Hopefully, a light will be shone into a dark chapter of Ireland’s past following Judge Yvonne Murphy’s appointment to chair the Commission of Investigation into Church-run mother-and-baby homes.
Her appointment coincides with scathing criticism of the HSE in a series of reports on the untimely deaths of four young people who were either in or known to State child protection agencies when they died.
Having led the mammoth commission of investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, Judge Murphy has a reputation as a fearless and unfaltering investigator, empathetic with the plight of victims. Her appointment is welcome.
Regrettably, in one of his first acts as new minister for children and youth affairs, former health minister James Reilly has fallen short of a promise made by his predecessor Charlie Flanagan.
Before moving to foreign affairs in the Cabinet reshuffle, he intended unveiling the full commission this week. An unsatisfactory situation has now arisen because people are in the dark about the makeup of the commission setting out to investigate alarmingly high death rates in 10 Catholic-run homes. In Tuam, 796 babies and children died from various diseases between 1925 and 1961.
In a worrying twist, Mr Reilly says the Government “may give consideration” to the appointment of further members to the commission. With another huge probe on her hands, Judge Murphy risks being put in the same scenario as the Dublin case where a small team, held up by Church legal obstacles, had to sift through thousands of documents.
Hopefully, when the terms of reference are finally unveiled, the pledge given by Mr Flanagan to also investigate Dublin’s Protestant-run Bethany Home will be honoured. And following scathing criticism at a UN hearing in Geneva this week of the State’s failure to accept any accountability for the Magdalene laundries debacle, it is essential to expand the scope of the probe so that devastating chapter of Church-State collaboration is included.
Moreover, it is vital to give Judge Murphy statutory powers to compel witnesses and ensure that all voices get a hearing. It would be grave mistake to repeat the regrettable precedent set by the McAleese report on the laundries that has marginalised the voices of the women who were the real victims of that cruel experience at the hands of nuns who were given a hearing.
An equally pertinent point was raised by aunts of Danny Talbot, one of the four young people in or known to State agencies when they died. “Who was listening to his voice?” they asked. “Who will be accountable?”
An all too familiar picture of serious management and accountability weaknesses within the HSE are contained in reports by Tusla, the Child and Family agency, into the tragic deaths of Danny, 19, Nicholas, 17, John, 4, and Susan, 18 months.
On more than 20 occasions, Danny’s loving aunts went to court in a forlorn bid to ensure he was properly protected. “But the HSE kept putting up barriers after barriers,” they added.
He died accidentally after leaving HSE care but their story is corroborated by Tusla. It found that while in the care of the State, the response to evidence that he was experiencing child abuse was “inadequate”.
Tragically, his needs were never comprehensively assessed. A damning comment on modern Ireland.
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