The Chief State Solicitor has ruled out the need for further investigation into mother and baby homes.
Maria Browne was responding to claims the Commission of Investigation's investigation was not human rights compliant and a new inquiry – compliant with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – was required.
The commission represented an “appropriate mechanism” to investigate public concerns and victims and survivors had been given “effective opportunity” to participate, she said, adding that it had robust powers to compel witnesses and was entirely independent in how it carried out its work.
“The Government is satisfied that the investigation into the mother and baby homes, alongside existing avenues of investigation and redress, including through the criminal justice system, is fully compatible with the State’s international human rights obligations, including its obligations under Articles 3 and 4 ECHR insofar as they arise in this context,” the Chief State Solicitor said.
She also rejected claims by Belfast legal firm KRW Law that the issues highlighted by the commission amounted to “crimes against humanity”.
KRW Law is representing 13 mother and baby home survivors and last month asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged systemic abuses highlighted in several state inquiries north and south of the border and whether they amounted to “crimes against humanity”.
Ms Browne “entirely rejected” any suggestion that any individual or Government or public authorities were “guilty” or “implicated” in any such crimes.
The State’s legal representative also ruled out the need for further investigation.
“Both in establishing the commission and in responding to its interim and final reports, the Government has at all times acted in accordance with its obligations under the Constitution and international law and it will continue to do so,” Ms Browne said.
Bessborough survivor Terri Harrison, who is involved in the ICC request, said the terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation were “too limited”, failed to account for “human bias”, and that only an international or external inquiry could uncover the truth.
The rubberstamping by Government of what many believed was a flawed inquiry was “nonsense”, she said, adding the Government is repeating mistakes made in previous probes into institutional abuse and the Magdalene Laundries.
The 18 facilities examined by the commission were only the “tip of the iceberg”, Ms Harrison said: “There wasn’t a whisper about all of the other places across the country. What about the rest of them? And what about all of the adoption societies involved in these institutions; they were all linked up together.”
KRW Law, which was among those calling for the report to be set aside, said the State’s “Pontius Pilate response” does not inspire confidence and fails to offer assurances that the “continuing concerns” of victims will be addressed.
Kevin Winters of KRW Law said there was a lack of detail in the Government’s action plan in response to the final commission report: “There is no detail about consultation or about the timescale for implementation”.
Criminology expert Professor Phil Scraton, who oversaw high-profile inquiries such as the Hillsborough disaster, is involved in the redress process in Northern Ireland and a similar approach should be adopted by the Irish Government, Mr Winters said, adding a cross-border approach is also needed.
“The Catholic Church did not recognise the border in the past, so the starting and finishing point in all of this should be an all-island approach,” Mr Winters said.