First Meeting of the Collaborative Forum on Mother and Baby Homes
Address by Dr Katherine Zappone TD,
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs,
Department of An Taoiseach
**Check Against Delivery**
Thursday 26th July 2018
Welcome Collaborative Forum members.
I am very pleased to welcome you to Government Buildings today, to meet you, and to see this Collaborative Forum come to fruition.
This Forum is intended to be a new, innovative and, crucially, collaborative way of making decisions on matters of concern to you, and to the other former residents of Mother and Baby Homes and their families.
Your participation is absolutely vital.
Many of you have travelled from across the country and from overseas to be here. I want to acknowledge your commitment to this new vision for working together.
This is a real opportunity for us to take one more step in putting our shameful past behind us—not forgetting it, or simply ‘moving on’, but acknowledging, knowing, recording, and building on it; using our past to help us to move forward.
The past and the future are not divisible; they are part of a continuum.
Our collective challenge is to find a way to transition from a difficult past to a more loving, caring, rights-based, and empathetic future.
What we need is a facilitating environment in which citizens can live lives free from shame and stigma.
You will be the voice for your community and represent it to the best of your ability as we try to do this together.
I know it is and will continue to be emotional and challenging for you to be part of this process and I deeply value your generosity in deciding, nevertheless, to participate.
It is my hope that your deliberations today and in the future will support, facilitate and empower you to find solutions to the issues that the community you are here to represent feel so strongly about.
My view is that we are equal partners in this endeavour. That is one of the reasons why I was determined that this Forum would have independence. Which is why an Independent Panel undertook the selection.
Following a very successful media campaign, 90 Expressions of Interest were received to participate. This level of interest posed a difficult task for the Selection Panel, which had to choose 19 members. They worked long and hard to find you all.
I understand they took into account a lot of different factors to make their choices. They tried to ensure that there are representatives from as many of the institutions as possible that applied.
They were adamant that mothers and children would make up the majority of the Forum.
They also made sure to select a diverse group to represent the community of former residents and their advocates.
I thank them for the excellent job that they have done. It took longer than expected to get there, but their efforts have been worth the wait! You truly are representative of your peers. I wish to thank Mr Jim Halley for chairing this selection process.
It is my hope this Forum will propose solutions to some of the challenges we face. However, I acknowledge that neither you nor I can deliver on these proposals alone.
As a result, and in the spirit of collaboration on which this Forum is based, I give you a commitment here today to engage as many of my government colleagues as possible to deliver these solutions in as far as we can and to help ease the pain and suffering you have endured for so long.
For that is of the essence of collaboration. We often think of collaboration as something grand, but the truth is that collaboration takes place on a smaller scale, within teams that have shared aims and often a narrow focus.
All it requires is two or more people (a team), working together (a process), towards shared goals (a purpose). In this case, collaboration provides a way in which the Forum and the State can engage to find solutions—a way in which we can be a team, together, working through this process with a common purpose.
This Collaborative Forum was born out of a recognised need to progress a number of key areas where we can, while we await the completion of the Commission of Investigation’s work.
To do this I hope you will use your wealth of knowledge and experience for the greater good, make this the vehicle to discuss fully the issues at hand, and see all sides of the argument to propose viable solutions that I can present to government.
In doing so I recommend that you make use of your Chairman. While Mr Kearney is not a former resident, he brings a wealth of experience from his distinguished career in public service.
This has given him a valuable insight into how best to ensure effectiveness in collaboration. Indeed, he has a proven track record of supporting successful collaborative projects, such as his work with the Moore Street consultative group.
He will play a key role in the establishment of an effective and inclusive Forum, working with and in the interests of former residents. As outlined in its Charter, it will be a participant-centred process with its 20 members adopting a consensus-oriented decision making approach to their discussions.
Gerry’s job will be to facilitate you to create and drive the process for yourselves. I am confident that Gerry’s approach will cement your confidence in him as your Chairman.
It is important that we also acknowledge that it may not be possible to deliver some things you may want at this time.
We might have to await the reports from the Commission and examine their findings and recommendations. But you will hopefully have covered many of the issues that might emerge from the Commission’s investigations and subsequent findings, and we will be ahead of the game to get swift agreement from my government colleagues on how to respond.
Tuam and Next Steps
As you will all be aware, one of the most important decisions that I face now as Minister is what I should recommend to Cabinet on the course of action to be taken in relation to human remains at the site of the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam.
