Seanad debates

Friday, 19 February 2021

Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation: Statements (Resumed)


10:30 am

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

The Minister is very welcome. Regardless of one's viewpoint on it, I welcome the publication of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. I wish to put it on the record of the Seanad that the stories of the victims and the survivors behind this report will be locked away from the public eye for 30 years. This conflicts with the Government's and Fianna Fáil's illusion of transparency. Only the victims will have access to their own stories, and should they wish to share them with the public, the onus will be entirely upon them.

The publication of the report is at least a step towards unveiling the dark secrets of our past: the past of our families, our society, our nation, our State and the church. Clearly, much cruelty was inflicted on the thousands of vulnerable women and children in these institutions. I was horrified by the revelation that the infant mortality rate in the institutions was rampant, about twice that of those outside the system. We must reach out to survivors and provide every assistance and support possible. As I have stated before, we must help the people to heal and to rebuild their lives and make reparation for the harm suffered. I will keep a close eye on the promises the Government is making on redress and will hold it accountable. Immediate, free, accessible and comprehensive healthcare is a minimum that must be provided. This should be holistic and cover any physical, mental or emotional need.

Reflecting on the lives of the 9,000 women and children who died in these homes in such sad circumstances, I propose a national day of remembrance for them, perhaps next year, on the first day of spring. We commemorate the lives of soldiers who die for the nation and the State. Is it not fitting, then, that we should also commemorate the lives of the vulnerable who died and those who suffered because of the neglect of this nation and the State?

Regrettably, it appears that the handling of the investigation and the subsequent reporting process is opening up the survivors' wounds and betraying their trust. Many issues need to be urgently addressed regarding the way in which the commission is treating survivors and witnesses with their sensitive testimonies to the commission. The deletion of the recordings of the lived experience of survivors is quite frankly appalling, insensitive and potentially illegal. I have been personally contacted by survivors and witnesses to say they were not informed that the commission would destroy the recordings of their testimony. Siobhán, a mother who spent time in two different mother and baby homes, has told me that this raises huge questions about the lawfulness and transparency of the process. As the Data Protection Commission states, any processing of personal data should be lawful and fair.It should be transparent to the individuals what personal data concerning them were collected, used and consulted or otherwise processed and to what extent their personal data are being, or will be, processed. The principle of transparency requires that any information and communication relating to the processing of those personal data be easily accessible and easy to understand and that clear and plain language be used. Siobhán was also refused a copy of the tape of her interview when she requested it. Is that not a breach of her fundamental rights to access her own data? She made a data request on 22 January 2020. To date she has not received any reply and none of her personal data. Why is this? She has complained about the handling of her recording, the breach of their rights under the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and the alleged misrepresentation of her testimony.

The disrespectful treatment of the stories told by people is another matter in itself. People’s stories were not transcribed verbatim. Rather they were summarised and, one could say, butchered. We should be putting more value on the word and experience of survivors than just distilling them down and relegating them to a mere footnote in a report. This claim also raises another legal issue under GDPR about the accuracy of the personal data of survivors processed by the commission. Siobhán has told me that the commission has not contacted her to remedy her complaint, as it has been asked to do by the Data Protection Commission. Siobhán understandably posed the question of whether, if the commission is dissolved as intended on 28 February, her complaint then perishes with it? Will her rights be vindicated? Is the commission of investigation answerable or is it above the law? There are grave questions regarding the nature and quality of the consent obtained from witnesses and survivors by the commission and its confidential committee. These must be answered definitively before the commission is dissolved.

I call on the commission to contact in writing every single person who placed their trust in it and in the State, a State that has so often failed and abused them in the past. The commission needs to obtain explicit informed consent to destroy or retain records of witnesses and survivors. It must obtain explicit and informed consent if it is to hand over the records to Tusla. Many of the witnesses have not been given a copy of the report, as the Minister promised they would. I understand a number of the councils have been issued apologies, but there have been no copies of the report made available through their library services. The Minister promised the survivors a copy of the report and they must not be left wanting or waiting for that. He cannot in good faith dissolve the commission without accountability to the victims and survivors. I apologise for going over time.


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