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Opinion No person or institution can be left behind in the mother-and-baby home inquiry

There are serious concerns about the forthcoming mother-and-baby home inquiry; there is no international judge and a glaring lack of public debate.

YESTERDAY, THE COALITION of Mother and Baby Home Survivors expressed concerns about the forthcoming mother-and-baby home inquiry.

We expressed disappointment that an international judge was not appointed, something we had called for in a recent meeting with Minister Flanagan, in which we had provided him with a list of suitable international candidates. Notwithstanding this, regarding the appointment of Judge Yvonne Murphy, our groups also have mixed views. Whilst Judge Murphy did a commendable job on the Murphy Report into child sex abuse, we are very aware of concerns by symphysiotomy survivors regarding the redress scheme which Judge Murphy was recently involved in overseeing.

A lack of public debate

The Commission will be established and will operate under the Commission of Investigations Act 2004. Under the Act, the Minister is obliged to bring the Establishment Order before the Dáil for approval, but can decide to publish the Terms of Reference and proposed appointments separately, without debate and prior approval by the Dáil. Sinn Fein had called on him to publish the Terms of Reference and proposed appointments as part of the Establishment Order, as he is free to do under the legislation, so that these may be subject to public debate and Dáil approval.

Following yesterday’s announcement we have expressed concerns on the lack of public debate on the appointment of the Inquiry Chair, which is hugely disappointing. This is of particular concern given the strong criticism of the Irish Government before the UN on Wednesday as part of Ireland’s fourth periodic examination before the UN Human Rights Committee of its human rights record under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The committee’s chair Sir Nigel Rodley was strong in his criticism of the Irish Government, of the myriad of rights abuses that the State has failed to properly investigate. He also criticised the State’s consistent failure to make truth finding and accountability central to the redress provided to victims.

Another member of the human rights Committee, Christine Chanet also questioned the degree to which the McAleese inquiry into the Magdalene abuse was independent of the State. As a result, we are now calling for the remaining members of the inquiry Commission to be drawn from external international experts, and for the terms of reference to be publicly debated before the Dáil. In failing to do this, the question must be asked whether the mistakes of past inquiries and reports such as McAleese, are at risk of being repeated all over again?

Interdepartmental report

It is presently unclear from the report of the interdepartmental group whether all of the institutions will be included in the terms of reference which have now been put on hold until the autumn; the conclusions from the report seem to indicate that the county homes will not be expressly included in the inquiry, as the conclusions appear to only refer to the nine mother-and-baby homes. In our meetings with Minister Flanagan, we had made it abundantly clear that  excluding any homes from the Commission of Inquiry would, in effect, represent an ongoing failure to initiate an investigation and provide redress into alleged abuses that we have expressly brought to the attention of the Government – which we believe is in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture.

In one particular case, one of the West Bank Home survivors was part of our delegation who extensively briefed the Minister last week on the extent of the severe physical, sexual and mental abuses he experienced in West Bank, where a number of Protestant children ended up being transferred to from the Bethany Home. Therefore we are very dismayed to note that there was no mention whatsoever of the West bank Home in yesterday’s report.

The interdepartmental report published yesterday also contains some glaring inconsistencies such as the exclusion of the Temple Hill holding centre while including another holding centre, Stamullen. The fact that only registered births are used to calculate figures in the nine mother-and-baby homes, instead of the numbers of expectant mothers, also misrepresents and underestimates the numbers involved. Additionally, the issue of illegal adoptions has not been mentioned in the report, which we believe is vital in investigating the full picture of what occurred at the mother-and-baby homes.

No person or institution can be left behind

Notwithstanding the announcement yesterday, our coalition is calling for full and immediate consultation with survivor groups, particularly with regard to the terms of reference and appointment of remaining members of the Inquiry Commission which will now be announced later in the autumn.

The Coalition made a formal submission to the Government in relation to the mother-and-baby home inquiry, joining forces in calling for inclusivity, full consultation and a modular approach to the inquiry with specific recommendations. We will continue to campaign, and we will use our forthcoming complaint to the UN Torture Committee, to ensure that no person or institution is left behind. This must be the final inquiry to end all other inquiries.

Mairead Healy is the legal Advisor to the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors which she does in a private capacity. She is also the Executive Director of Future Voices Ireland and a Global Ashoka Fellow.

Read: Number of maternity homes a difficulty for mother and baby inquiry

Read: Here’s the latest information about the Tuam mother-and-baby home

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