Leinster of the Bethany Home survivors' group has stated that time is running out for the Government to do the right thing. He argues that for the Bethany group, members' remaining time would be measured in days and not years, and there are people who cannot afford to keep themselves for the time they have left.
These concerns must be taken on board and I would like the Minister to revert on those two specific points. Could the historical investigations and redress elements of the investigation be separated? Could a redress finding be issued by way of an interim report? The Irish First Mothers group has argued that the Cabinet should stop the "smokescreen" of false redress and it should quit hiding behind Judge Murphy. It has argued that the Cabinet should ask her to issue an interim redress report. If that could be done, it would go some way to dealing with the redress issues. The Irish First Mothers group is now taking legal advice and going to the courts; it should not have reached the point where they feel so let down that the only option they feel they have is to try to get redress in the courts. It is a shame and we should all hang our heads, particularly the Minister and those in the commission.
I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this, although sometimes I tire listening to my own voice. I am not here for myself but for those who feel exasperation on the ground. I admit from the outset that I have a particular personal interest besides a professional interest in the past.
I welcome that there will be a report in March and that the Minister has opted for a full forensic examination of the Tuam site. However, I do not welcome the way this has been handled, with details of an extension being sought published by Mr. Patsy McGarry in The Irish Timeson 9 January. I do not know who is responsible for that but I am afraid the Minister must carry the can. It is not the way it should have been done. I do not know how that got out and the independent commission clearly could not have done it. It would be serious if it was responsible so I will presume it was not, but who did this and how did the details emerge in that manner? Have we learned nothing?
It is important to consider the timeline. I was about to say the remains of "approximately 800" children were found but I thought how wrong of me it would be to do something like that. There were remains from 796 children discovered in 2014 arising from the extremely important work of Catherine Corless. That work was not easy. I will not go back into it but it was the beginning of the process. We are uncovering the layers of secrecy in Irish society, along with the layers of shame heaped upon women. I often wonder how we, as women, emerged sane from this or how we can have any sanity after the way we were treated. I certainly came up towards the tail end of such a background. With the brave work of Catherine Corless, we finally had some action from the Government on 4 June 2014, when it announced it was to bring together representatives from various organisations and that an inquiry would take place. On 16 July 2014, which is more than four years ago, the Government announced that Judge Yvonne Murphy would chair a commission. I will not get into the details, which we know.
My difficulty is that deadlines were given from day one but they were never met. There was foolishness with the confidential committee report, a social history report and a substantial report, as all the deadlines were missed. One can imagine that with something as important as this, trust should be of utmost priority. There was no trust. People could not even trust birth or death certs. We could trust nothing and the people for whom I stand here had no trust in anything. A commission was set up but there is no trust either in the process of reporting on that commission, with deadline after deadline missed. There is a final request to extend it another year to 2020.
The first interim report concerned the revision of the timeframe for the reports. There was no change to the statement on costs or anything like that and that was agreed to. The second interim report is a little more important. It made a recommendation to the Government, which it duly ignored. Trust once again went out the window. It was given to the Minister in September 2016 and was published in April 2017. There is no explanation for that delay and no understanding of what that did to people’s confidence. The report clearly stated that those babies and children who were unaccompanied should not be distinguished from those who had received redress from the Residential Institutions Redress Board, those who had spent time in institutions. It is a distinction I do not agree with but I can see where it is coming from. If the Government wanted to show good faith and restore confidence it could deal with the implications of that, rather than make a glib response that the time for the redress board had closed. That was a golden opportunity that did not happen.
The third interim report was submitted in September 2017 and published in December 2017, another inexplicable delay. That was to request an extension of a year. We agreed and the Government gave it that in our name. How could all of these extensions of time go ahead? I accept the work is complex and there is a pile of documentation but there has been no request for an increase in resources, staff or money. How could that happen? It was set up for a specific period and has gone far over that time yet there is no request for any increase in funding. That is very strange.
The fourth report stated that it was expected that all the meetings with individuals would be completed by January 2019. This is February. Has that happened? The revelation in the report that extensive material provided by the Departments of Health and of Children and Youth Affairs had only recently been provided to the commission was alarming. More of the blame, if that is the appropriate word, fell on the Health Service Executive, HSE. What are the reasons for this? The commission has been going on for four years and it is not clear why there was a delay in giving it the documentation and whether all documentation has been given.
