Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

4:15 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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3. To ask the Taoiseach the status of the investigation being carried out by the Secretary General of his Department into the leaking of details of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation final report earlier in 2021. [37869/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Following the disclosure in a newspaper report earlier this year of certain information relating to the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in advance of consideration of the report by the Government, I requested that an investigation be carried out. A senior official in my Department is carrying out the investigation in the context of a broader examination of the overall arrangements for the management of documents for Government meetings and their confidentiality. That process is ongoing.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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This question reflects the contents of the previous one, to a certain extent. I know, from speaking to many survivors of mother and baby homes, that the actions of the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, around the time of the report's publication were deeply hurtful. Many of those people are elderly and some are, obviously, very vulnerable at the moment. I spoke to people, for example, who had attended the Zoom meeting with the Taoiseach, and it sounded very inappropriate too. Their microphones were switched off and they did not have an opportunity to ask questions. Questions had to be submitted in advance and were presumably vetted by the Department. At the time, the Taoiseach gave credibility to the details that had been leaked by giving comment on them to a journalist, who wrote the story, and that caused great hurt as well. Will the Taoiseach apologise for doing that? When will he publish the findings of the Government's investigation into that leak? It has been nine months since the investigation was first heralded. If we are pointing the finger at all these other investigative vehicles in this country and yet Departments are taking nine months to carry out an investigation as simple as this, that leaves serious questions.

The wider issue of leaks is also really important. There is the idea the Zappone affair was predicated on a leak from the Taoiseach's Cabinet, a leak that, by law, is a criminal offence to undertake. There have been reports in the newspapers that a Minister of State set a trap for a senior Minister, that that information on the senior Minister was given to the Tánaiste and that the Tánaiste was carrying out an investigation into this. Where lies that investigation? Has it evaporated too, like the rain of the summer? Are we ever going to find out whether these people will be held to account? If there are no consequences for any of these leaks, there will never be any change or accountability.

Will the Taoiseach detail exactly where stands the investigation into the leak of the commission's report? When will it be finished? When will survivors of mother and baby homes know exactly the truth of that leak? When will the answers be published? Will the Taoiseach shed some light on the incredible Machiavellian situation of, seemingly, one Fine Gael Minister leaking against another and a Minister of State setting a trap for him or her as well?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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As the Taoiseach said, the examination is into this particular leaking of details of the mother and baby home commission's report but, more generally, around what is called unauthorised dissemination of documentation and other information relating to the work of the Cabinet. My God, the Taoiseach has his hands full because I do not know whether a previous administration has been so leaky. The Government is formidable in its capacity to leak, if nothing else. It is quite astonishing and it is, as my colleague said, a very serious matter. In this case, the leaking of this report caused incredible heartache and anger among a group of people whom the State had failed comprehensively, people who had suffered comprehensively. We know it is not an isolated incident, however, and we will talk about the Zappone debacle later. All of it stacks up to the most incredibly cavalier attitude in the Taoiseach's Government, and particularly among his Fine Gael colleagues, in respect of Cabinet confidentiality and the guarding and storage of Government communications and information.

There are two further issues of concern to survivors of these institutions and their families, the first of which relates to the burials legislation. The Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth submitted its pre-legislative scrutiny report on the Bill to the Minister before the recess. The legislation had been unduly delayed by the Department in the first instance. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the Minister responds swiftly to the committee's report and that the Government Bill is introduced as soon as possible?

The other issue of concern is that there seems to be no urgency from the Government in progressing the survivors' redress scheme. The consultative strand of the process was completed months ago, yet we still have no indication from the Minister as to when the interdepartmental group will conclude its work and report to him. Has the Taoiseach sought an update from the Minister on when he will bring his recommendations for the redress scheme to the Government for a decision?

I appeal to the Taoiseach to follow up on these issues in respect of survivors, but alongside those issues is the deep grievance in respect of the leaking of this report. It is utterly outrageous, as is the other, associated behaviour. It is happening on the Taoiseach's watch and he needs to take a hold of this. It needs to be knocked on the head. We need answers and there have to be sanctions. Whoever leaked from the Cabinet should be named and shamed and sanctioned for it if the Taoiseach's Government, or any administration, is to have any credibility.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The general point the Deputies have made is valid, in regard to the protection of documentation and information. The storage and dissemination of such information has to be protected. I have asked for new mechanisms to be brought into play to ensure the protection of material that comes before the Government.

