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'Rape' and 'incest' listed as 'current relationship status' options on Commission form

A survivor’s daughter says the approach is “incomprehensible” and raises “serious questions”.

A SURVIVOR OF a mother and baby home has criticised the fact that the ‘box-ticking’ form filled in after she gave evidence to the Commission of Investigation into the institutions lists ‘rape’ and ‘incest’ as options for people’s ‘current relationship status’.

The woman, who was sent to Árd Mhuire mother and baby home in Dunboyne in the late 1970s when she became pregnant, received a copy of the form this week after previously submitting a Subject Access Request (SAR) to the Department of Children.

Under Article 15 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), individuals have the right to request a copy of any personal data which has been processed by an organisation.

The woman in question, now aged in her 60s, wanted to keep her child but felt compelled to give them up for adoption in the early 1980s despite repeated attempts to keep them.

The woman went on to have a number of other children and one of her daughters accompanied her while she gave evidence to the Commission’s Confidential Committee in 2015.

The woman’s daughter, Maura*, told The Journal that the form was filled in months after her mother gave her testimony, is “littered with inaccuracies” and “in no way captures the actual events or my mother’s story or suffering”.

Maura said her mother was very upset and angry to see that ‘rape’ and ‘incest’ are among the boxes to tick when noting her current relationship status. She believes it may have been a ‘copy and paste’ error.

Maura – speaking on behalf of her mother and with her permission – said it’s “incomprehensible” that options such as rape, incest, extra-marital and casual encounter were included under ‘current relationship status’ without any Commission staff seeing this as an issue.

“Also, it shows they never expected this to get into the public domain. In what world is rape or incest a relationship status?”

Maura said the form – which was filled in based on what witnesses told the Confidential Committee – is “clearly not fit for purpose”.

“It is impossible to truly capture the witnesses’ testimonies in any sense.”

Maura said that she and her mother have “serious questions” about when and how the form was filled out.

Maura claims that the form, seen by The Journal, fails to include much of what her mother disclosed when giving evidence.  

“We were talking for at least an hour before there was any mention of needing to tape [the conversation],” she told us.

“There was no right to review or correct this document, or her testimony, before it became part of the official record. Surely a right to reply or a follow-up was essential to ensure the record was correct?

“Everyone else was given a right to reply – why weren’t the survivors?”

Religious orders, for example, were given a right to reply to sections of the report related to them and refute certain details if deemed necessary.

The testimony given to the Confidential Committee was not transcribed or included verbatim in the final report – some of the testimony was included, at times paraphrased, and the recordings were used to fill in forms that gave an overview of people’s experiences in the institutions.

On Friday it was confirmed that the commissioners involved in the investigation have turned down a renewed invitation to appear before the Oireachtas Children’s Committee to discuss their work.

‘Whitewashed fiction’

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman recently told survivors that the Commission could have used their personal testimonies “to inform the processes and outcomes of the inquiry”.

In a letter sent to survivors and their relatives last weekend, O’Gorman said the Terms of Reference under which the Commission operated did not prohibit the commissioners from using this testimony.

The minister sent the email after one of the commissioners, Professor Mary Daly, last week acknowledged that the Commission essentially discounted the evidence given by hundreds of survivors to its Confidential Committee.

O’Gorman told survivors: “Your evidence stands as a profound published account of the lived experiences of those who suffered within the walls of these institutions. For my own part, I want to be clear – you are believed.”

Campaigners and opposition TDs have called for the Commission’s final report to be repudiated, with Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns today saying it is “at best, heavily disputed – and, at worst, a whitewashed fiction”.

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”.

Sixty-four survivors gave evidence to the Investigation Committee and 36 provided sworn affidavits, 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.

Many survivors have criticised the Commission’s final report since it was published in January, 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.

*Name changed as interviewee’s request

Information on counselling services can be read here.