Friday, 2 June 2017

Minister Zappone's Statement on Mother and Baby Homes - Dáil Éireann, Houses of the Oireachtas 1st June 2017

From Oireachtas debates
Minister Katherine Zappone



Three years ago this week, a brave local historian shared her research with a discerning and intuitive journalist. A brave survivor was also willing to tell her story. We all read, watched and listened as the shocking details unfolded of a mass grave in the grounds of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. In the intervening three years, we have received confirmation that the remains in Tuam are human and that they date from the same time the mother and baby home was open. I warmly welcome to the debate those who are here and those watching from afar. There are people, including survivors, advocates, family and friends, who would like to be here but who cannot attend. I admire greatly the courage of those who have shared very personal and compelling accounts of their experiences. With former residents, their loved ones, supporters and campaigners, I add my voice to the collective determination to dispel the secrecy and shame so unjustly experienced by vulnerable mothers and their children. I offer a special welcome to Catherine Corless whose incredible research and persistence in seeking the truth for those with no voice has been rightly applauded. Many of those on the site in Tuam never got to speak during their short lives. Through Catherine, the survivors and their advocates, they have now been given a voice. On a personal level, I am grateful for her generosity to me and many others in giving of her time to explain, advise and guide.

As the tragic discovery of infant remains at the site of the former home in Tuam continues to be absorbed, I am mindful that there are many deeply personal issues which those directly affected rightly want the Government to address. The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was set up as a direct response to the Tuam research. I record my sincere thanks to Judge Yvonne Murphy, Dr. William Duncan and Professor Mary Daly for their valuable contribution and commitment to the public interest in this sensitive work. They have my full support and that of the Government. I have visited the site in Tuam on a number of occasions and I am acutely aware that many people are experiencing a great deal of anxiety and anticipation about what might happen next at the site. Many of those in the Visitors Gallery and watching at home are the people who will be most impacted on by the decision on what we do next. Most importantly, I am determined that any action taken must respect the memory and dignity of the deceased children who lived their short lives in the home. I recognise the diversity of views on and concerns about how this might best be achieved.
My preference which I know is shared by most people is to encourage and support efforts to build towards a consensus on the next steps to be taken. We can only do this with full knowledge, or at least as much knowledge and information as we can garner. As I have said previously, we need expert technical guidance on international best practice in this highly specialised area. We need to know what is possible. If there is consensus to return the site to how it was before the commission undertook its test excavation and to erect an appropriate memorial, we will not require technical advice. If we decide to go for a full excavation, we will need advice on how to do it. If there is consensus that we should recover the infant remains and try to identify them, we will need to know if that is possible. We have made too many decisions in the dark in this country, but we are not going to do it again in Tuam. We need the experts to tell us what is possible. We need people who have done this type of very specialised work before. Therefore, I am very pleased to be able to say I have appointed Niamh McCullagh, forensic archaeologist, to lead the work. She will bring together a team of international experts in juvenile osteoarchaeology, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis and archaeology to provide us with the necessary advice. I am publishing the team's terms of reference today. Ms McCullagh is an Irish based expert with extensive national and international experience, including work with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains in Ireland. Significantly, she already has a detailed understanding of the site as she led the commission team which located, identified and conducted the preliminary excavations in Tuam. The knowledge she already has of the site means that her work and that of her team will proceed quickly. Further details of the membership of the team are provided in the written text I have circulated to Members.
The expert team will consult additional experts, as it considers appropriate. It will arrange further geophysical surveys to examine the extent of potential burials on the site. We need to know, once and for all, if there are remains in the area outside that confirmed by the commission. I will receive an initial technical report by the end of June and a more detailed report on options for the future will be submitted to me by the end of September. The team will provide its technical advice in layperson's language in order that we can all understand the options for the site and what each such option would entail. Information is power and the expert reports will be available to everyone. When we are all speaking the same language, there will be a much better chance of reaching a consensus. There will be consultation and this will be a transparent process.
