Tuesday, 6 July 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries
47. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he is taking to ensure that the experiences of the 550 persons who gave evidence before the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters confidential committee are recognised and officially reflected. [36297/21]
What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the experiences of the 550 people who appeared before the confidential committee of the Commission of Investigation on Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related matters are officially reflected? The Minister has committed to formally recognising these testimonies. The lived experiences of 550 survivors were not reflected in the final report and the Minister now proposes to commission a new report, which means we face the prospect of two contradictory documents. Which report will form the basis for the redress scheme, especially in regard to forced adoptions, discrimination and the avoidance of direct and actionable attribution of responsibility to the State and religious orders?
I thank the Deputy. I have reflected deeply on many aspects of the commission's report since its publication and the survivors' response to it. I understand that some survivors are disappointed with how their personal testimonies were reported. People expected to see their full narrative as they told it, rather than abbreviated sections. It has become apparent that many did not know that the twin processes were in operation during the investigation. Much of the frustration is as a direct consequence of this. The process has not fulfilled their expectations and I deeply regret that.
The intention of establishing any inquiry under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 is to provide an effective mechanism to investigate complex and sensitive matters, while also respecting fair procedures and natural justice. That was undoubtedly the intention of the Oireachtas when it approved the establishment of this commission. In recognising the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of so many, the commission was required to produce a report of a general nature. This is what it was tasked to do in its terms of reference.
While it has been widely reported that the testimonies were discounted or discarded, I do not believe that is correct. In its correspondence to the Oireachtas joint committee, the former chair of the commission confirmed that they were taken into account and relied upon by the commission in making its determination on crucial questions. However, I am conscious of the need for the lived experiences of those who attended the confidential committee to be more clearly heard, understood and officially recognised as part of our history.
Over the past year, I have met many survivors and their advocates and I have sought to understand directly from them their diverse and valid responses to the publication of the report and the Government's action plan. Their views are paramount. I have worked to listen to them and to try to rebuild trust. I have always been clear that the commission's report does not represent the end point of the State's response to the mother and baby institutions. Survivors are telling me that they want the historical record of these institutions to reflect their experiences and they want them recounted. I am currently exploring mechanisms to achieve this. I will continue to engage with survivors, professional archivists and historians to determine how best to preserve these important oral histories.
To say that people were disappointed that the full narrative was not in the report is not an accurate description. The Minister spoke about how the survivors spoke before the academic committee and they were disregarded. He also spoke about the statutory instrument at that time. If he does not think it is correct that they were disregarded, why is he commissioning a new report so that they are reflected? The confusion and contradictions contribute to the increasing distress for everyone affected. The Minister says he believes survivors and simultaneously the Chief State Solicitor is opposing judicial reviews by survivors who say their testimonies were misrepresented in the report. This is deeply callous hypocrisy. The Minister cannot commit to officially recognising their evidence and then oppose that same evidence in the courts.
Survivors expressed entirely justified scepticism around any State response to the abuses and silence they experienced but 550 of them took the incredibly brave step of testifying before the commission. When they found that their testimonies had been misrepresented or disregarded, they were forced to seek a judicial review to enter another potentially re-traumatising process.
Why is the State forcing them down this route? As ageing survivors of some of the worst atrocities, the least the Government could do is support them in seeking justice instead of obstructing them.
I agree with the Deputy in terms of the bravery of the 500 individuals who appeared before the confidential committee to give their personal accounts of their experiences in these institutions. I have always said that that chapter and the extracts from their stories have had a huge impact on me, but I am aware that they are just extracts. I know from my engagement with survivors that they wanted their entire stories, not part of them, reflected on the historical record. Survivors can obtain their testimonies from the archive through a subject access request but they just become their personal documents. It is that element that I am seeking to address. I want to ensure that for those who so choose, their full testimonies can form part of the historical record of what happened in these institutions. I do not have the full answer just yet on how to do that. I spoke with Deputy Cairns and colleagues on the joint Oireachtas committee about the issue. I have some more work to do, but that is what I am seeking to achieve.
The Minister says that he knows from speaking to people that they want their entire stories in the report. That is not what the rest of us are hearing. People have very considerable and legitimate concerns around findings such as that there was no evidence of forced adoption. That is not someone saying that she wants her entire story represented in the report; it is saying that she wants an historical fact represented in the findings of the report. The long overdue redress scheme is at the heart of this issue. If the commission links its findings to the potentially flawed report - who knows what the new report will find, although the Minister may be reneging on that now because he has not mentioned it but he did say previously that he was going to commission a report to look into the 550 testimonies that were disregarded - then which report do we work off in terms of redress? How do you square that? I do not think anybody understands that. It is a blatant contradiction. Anyone who was forced into the institutions, who was separated from his or her family, or lost a family, in the system, is entitled to the fullest possible redress as a matter of justice.
I am absolutely committed to providing a comprehensive redress scheme. When the parameters of the interdepartmental group were being established, the Government made clear that we would not be bound solely by the recommendations contained with the commission's report. That is an important step. It allows us-----
It allows us to go past the commission's report and to publish a scheme of redress that is comprehensive. I have always said it should recognise the time spent within these institutions, across both the mother and baby institutions and the county institutions. That is what the Government has committed to do and that is what we will deliver. I accept that we are a little behind in terms of publishing the scheme of the redress. I hope to have that soon. I believe it will be comprehensive in terms of the range of the survivor body that it will cover and provide redress to.