Dáil Statements on Mother and Baby Home
Dr. Katherine Zappone TD,
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
*Check Against Delivery*
Tuesday 13th February 2018
I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes (and certain Matters.) In particular I would like to update Deputies on the Commission’s 3rd Interim Report, and the measures I am progressing with Government colleagues to respond to the issues which have emerged so far from their work.
3rd Interim Report – Extension of time
As Deputies will be aware, I published the 3rd Interim Report from the Commission in December last year. In its report the Commission requested a one year extension to the timeframe submit its 3 final reports.
The Commission is of the opinion that all 3 reports – the Confidential Committee report, the Investigative report and the Social History module are interlinked and should be presented together.
After careful consideration Government decided to grant this extension. The Commission is now due to deliver all 3 reports by 17 February 2019.
I know that many former residents have been eagerly awaiting the completion of the Commission’s work. I understand that many who contributed to the process and shared their information were disappointed and frustrated by this development.
However, it is important that we do not underestimate the scale and complexity of the task that the Commission have been set.
The Commission is seeking to establish facts and make findings and recommendations.
They want to complete the task in hand, and I know the Deputies in the House want the same thing.
In outlining their reasoning for requesting an extension, the Commission’s 3rd Interim Report states that Confidential Committee has met with a considerable number of former residents and others with connections to the institutions under investigation who wished to share their experiences.
The Commission asked for more time to allow those who had applied and were still waiting to share their experiences with them to be heard. Hearing these stories pays tribute to the memory of those who spent time in these places.
A number of support groups contacted me to say that granting the extension was necessary, pragmatic and practical to allow the Commission to complete its work.
The Commission also stated that its wide terms of reference have necessitated the collection and analysis of a vast range of documentary material relating to the institutions under investigation.
The analysis of all relevant records will not be completed until mid-2018. All of the information uncovered during the course of this investigation plays its part in painting as full a picture as is possible of the events and experiences of the time.
I recognise the absolute importance of the Commission’s work and support it as it continues to investigate the matters within its terms of reference. It is a comprehensive task, and they need enough time to complete their work and it is important that it is done right.
The Commission concluded that extending the terms of reference into any further matters was not in the public interest at the time of the publishing of the 3RD Interim Report. I agree with this approach.
When I met with the Commission upon receiving the 3rd Interim Report, I was again reassured by their absolute commitment to establish the full facts of what happened to women and children in these institutions.
I am confident that the Commission’s reports will enhance the Public’s understanding of the hurt and helplessness experienced by former residents, and help with the healing process.
In recent days the Commission has advertised nationally seeking to hear from anyone who has any personal knowledge, documentation or any other information concerning the burial arrangements of children who died in Bessboro Mother and Baby Home in Cork.
I would strongly encourage any person with relevant information to contact the Commission directly to divulge what they know to aid the investigation.
Over the course of 2017 I held two facilitated meetings with former residents and their families - one in Dublin and one in Cork. Over 130 former residents of Mother and Baby Homes and their advocates were in attendance.
I would like to thank all who attended these meetings and acknowledge the generosity, willingness and courage of all participants in contributing to the dialogue. One can’t help but to be moved by their stories.
The key theme that emerged from these facilitated consultations was that of “nothing about us without us”, the idea that former residents want direct input into the decisions made on their behalf. I have adopted this as my mantra!
The establishment of a Collaborative Forum is a progressive response to this idea. Participants will create and drive forward a process that they can support and trust and actively participate in recommending actions and solutions to address their concerns.
I am pleased to announce that Mr. Gerry Kearney has accepted my invitation to Chair the Collaborative Forum.
Over the course of his career Mr Kearney has demonstrated a strong commitment to Public Service as former Secretary General of the Department of Community, Equality & Gaeltacht Affairs,
He was appointed Chairman of the Moore Street consultative group established to consider views on the best way forward for Moore St. itself. A monumental task in diplomacy I think you’ll agree!
I strongly believe that gives him the expertise and management experience required to work with the Forum. His experience will be of considerable benefit to the Forum in developing proposals and framing their recommendations.
I know that Mr Kearney is greatly looking forward to beginning what we hope is an extremely engaging and fruitful endeavour.
I have published a Charter for The Forum that will facilitate its work and gives the blue print for its methodology and demonstrates my commitment to innovative approaches to facilitate and empower former residents to actively contribute to decisions on matters which affect their lives. The Forum will consist of 20 Members.
I am moving forward in identifying members for the Selection Panel that will establish the Collaborative Forum. Selection of the correct people is critical to the success of the project.
The Selection Panel will include representation from the areas of Human Rights, former residents advocate groups and academics with experience in this field. I have made contact with these organisations and I am now awaiting confirmation of their agreement to participate.
I hope to announce the members of the Panel shortly and for them to have held its first meeting by the end of February.
I will then be advertising for members of the public and interested parties to formally express an interest in participating in the Forum.
The Selection Panel will select the members of the Forum from these expressions of interest at their second meeting which should take place in early March.
I anticipate that the Collaborative Forum will meet on a monthly basis for a period of at least a year. However if they reach a consensus on any issues before then – I will be happy to hear from them!
Three sub-committees, each with a unique focus, will be tasked with examining specific issues on a modular basis to facilitate the Forum in making recommendations.
In addition to its members, the Forum may nominate additional persons to sit on these sub-committees.
These committees will cover a large range of issues of concern to former residents such as terminology, identity and representation for former residents; health and well-being supports; memorialisation and the recording of personal narratives.
I think you will agree that the Collaborative Forum is a unique and innovative way to further the collective interests of the parties involved in developing solutions to issues which have impacted on their lives.
