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Committee 'disappointed' by commissioners' refusal to attend meeting but 'accepts it'

The Oireachtas Children’s Committee will work “very closely with the minister and the department regarding the next steps”.

Kathleen Funchion, chairperson of the Oireachtas Children's Committee
Kathleen Funchion, chairperson of the Oireachtas Children's Committee
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE OIREACHTAS CHILDREN’S Committee has said it is disappointed by the decision of members of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to not accept an invitation to attend a meeting to discuss their final report.

However, committee chairperson Kathleen Funchion today said that members must accept the commissioners’ stance.

Speaking after a private meeting, the Sinn Féin TD read out a statement at today’s public hearing.

Funchion said committee members are “very disappointed” at the decision of the commissioners to last week share their response to the invitation “with media outlets before the members of this committee had the opportunity to comprehensively consider their response”.

She stated: “While the committee has to accept the refusal of the former members of the Commission to appear before the committee, members have agreed to publish the response received from Justice Yvonne Murphy.”

The committee, she added, will continue to work “very closely with the minister [Roderic O'Gorman] and the department regarding the next steps in this process”.

“We remain committed to working with survivors and their representative groups to ensure their voices are heard.”

The latest invitation was sent on 4 June after all members of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee agreed to it being reissued. The invitation had asked the commissioners to attend a meeting on 17 June.

In a letter sent to the committee on 11 June, the three commissioners state that their findings could be “put in peril by an appearance before some of the Committee’s members whose rush to judgement without due process, is already a matter of record”.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman had urged the commissioners to “reconsider” their stance and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar described their decision as “deeply regrettable”.

The letter, seen by The Journal, states: “The work of the Commission is reflected in its final report and its interim reports and not by commentators who seek to sweep aside its findings.”

Speaking to The Journal last week, Funchion said the fact the committee found out about the refusal via the media was “incredibly arrogant and incredibly rude”.

She said, were the commissioners to appear before the committee, they would be questioned in a respectful manner. However, should their stance change, Funchion said any future appearance would be “a little bit more tense” given today’s events.

“It’s not a witch hunt. There would be no roaring and shouting, no one in the committee is like that at all. People have genuine questions that the commissioners should answer,” Funchion said.

The letter goes on to state: “While the Confidential Committee was separately constituted, its report is an important element of the Commission’s final report. It is not true to say that the testimonies of the women were ‘discounted’ or ‘discarded’ by the Commission. Professor [Mary] Daly did not say this. Others did.

“The accounts given were very much taken into account by the Commission. They were relied upon to the extent that the Commission considered appropriate having regard to the totality of the evidence gathered by the Commission and before making its findings.

“Those accounts were also reported in a manner that preserved confidentiality in the lengthy Confidential Committee report which was, as directed, ‘of a general nature’.”

‘Disappointed’

O’Gorman last week acknowledged that the commissioners’ letter stated they did not “discount” the testimony of the women but added that an appearance before the committee would have allowed for a “further opportunity to clarify” fresh questions that have arisen.

He also said the are “deeper questions” about how information from the Confidential Committee was used as part of the general findings of the Commission’s report.

O’Gorman added that the government will be seeking to examine ways of ensuring that evidence given to the commission is “officially reflected”.

He said: “The government is very conscious of the need to ensure that the lived experiences of the 550 who attended before the Confidential Committee are clearly heard and understood as part of our history. I have stated that I believe survivors, and this belief must be demonstrated.

“Therefore, I will work to bring proposals to Cabinet on how the experiences of those who gave evidence before the Confidential Committee can be recognised and officially reflected. I will engage with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on this point.”

At an event organised by Oxford’s Hertford College earlier this month, Daly defended the final report.

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.

During last week’s event Daly said the Commission had essentially discounted the testimony given by hundreds of survivors to the Confidential Committee when coming to its conclusions as this testimony was not given under oath, instead focusing on the evidence given to the Investigation Committee.

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.

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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, 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.

Daly’s appearance was the first such such public comment by a member the commision and it prompted further calls for them to answer questions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was among those to call for the commissioners to appear before the Oireachtas committee.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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