Under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, the commission is tasked with conducting its investigation in private unless “a witness requests that all or part of his or her evidence be heard in public and the commission grants the request”, or the commission is satisfied that it is “desirable in the interests of both the investigation and fair procedures to hear all or part of the evidence of a witness in public”.
Both the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice For Magdalenes Research (JFMR) groups and a number of natural mothers involved with the Irish First Mothers group have made requests to the commission for public hearings.
In a letter to the commission on May 3, 2016, ARA and JFMR asked that a meeting it was having with the commission be held in public. It argued that this should be allowed as the meeting was not discussing any individual cases but was focused on “the scope of the commission, its procedures and various legal issues”. The commission had suggested the meeting be held in private.
“We would be interested to learn why the commission considers that the hearing should be held in private but at the moment we cannot see any reason why it needs to be,” stated the letter.
This letter was followed by another on May 26 by the Hogan Lovells law firm which is working with the group on the Clann project. It also asked for the reasons why the meeting was not allowed to be held in public.
The commission responded in public, stating it was “not satisfied that a public hearing would assist in coming to a determination on this issue”.
The Irish First Mothers group said that four of its members applied to meet the formal committee of the commission in January 2017 but that none has received acknowledgement in relation to those requests.
The group also said that others asked for information about giving sworn testimony in private or public when they attended the Confidential Committee or by phone call to the commission but that these requests had not been responded to either “orally or in writing”.
In a statement, director of the commission, Ita Mangan, said a number of requests for public hearings were refused as they were neither “appropriate or warranted”.
“A small number of groups have asked for public hearings. Fewer than five individuals have asked to give their evidence in public. The Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 provides that, in general, an investigation is held in private. So far, the commission has not considered that public hearings were appropriate or warranted,” said the statement.