The entire response of the Government to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is to deal, once and for all and comprehensively, with the issues that have been raised. I am not pre-empting the outcome of the ongoing investigation but it will deal with the overall arrangements for the management of documents for Government meetings and their confidentiality.

There will be an action plan on all of the recommendations that were contained in the mother and baby homes report, which will be published shortly, in terms of the survivor-centred approach, access to personal information, education and research, archiving and databases, memorialisation, restorative recognition, which I will come back to in a moment, and dignified burial.

The key issue for many has been the information on tracing. We have published that legislation. It is with the committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is radical. It is in line with what most Members of the House and, in particular, the survivors’ groups wanted. The scheme was published on the 11 May. This is the most effective way we can meet the needs of all those who were in mother and baby homes. It has been forwarded to the Oireachtas committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. It gives access to birth and early life information for people who were adopted or, indeed, who otherwise have questions on their origins.

I would like to work with Members. I would like to see this progressed prior to the end of the legislative term. There is a danger that it may not make it to the end of term. In other words, it could go over. I know that the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is watching what is happening with the pre-legislative scrutiny at the committee to try to anticipate some recommendations and changes. That legislation covers not just all those who were adopted, but everybody who needs access to information on their origins. It would support access to early life care, medical information and so on. It will also provide for a comprehensive tracing service for people who want to make contact, share their information, request information from a birth relative, and make or establish a contact preference register to allow people to be able to record their preference in relation to having contact with birth relatives.

The Minister has done detailed work on the legislation on burials. He visited the Tuam site recently. He met with all of the interested parties there. That legislation is to support the excavation, exhumation and, where possible, the identification of remains and their dignified reburial. The legislation will support intervention at the Tuam site and any other site where intervention is reasonably required by virtue of the manifestly inappropriate nature of burials that may have taken place. Separately, the Minister and the team will engage with former residents and their advocacy groups on the question of appropriate dignified local memorialisation of a known or agreed burial site, where this is not already the case. That legislation will be brought forward shortly. The Minister updated Cabinet this morning on that.

With regard to compensation payments for the victims, a fundamental element of the Government action plan is to establish an ex gratia payment scheme. This scheme will include a financial payment and a form of enhanced medical card. An interdepartmental group was set up to develop detailed proposals for the scheme, taking account of the recommendations of the commission. However, it is not limited to those recommendations; it can go beyond them. The Minister has been overseeing this. The group's work is guided by a human rights focus, and informed by consultation with survivors, which took place during March and April. I am glad that consultation received a strong response. The work of the group is being finalised. The Minister looks forward to getting the group's final report and bringing the proposals to Government for approval early in this Dáil term. I hope that we have that before the House in a short while. The Government will then establish the scheme and make it available for application as soon as possible, beginning I would say at this stage, in early 2022.

That covers the range of issues that the Deputies have raised.

4:25 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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The Taoiseach gave no answer on the updates into the investigation into the leaking. That is a deafening silence. He gave no answer, even, on an update as to where that investigation is, or when that investigation will be publicised. No information has been imparted to us on the basis of that question. As of yet, there are no consequences for the individuals who leaked that and for the pain and the suffering they caused to the survivors of the mother and baby homes. No action is a hallmark of the Taoiseach’s office. Even when the Tánaiste was involved in the leaking of a confidential contract to a friend, there were no consequences. How, then, can we expect a Minister in the current Cabinet to actually stop leaking, when there are no consequences for people at this level? Will the Taoiseach guarantee us that there will be a specific date with regard to the publication of the investigation into the leaking of the report into the mother and baby homes?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I simply want to ask who leaked details of the final report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation? Who did it? Can the Taoiseach name the person? I am sure that it has been established. A limited number of ye had access to it. Who did that, please?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have not interfered with the investigation. It was undertaken by an official in my Department. I am not in a position to say who did what, or to give the Deputy any confirmation of that, nor indeed on the conclusion of it.