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Final report of Commission into Mother and Baby Homes to be published in January

The report will be published on the week of 11 January, Minister Roderic O’Gorman has confirmed.

Minister Roderic O'Gorman speaking in the Dáil this morning.
Minister Roderic O'Gorman speaking in the Dáil this morning.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

Updated Dec 3rd 2020, 11:52 AM

THE FINAL REPORT of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes will be published next month, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has confirmed.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning, O’Gorman said he will bring a memorandum to government that week seeking approval to publish the final report immediately. The sixth interim report will also be published, he added.

Former residents and their families have been contacted by his department to tell them about the plans, as well as what counselling services are available to them, O’Gorman said.

The commission was set up over five years ago and the submission of the long-awaited report, which is about 4,000 pages long, has been delayed a number of times.

The commission’s records – and whether or not they will be sealed for 30 years – have been the subject of much debate in recent months.

Survivors have previously been critical of a lack of engagement with them in relation to the report and the commission’s records.

O’Gorman today said he has had “significant engagement with survivors over the last number of weeks” and will “continue to do so”.

“It’s extremely useful for me to hear firsthand the absolutely shocking experiences that have been experienced (by survivors) … My department’s approach in the future will ensure that survivors are absolutely central in everything we do,” he said.

The minister again acknowledged his department’s “shortcomings” in terms of engagement with survivors and members of the collaborative forum set up to identify survivors’ concerns as the commission carried out its work, and said he is committed to having continued engagement with them.

Legal advice

Controversial legislation related to the commission’s records passed through the Oireachtas in October.

The Bill, which can be read in full here, allows the transfer of a database of 60,000 records compiled by the commission to Tusla.

Many survivors and legal experts expressed anger at the Bill, but the government said it was needed to safeguard the records after the dissolution of the commission.

Opposition TDs said the legislation was pushed through without proper scrutiny, and none of their amendments were accepted during a number of emotional debates where the powerful testimonies of survivors were read into the record.

The legislation debated in the Oireachtas recently did not specifically address the records being sealed for 30 years. However, campaigners said it was a missed opportunity to address the issue.

The government maintained it had to seal the records under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. However, a number of legal experts said that General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into law in 2018, supersedes the 2004 Act and would not allow for the records to be sealed.

The government later did a u-turn, saying the Department of Children, along with Túsla, would continue engaging with the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure peoples’ right to access their own personal information about themselves, under data protection legislation and the GDPR are “fully respected and implemented; additional resources will be provided where necessary”.

Speaking today, O’Gorman said the government “will provide the full allowable GDPR access” but added that “is not going to solve” all problems related to people’s right to information.

“The way we resolve the issue of information is the information and tracing legislation”, which is expected to be introduced next year, he added.

O’Gorman said he is continuing to engage with the Attorney General and experts in Ireland and abroad in relation to report.

The minister said the AG “has not indicated any concerns to me in relation to data privacy or data protection in respect of the publication of the report”.

“But as I’ve already indicated, I’m open to engaging with other experts on the data protection issues relating to matters connected with the report more widely as my work on dealing with access to records continues.

“And to that end, I’ve already reached out to a number of experts, national and international, and sought a meeting to hear their considered views on this matter.”

Tuam

The commission was established in 2015 to inquire into the treatment of women and children in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes – a sample of the overall number of homes – between 1922 and 1998.

The commission was set up following claims that up to 800 babies were interred in an unmarked mass grave at a former Bon Secours home in Tuam, Co Galway – following on from extensive research carried out by amateur historian Catherine Corless.

Excavations carried out between November 2016 and February 2017 found a significant quantity of human remains, aged from 35 foetal weeks to two to three years, interred in a vault on the site.

The commission was initially due to submit its final report within three years, but a number of extensions were granted – with 30 October being the final deadline.

In February 2015, then-Minister for Children James Reilly announced that the commission’s terms of reference had been agreed at Cabinet.

