Rejecting mother and baby home report would have ‘huge consequences’

Roderic O’Gorman raised concerns about the precedence it would set if the Government were to reject the findings of a Commission of Investigation.
Rejecting mother and baby home report would have ‘huge consequences’

By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

A Government minister has faced criticism for not continuing with an independent review into testimonies given to the mother and baby home commission.

Minister Roderic O’Gorman responded that there were concerns about the precedence it would set if the Government were to repudiate the findings of a Commission of Investigation.

A number of issues were raised around how survivors’ testimonies were handled in the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, published in January 2021.

The commission’s final report found that the institutions for women produced high levels of infant mortality, misogyny and stigmatisation of some of society’s most vulnerable people.

Survivors and activists disputed some elements of the report, such as the methodology, inconsistencies and the finding that there was no evidence that illegal adoptions took place.

In December 2021, the High Court ruled that the commission had denied survivors their statutory right to reply to a draft of its findings.

The decision means that a declaration appears alongside the commission’s final report on the Government website, and list paragraphs in online editions and in the Oireachtas Library which the survivors claimed did not accurately reflect their testimony.

It was indicated last summer that there may be an independent review into the confidential testimonies given to the commission, but reports emerged earlier this year that this would not proceed.

Legal complexities

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Mr O’Gorman said that the decision was made not to continue with the independent review of the commission’s report as he understood the main issue was with the representation of survivors’ testimonies.

The minister said that there were “legal complexities” if the government were to review, contradict or rewrite elements of the report, which relates to the legislation underpinning independent commissions of investigation.

Mr O’Gorman told an Oireachtas committee that a process “with the capacity to record, preserve and recognise survivors’ personal accounts, presents the most meaningful opportunity to address the concerns expressed to me”.

“Such a process can restore choice and agency to survivors,” he added.

He said that the accounts will be housed in a new National Centre for Research and Remembrance, which the minister “hoped” would be based at Sean McDermott Street, where a Magdalene Laundry institution was based.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said his response showed an “arrogance and paternalism”.

She said that there were wider issues with the commission’s report other than representation, including a lack of access to justice.

“From your own account, you had an ill prepared proposal which gave false hope to a highly vulnerable group of people,” she said.

Mr O’Gorman said that his decision was based on meetings and conversations with survivors.

“I have met a very significant number of survivors. I’ve mentioned many groups, many individuals, I’ve met them online, I’ve met them in the Department or in the room here.

“And also a significant number of survivors come up to me on the street, at events, who identified themselves to me and said they were in such and such an institution or were subject to an illegal birth registration and discussed their views and where they see the actions of the department and my actions as minister over the last two years.

“And some are critical, undoubtedly, and some recognise the steps that have been taken.”

He said that many survivors who contacted him said “their key issue was their words weren’t being reflected in the historical record”.

Short paragraph

“That isn’t something that I thought, that was something that survivors were saying to me in their communications: that they didn’t feel that their experience they had gone to the trouble, to the trauma, to the upset of going before the confidential committee, and all their input and boiled down to a short paragraph that in certain cases, it wasn’t even just their own story.”

Ms Cairns continued: “To say that the key issue in you changing your mind is ‘Because from my engagement with survivors, their main issue was that their experience is not recognised enough and that will be done through the National Archives or whatever’.

“Anyone else can tell you – we’re the committee for the department – that that isn’t the only concern people have, people want justice as well.

“The findings of those reports being so fundamentally flawed, has really profound impact outside of experiences not been documented – which is also really important – but on things like redress.

“So it’s not fair to just pick one thing that was important to people and scrap the plan that would actually provide people with justice, that acknowledges what people went through was horrific. That’s what’s missing.”

Mr O’Gorman said that “a decision by government to repudiate an independent commission of investigation report has huge consequences”, and that despite “very legitimate criticisms” of the report, “there’s also material of huge value in that report as well”.

“For me, the fact that is clearly documented, clearly evidenced in the report that the state knew what was happening in these institutions and failed to act, that inspectors from the Department of Local Government were writing reports saying children aren’t properly fed, children are dying, others are dying, and that that was ignored at officialdom, I don’t want that repudiated.”

“There is a broader issue about the government making a determination to repudiate an independent report and the precedent that that sets.”

Mr O’Gorman also told the committee that “there was no proposal to Cabinet in June 2021” with details of the independent review into the testimonies given to the Commission.

He said he would seek Government approval for publication of the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme Bill in the coming weeks.

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