THE Government and the State will set out the nature of their opposition next month to seven challenges brought over the final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.
When case managing the seven separate cases, Mr Justice Garrett Simons yesterday suggested that one or two “lead” cases might be selected to decide core issues raised in all of them.
The cases, including one by retired nurse Philomena Lee, have been brought against the Minister for Children, the Government, Ireland and the Attorney General.
The judge said that selecting lead cases could save court time and legal costs and result in a speedier determination of issues.
He stressed that it was only a suggestion and he was very aware of the sensitivity of the cases. He said he was flexible concerning how they are dealt with.
If the parties considered it was not possible to select lead cases, the court would hear all the cases.
Siobhán Phelan SC, for three applicants, said lawyers for the various applicants had agreed with the State respondents that opposition papers would be filed on June 15. She said she wanted to see those papers before making any decision concerning whether lead cases were the most appropriate way to proceed. Counsel for other applicants shared that view.
David Fennelly BL, for the State parties, said the cases raised “very difficult and sensitive” issues.
He said there were some common issues across them, but also different ones, and his side might be in a better position after June 15 to decide whether proceeding via lead cases was the best course.
The judge adjourned the cases to June 22 for further case management.
The cases involve claims that the commission’s final report does not accurately reflect the applicants’ evidence to it and breaches their rights to fair procedures, and natural and constitutional justice.
The claims include that section 34 of the Commission of Investigation Act 2004 required that they, as persons unnamed but allegedly identifiable in the final report, be given the commission’s draft report and the opportunity to make submissions on that.
It is claimed the failure to do that breaches section 34 and their fundamental rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights. Other issues concern the nature of a redress scheme and the constitutionality of provisions of the 2004 Act.
Orders preventing identification of a number of the applicants have been made.
An anonymity order was not sought in the case by Philomena Lee, now aged 88 and living in England. She was sent to the Sean Ross Abbey mother and baby home in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, when she became pregnant aged 18. When her son was aged three, he was sent for adoption by a US couple. Ms Lee’s life was the subject of a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, and a film, Philomena, which was directed by Stephen Frears and starred Judi Dench.
Her solicitor, Wendy Lyon of Abbey Law, said in an affidavit that the commission’s findings included that there was “no evidence” for the opinion of some women that their consent to adoption was not full, free and informed. Ms Lee’s evidence was that she was not given any time to consider a document that she was told to sign and which relinquished her rights to her son, Ms Lyon said.
The other applicants include Mari Steed, of Virginia, US, who was born in the Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork in 1960 and adopted by an American family in 1961; and Mary Isobelle Mullaney, of Blackrock, Co Dublin, born in Sean Ross Abbey in March 1965.
Ms Steed claims her rights were damaged by being subjected to the Quadrivax vaccine trial while in Bessborough and she was entitled to an opportunity to address the commission’s finding that there was no evidence of injury to the relevant children as a result of the vaccines.
Ms Mullaney, represented by KOD Lyons, claims the report gives an inaccurate impression that she was unhappy with her adoptive parents.