Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann: notes:

— the shocking revelation that all 550 recorded audio testimonies of survivors have been deleted by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes (the Commission) - the vast majority of survivor testimonies provided to the Commission;

— that many survivors have refuted the Commission’s claim that permission was sought from witnesses regarding the destruction of their testimonies, however, the Commission has not provided evidence that consent was granted by those survivors who contributed, furthermore, survivors claim they were not made aware that transcripts of their audio recordings would not be made;

— that without access to these testimonies, it removes the ability of survivors to refute various conclusions as set out in the Commission’s report;

— several witnesses have made complaints to the Data Protection Commission (DPC) pursuant to the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018, and to An Garda Síochána; and

— unless legislation is amended, the term of the Commission is due to expire on the 28th of February, 2021;

acknowledges that:

— questions remain as to the legality surrounding the Commission’s destruction of testimonies, particularly under sections 31 and 43 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which requires the Commission to deposit with the Minister ‘all evidence received by and all documents created by or for the commission’ including ‘records of interviews’, and legality of such destruction under Articles 6 and 9 of the GDPR legislation;

— the Commission of Investigation has refused requests to attend the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration to answer questions from its members in relation to this matter;

— the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has indicated the Government is currently seeking legal advice from the Attorney General in relation to the destruction of these audio recordings;

— it is understood that the DPC has raised concerns with the Commission and has asked it to provide the justification and legal basis for the deletion of the records;

— survivors need more time to seek answers to their questions and accountability over this action;

— extending the timeframe of the Commission by one year would give 550 survivors an opportunity to query why their voice recordings were destroyed by the Commission and what, if any, remains are salvageable; and

— other commissions of investigation have had their timeline extended, including the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which still exists as an entity; and

calls on the Government to:

— extend the term of the Commission for another 12 months to 28th February, 2022, in order to facilitate a review from the DPC and other relevant authorities’ investigations into the destruction of the recordings and allow for any potential salvage of remaining testimony;

— maintain the existing legislative requirement regarding the transfer of the remaining Commission archive to the Minister by the end of this month as planned; and

— carry out a full review of legislation regarding commissions of investigation, including their operation and oversight, their terms and conditions, scope and jurisdiction.

I will be sharing time with my colleagues.

They say that time can be a great healer but for survivors of mother and baby homes that has not been the case. Instead of healing, survivors have had to learn to live with the pain. They have learned to live alongside a concealed past - a vague, unimaginable distant life. When this State, many decades later, accepted the responsibility to uncover what lay hidden for many lifetimes it did not uncover the truth. Instead, it unearthed more pain, which survivors have been forced to live through again and again. That pain does not just come from reliving the past but from actions that are carried out in the present also.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was supposed to uncover the truth through the testimonies granted by 550 survivors, each setting out and reliving the details of his or her difficult past. Instead, the commission's report churned out a series of conclusions which were not only contested by many survivors but displayed an insensitive narrative of women calling into question the validity of women's and survivors' experiences.

I will read a few of the excerpts from those conclusions and the survivors' responses to them, as presented by Dr. Maeve O'Rourke. I do so in order that we can all remind ourselves of the power imbalance that still exists, which echoes from another time and is clearly reflected in the final report of the mother and baby homes commission, a document that was intended to be the outcome of a truth-seeking exercise. These excerpts also serve as a reminder of the importance of providing survivors with valuable time in their search for truth and justice. The executive summary of the report states that "the institutions under investigation provided a refuge". The survivor said:

I do not even know whether he was buried in a coffin... There was never even a kind or sympathetic [word] spoken to me.

In paragraph 11 of the executive summary it is stated: "There can be no doubt that legal adoption was a vastly better outcome than the alternatives previously available." A survivor stated:

One of the saddest things is the perception of adoption in the past as being the best solution for mother and child. It most certainly was not. I feel personally I have lost so much...I have information, I have photographs, but there is a disconnect, a distance that will forever be there. I missed out on meeting close and extended family members because of the so-called shame of illegitimacy.

Paragraph 27 of the final report recommendations states: "They were not 'incarcerated' in the strict meaning of the word but, in the earlier years at least, with some justification, they thought they were."

The survivor said:

We were locked in and there was absolutely no way of getting out. Daily life was so bad that I attempted to run away twice with two other girls but they always found us and brought us back. On the second occasion we were caught by the police, who returned us to the convent.

After attempting to gain access to their testimonies to counter the report's conclusions, survivors realised they had been misled again when the commission revealed it had destroyed 550 audio testimonies, which the commission believed and said had been done with the permission of the witnesses who had taken part. This is a statement heavily contested by survivors.

