Mother and Baby Homes Commission has no way of retrieving destroyed witness recordings

Mother and Baby Homes Commission has no way of retrieving destroyed witness recordings

Members of the Oireachtas Children's Committee called for a 'shadow report' on mother and baby homes to acknowledge and address the concerns raised about the official commission's report. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has confirmed there is no way of retrieving 550 witness recordings that it destroyed.

It comes as members of the Oireachtas Children's Committee called for a "shadow report" on mother and baby homes to acknowledge and address the concerns raised about the official commission's report.

Survivors and campaigners have asked for an extension of the term of the commission to allow for a full investigation into the wiping of testimony and to explore whether the files can be retrieved. Some survivors say they did not consent to their files being destroyed.

However, Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman said he received correspondence from the commission after he wrote to it asking if the recordings could be retrieved from back-up files or any other means.

The commission has replied stating that it doesn't believe that that material can be retrieved.

"I've no basis to say that the answer is provided to me in bad faith. I'm assuming it's a technical answer to a technical question in terms of what can or can't be done."

It is understood the commission told the minister that it had asked its own IT experts to look at retrieving the files but it was deemed impossible.

Calling on the minister to consider an extension to allow for a full investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner, committee chair Kathleen Funchion said: “There is a real, very serious passion from this committee to actually do the right thing by survivors.

"We all have very different political backgrounds but we are very much united on this and we want to do everything in our power to ensure that finally there is some justice.” 

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said she was "baffled" by the minister's refusal to consider extending the term of the commission.

She also asked the minister if he believed the commission acted within the law when it deleted the recordings.

Mr O'Gorman said the commission claims it "acted in good faith" and has "outlined what it believes its rights and responsibilities are in the context of GDPR and the context of data protection".

Labour's Seán Sherlock pressed Mr O'Gorman on the measures he will take to ensure the narrative is corrected.

"I don't think we can move on, we can't talk about burials legislation, we can't talk about information and tracing until there's confidence that the narrative has been corrected," he said.

Green party TD Patrick Costello said without the recordings there is now "potential for a large gap between what people said and what goes on the official record".

He suggested that an official response from the Government or a shadow report would be a "really positive idea".

Fianna Fáil senator Erin McGreehan acknowledged that the executive summary cannot be changed but urged the Government to make an official statement to go alongside it.
She said this statement should accept the veracity of the testimonies of survivors.

Meanwhile, Ms Funchion is to introduce legislation in the Dáil on Wednesday to give survivors of mother and baby homes access to their birth records.

“Survivors have spoken of their deep distress at the current cruel and unfair system which refuses to give them access to their own records.

“They have expressed time and again how current processes see their requests delayed and refused, when they are simply seeking fundamental information about their own lives," she said.

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