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Audio recordings of Mother and Baby Home testimony can be retrieved, Dept confirms

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has agreed to deposit the recordings with the Department.

Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman
Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman
Image: Julien Behal Photography via RollingNews.ie

BACKUP TAPES CONTAINING audio recordings of witness testimony given to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes can be retrieved, the Department of Children and Equality has confirmed.

Speaking in the Seanad on Friday, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the commission informed him on Thursday that it has become aware of “backup tapes” which “may – I have to stress the word may – contain the audio files of the personal accounts given to the confidential committee”.

The minister had earlier said he didn’t accept that the audio recordings could not be retrieved, as was previously stated by the commission.

Last Tuesday, O’Gorman told the Oireachtas Children’s Committee the Commission had informed him that the recordings could not be retrieved.

However, he had been engaging with the commission since then in a bid to find a solution.

In a statement this evening, the Department confirmed an IT expert has checked whether the audio recordings are retrievable by testing a random sample and verified that they are accessible and audible.

The Commission has agreed to deposit the audio recordings with the Department.

The Commission has stated that approximately 80 people have sought for their interview with the confidential committee to be redacted. It is now considering how this will be done and has reiterated its commitment to maintain the anonymity of the people in question.

The Department said it is continuing its preparations to become data controller of the Mother and Baby Homes archive from 28 February and is liaising with the Data Protection Commission in their regard.

“The retrieval of audio recordings from the backup tapes and their imminent transfer to my Department now provides another avenue for the people who appeared before the Committee to access their personal data,” Minister O’Gorman said.

“The request of the approximately 80 people to have their identities redacted will be respected and my Department will liaise with the Commission as current data controller in this regard,” the Minister said.

“If any of the people who appeared before the Committee consider that their record is inaccurate or incomplete, they will be able to exercise their GDPR rights with the Department once it becomes data controller. This will involve making a request to exercise their right to rectification after the archive transfers to my Department,” he said.

Speaking in the Dáil chamber last week, O’Gorman said it was “problematic” that the Commission maintained it told survivors that the recordings would be deleted while many survivors have said they were not told this in advance.

Extension of commission timeframe

In recent weeks, pressure has been mounting on government, even from within its own ranks, to push out the term of the commission.

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth last week urged her party leader Taoiseach Micheál Martin to ensure the commission will not wound up at the end of this week.

She spoke in the Dáil on the matter, and appealed to O’Gorman to extend the term of the commission past the deadline, “and to do everything within his power to save the audio tapes of victims interviews”.

Smyth told the minister at the time time to “do what’s right by the survivors” and extend the commission’s term so questions over data can be answered.

The term of the commission is due to end on 28 February.

However, the Social Democrats motion this week calls for a free vote to take place on the party’s private members’ motion which seeks a one-year extension of the Commission’s term.

The government is to put down a counter-motion to the Social Democrats motion, which will be debated in the Dáil tomorrow before a vote on Thursday.

Jennifer Whitmore, the SocDem’s spokesperson for children, said this evening that “this last-minute miraculous retrieval of survivors’ data throws up many unanswered questions”.

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“For example, is government confident that all the data has been retrieved? Is there time between now and the 28th to ascertain if the 550 survivor testimonies are whole and intact?” Whitmore said.

“We feel survivors will need further guarantees about data and information. Survivors have also raised concerns about how the final report did not accurately reflect their testimony,” she said.

“The Commission will need to be in existence to provide survivors an opportunity to address these discrepancies and offer them a right to rectification of the information.”

Whitmore added: “It is welcome that they did not, in fact, delete these testimonies as they had previously stated they had, but it is really only one element of justice that survivors need.”

With reporting by Christina Finn and Órla Ryan

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