Improved communication is an area in which we need to do better. Survivors and their families have rightly been critical of hearing information in the media in advance of being alerted personally. I understand this and have tried to find a solution. Our proposed solution is to provide regular updates on the programme of work relating to mother and baby homes. This work raises issues which necessarily involve multiple Departments and agencies and we have asked them to co-operate with us. Our plan is to co-ordinate and centralise a number of communications initiatives to allow developments to be publicised in a timely manner. Starting from July, I will publish a monthly update which will be available on my Department's website on the first Friday of every month.
Following the publication of the second interim report of the mother and baby homes commission, I said I would hold detailed consultations with those who were resident as children without their mothers in mother and baby homes and county homes. I am pleased to announce that I have appointed an experienced qualified facilitator with an international reputation to help me with these consultations. He will help us to explore the nature of services and supports available in the area of health and well-being which may be of genuine and practical value. This series of consultations will provide a safe forum for former residents in which to raise their concerns directly with me and my officials.
Starting from tomorrow, my Department will issue an open invitation to former residents and those with personal connections to these institutions, seeking expressions of interest to participate in this process. The facilitator will hold meetings in Dublin and other parts of the country, depending on the level of expressions of interest from those involved. I have heard directly and indirectly of some ideas that people have, but this will be the forum to air these views and suggestions. The outcome of these meetings will inform my proposals to Government in order that we can have appropriate supports in place as quickly as possible. I want to start this process quickly and look forward to meeting stakeholders on 30 June.
I know that some people are trying to find out when they were in particular mother and baby homes. I have asked Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to increase its capacity for the provision of this information to help former residents get access to it. We have put in place the necessary funding for Tusla to undertake this work. This new arrangement is separate to the ongoing legislative reforms that are before the Oireachtas to facilitate wider access to adoption records under the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016. I am working with colleagues on this Bill which will give people wider access to adoption records. I know that this is so important to so many people and hope my colleagues will support me in getting it through.
Recent months have taught me that we need to look beyond the legal questions surrounding mother and baby homes, important and all as they are. Finding the truth is crucial, but we need to deal with that truth when we find it. We need to process it and respond to it. I am very pleased that Dr. James Gallen of the school of law and government in Dublin City University is assisting me in this regard. We are working together on this and I will respond more comprehensively when we have Dr. Gallen’s final report which I hope will help us to find a new path forward. In the meantime, I am moving forward with one of Dr. Gallen’s excellent proposals. I am asking my Government colleagues to support me in inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, reparation and guarantee of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, to visit Ireland. Dr. de Greiff has extensive experience and insights which I believe will help me as a Minister and us as a Government to promote truth, justice and reparation, as he has done with a wide range of other governments. He could help ensure we are taking the right approach in terms of our response into the future.
I have said I am open to considering whether broader terms of reference for the commission would help to answer some of the questions which have been raised again in public debate. Over the summer months, I will undertake a scoping review on the possible extension of the terms of reference.
How we respond to the past is about much more than the Tuam or other mother and baby homes. It is about all of us. It is about us as people and the choices we make. These are personal choices or they are choices we make through the people we have elected. It is about our humanity. It is about our empathy. I sometimes wonder, if I am around in 2027 or 2037, what will I see being said about 2017 on “Reeling in the Years". Will 2017 be the year that the international media descended on Tuam as we once again declared our outrage at past deeds? Will it be instead the year when we faced up, womaned up and manned up, and decided that we will do things better? This is a defining moment for us. As a member of the Government, and the only Independent woman Member in Government, I feel a huge sense of responsibility to begin to heal the fractured trust between citizens and the State. It is time that someone shouted "Stop". It is time that we all shouted "Stop". I believe a model of transitional justice will help us move forward.