The terms of reference go way back, yet the first tranche of discovery documentation was delivered in March 2017. This consisted of over 12,000 pages. The second tranche was delivered in March 2018 and consisted of over 54,000 pages. The fourth interim report stated:
it is difficult to understand how relatively recent documentation is not available. For example, the North Western Health Board, and subsequently the HSE, was intensively involved in the running of one of the institutions under investigation.
It mentions the institution and continues. Does the Minister have an answer for that in respect of specific documentation?
I have repeatedly highlighted a file note and confidential briefing documents in this Chamber. Every Government for the past few years has been utterly aware that something was seriously wrong in respect of mother and baby homes throughout the country. Much of that documentation and knowledge came from the McAleese inquiry into the Magdalen laundries. While it was not his brief to look into that, all of the information came to the surface, which may be a bad choice of words. I note the principal social worker for adoption in the west has been working on her own time. This is all outlined in this material, to which the Minister, the Government and the previous Governments were privy. It is a record of what they knew at the time. She is working on her own time and on her own dollar, an interesting choice of word bearing in mind where our children went, to try to piece together a bundle of information. She already has a database of up to 1,000 names but it is not clear yet whether they all relate to the ongoing examination of the Magdalen laundries or to the adoption of children by parents, possibly in the USA. It continues, for the information of the person in charge, "This may be a scandal that dwarfs other, more recent issues with the Church and State". There are serious questions about interference with death and birth certificates. We have a commission of investigation but there are unacceptable delays. We get a lot of padding from the Minister about collaborative justice. As someone who has been affected by this, but not as much as those who have closer relatives involved, I do not want filling on collaborative justice. The people on the ground who have spoken to me do not want it. They want knowledge and information at regular intervals to empower them. They were disempowered and this system continues to disempower them and to patronise them.
I do not think the Minister should stand over that. I do not think she is the type of person who will do so but unfortunately, that is what has happened. Patronising disempowerment continues by the very mechanisms that have been set up to undo what happened in the past. If we learn anything, the Minister should publish the report as quickly as possible when it becomes available in March. There should be an interim report on the substantive nature of what has been discovered by the commission. I see no reason why a substantive interim report cannot be published. There should be no more communication through The Irish Times, notwithstanding my respect for that newspaper. Communication should be directly with the people on the ground. Any report that comes into the Minister's hands should come into the Dáil within hours or days, depending on the schedule of the Dáil. There should be no more three and six-month delays. That is how the Minister will restore confidence in the system and empower the people on the ground.
Unlike Deputy Connolly, I have no respect for The Irish Timesbut the person whose article brought this information into the public domain is one of its better writers. It is the case that survivors of the mother and baby homes, not to mind politicians, should not be getting their information from The Irish Timesor any other media outlet.
This is an incredibly important issue. There is a certain irony in the fact that we are celebrating 100 years of this Parliament and of the Irish State and yet one of our biggest, dirtiest secrets has not been properly examined. It is part of what we are, the way in which women and their children were treated in this State and, as Deputy Joan Collins noted, working-class and poor women in particular. They were hidden behind walls, their babies in many instances were taken from them and they and their children have lived with that trauma to this day. We cannot develop as a State unless we fully acknowledge that and utilise the information available to the State to learn, apologise and give redress. Redress is not a question of money. In many instances it is an acknowledgment of the wrong. When we have raised these issues, the Taoiseach has got up and said sorry but that is not the same thing. It is not a full acknowledgment that we as a society have to take responsibility for this.
It is in that context that we have to examine the fourth interim report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. In some ways it strikes me as incredibly similar to the children's hospital because the argument is the same. It is an acknowledgement that something has ended up different from the way in which it started out and that while it is not the way it was planned, it has now gone so far down the road that it would be an awful waste to pull back from that. It is a case of being kind of stuck with it, so the only thing that can be done is to go with the flow because it would be madness to waste all the work that is being done.
That is the same argument that was put forward last year. Deputies across this House accepted the bona fides of that argument in good faith, although they did not like it. The survivors certainly did not like it. They were seriously traumatised by that situation, but they accepted it because it was a rational argument to make that we have gone a long way and that the work is complicated. We cannot do that this time around. There is a difference a year on because we have had that conversation. Our job is now to ask whether it is really good enough to say that the commission has got this far and that we should let it finish off the work. We now have to ask why it did not complete the work in the time allotted. Was it that we got it wrong in laying down the terms of reference, because something is wrong? This commission was set up with a budget of €21 million and has run over time by two years. It has therefore rented nice offices on Baggot Street and employed people for two years longer than it was supposed to, yet the budget is unchanged. How could that be? The sums do not add up. Did we get the budget wrong or is something wrong now? I do not have an answer to that. We do not know how it has got this far. One can only draw two conclusions; either this is being done in a monumentally disastrous and ham-fisted way or something more cynical is afoot. They are the only two possible conclusions. This process has been handled so badly. Other Deputies have also made points about its handling.
