Pressure on mother and baby homes commission members to appear before Oireachtas

Pressure on mother and baby homes commission members to appear before Oireachtas

Members of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes have been asked to appear before the Children's Committee after commission member Prof Mary Daly said that testimony provided by 550 survivors was discounted from the final report. File picture:

After this week's revelations, the ball is firmly back in the court of the members of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes who have been asked to appear before an Oireachtas committee.

Children's Committee chair Kathleen Funchion has written to the commission's chair Judge Yvonne Murphy, requesting that she and her two colleagues appear on June 17, but they do not have to accept this invitation.

It comes after commission member Mary Daly said that testimony provided by 550 survivors who spoke to the confidential committee was discounted from the final report.

Survivors, campaigners, and historians have now demanded that the report be repudiated by the Government as they believe it cannot stand.

Speaking at an academic event, Prof Daly indicated that interviews given to the confidential committee were dismissed as this testimony did not "meet robust legal standards of evidence" needed to be included in the main report.

Campaigners have also hit out at the fact that Prof Daly chose an online seminar hosted by Oxford University to speak for the first time on the report which was heavily criticised when it was published in January of this year.

Requests turned down

Members of the commission have previously turned down requests to appear before the Children's Committee as they are not compelled to explain or answer questions on the work they carried out over five years.

Writing to Judge Murphy, Ms Funchion said the committee would be happy to facilitate members of the commission on another day if the June 17 date does not suit.

However, given the controversy of the past week, members of the committee are eager to hear from the three commission members as soon as possible.

But Oireachtas sources cast doubt over whether they will appear, claiming it would be akin to volunteering for "death via firing squad".

Appearing at the Oxford event, Prof Daly suggested that it would have been nearly impossible to integrate the testimony of the confidential inquiry into the report.

“First of all, it would have taken a lot of additional time," she said. "It would have taken hundreds of hours of cross-checking, re-reading against the other evidence available from registers and so on. Then maybe interrogation… and then maybe working out how to integrate the two.”

She went on to say that she believed the confidential inquiry should never have taken place at the same time as the commission was carrying out its work.

The commission separately heard from a smaller number of people under oath and these accounts did inform the final report.

Prof Daly said the commission only managed to get "snippets" from survivors, adding that "nobody described, you know, really heavy work to us".

"You asked them for a description of the home and you got very, very little, I think they had deliberately left that... they didn't want to talk about it," she said, adding that the commission instead was told a lot about people's lives after they left these institutions.

However, Prof Daly did not address questions on why an expert on trauma and memory was not employed by the commission.

"I think, basically, we've done a job and I think, let it stand. Nobody ever suggested this was going to be the last word on it," she said, adding "by all means let others go and work with this topic".

Prof Daly's comments have been widely criticised by survivors who say they have been re-traumatised on learning of how their testimony was treated.

Survivors 'disrespected'

In the Dáil, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Prof Daly had "disrespected" survivors and members of the Oireachtas in her decision to speak at an academic event and not in a public forum.

"I think it was disrespectful, in particular, to the survivors and their advocates, and I think it is now necessary for the commission members to come before the committee, as they've been asked to do,” said Mr Varadkar.

"I can see no excuse now, and certainly no valid reason for the commission members not to be willing to do that. And to do that without delay."

This call was repeated by the Taoiseach, the children's minister, and those in Opposition. 

The Children's Committee is now awaiting a response from the commission.

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