following contributions by other members of the House, Minister Zappone responded as follows:

 thank all of the Deputies for their comments, reflections and questions. As Deputy O'Sullivan and others indicated, we have discussed this issue many times in this Chamber. It is really important for me to listen to the issues that Deputies raise as we all try to identify the best way and what kinds of actions we need to do in order to move forward when we think about and try to uncover the meaning of the past. I am grateful for that. I will address some of the common themes that I have heard. If I do not answer all of the questions posed, I will be happy to do that in another forum.
One of the main themes coming through, on which we are all agreed, is that the people who have been most impacted by the issues that we are debating and discussing ought to be at the centre of everything that we do. That is why I am so grateful that so many of them have come to be with us today. I was struck by Deputy Catherine Murphy's comments about how we name the people who are at the centre. I know that lots of different language has been used, including victims, survivors, family, advocates of family and so forth. I hope that as we move forward - and that is what I have tried to indicate in terms of the actions that I have identified that we will be doing on the basis of a lot of work in the past few months to take these actions - that there will be more and more engagement with survivors and family in order that what it is that we decide to do as we move forward to the best of our ability will be as a result of bringing together as best we can a consensus in relation to whatever the issues are.
In terms of Tuam, the decision that we are taking as a Government to move forward, particularly in relation to the site, is a very big one. It is important to get technical advice on what it is that they are going to do. I met with Ms McCullagh before coming into the Chamber. She explained that this type of technical work has not been done anywhere else in the world. She described to me a lot of the technical, scientific and engineering complexities that are going to be engaged in this regard. That is why it was important to pull together a number of international experts in order to try to get as much information as we can in order to offer the information that comes in the most understandable language for all of us, so that we know what it is that these scientists are suggesting to us in terms of what is possible. Ms McCullagh spoke about what is possible from the least intrusive option, which is to do nothing and indeed there are some people who want that, to the most intrusive option, namely a fuller excavation and exhumation, with attempts to identify the remains. We need to know what is actually involved in that in order to understand what is possible. I asked for that initial report outlining some of the basics of those options by the end of June, which is pretty quick given the context, in order that we can have an outline of the options which can feed into the consultations that will go on in relation to the process in Tuam with the people and particularly the families and survivors, as well as the residents. Galway County Council will also be involved. That is relatively quick but it is important that the information is part of it as we move forward. I hope that even that kind of process is finally more respectful of dealing with the people who are at the centre of this.
Many Deputies spoke about the fact that I would like to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on transitional justice, reparation and truth to visit. I have indicated explicitly that I am going to ask my Cabinet colleagues to support that invitation. We have not yet issued the invitation but I am heartened to hear that Deputies agree that we should do so. I believe international expertise could be extremely helpful to us in terms of the wider responses to issues raised by the mother and baby homes and the commission of investigation itself. Dr. de Greiff, prior to becoming Special Rapporteur was director of research at the International Center for Transitional Justice. He has extensive experience on these issues in lots of countries. I believe such a visit would reflect the commitment of this Government to our people, both at home and abroad and will demonstrate that we are willing to work with the United Nations on our own territory in relation to issues of potential human rights abuses and also the ways in which we can respond to this. We do have some transitional justice measures already in place but more may be required in terms of moving forward, particularly in relation to a truth commission, which we debated in the context of a very helpful motion put forward by Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire previously. It is my personal wish that we could have something like that established. It would be very helpful for us to have some expertise to draw on in terms of the best possible way to do that, given the fact that we have a commission of investigation that is still ongoing. I hope that if we invite Dr. de Greiff he will help us to look at how we can move forward in relation to responding. While we are not exactly at the beginning, when the commission of investigation reports in February of 2018 that will be a big milestone. However, it is still perhaps an earlier period and there may be many more things that we need to do in order to truly respond to the issues that are being raised.
Many Deputies identified the issue of redress in the context of the second interim report. Let me be clear that what the commission was recommending was the opening up of the residential institutions redress scheme to children who were resident in the main mother and baby homes without their mothers, that is, to unaccompanied children. That is the language that was used. It was said that those children should have had access to the redress scheme, using the same logic as for other institutions that were included in that. As I have said before, I personally agreed with that analysis. However, I ultimately decided, with my Cabinet colleagues, that the redress scheme was not the best option for those unaccompanied children or children who were without their mothers in mother and baby homes and county homes. I outlined the reasons for that decision earlier. According to the residential institutions redress scheme, they would have to demonstrate a certain level of abuse and they would have to have been much younger - between the ages of zero and three years. Furthermore, there has not been any definite declaration by the commission of investigation of findings of abuse. That is not to say the commission will not do that. What I want to stress is that I was not at all ruling out redress. The commission of investigation will submit its report in February 2018. It may recommend redress in that report but equally, it may not. It is at that stage that we look at that issue more fully and learn from the ways in which the State has offered or attempted to offer redress in the past in various schemes. That is why, having said "No" for that particular group, we asked what we could do and whether there was a way to offer any other form of support, including health and well being support. We are beginning a consultation process with former residents to try to identify the most helpful forms of health and well-being supports.
I heard also that it would be useful to open that to a wider group of people. We will be taking a look at that. Deputy Clare Daly asked about the timeframe in that regard. We are beginning on 30 June. I hope to bring proposals to the Cabinet in the fall. We have not set an exact timeframe yet because we are not certain how many people want to be consulted. Where that is the case, we want to be as inclusive as possible.
As I think I am out of time, I cannot address all the other issues that have been raised. I have tried to identify a number of actions to move forward with the Government's ongoing response to the mother and baby homes issue. I will say in conclusion that I believe issues relating to the separation of church and State are critical. I acknowledge the great deal of work that has been done by Deputy Bríd Smith and her colleagues in that regard. We do not necessarily need to put down the church as we attempt to separate it from the State. However, this separation is necessary. I hope that will be part of this process as we move forward with it.


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