Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Second Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters: Statements (Resumed)
I very much appreciate the depth of the analysis and the questions posed by Senators. That is why I would like to have a little more time to respond but I will do my best in eight minutes. We can continue the conversation at another point.
I am happy to come back because I do not know whether I will be able to answer all the questions that have been raised. If that is so, perhaps there is another way to do that.
In response to some of the questions Senator Clifford-Lee posed, in particular about the coroner, as she may know, the coroner is independent in the discharge of his statutory responsibilities but, to date, he has determined that there is not sufficient evidence to enable him to open an investigation within his statutory remit. However, those are matters for the coroner and it is open to him to consult with the Garda or any other person in his consideration of those issues.
I am aware of that, which is one of the reasons I have taken decisions to look for expert technical advice in terms of questions related to the Senator's second set of questions, namely, what were the survivors' requests when I went to Tuam. Largely, they fell within two areas; one of which is information and access to records. A number of Senators raised those questions. I wish to ensure the survivors have information and access to records, particularly regarding Tusla. My understanding is that in order for that to happen we need to pass the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill to provide legislative and statutory underpinning for the provision of those records. That is the reality and that is why it is important to move the Bill forward as quickly as possible.
Second, the survivors asked for an exhumation. They identified that they wanted further excavation and exhumation with the opportunity to identify the remains. That is again why, in terms of the Cabinet meeting yesterday, I said I was going to access technical advice in order to help us move forward in making those decisions.The decisions in regard to extension of the excavation and the possibility of identifying the remains rest with the Government. The advice being provided to us will help me to develop proposals in regard to moving that forward.
On the preservation of the site by Galway County Council, I understand that the proposal for a garden and protection of structures on the site has been postponed pending further consideration of what should happen at the site. This issue will form part of the consultations with the survivors. I, too, am engaging in a consultative process.
Many Senators raised the issue of the Government's response to the second interim report in terms of its decision not to implement that recommendation. In terms of the commission's rationale that the exclusion from the redress scheme of the unaccompanied children in the mother and baby and county homes was not fair or logical, I agreed with that and I have shared that with my colleagues. Although that agreement was not shared across my colleagues, I agreed with that assessment having looked at it very carefully. The next question is whether we should, therefore, provide access to the institutional redress scheme. We spent a lot of time examining whether that is possible or preferable. Ultimately, I made the decision with my colleagues not to re-open that scheme. The decision is not to close off redress but not to open up the scheme because, practically, to get access to the scheme survivors would have to prove abuse as an unaccompanied child, which is a child of between zero to three years. This is the group of people we are talking about. They would have to prove abuse and they would also have to go through the process of identifying that they were unaccompanied and get access to records to do that. In terms of our discussions, we had before us many examples of people who did access the residential institutions redress schemes and the difficulties in terms of that experience. This was not just about cost. As I said, people would have to go through all those steps.
In addition, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the scheme identified that for Government to make decisions about redress for the future, it is important it is able to estimate to the greatest extent possible the cost in that regard. I asked the commission on many occasions how many unaccompanied children there were but it could not tell me that. Those were the reasons, from my perspective, for the decision not to go towards the residential institutions redress scheme. I was disappointed that we were not able to do that.
The next question for me was what we could offer the unaccompanied children who were the focus of the commission's second interim report. I obtained the agreement of my Cabinet colleagues for supports, including mental health and well-being supports. We are putting in place a process to consult the survivors on what would be the best supports for them. We propose to put in place a meaningful process. The redress possibility will be re-examined when the commission of investigation reports. As a Minister I have to take account of a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General. We have learned some things from this scheme and others. If we are to put in place a scheme, we have to take account of those learnings.
On the issues raised by Senator Devine about the 2012 report, the files were surrendered to the HSE when the homes were closed. The information in question was examined by the HSE as part of its input to the examination of the Magdalen laundries. All the issues of concern, which I share, are within the remit of the current commission. It is important to point out that these serious concerns about high death rates and adoptions pre-1952 were known about prior to 2012. The issues which the Senator has raised are being examined by my Department and the commission of investigation. I will meet people as part of the consultation process in terms of responding to the issues that have been raised regarding the commission of investigation's report. Many other important questions were raised and I would be happy to come back-----