The commission is chaired by Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy. The former judge also chaired the commission of investigation into the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin, publishing the Murphy Report in November 2009; and the commission of investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne, with the Cloyne Report published in July 2011.

For the commission into mother and baby homes, Ms Justice Murphy worked alongside Dr Mary Daly, retired professor of Irish History at University College Dublin and former president of the Royal Irish Academy, and Dr William Duncan, retired professor of Law at Trinity College Dublin.

Then-Minister Katherine Zappone set up a Collaborative Forum to “facilitate dialogue and action on issues of concern to former residents of Mother and Baby Homes” in 2018.

The forum was set up to “enable former residents to identify, discuss and prioritise the issues of concern to them”.

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winnie (1 of 1)_resized_1 A headstone at St Peter's Mother and Baby Home in Castlepollard. Source: Courtesy of Uncharted Ireland

What did the commission look into?

The commission was tasked with examining a number of issues such as how women and children entered and left the homes; their treatment while in the homes; living conditions in the homes; burial practices; and the prevalence of abuse; forced labour; forced adoptions; forced participation in vaccine trials; and providing bodies of residents who died for medical research. 

The terms of reference include the examination of the following:

  • the circumstances and arrangements for the entry of single women into these institutions and the exit pathways on their leaving these institutions
  • the living conditions and care arrangements experienced by residents during their period of accommodation in these institutions
  • the mortality among mothers and children residing in these institutions
  • the post-mortem practices and procedures in respect of children or mothers who died while resident in these institutions, including the reporting of deaths, burial arrangements and transfer of remains to educational institutions for the purpose of anatomical examination
  • the extent of compliance with relevant regulatory and ethical standards of the time of systemic vaccine trials found by the commission to have been conducted on children resident in one or more of these institutions during the relevant period
  • the arrangements for the entry of children into these institutions in circumstances when their mother was not also resident at the time of their entry
  • to identify the extent to which any group of residents may have systematically been treated differently on any grounds [religion, race, traveller identity or disability]

For children who did not remain in the care of their parents, the commission was tasked with examining exit pathways on leaving these institutions, and to identify the following:

  • the extent to which the child’s welfare and protection were considered in practices relating to their placement in Ireland or abroad
  • the extent of participation of mothers in relevant decisions, including the procedures that were in place to obtain consent from mothers in respect of adoption, and whether these procedures were adequate for the purpose of ensuring such consent was full, free and informed
  • the practices and procedures for placement of children where there was cooperation with another person or persons in arranging this placement, this to include where an intermediary organisation arranged a subsequent placement

The full terms of reference can be read here.

The commission carried out its work through interviews with survivors and other relevant parties; written submissions; and documents and records provided by relevant authorities and religious orders.

What institutions were examined by the commission?

The following 14 Mother and Baby Homes:

  • Ard Mhuire, Dunboyne, Co Meath
  • Belmont (Flatlets), Belmont Avenue, Dublin 4
  • Bessboro (Bessborough) House, Blackrock, Cork
  • Bethany Home, originally Blackhall Place, Dublin 7, and from 1934 Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6
  • Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Co Galway
  • Denny House, Eglinton Road, Dublin 4, originally Magdalen Home, 8 Lower Leeson St, Dublin 2
  • Kilrush, Cooraclare Road, Co Clare
  • Manor House, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath
  • Ms Carr’s (Flatlets), 16 Northbrook Road, Dublin 6
  • Regina Coeli Hostel, North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7
  • Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary
  • St Gerard’s, originally 39, Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1
  • St Patrick’s, Navan Road, Dublin 7, originally known as Pelletstown, and subsequent transfer to Eglinton House, Eglinton Road, Dublin 4
  • The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal

The following four county homes:

  • St Kevin’s Institution (Dublin Union)
  • Stranorlar County Home, Co Donegal (St Joseph’s)
  • Cork City County Home (St Finbarr’s)
  • Thomastown County Home, Co Kilkenny (St Columba’s)

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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