Friday, 19 February 2021
Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation: Statements (Resumed)
First of all, I commend the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach on the statement he made to the House a number of weeks ago. I commended him on it personally but I want to put it on the record. The Minister is very welcome. The report highlights an abject failure of care by the State. It is important to thank the hundreds of brave women for telling their stories, which are so important to them, and for shining a light on their lives, histories and experience. Our response, as a State, must be supportive. We must support these women with opportunities and redress. Our support, as a Government, must be characterised by justice, compassion and respect. I acknowledge the apology from the CEO and cathaoirleach of Longford County Council. I urge all local authorities to follow their example.
Like many survivors and advocacy groups, I am deeply disappointed in the report and how it was handled. I refer to the lack of consultation, the leaking of the report to a national newspaper and the continuing issues with regard to access to records. Last October, as public representatives, we received thousands of emails ahead of the vote we held. Personally, supporters of a particular political party came to my home at night, when I was putting my children to bed, to place teddy bears at my private home, which is unacceptable.We voted to protect the database and the related records. We were there to protect them and now we are being told that the recordings have been destroyed. The commission's report states that 550 witnesses were asked for permission to record their evidence and that all such recordings have been destroyed. Section 43 of the Commissions of Investigation Act states that all evidence received by and all documents created by or for the commission have to transfer to the Minister. We were in a situation where evidence was recorded. The commission states that consent was given. Survivors have said they were not made aware at any stage during their interview with the commission that the recordings would be destroyed. At what stage was the Minister informed that the recordings were destroyed or would be destroyed? Was there any correspondence from the commission regarding this to officials in the Department?
I understand the commission is an independent body. However, I am disappointed that members of the commission refused to attend last week's meeting of the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. I have major concerns about that. It is important that we get all the answers and that survivors get answers. Members of the commission should be asked to make themselves available on an ongoing basis. The report of the commission has caused upset, hurt and anger for all victims.
This is a very time-limited, sensitive situation, as the commission is due to be dissolved in a week's time. Once this happens, survivors feel they will get no answers. We must act now. I support Senator Buttimer and other Senators in their call for us to put whatever legislation is needed in place to extend the commission or to put in place a new commission to continue the work that needs to be done for the survivors of mother and baby homes.