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Varadkar says refusal by Mother and Baby Homes commissioners to face Oireachtas is 'deeply regrettable'

The committee members found out about the refusal in the media.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Jun 11th 2021, 8:02 PM

TANAISTE LEO VARADKAR has described as “deeply regrettable” the decision by the Commissioners from the Mother and Baby Homes investigation to decline another invitation to appear before the Oireachtas to answer questions about their report.

The latest invitation was sent last Friday after all members of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee agreed to it being reissued. The invitation had asked the commissioners to attend a meeting on 17 June.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has urged the commissioners to “reconsider” their decision and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar described their decision as “deeply regrettable”.

In a letter sent to the committee today, the three commissioners state that their findings could be “put in peril by an appearance before some of the Committee’s members whose rush to judgement without due process, is already a matter of record”.

The letter, seen by The Journal, states: “The work of the Commission is reflected in its final report and its interim reports and not by commentators who seek to sweep aside its findings.”

A physical copy of the letter was hand-delivered to the committee this morning but the committee members were not aware of this before it was reported in the Irish Times. A soft copy of the letter was later email to the committee clerk. 

Speaking to The Journal, committee chair Kathleen Funchion said the fact the committee found out about the refusal via the media was “incredibly arrogant and incredibly rude”.

She said, were the commissioners to appear before the committee, they would be questioned in a respectful manner. However, should their stance change, Funchion said any future appearance would be “a little bit more tense” given today’s events.

“It’s not a witch hunt. There would be no roaring and shouting, no one in the committee is like that at all. People have genuine questions that the commissioners should answer,” Funchion said.

The committee is set to discuss the letter, and members’ next steps, at a meeting next Tuesday.

The letter goes on to state: “While the Confidential Committee was separately constituted, its report is an important element of the Commission’s final report. It is not true to say that the testimonies of the women were ‘discounted’ or ‘discarded’ by the Commission. Professor [Mary] Daly did not say this. Others did.

“The accounts given were very much taken into account by the Commission. They were relied upon to the extent that the Commission considered appropriate having regard to the totality of the evidence gathered by the Commission and before making its findings.

“Those accounts were also reported in a manner that preserved confidentiality in the lengthy Confidential Committee report which was, as directed, “of a general nature”.”

‘Disappointed’

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has said the decision by the committee members not to appear was “disappointing” and urged them “to reconsider”. 

O’Gorman acknowledged that their letter stated they did not “discount” the testimony of the women but added that an appearance before the committee would have allowed for a “further opportunity to clarify” fresh questions that have arisen.

He also said the are “deeper questions” about how information from the Confidential Committee was used as part of the general findings of the Commission’s report.

O’Gorman added that the government will be seeking examine ways of ensuring that evidence given to the commission is “officially reflected”.

He said: “The government is very conscious of the need to ensure that the lived experiences of the 550 who attended before the Confidential Committee are clearly heard and understood as part of our history. I have stated that I believe survivors, and this belief must be demonstrated.

“Therefore, I will work to bring proposals to Cabinet on how the experiences of those who gave evidence before the Confidential Committee can be recognised and officially reflected. I will engage with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on this point.”

The invitation was then extended to the other two commissioners – Professor Mary Daly and Dr William Duncan.

Event last week

At an event organised by Oxford’s Hertford College last week, Daly defended the final report.

Many survivors have criticised the report, in particular conclusions which state there was a lack of evidence of forced adoption, abuse and discrimination, despite testimonies contradicting this. Some people have also said their testimonies were amended or misrepresented.

During last week’s event Daly said the Commission had essentially discounted the testimony given by hundreds of survivors to the Confidential Committee when coming to its conclusions as this testimony was not given under oath, instead focusing on the evidence given to the Investigation Committee.

The Commission heard evidence via two Committees: the Investigation Committee and the Confidential Committee.

Witnesses who gave evidence to the Investigation Committee had to swear that the evidence they gave was true, and their claims were questioned in a more rigorous manner.

The main purpose of the Confidential Committee was “to listen to the experiences” of survivors. The Commission previously stated that this committee “may be suitable for you if you wish to have your experiences heard in a sympathetic atmosphere by experienced people and you do not want any person or institution to know that you are giving evidence to the Commission; the evidence you give will not be open to challenge”.

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Sixty-four survivors gave evidence to the Investigation Committee, whereas hundreds of survivors gave evidence via the Confidential Committee.

Just 19 people applied directly to give evidence to the Investigation Committee, and it’s not clear how the other witnesses were chosen.

Daly’s appearance was the first such such public comment by a member the commision and it prompted further calls for them to answer questions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar are among those to call for the commissioners to appear before the Oireachtas committee.

In a statement this afternoon, Varadkar said it was “imperative” that they explain their report.

This is deeply regrettable. I had genuinely hoped they would agree and that a date would have been set by this stage. I would urge them to reconsider their decision, and to appreciate the imperative to explain their report and answer questions. The Commissioners are best placed to answer how they reached their findings. It is long overdue at this point.

Adoption rights group Aitheantas has also said that the commission had “disappointed from the outset due to its limited remit and continues to disappoint”.

“We feel that following the refusal of the Commission members to discuss the report, and bearing in mind the legitimate concerns raised regarding the report,  that the only alternative to address this matter is a new investigation,” the group said.

About the author:

Órla Ryan and Rónán Duffy

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