As a Cabinet we will then together decide the way forward. I trust my colleagues will be guided by the expert legal and human rights principles which the recommendation placed before them will be based on.
The Government is aware that for survivors and all connected with the site at Tuam this will be a hugely important moment. We are also aware of that this is a decision which will be watched and examined around the world – to ensure it meets best international practice.
It is a decision which will not be taken lightly – but it will be an informed decision.
Last Monday night I visited Tuam once more, and I heard the voices of many people who want to be listened to and understood.
I met with former residents, with relatives of those who stayed in the Home and with people who live near the area now. It was a good, if at times difficult and emotional, conversation and I am privileged to have been able to engage with people once more on this most sensitive matter.
I visited Tuam again this week because, as the person responsible for making this recommendation to Cabinet, I want to ensure that I have done everything I can to hear the voices of the people who will be impacted by it.
I take very seriously my moral and ethical responsibility to make the right recommendation to Government.
Regardless of what I recommend, my decision will not please everyone. Unfortunately, that is not possible.
However, what I hope is possible is to assure everyone that I will have made my recommendation the basis of principles and empathy.
So let me take this opportunity to outline some of the key principles that are guiding me in discerning what is the right thing to do.
- Firstly, I am committed to making sure that we comply with international standards and norms when designing and implementing the decision on Tuam, including our obligations under international human rights law.
In this respect I have been greatly aided by a report prepared by Dr Geoffrey Shannon on the human rights issues that arise in the case of Tuam.
The Attorney General has been considering the report before it goes before Cabinet for publication in early September. Dr Shannon concludes that we have a duty to act, as far as is reasonably possible.
- Secondly, I want to make sure that all of those affected are central to the design and implementation of what we do next. This includes both the former residents of the Home and their families and relations, and the people of Tuam themselves.
Tuam is more than this history. It is a community and a place of goodness and care. The former Mother and Baby Home is part of its story, but it is not all of it. Similarly, experiences in Tuam are part of the lives, histories and stories of former residents, but they are also not everything.
Through listening—truly listening—I hope to be able to ensure that we honour all of these parts of the identities and realities of those affected. I will not shy away from the challenge that this poses.
- Thirdly, and relatedly, women’s rights must be respected in this process. What happened in Tuam was part of a pattern of gender injustice that we cannot overcome if we do not acknowledge it.
So often it was women—either as mothers or as children—who were affected. Their voices and their rights must be central.
- Similarly, and fourthly, I am committed to taking a child-centred approach. That has always been a commitment of mine in my work, and is all the more so now in my work as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
- Fifthly, I am committed to developing real partnerships through which we can make and implement decisions. To the extent possible I want us to approach this in a non-hierarchical manner; that is what this Collaborative Forum is all about.
These are my guiding principles. They are not just words on a page. They mean a lot to me personally, and shape the recommendations I must make now and may need to make in the future.
They are based in my belief that as we move forward in making decisions about the site in Tuam we must place at the very core of our consideration our ethical and moral duties of justice and love towards those who lived and died in the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam.
As Proust says in Remembrance of Things Past
“Love … produces real geological upheavals of thought.”
We must act with empathy and compassion towards those we previously abandoned. Empathy and compassion are allies of love.
We must recognise that there is an on-going relationship between us, the living, and those who died in Tuam.
At the heart of that relationship is the bond of love between each human person, which requires us always to act with empathy towards others, especially those who have been shamed and stigmatised in the past.
In this case, it demands that we make decisions that recognise these were people whose futures were denied them, with families and relatives, and that they were part of our community.
It is that commitment to love that will help us to deliver justice for what happened in our past.
I am aware that any decisions that we need to make in relation to Tuam may possibly arise in relation to other sites, but that of course depends on the conclusions of the Commission, which is due to report next February.
However, every situation is different—context, place and people matter.
I will make my decision on what I recommend to Cabinet based on what I believe is right for Tuam; for the many histories and communities and individuals whom this decision will touch.
If other decisions need to be made in the future, I will take the same principles-based approach to them.
Thus, these principles guide my decisions and recommendations and help me as I read and digest the consultations, expert reports, and advices I have received, as well as when I listen to the perspectives of this Forum and of the people of Tuam.
They also enable me to develop a principled-based vision of how we should approach the next steps in Tuam, rather than focusing in the first instance of any particular Option per se.
I would very much have wished to announce the Government’s decision in relation to Tuam by now, but unfortunately the legal issues are even more complicated than we could have anticipated when we started out on this road.
