The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has been permitted to make submissions at the hearing of two lead challenges to the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
The IHREC’s submissions will focus on human rights and equality issues, and the rights of victims of historic abuse to access justice and to an appropriate effective remedy.
Among the reasons for the IHREC’s application to be joined to the lead cases as an amicus curiae – assistant to the court on legal issues – is its view that the human rights issues raised in the cases “could significantly affect the human rights of persons not party to the proceedings”.
The lead cases, to be heard next month, are by retired nurse Philomena Lee (88), who lives in England, and by Galway-based Mary Harney (72), both former residents of mother and baby homes.
On Friday, Mr Justice Garrett Simons granted the IRHEC’s application to be joined to the cases as an amicus curiae.
The applicants in both cases consented to the IHREC’s application and the State respondents adopted a neutral position, with the effect the application was unopposed.
The lead cases will be heard on November 17th and 18th.
They will be followed by an application for discovery of documents in a third case, that of Mari Steed. A core issue in that application concerns the ambit of Section 12 of the Commission of Investigation Act 2004, which deals with the Commission’s power to make a decision to share information with a person who has given evidence to it.
The lead cases will address a core claim, made in nine cases over the final report, concerning the ambit of Section 34 of the 2004 Act.
The applicants claim Section 34 required them, as persons unnamed but allegedly identifiable in the Commission’s final report, to 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.
The challenges are against the Minister for Children, the Government, Ireland and the Attorney General.
The applicants claim the Commission’s final report does not accurately reflect their evidence to it and breaches their rights to fair procedures and natural and constitutional justice. Other issues include the nature of a redress scheme and the constitutionality of provisions of the 2004 Act.
Philomena Lee was sent to the Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, when she became pregnant aged 18, and when her son was aged three, he was sent for adoption by a US couple. Her life was the subject of a book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, and a film, ‘Philomena’, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench.
Mary Harney, born in the Bessborough Home in Cork in 1949, claims she is readily identifiable in the Commission’s report and was thus entitled to an opportunity to make submissions on the findings concerning her in the draft report.
Mari Steed, of Virginia, US, born in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, Cork, in 1960 and adopted by an American family in 1961, claims her rights were damaged by being subject to the Quadrivax vaccine trial while in Bessborough. She says she was entitled to address the Commission’s finding there was no evidence of injury to the relevant children as a result of the vaccines.