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Chair of mother and baby home commission declines invitation to appear before Children's Committee

Committee members are “very disappointed” by the latest development.

The 'Little Angels' memorial plot in the grounds of Bessborough House in Blackrock, Cork.
The 'Little Angels' memorial plot in the grounds of Bessborough House in Blackrock, Cork.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE CHAIRPERSON OF the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has declined an invitation from the Oireachtas Children’s Committee to appear before it.

The committee last week wrote to former judge Yvonne Murphy seeking her attendance at a meeting on 16 February to discuss the commission’s final report, as well as the destruction of audio recordings of witness testimony.

In an email received by the committee today, Justice Murphy declined the invitation, with a spokesperson saying she is “unavailable”. She is not legally obliged to attend.

Committee chair Kathleen Funchion said the committee has sent a follow-up email saying it “would facilitate a different date” if needed.

The Sinn Féin TD told TheJournal.ie that committee members are “very disappointed” by the latest development.

If Justice Murphy cannot attend, the committee has extended the invitation to the other commissioners – Dr Mary Daly, retired professor of Irish History at University College Dublin and former president of the Royal Irish Academy, and Dr William Duncan, retired professor of Law at Trinity College Dublin.

“It’s such an important issue. So many different families and women and people were waiting so long for the report. Nearly six years that people have been waiting for this, they’ve had to deal with extensions (to the commission’s deadline) and cooperated as best they could with them,” Funchion said.

The TD said the committee wants to have “a proper dialogue and proper engagement” with the commission, and is hopeful that the former judge may appear before it at a later date.

She also said the destruction of the audio recordings of witness testimony “has to be taken very seriously”.

Funchion and others want the commission’s term to be extended beyond the end of the month so these issues are dealt with prior to its dissolution.

However, she stressed that any extension “should not lead to any delays in terms of the transfer of records, or any of the redress”.

‘Quite surprised’

Yesterday Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil he was “quite surprised” to hear that audio recordings of over 500 witnesses’ testimony were destroyed.

A number of campaigners and opposition TDs have called for the commission to not be dissolved as planned at the end of the month.

They say the commission should remain in operation until its members answer questions about its final report and the deletion of the audio recordings.

Varadkar said Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman is examining if it “makes sense” to extend the term of the commission so these issues can be examined.

“One of the flaws in the process is an independent body like a commission can spend five years hearing evidence, examining evidence, and then makes its report, but then is not there to explain it,” the Tánaiste said, adding that this needs to change in the future.

O’Gorman, whose department oversaw the release of the report, has also been invited to attend a separate meeting with the Children’s Committee later this month.

Survivors have been invited attend another hearing so they can raise any questions or concerns they have.

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The report, spanning 2,865 pages, details the experiences of women and children who lived in14 mother and baby homes and four county homes between 1922 and 1998. It was published on 12 January, nearly six years after the commission was first set up.

Many survivors have criticised the report, in particular conclusions which state there was a lack of evidence of forced adoption and abuse, despite testimonies contradicting this.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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