Seanad debates

Friday, 19 February 2021

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


10:30 am

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the House. A total of 550 survivors of the mother and baby homes came forward to share their testimonies of living in hellish conditions. For this report to be published they provided personal accounts, consisting of the lived experiences, to the confidential committee module of the commission's work. It is so important that we acknowledge and understand how difficult it must have been for each of the individual survivors to speak out about their experiences in mother and baby homes. I shudder to think of the injustice of it, as I am sure the Minister also does. Only 75 of the 550 women had requested anonymity. Dr. Maeve O'Rourke rightly stated this week that anonymity "doesn’t mean we won’t fully transcribe your testimony, we will never give you a copy of what you said, we’ll then destroy your audio, you won’t be able to challenge our report."

Ireland's shame has now gained international interest, and rightly so, with headlines across the world focused on what we do next to do right by the survivors of the mother and baby home institutions. It is essential that we do not lose sight of the issues at play here. It is very easy to allow us to get caught up in the complexity and the often nebulous nature of political language. This conversation should always be about the interest of the survivors. The issue at play is getting buried in the complexity of political language and the avoidance of questions. If we are to get to the heart of this we need answers. There are many complex issues around what happened in the mother and baby institutions but we need to know on what basis was the evidence collected by the commission deleted. Furthermore, it is not possible to retrieve that information, as is the wish of the majority of the survivors. We need to understand on what legal basis was the deletion of testimonies carried out. It is also essential to understand if how the testimonies were to be dealt with was conveyed to the survivors when giving evidence. To carry out this report the experiences of 550 of the women giving testimony was, essentially, a reopening of the trauma and reliving of it in the present day.These women have suffered more than enough. The Government cannot fail these wonderful women any more. We are failing them through the lack of transparency, through false promises and with reports and commissions that never serve to heal but only to half-record and meddle with the past. We are failing these women through State apologies that place the blame for what happened for so long on society rather than on the individuals and institutions who were genuinely culpable. When are we going to do the right thing by these survivors?

All of these half-hearted attempts to heal our hideous histories are undermined by the overwhelming lack of transparency. At the very least, it is essential that we see the record of the correspondence between the Minister and the commission as well as the correspondence between the Minister and the Attorney General, who he states has sought legal advice as to the deletion of the tapes. We need immediate clarity as to whether the testimonies of survivors have been destroyed. If this is the case, we need evidence to show that witnesses were made aware that their testimonies were going to be destroyed. Where these simple answers cannot be delivered quickly, it is essential that the mother and baby homes commission be extended. We must ensure that it is not dissolved on 28 February. We cannot allow the commission to be dissolved when 550 of these testimonies are absent. We cannot sit around and see another report into systemic institutionalised abuse in Ireland's past causing more trauma and problems rather than doing good. We have been down this road before with the Murphy report and with the McAleese report and its numerous omissions. Why can we not get our affairs in order and finally honour the horrific experiences of these survivors?

It is important to note that the destruction of evidence denies the survivors their ability to refute the commission's erroneous findings. Some of the claims the commission has made about these institutions are incorrect. The Clann project has a long-term commitment to seeking justice for the survivors and has spoken out about some of the erroneous findings of the commission about these institutions. One such finding was that the institutions provided a refuge.

The adoption rights activist, Noelle Brown, has stated that nobody told these women that their testimonies would be destroyed and that they did not consent to that. We need answers as to the legal basis for the deletion of the records. We need to know whether there were transcripts of these testimonies and if this important evidence can be recovered. We also need to see an extension to the timeframe of the commission. Where we cannot obtain answers promptly, our prerogative is to ensure that the commission is not dissolved without accounting for the missing tapes. The importance of retrieving these stories and testimonies is that it would allow those 475 of the 550 survivors who did not request anonymity the option to store their testimonies in an archive where a reflection of the history of what happened could be observed. What is most important is that these women are adequately commemorated.


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