Katherine Zappone says leaking final mother and baby homes report would 'undermine its integrity'

Children's minister Katherine Zappone warned the collaborative forum on mother and baby homes against leaking its final report saying it would "damage" its work and "undermine its integrity".

Ms Zappone published the recommendations of the forum - which had worked on its report for almost a year - last month but caused huge anger amongst members by refusing to publish the report in full.

The Collaborative Forum was a key part of Ms Zappone's commitment to "transitional justice" on the issue of Mother and Baby Homes and was announced as a separate and independent mechanism from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.

The Irish Examiner has obtained a draft note of a meeting between Ms Zappone and forum members on April 3. At the meeting, she was asked to explain the Government's decision not to publish the report in full and was asked why was "the independence and freedom of speech of the Forum being curtailed"?

Ms Zappone said the report could not be published "due to serious legal issues" raised by the Attorney General. However, she said she could not share the legal advice due to "legal privilege".

Forum members were told that the legal advice said the form report could encroach on the work of the Commission and that sections of the report "could be interpreted as defamatory".

"The Commission is a State-sponsored initiative, as is the Forum. The legal advices from the AG identify the risks from the Forum’s contextual narrative in the report encroaching on the work of the ongoing statutory Commission of Investigation.

"Furthermore, there are testimonials, criticisms and evidence offered in the report that require due process and a right of reply to those identifiable in the report before it could be considered for publication.

"Some of the testimonials, criticisms and evidence contained in the report could be interpreted as defamatory and could be subject to a legal challenge," states the note.

The note goes on to say that both Ms Zappone and forum chair Gerry Kearney "cautioned the Forum members in relation to sharing the report with third parties as it would damage the work of the Forum and potentially undermine its integrity".

The refusal to publish the report has caused deep anger among forum members, leading to the resignation of one member. Just seven of the 19 members appointed to the forum by Ms Zappone turned up to her press event announcing the recommendations.

One member told the Irish Examiner that many members feel that Ms Zappone used the forum "for a PR stunt".

Another forum member also accused Ms Zappone of "completely misrepresenting" the recommendations of the Collaborative Forum on Mother and Baby Homes by offering to amend the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill.

"We never asked for the Bill to be amended. We asked for it to be scrapped. It is a complete misrepresentation of what we called for. We said 'Kill the Bill'," she said.

The full report, running to almost 90 pages, is understood to be extremely critical of a number of agencies including Tusla which holds a large number of records in relation to former Mother and Baby Homes.

It also focuses particular attention on how Tusla handles information and tracing requests and requests for personal information it holds on individuals.

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