Tuesday, 12 December 2017
Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries
I welcome the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to the Chamber. She has been here on several occasions at my request for which I thank her. I would like to extend a welcome to the survivors who are seated in the Visitors' Gallery today and I believe the others are watching online.
Last week, a somewhat surprise third interim report was published by the commission. Based on the recommendation of the report, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs subsequently granted an extension of one year to the commission to complete its work. I echo the sentiments of many of the survivors who welcome this difficult decision in that it affords more attention to detail and a greater depth of research to be conducted.
However, as the Minister will know, it is a very difficult decision as many survivors have a very legitimate concern that the delay will mean many of the elderly survivors will not reach closure on this matter, and a closure that they need, because they may not have that length of life. Furthermore, as I know she is aware, many of the survivors still suffer daily due to the trauma that they suffered. The delay will mean they will have to wait even longer for the answers they desperately seek.
I am glad that the Minister is here today to outline the practical supports that will be available to survivors in the meantime. For example, can they access scanned records before the final report? Many of the survivors are older and might need IT assistance as well as emotional and psychological supports. It is not ideal but the fact is the report has been delayed. If survivors could at least access records it might offer them some closure in the meantime.
The interim report also says that the additional timeframe will not incur additional costs. Can the Minister clarify the matter because the deadline has been extended by a year?
In the Minister's December update on this issue she stated that her officials were working on a number of measures to respond to the issues that arose from the facilitated meetings that have been held to date. She now plans to bring a number of proposals in this regard to the Government in the coming weeks. How will the newly announced collaborative forum's recommendations tie in with this work? Can she confirm whether the process will run parallel? Can she give a commitment of a clear timeframe for when she will bring the proposals to Cabinet and outline what they will consist of?
I recognise the amount of work that the Minister has put into listening to the survivors. I have thoroughly read the facilitation reports and there are some excellent suggestions therein that have come directly from the survivors. Can she give a commitment that the recommendations will not be dependent on the collaborative forum?
Finally, there is an elephant in the room. I refer to the leaked technical report into the Tuam site that has just been published and cannot be ignored. I have read the Minister's statement and know that she regrets the leak. I need to look into the details of this newly-published report. Will the Cabinet finish its considerations today? Has the Minister's Department a contingency plan on how to support those who will be deeply affected by the recommendations of such a report, especially if the reporting that we have thus far is to be believed?
I welcome the opportunity to provide an update on the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. The commission submitted a third interim report which I published last week, to which Senator Devine has just referred. The report, which is available on my Department's website, outlined the practical challenges the commission faced in meeting its initial deadline of 17 February 2018 for the completion of its reports. In its report the commission requested that the deadline be extended by one year and as the House will be aware, the Government has agreed to extend the timeframe for submission. The commission is now required to submit its three final reports by 17 February 2019.
The commission advised that the confidential committee has to date met with 346 former residents or others with connections to the institutions under investigation. The commission stated that it would not be possible for the confidential committee to meet the almost 200 additional persons who have already applied to provide accounts of their experience and to complete its report by February 2018. The commission noted that its wide terms of reference has necessitated the collection and analysis of a vast range of documentary material relating to the institutions under investigation and that the analysis of all relevant records would not be completed until the middle of 2018. Although the commission has heard evidence from 140 individuals, the process in respect of the authorities who ran these institutions cannot be completed until all of the documentary evidence has been analysed.
In reaching the decision to grant the commission's extension request, the Government accepted that additional time is required to facilitate the comprehensive statutory investigation into the matters of significant public concern referred to the commission. The Government considers that the public interest is best served by allowing additional time for the commission to conclude all relevant lines of inquiry. Facilitating former residents to provide accounts of their experience was one of the main reasons for establishing the commission. I know the commission will effectively use the additional time to ensure that many more witnesses have such an opportunity. The additional time will ensure that crucial questions can be fully addressed to provide the answers to which the former residents are entitled.
I want to thank the commission for this update on its important work. When I recently met the commission I was again reassured by its members' absolute commitment to establishing the full facts of what happened to women and children in these institutions. I have, however, asked the commission to make every effort to deliver its reports as soon as practicable. I understand that this extension of time delays the day which many former residents have been eagerly anticipating. I understand that fully and I know that many have expressed disappointment and frustration at this development. I acknowledge those who are with us in the House this afternoon. Equally, it is important to state that a number of advocates have acknowledged that the extension is a pragmatic response to the challenges faced by the commission.
In the interim, I am proceeding with a number of measures to support former residents. Following on from facilitated consultations held over 2017 with former residents, their families and supporters, I am making arrangements to establish a collaborative forum to support former residents in developing issues and solutions that are of concern to them. The collaborative forum is a progressive response to the theme of "nothing about us without us" which has emerged from the facilitated consultations. I am currently working with a facilitator on this matter and hope to make further announcements in the coming weeks. In addition, in recognition of Ireland's absolute commitment to human rights, the Government has decided to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, to visit Ireland. I will work with my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to arrange this invitation. It is important to say that these developments have been welcomed by a number of advocates who recognise the progressive nature of the Government's approach.
This morning, as Senator Devine pointed out, the Government has agreed to publish the expert technical report on the Tuam site. I will be making a more detailed statement on that report later this afternoon and the report will be available on my Department's website soon. I want to thank the members of the expert technical group for their work on such a complex and sensitive issue. The group's report will help everyone to understand the nature of the options that are now open to us so we can make some well-informed decisions. The report is a detailed technical document running to over 250 pages and it will, understandably, take some time to absorb and fully process what it tells us. I want to take this opportunity to assure all interested parties that there will be public consultations with stakeholders before any decisions are made. My primary concern is to ensure that whatever action is taken respects the memory and dignity of the deceased children who lived their short lives in that institution.I thank the Minister, Deputy Zappone. Senator Devine has one minute to respond.
Go raibh maith agat. I welcome the Government's invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, to guide us on the years, if not centuries, of mistreatment of our very vulnerable citizens. This is a prudent and very important step. I welcome most of what the Minister, Deputy Zappone, said but I wish to clarify one point. Will the survivors be able to have access to their scanned records before the final report, and will they be given IT, emotional and psychological support during that time? It would be great if the Minister could answer that question.
I am aware that both of those questions that are live. What I have indicated is that as a result of the initial facilitation process, out of which some of the issues Senator Devine has identified have been expressed again, we have decided that it would be really important to establish this collaborative forum which will report in six months. One of the areas it will be looking at will be to identify the practical supports already identified in the earlier facilitation.
The membership of the collaborative forum will be representative. We have quite a detailed way of trying to ensure the people who will be on the forum will be representative of the different voices in respect of supports people want so that when it makes recommendations to me, I can be confident that is representative and then I can make decisions on the basis of that information. We have asked the collaborative forum to report within six months. If it wishes to report sooner, that is okay with me. I will wait for it to come forward before answering those questions explicitly.