I hope to be able to make a specific announcement of what we will do early in the Autumn, but in the meantime, I want to share with you my personal vision for where we should be heading, informed by those principles I have already outlined.
This is of course predicated on clearing the right legal pathway to where we want to go, and it is subject to the agreement of my Government colleagues, which I believe will be forthcoming.
You will be aware the results of the important consultation process that was led by Galway Co Council was recently published.
It highlights the very different but equally valid views expressed by those affected and who participated in the consultation.
In brief, those who were resident in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, and their relatives, are strongly supportive of a full forensic excavation of the site.
In contrast, local residents of the site favour memorialisation and with no further investigative work or disturbance of the site.
I can appreciate and respect both views, but they are obviously mutually exclusive.
This means that as we progress our vision for the site, we must work closely with local residents to ensure that their concerns are addressed and that, even in the absence of consensus, we can proceed in collaboration and partnership, adopting a rights-based approach.
Based on my considerations so far, I believe that an approach based on human rights and the principles I have already outlined would involve taking all reasonable steps to investigate the scope for retrieval of human remains and, if logistically possible, to exhume and re-inter the bodies in a respectful and sensitive manner.
Of course, questions of scale arise here, which are not altogether straightforward.
In particular, I need to decide whether the rights-based approach requires full excavation of all land formerly occupied by the Mother and Baby Home, or whether it would be more appropriate to test all the land and then excavate those areas where anomalies arise, as well of course as the Memorial Garden and subsurface chambers.
The latter is less disruptive though still thorough, however it does not absolutely eliminate the unlikely possibility of some remains being undetected.
The former eliminates all such risk, but we cannot know from the outset that it would in fact result in a more complete investigation.
That is, we cannot say for certain that we would find out anything we would not have discovered through the slightly less intrusive and more targeted approach.
In other words, we cannot know that one is ‘more right’ than the other. Instead, I must use the principles outlined above to help me to make a judgement between these approaches.
It is not something to which there is a single right answer; it is only something to which we must try to achieve the best possible answer.
Unfortunately this is not straightforward. There are some scientific challenges that we must overcome. There are also some ethical challenges about the treatment of remains.
But of an urgent nature are the many legal issues to be dealt with, the most important of which is to make sure we actually have legal authority to exhume the remains, examine them, carry out successful DNA tests where possible, and re-inter them in a place to be agreed.
However, if what seems to us to be the best approach requires us to introduce legislation to ensure it can be done, then we will not be dissuaded from that task.
I do not mean, here, to understate the challenge facing us. It involves the law relating to burials, graves, exhumations and coronial practices.
It covers the actions that can be taken by An Garda Síochána, orders of the Courts and the giving of authority to State bodies to take specific action. It also relates to decisions about DNA testing, and to who can make a formal determination about identification of an individual when scientific testing has been completed.
This all sounds so impersonal and clinical – which unfortunately it is – and yet we must deal with these matters despite the immensely deep, personal stories underlying each and every baby and child who was buried in the site. We must do so because we need to have a clear legal framework to deliver our shared commitment to doing what is right in Tuam.
Hearing these sensitive, difficult issues spoken about as legal challenges is difficult, not least because we all want action as soon as possible. I certainly do.
But for the moment, what I can say is that we are working our way through these extraordinarily difficult legal and practical issues so that the Government will be empowered to address fully this shameful part of our collective past.
I very much hope to be able to bring proposals to Government by the early Autumn, and I commit to being as open as possible as things develop.
It is always my intention to carry out my role as Minister in a transparent manner, to keep people informed of my decisions, to explain delays, and to listen and hear what people have to say.
This is particularly true in relation to the Mother and Baby Homes matters. Unfortunately, solutions are often harder to find than expected, and delays sometimes cannot be avoided.
What I can assure you of however is my commitment to moving this issue forward, to working in partnership with all those affected, and to being as honest as I can be about the decisions that are being made, the basis upon which they are being made, and the challenges we face in trying to give effect to them.
And so, I want to wish you every success in your endeavours here today, and for the rest of your time together.
I want to thank you for showing faith in the collaborative approach and for bearing the emotional and other labour of participating in this Forum on behalf of yourselves and of so many others.
And I want, again, to pledge to you my support in being a committed partner to you in bringing forward your work and in doing what I can, within whatever legal or other constraints may arise, to promote your work to my colleagues in Government. I look forward to hearing from you very soon.