First, survivors' words were twisted to fit into the narrative of a report and then they were told their words had been erased. It did not even end there. In a strange twist of events over the past week, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth revealed that backup files exist for the recordings. Late last night, at the eleventh hour, we found that the commission had notified the Department that it had retrieved all the backup tapes of audio recordings from the confidential committee and an information technology expert had identified, checked and ensured, through testing a random sample, that the material was accessible and audible. This is against a backdrop of media reports where the commission is quoted as saying the testimonies should be destroyed and this was morally and legally the right thing to do. Some commentators even stated the report has already been submitted by the commission and that should be the end of it.

The Social Democrats motion seeks to extend the commission of investigation by one year to allow survivors the opportunity to seek answers to their questions. The motion was driven by revelations that survivor testimonies had been deleted by the commission, as explicitly stated in the final report of the commission in October. This action was in direct contravention of the Commission of Investigation Act 2004, which states that all evidence received by and all documents created by and for the commission should be deposited with the Minister on dissolution of the commission. Survivors need time to have these actions fully investigated by data protection authorities. They also need answers. It appears these testimonies are available, despite everything that has been said and documented.

I welcome that these testimonies have been found and I acknowledge the efforts of the Minister and the Department to ensure they could be retrieved from the commission. The question now for everybody in the Chamber is whether an extension is still needed. The short and simple answer to the question is "Yes". We absolutely still need an extension.

The commission has confirmed that all files have been recovered and a sample of the 550 testimonies has been tested. We can consider that in October the commission wrote in the final report that all testimonies had been deleted, and this was reiterated to Ms Elaine O'Loughlin of the Irish Examiner when the commission confirmed to her that it had destroyed witness recordings and had not made any transcripts. We can consider that only last week the Minister stated the commission believed it was acting in good faith when it destroyed testimonies. We can consider that only two days ago the commission was quoted as saying "We are strongly of the view that [the recordings] should not be retrieved for legal and moral reasons". Are survivors now to take the leap of faith that every single testimony is available and intact, and there is no possibility that any survivor, when trying to access her own story, will be turned away empty-handed? What happens in a week's time if it is discovered that some elements of the testimonies are gone? Who will answer for that and be accountable? Will the Minister categorically guarantee today that each minute of the thousands of hours of testimony is safe and available to survivors?

The retrieval of this data is only one of the reasons the commission must remain in existence. Survivors have many questions about why they believe their testimonies are not accurately reflected in the final report. Without transcripts of their testimonies, it would be nearly impossible for them to prove this case. The retrieval of their testimonies now means they can clearly show any discrepancies and if the findings and recommendations of the report are in line with the evidence presented to the commission. This can be determined through the application of a judicial review, an exercise where every individual in Ireland can challenge the decision-making process of a public body.

As is so often the case, the story of the survivors' path is punctuated with bureaucratic deadlines. The next deadline in seeking justice is 11 April, three months after the publication of the final report, by which time any application for judicial review must be lodged.

My second question to the Minister is this: can he guarantee that access to a judicial review of the findings of the final report will be available to survivors in the event that the commission ceases to exist on 28 February next or will the dissolution of the commission shut down that opportunity for survivors? There has been quite a bit of toing and froing on this issue over the past week. I want to bring it back to the simple facts. Survivors should enjoy the same rights and access to justice as every other person in this State. The dissolution of this commission will mean that those rights will not be available to survivors. The extension of the life of the commission is a simple act. This has been done before by Government. It has been done before for the benefit of the Government and the commission. This time we are asking for it to be done for the benefit of the survivors. The extension of the life of the commission will not impact upon any of the other work that is happening in respect of survivors and the redress scheme. That work will not be delayed. It will be completely separate and will be another opportunity for survivors to get answers if they so wish.

The power is with the Government. The survivors have done what they can. They have disputed the findings of the report, made reports to the Gardaí and to the DPC and campaigned to be heard. We have done what we can. The Social Democrats introduced a Bill seeking to extend the life of the commission but it was not passed. We have written to the DPC and we are presenting this motion to extend the life of the commission by one year. The Government has the power to use time, not as a weapon but as an instrument of reparation. It can be used as an act of apology, an acknowledgement and a confession of the State's role in these women's lives and the lives that were lost to history. This extension is still needed and time is running out.

It was a different time. That is what we say in this country when we do not have the words to describe why so many people suffered and we do not have the answers as to how and why it happened. It was a different time. It is not easy to find the words to describe how we, as a country, treated our most vulnerable. It is difficult, painful and uncomfortable, but it is essential. We must find the words, however hard it might be. We need to express, in plain English, the painful truth of what happened in these institutions. We must say and acknowledge it and do what we can as a society to finally compensate for it. We cannot move on until we do.

What do we do when we ask people to come forward to tell their stories of what happened to them in mother and baby homes? They are stories of incarceration, heartbreak and abuse. We ask them to trust us, believe that the mistakes relating to previous reports will not be repeated, set aside their experiences of being mistreated by the institutions of the State and believe that things will be different this time. We say that this time, we will centre survivors, make a real effort to provide justice and get it right.

