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Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries (Continued)

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 977 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly] I remind the House that this commission has come about on the backs of those who attended mother and baby homes, particularly the home in Tuam, which gave rise to this commission and where the remains of almost 800 babies and infants were found. The struggle of people on the ground, many of whom were outside yesterday, forced us into action. None of this was proactive on the part of the Government. All of this was reactive. Subsequent to what we found out in Patsy McGarry's newspaper report earlier this month, it was claimed on the Department's website that "reports in the media did not come from this Department and the speculation contained in these reports is inaccurate". What specific inaccuracies are there? Has an extension been sought? If so, when and why was it sought? I will await the Minister's answer before I give my opinion.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank my Independent colleagues for raising the fourth interim report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes and certain related matters, which deals with the questions being asked today. The commission was established to investigate the conditions in mother and baby homes and county homes in the period from 1922 to 1998. The scope of the investigation is broad. It was acknowledged at the outset that the timeframe was ambitious. I received the fourth interim report in December 2018. I met the chair of the commission, Judge Yvonne Murphy, last week to discuss the request for the extension of the timeframe for the delivery of the commission's reports and to ensure I had a full understanding of the progress to date and the basis for the additional time being requested. I know it is important for the commission to complete this sensitive and complex work as soon as possible. It is also important not to underestimate its task. Following our meeting, I am confident that the commission is using its best endeavours to conclude the investigation as expeditiously as possible. There can be no shortcut to finding the truth.

The interim report is short. Contrary to what the Deputies have suggested, it is not a proposal. It grounds the request for an extension of the timeframe to deliver the three reports from the commission by one year. As the request constitutes a change in the terms of reference of the commission, it is a matter for the Government to consider the request in reflection of its statutory provisions. Government approval is also required to publish the report. With this in mind, I intend to bring a memorandum to the Cabinet. I have already circulated a draft of the memorandum to Government Departments. I hope to have it on the agenda next week for discussion. Ahead of the Cabinet meeting, it would not be helpful to speculate on what the Government will decide. I am conscious that the commentary on this issue in the media last week has caused distress and anxiety for those involved in this process. The coverage was misleading and did not originate from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, as one of the Deputies mentioned.

I reiterate my commitment to use existing channels to inform stakeholders of any developments in this area in advance of a public notice. I intend to make a public announcement following the Cabinet meeting to clarify the position for them. Deputies may wish to note that the collaborative forum that was established last summer has produced an initial report, which outlines the legislative issues and supports the survivors of these institutions would like the Government to prioritise. I intend to bring this report to the Cabinet shortly. The process of delivering on the Government decision with regard to the mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway, is also under way. This is being progressed separately from the investigation by the commission. I thank the Deputies again for their contributions today. I will engage with stakeholders ahead of any public announcements. I hope to announce the details of the interim report as soon as possible.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I call the three Deputies in the same order as heretofore.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I thank the Minister for her reply. However, it has not answered any of our questions fully. The Minister has said that she met Judge Yvonne Murphy last week "to discuss the request for the extension of the timeframe for the delivery of the commission's reports and to ensure [she] had a full understanding of the progress to date and the basis for the additional time being requested." When was that request made? Did the commission submit that request to the Minister at the beginning of December? If so, why were the survivors not given some sort of early warning of this request before they read about it in the newspapers? The Minister has said that contrary to what we have suggested, this "is not a proposal". She also stated the interim report "grounds the request for an extension of the timeframe to deliver the three reports from the commission by one year." Why is that the case?

I will conclude by making a point that the Minister might take on board. Prior to the promised publication date in mid-February, the commission should produce a further interim report to deal specifically and solely with redress matters. An interim report dealing specifically and solely with redress matters should be brought to us by the middle of February. This will enable the Government to act to address these issues. A report dealing with redress matters is the least that should be done at this stage.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly The essence of what was in the newspapers is correct. The final report was due in February, which would have been a year later than was originally intended. We are now hearing that it will not be published. I appreciate that this is not the Minister's fault. She has been left to deal with the information she has been given by the commission. She needs to step in and call the commission to account. A report outlining exactly what has gone on and what is going on must be published in February. I imagine that this is a very complex area. If workload is an issue, why was this not flagged prior to now? It should have been known that the people who are the victims in this case - they have already been victimised - would be upset about any further delay. None of this information is on the commission's website. People have been left in limbo for the past couple of weeks. They are wondering what is going on. All of that is fuelling a very bad situation. There is a need for an itemised list of what still needs to be done and a timetable of when the work will be done. The monthly progress reports must be transferred. We cannot wait another year, only to find that a request is made for an extension of another year. These delays are utterly devastating for people. The manner in which this matter will be handled from now on presents a significant challenge. The Minister has to run with the substantial burden of work that has now been put back at her door.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I am afraid I am not so sympathetic. I am holding the Minister to account because her answer is not acceptable. When and how was she approached by the commission in relation to an extension? Why are the grounds for an extension not set out in the Minister's reply? Why do we not have a copy of the report? The lines that should demarcate who is responsible for what are being blurred. An independent commission of inquiry was set up. It has a duty to report in a way that we can see, read and look at. It is not acceptable that the Minister is not telling us where the report is, why we do not have it and what the grounds for the request are. It is ridiculous and utterly unacceptable that she is telling us there are grounds for the request but not telling us what those grounds are or when they were set out. The Minister referred to a meeting that took place last week. If there is a shortage of staff, as has been mentioned, we should know about that. If there is a reason the work cannot be completed on time, it should be made known to us in an open and accountable manner. That is the least we deserve in this Dáil so we can represent the people outside who have suffered greatly. The Minister knows well that I have attended many of the meetings. The anger on the ground is palpable. There was an absence of trust from day one. I went out on a limb to give the system a chance. Looking back on that, it was rather foolish. Since 2015, we have had nothing but delay, obfuscation and blurring of boundaries. The very least the Minister should do is tell us precisely when the request came and how it came. Regardless of the nature of the report the Minister has, she should publish it.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I thank the Deputies, most of whom asked when the request came in. It was received in December.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly When in December?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone It is an interim report.

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