I thank the Government for its support in establishing the Forum. I look forward to hearing these recommendations and receiving your continued support in looking favourably on the outcomes
Special Rapporteur Pablo de Grieff
I have previously relayed my commitment to the House to inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Mr. Pablo de Greiff to come to Ireland.
I believe he can assist us in our endeavours to establish the truth and advise us on how best to move forward and deal with this part of our history. Arrangements are at an advanced stage and I expect an invitation to issue to Mr. de Grieff in the coming days.
Mr De Grieff will be invited to consider the State’s response to the legacy of former Mother and Baby Homes and to examine the progress being made on these matters.
As a Government we take our obligations and commitment to human rights seriously, and I welcome Mr. de Grieff’s assistance.
As we approach the anniversary of the tragic findings in Tuam in March 2017, I am pleased to update the House on the progress being made in responding to the discovery of the burial chambers.
Deputies will know I commissioned a team of international experts to produce a Technical report which advises of 5 options that are now available to us.
This team was appointed to ensure that any action taken on the site of the former Mother and Baby Home is in line with international best practice.
It is detailed technical document. It outlines the unique nature of the site and the vast technical challenges involved.
The options range from memorialisation with no further excavations in option one - to exhumation, forensic examination and further investigation of the wider site in options 2-5. All options can include memorialisation and appropriate internment at the site.
The report includes expert advice on issues in relation to DNA extraction and analysis, and the separation of co-mingled remains evident in the chambers.
These are highly sensitive issues with a very real resonance for those with connections to the Home and the Tuam area.
The report will help all parties to understand the complexities of all of the options available, and to give real facts about the technical challenges on the site.
Having visited the Tuam site several times I am extremely conscious that this is a very sensitive and difficult matter for many former residents, their families and those living in the vicinity of the site.
I want to ensure that everyone who wishes to contribute to the discussion the future of the site has the opportunity to do so.
I have asked Galway County Council to facilitate an independent consultation process on the five options as presented in the ETG report.
The contributions from these consultations will be used to produce a report that will inform the inter-departmental committee, who in turn will make proposals to me on these sensitive matters.
I will bring these proposals to Government for their final recommendation
Criticism of Process.
Galway County Council have asked interested parties to complete a questionnaire type document to generate data to use as part of the consultation process.
A number of families and representatives have contacted me to express their concerns about the approach and methodology used to gather information.
It appears that some have likened it to a simplistic popular voting process. The process is far more comprehensive than that. I have raised these concerns with Galway County Council.
I would like to assure the House, that there is no intention to trivialise the memories or feelings of those wishing to partake in this process by using such a document. The key part of this process is to offer those with an interest to express their opinion, and collate this information.
The consultation process has been developed to facilitate various parties to submit their views on the five courses of action identified by the Expert Technical Group.
The process is designed to facilitate maximum participation by all parties while ensuring that there is certainty in relation to the preferred course of action of each respondent.
The guidance for submissions while requesting each respondent to clearly indicate their preferred course of action, also provides an opportunity for the respondent to provide their own comments.
The process also allows respondents to indicate their connection to the former Mother & Baby Home, Tuam. The consultation events to be held in Tuam and Dublin to be led by Restorative Dialogue Facilitators have been designed to afford participants the opportunity to engage directly and provide further input to the consultation process.
The report on the consultation process to be submitted to the Inter-Departmental Group will be prepared by the Restorative Dialogue Facilitators based on the submissions received and the outcomes of the consultation events.
This report will be a factual account of the consultation process and will not contain any recommendations.
It will be a matter for the Inter-Departmental Group to consider the report and recommend a course of action to the Government.
Government will make the final decision.
More information on the process can be found on the Galway County Council website.
As the Expert Teams Report makes clear, the site at Tuam presents a great and unique set of technical challenges. But while there are challenges, there is also opportunity.
The opportunity to take action and to provide the dignity and respect in death that those that lived their short lives in this institution were so clearly denied.
I know how harrowing it is for everyone involved, and I don’t want this process to add to this distress in any way. However, I feel it is imperative that no one has any doubts about the factual possibilities that there are for the remains.
Some people will be disappointed.
The Report outlines the challenges around DNA extraction and testing.
I hope that whichever of the options on the future of the site that it is decided to go with, is one we all can eventually come to terms with.
However, our aim is the same as that of the former residents - to treat the remains of these dead babies with as much respect and dignity as they deserve. Dignity and respect they did not get in their short lives.
Tomorrow I will be meeting with the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon who has been asked to prepare a report for me on the various Human Rights issues that the Expert Teams Report has raised
I made a commitment to the community of former residents and their supporters to keep them briefed on any developments in this area that I become aware of.
An E-Zine is published on a monthly basis on my Department’s website. It gives information on any upcoming events or points of interest for the community.
Mail shots are also sent out regularly directly to interested parties ahead of any announcements or developments.
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is shining a light on a traumatic and tragic period of our history.
It is uncovering the truth – a truth which is uncomfortable.
As a modern open society we must confront and accept this truth in an honest, mature and reflective way.
We must listen to, record and honour the truth of people’s experiences.
As a feminist, as an Independent Minister and as an Irish woman I firmly believe that it is only by accepting the truth that we can move past it.
I have spoken to this house before about the concept of Transitional Justice. The actions we are taking are in line with this. The measures I have outlined are an innovative approach to promote truth, justice and guarantees of non-recurrence.
Our work ahead will be guided by international best practice, with the support of human rights experts, based here at home and internationally.
Deputies in conclusion I will say, let us never forget our past, and let the truth of the past offer healing for the present and future.