Let us look at where we are. This interim report said that the commission needs more time. It said that 26 people remain to be interviewed and that these interviews would be done by January. As other Deputies have already asked, have those 26 people been interviewed? The second issue raised in the report is that of a big boat-load of documents which had only recently come into the fray. It said:
The Commission does not yet know the extent of the material in these files but it is likely to run to many thousands of pages. The Commission expects to receive these in December 2018.
Did the commission receive these files in December 2018 as indicated in the interim report? Did the material run to thousands of pages? Based on that information, what is the commission now saying about its likely conclusion date? If one reads the different interim reports one will see that the language in parts of earlier reports is absolutely identical to the language in this one. We cannot have that. The report talks about its considerable workload in cross-referencing documents and about delays in obtaining the evidence from the authorities which ran the institutions which could not be examined until the commission had finished the examination of the documents. These are word-for-word the same in one interim report as in another. What happened in between?
Why is it that a commission set up by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs had to wait until a year after it was supposed to have concluded for that same Department to forward documents? Either we are dealing with the most incompetent shower in the history of the universe or something more sinister is afoot and there are forces obstructing the transfer of this information. I do not have an answer to that. I actually do not know. Nobody has given me a rational explanation, but I have read between the lines where the report talks about the HSE. This is utterly frightening. Again it is an indictment of the very weak media in this State that they fail to scrutinise the real issues relating to what goes on in here and, instead, prefer to chase a cheap headline. They do not actually carry out real scrutiny and did not highlight and examine what is in this report, limited as it is. The commission is shocked that, "the HSE does not have any system, much less a proper system, of storing and archiving material". It finds it, "difficult to understand how relatively recent documentation is not available". What does this public commission mean when it says that? When it says that it is difficult to understand it is really saying that it does not believe it, it cannot understand it, and there is no logical explanation as to why that would be. Why is that the case? I have not heard anything in that regard. These are incredibly serious issues.
The Minister has talked a lot about Tuam and the graves, but that is a separate issue from that of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. It is tied in, but it is not necessarily what we are talking about here. I strongly support the point made by Deputies who asked for the issues of apology and redress to be taken out of this process. It is scandalous that we have not had an answer on the issue of the Bethany Home. Perhaps I will hear something now, but I have not seen a single word as to why the Bethany Home redress issue cannot be addressed now. This commission, which we set up, has said that the people affected should never have been excluded in the first place. They comprise an ageing cohort of people and yet we are to wait another year before we even look at the issue. That cannot be. The fund is still there and its parameters are still in place. The existing basis of the scheme can be utilised creatively to allow those individuals to get redress. Everybody agrees that they should. What is the point of us all agreeing if these people are dying off in the meantime and our agreement does not lead to legal effects? We have to do something. I really would like the Minister to answer on that because it has not been answered on anywhere. The people affected by the Bethany Home can be dealt with now. There is a mechanism to do so. In an earlier report the commission recommended it be done. What are we waiting for?
That brings me to the other groups and the issue of the apology. We really need to give this far more careful attention. The problem I have with it is that too often in here we set up commissions, send them off to do their work, and then use them as a great excuse to forget about the issues. I have made that point here before. It has not just happened in respect of this commission. The Grace case was the hottest news in town. It was on "Prime Time" and everyone wanted to know about poor Grace. A commission was set up but it has gone on well past its deadline. Who in here even cares to ask about it? Who in the media is keeping an eye on it?Who is keeping an eye on all of the other commissions we have set up at monstrous cost? They never do what they are supposed to do.
I know that people will say that I am one of the people in here who argues hardest for commissions, but they are the only vehicle available. Perhaps the Oireachtas needs to say that they are not really working, not doing their jobs, and not doing what it says on the tin. We bought all of the excuses the Minister has given on the commission's behalf last year. They are not good enough this year. It needs to explain why it said last year that it would deliver in a year. Why should we now believe that it will deliver next year? If we do not ask these questions we are selling everybody short, particularly the survivors.