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Destruction of Mother and Baby Home tapes represents 'an imbalance of power', Dáil hears

Some survivors have expressed anger at the destruction of the audio testimony recordings.

Micheál Martin said the government is limited in what it can do about the issue.
Micheál Martin said the government is limited in what it can do about the issue.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the audio recordings of testimony destroyed by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission “may be retrieved in some form” but that there are “limitations to what the government can do”. 

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Martin said that the material was “valuable personal information” and he noted that leaflets given to survivors made no reference to the destruction of tapes. 

Some survivors have expressed anger at the destruction of the audio recordings, saying they were not informed their testimony would be destroyed.

The commission report states that witnesses were asked to record their evidence “on the clear understanding” that the recordings were to be used for as an aide memoire for the researchers and would be destroyed afterwards. 

Speaking at the Oireachtas Children’s Committee yesterday, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said it is “problematic” that the Commission maintains it told survivors that the recordings would be deleted while many survivors have said they were not told this in advance.

In the Dáil today, Galway West TD Catherine Connolly said that “nowhere in any of the documentation that I carefully scrutinised” made reference to the tapes being destroyed. 

“People came forward to give evidence, took their courage in their hands, believed in the system once again – or tried to believe in it – and are left now in a situation where there is no recording of their evidence,” she said. 

That was done on the basis that the commissioners knew best and were trying to protect them, with no evidence other than the commission’s word that this was communicated to them in any manner.

Connolly noted that “all the tapes from a previous commission on child abuse were preserved” and asked whether the Mother and Baby Homes Commission had “looked at precedents from previous commissions”. 

She said the decision by the commission to destroy the tapes represented “an imbalance of power”. 

“The powerful are telling the powerless what they think is in their interest and that they should be protected by getting rid of the tapes,” she said. 

The Taoiseach said that the Minister for Children has written to commission about the issue and has noted that “in the leaflets that were issued to the survivors there is no reference to the destruction of tapes at all”.  

He said that the decision to destroy the tapes was part of efforts by the commission to “guarantee anonymity”.

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“The minister has written to the commission asking if it is in a position to retrieve the tapes or if there is some technological way of doing so.  He has not, to my knowledge, gotten a response yet,” the Taoiseach said. 

He added that “no member of the government was involved in the commission” and that “there are limitations to what the government can do here”. 

“The government is very focused on what it has committed to doing as regards access to information, information and tracing legislation, reporting on the redress situation by the end of April and other matters,” he said. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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