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Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion, chairperson of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee (file photo) Leah Farrell
Oxford University

Survivors and politicians express anger over Mother and Baby Home event

Members of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee have criticised the fact that Professor Mary Daly will appear “behind closed doors”.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Jun 2021

A NUMBER OF survivors and politicians have criticised the fact that one of the commissioners who examined mother and baby homes is speaking at an event organised by Oxford University today.

Professor Mary Daly is due to speak about the Commission of Investigation’s work at an online event organised by the university at 4pm today.

A number of survivors and politicians, including the chair and members of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee, have criticised the fact that Dr Daly is appearing at this event, after declining to appear before the committee as previously requested.

The chairperson of the Commission of Investigation, former judge Yvonne Murphy, in February declined an invitation from the Oireachtas Children’s 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.

The Commission’s final report, spanning 2,865 pages, details the experiences of women and children who lived in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes between 1922 and 1998. It was published on 12 January, nearly six years after the commission was first set up.

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

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion, chairperson of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee, today said she was “surprised to learn” that Dr Daly is taking part in today’s event.

“Just months ago, the Commission refused my invitation to come before the Oireachtas Children’s Committee and answer questions survivors and many others have about the distressing way in which their report has been handled.

“Survivors were understandably upset and insulted by this refusal to answer reasonable questions and be held to account about a report which has such profound implications for their lives.”

‘Why were so many of our testimonies misrepresented?’

Today’s discussion is only open to members of the university, according to the event description. However, The Journal understands that some survivors and members of the press have been able to register.

When contacted about the event today, one of the organisers told The Journal that registration has closed. The event is part of a wider series of seminars discussing Irish history.

One survivor, Síobhan, has registered for the event. She has a number of questions she wants to ask, but is not sure if she will be allowed to do so.

“Professor Daly turned down the invitation to speak before the Oireachtas Commission about Mother and Baby Homes but sees it appropriate to choose to speak at this event with her peers instead. We survivors have so many questions that have not been answered, something that was not helped by the Commission being disbanded,” she told us.

Síobhan said she and others have many questions about the Commission’s final report.

“Why were so many of our testimonies misrepresented in the report?” Why were our testimonies to the Confidential Committee put into a box-ticking questionnaire format, and littered with inaccuracies? Why do so many findings in the report not concur with our testimonies?,” she asked.

Funchion said it’s unfair that today’s event is happening “behind closed doors” while survivors still have so many questions.

“Many survivors are upset to learn today that this event is happening behind closed doors for academics at Oxford University.

“I would once again urge all involved with the Commission’s report to treat survivors with the respect they deserve and ensure that they get the answers they should be entitled to,” Funchion said.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, who is also a member of the Children’s Committee, told The Journal: “It is difficult to understand why Professor Daly is speaking at a private university event about the Mother and Baby Home Commission when she refused to appear before the committee.

“There are considerable and legitimate concerns regarding alleged inaccuracies in the report which could have a big impact on the redress scheme, not to mention the rewriting of people’s experience and Irish history.

“Commissions, or any other State body, should not operate without transparency, especially when their work concerns a group of people whose human rights have been so consistently and cruelly violated by the State.”

Cairns has requested that the committee again ask the commissioners to attend a meeting.

A spokesperson for Oxford University told The Journal that registration for the event closed at midday today and organisers “have attempted to reply to everyone who registered to offer a link”.

However, The Journal tried to register at 7am and was told that registration had already closed.

The spokesperson said: “The seminar on Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, organised by Professor Ian McBride, is aimed primarily at postgraduate students but anyone with an interest in the subject is welcome to attend.

“The seminar has been advertised since January, but there has been a surge of requests to join in the past couple of days.”

They added that survivors of the institutions will be in attendance and “will be permitted to ask questions”.

Spokespeople for the Department of Children and UCD said they would not be commenting on the issue.

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