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Baby shoes with black mourning ribbon were laid on the railings of the Commission's office in February in protest. Leah Farrell/
Mary Daly

Pressure mounts on Mother and Baby Home commissioners as Oireachtas committee reissues invite

The invitation asks the commissioners to attend a meeting on 17 June.

LAST UPDATE | 4 Jun 2021

MEMBERS OF THE Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes have been sent a new invitation to appear before the Oireachtas Children’s Committee.

The invitation was sent this afternoon, after all committee members agreed to it being reissued. The invitation asks the commissioners to attend a meeting on 17 June.

Committee chairperson Kathleen Funchion told The Journal committee members are “frustrated and angry” that one of the commissioners, Professor Mary Daly, appeared at an event organised by Oxford University this week when none of the commissioners took up a previous invitation to appear before the committee. 

In a statement this afternoon, Funchion said the 17 June date is flexible and she hopes “Professor Daly and indeed all of the Commissioners will accept the Oireachtas Committee’s invitation this time”. 

“I believe it is vital that survivors can get answers to the very reasonable questions that they have,” the TD said. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar yesterday both called for the commissioners to appear before the Oireachtas committee, joining several other politicians as well as survivors and campaigners.

The chairperson of the Commission of Investigation, former judge Yvonne Murphy, in February declined an invitation from the committee to appear before it, with a spokesperson saying at the time she was “unavailable”.

The committee then offered to “facilitate a different date” if needed, and extended the invitation to the other commissioners if Justice Murphy could not attend.

The other commissioners are Dr Daly, a retired professor of Irish History at University College Dublin and former president of the Royal Irish Academy, and Dr William Duncan, a retired professor of Law at Trinity College Dublin.

The Commission was wound down at the end of February and the commissioners are not legally obliged to appear before the Oireachtas as it was an independent entity. However, committee members are hopeful the commissioners will attend given recent developments.

Daly on Wednesday spoke via Zoom at an event organised by Oxford’s Hertford College, defending the much-criticised final report

Before that appearance, none of the three commissioners involved in the investigation had spoken at a public event about their work.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) today called for members of the Commission  of Investigation to accept this invitation and appear before the Oireachtas Committee. 

Chief commissioner of IHREC, Sinéad Gibney, said the report “left many important questions unanswered for survivors, their families and their supporters”. 

“The Oireachtas, having established the Commission of Investigation, is an appropriate forum for members of the Commission to account for how it exercised its mandate, including the limitations of that mandate,” Gibney said in a statement. 

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.

It was revealed during Wednesday’s event that the Commission had discounted the testimony given by hundreds of survivors to the Confidential Committee when coming to its conclusions.

Over 100 academics and historians have signed a letter outlining their concerns with the Commission’s final report.

Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty today asked if the redress scheme currently being developed for survivors is “based on false information” given Daly’s comments this week.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Doherty said that if the scheme was based on the “factualised information” provided in the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and not “actual testimony” from survivors, the scheme was starting “from the wrong level”.

“[The commission] told women that they didn’t remember rightly, they’ve told them that there was no evidence, when there was an abundance of testimony – so why isn’t anybody questioning that the redress scheme is going to be starting from the wrong level anyway,” Doherty said.

“Is the redress scheme not based on false information?”

The former minister added that she had called for the report to be rejected when it was published in January.

‘Deeply disappointed’

The Clann Project and the Association of Mixed Race Irish (AMRI), which both advocate for survivors, are among those to express their disappointment over the Oxford seminar and call for the commissioners to appear before the Oireachtas committee.

In a statement released today, AMRI said its members were “deeply disappointed to learn that Professor Mary Daly chose to give her first talk this week about the Mother and Baby Homes Report, to an elite audience at a conference held by Oxford University in the UK, rather than speaking to survivors and victims in Ireland”.

“This was highly insensitive and disrespectful, especially given the number of unanswered questions that survivors and adopted people still have today.”

On foot of Daly’s comments, AMRI said: “We now know that the final conclusion,that there was ‘no evidence’ of systemic racism, did not take account of the evidence given in the Confidential Committee.

“AMRI has always rejected the Reports final conclusion that there was no systemic racism. This new revelation further strengthens our position on the validity and credibility of this conclusion.We support the call to the former Commissioners to speak to survivors and the public about the report, so that we may have a better understanding of some of the important issues raised by Prof Mary Daly.”

Speaking to The Journal today, AMRI spokesperson Conrad Bryan said that if the commissioners refuse to appear before the Oireachtas they should at least meet with survivors to answer their questions.

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

Daly said that the Confidential Committee was there “to listen to the experiences” of survivors and had a different legal weight to evidence provided to Investigation Committee.

This is disputed by a number of legal experts, who have said that Terms of Reference for the Commission gave it the ability to rely on the testimony given to the Confidential Committee “to the extent it considers appropriate”.

With reporting by Rónán Duffy and Hayley Halpin

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