Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes: Statements
When an extension was given by the Government in February 2018, Sinn Féin reluctantly gave its support. We shared the sentiment expressed that it was important that we got this right and that the investigation would be as thorough as possible within the terms of reference. However, my colleague, Deputy Denise Mitchell, noted her concern at the time that the commission seemed to be under-resourced and was sceptical about its ability to deliver within 12 months.
Given that recent discoveries have been made and that the interim report did not disclose the extent of the files in November, in terms of the number of pages, as it did in measuring every other discovery, it seems somewhat disingenuous to be so unclear about how long this will take relative to the work carried out.
Additionally, it is clear from the report that the commission is increasingly and frequently frustrated by the HSE. The report goes into the details of the commission's dealings with the HSE and it is clear there is not a strong working relationship in that regard. The reports refer to aspects of this relationship with comments such as:
[However,] it is difficult to understand how relatively recent documentation is not available ... it is clear that the HSE does not have any system ... of storing or archiving material.
The HSE has been unable to provide any documentation on its involvement [in The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co. Donegal].
If there are issues in the way the commission of investigation and the HSE are interacting, which are contributing to the delays, what action does the Minister commit to take to resolve those? Has she had any interactions with the Minister for Health regarding them?
How did a large number of files in the possession of the Department of Health only come to light last month, a year past the original deadline for the publication of the report and four years on from one Department handing over documents to another Department? What interactions has the Minister had with the Minister for Health on that?
The delays in the publication of this report have had a devastating effect on survivors, particularly elderly survivors, as other Senators have mentioned. The announcement has prolonged fears they may not be alive to see redress put in place. Unfortunately, the State, and the institutions of the State, have a poor track record in this regard. Will the Minister give assurances to those survivors' groups that every effort will be made to ensure truth and justice for elderly survivors?
Survivors' groups also noted this announcement, along with previous announcements relating to the mother and baby homes, was made through the media before survivors were notified. They were informed through news outlets. Given its sensitive nature, I hope the Minister will relay that to departmental staff working on this issue and that whatever breakdown occurred on this issue can be rectified.
I am disappointed that this report has to be delayed by another 12 months, that survivors will have to wait another year and that the dark chapter of this State's history cannot be put to bed. I do not believe anyone involved working with the Department or in government wished for a delay to the report but if operational and resources issues within the commission led to that, new discoveries or consent to release names are not the sole reason for the delay. I hope the Minister and Government will take this on board and work towards the complete report publication in 2020 as survivors do not deserve delays caused by issues that could be overcome with political resolve.