What happened instead? It is difficult to know where to start. In October 2020, this Government rushed through legislation relating to the commission, despite the concerns of survivors, the Opposition and the entire general public. The public outcry on the sealing of the archives came directly from the Minister and statements from his Department. He rushed through the legislation without scrutiny, unnecessarily. He claimed that GDPR did not apply and stated that that was the advice of the Attorney General. It then transpired that GDPR does apply and, in fact, that was the advice of the Attorney General all along. Again, the needs and concerns of survivors were denied and disregarded by the Government. I am not referring to a Government of the 1920s or 1940s, but to the Government of 2021: the current Government of which the Minister is a member.

We like to claim that we have moved on as a society, but abuse is still allowed to happen. This is how abuse happens and continues. In recent weeks, the commission said that it had destroyed 549 survivor testimonies. When, almost immediately, people questioned how digital files could be truly deleted in this day and age, the commission stated that it had carried out an investigation and could confirm that the testimonies were unrecoverable. In recent days, the Minister stated that he would not extend the life of the commission because he did not think it was legally possible to do so. When that claim was debunked, he changed tack and said that he did not want to extend the life of the commission because it would scupper subject data access requests. That was also debunked. When he was backed into a corner, the tapes were miraculously recovered.

All the progress on this matter has occurred in spite of the Minister and the Department, not because of them. This progress includes the acknowledgment that GDPR applies, the commitment to allow access to the Minister's copy of the archive and the last-minute discovery of tapes. All this has been achieved only through the tireless activism of survivors, adopted people and advocacy groups, with massive public support.

I ask the Minister to extend the commission and put survivors first this time. I ask Deputies from all parties and none to take a stand today and say loud and clear to the survivors that they will use their vote and that this time, it will be different. If the commission is not extended, the only question left worth asking is: whose interests are being served? It is not the interests of survivors. The Minister knows he can extend the commission. We all do. The Minister, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the authors of the report blame society for what happened at the time, to the effect that it was society's fault that this happened. Society is very different now. Society wants the Minister to extend the commission so there is no excuse for not doing so. The irony of people being met with so many untruths, even in the past week when this should be a truth-giving exercise, is simply unacceptable. People have had enough. Irish society has had enough. If society has the pull, punch and power that the Minister and authors of the commission report state it has, the Minister will extend this commission.

I welcome the opportunity to deal with the important issues raised by this motion. It is an opportunity for me to update the House on the issue of the deletion of audio files, which is central to the motion before us. Colleagues across the House are united in wanting to do what is right by survivors. I strongly believe we must focus on real solutions and move quickly to resolve the difficulties in a way that best serves survivors. For this reason, the Government has not tabled a counter-motion today. Instead, my Department and I have been focusing our energies on working with the commission to retrieve the audio recordings from the confidential committee. We have also continued preparations to be ready to start providing personal data to those who request it under GDPR when my Department becomes data controller following the dissolution of the commission at the end of this month. I firmly believe that it is these actions that can best meet the call for survivors to ensure that their voices are heard.

I understand the anger of some survivors regarding the treatment of the audio recordings. Without the courage and resilience of survivors who came forward to share their stories with the confidential committee, we would be left without a full picture of the horrors endured in the institutions. Today, I believe I can offer those survivors reassurance regarding the accounts of that lived experience.

The confidential committee module of the commission was designed to provide a mechanism where people could give accounts of their experiences in the institutions in complete confidence and in a non-adversarial and informal way for the overall purpose of compiling a report of a general nature. The order setting out this obligation in respect of the confidential committee required that its procedures must provide for individuals who wish to have their identity remain confidential. The commission acted in good faith in seeking to design processes and procedures that met this requirement.

The commission has indicated that each interview was attended by two members of its staff. The commission stated that interviews were audio-recorded purely as an aide-memoire to ensure the documented accounts of the experience of survivors would reflect accurately the experience they shared with the committee. The commission has said that each witness at the confidential committee was given a guarantee of complete anonymity, and it was for this reason that tapes were deleted. I recognise that some survivors dispute this point.

Once the interviews had been documented, they were then summarised for inclusion in the 200-page confidential committee chapter, which stands as part of the commission's final report. This report preserves for all to see, and for posterity, the very powerful, harrowing and humbling accounts provided by survivors. I have said before on the record of this House that those 200 pages are, for me, the most powerful part of the commission's final report.

Over the last number of weeks, I have engaged intensively with the commission to resolve the understandable concern of survivors in relation to the audio recordings made by the confidential committee. The commission notified me on Monday, 22 February that it had retrieved the backup tapes containing the audio recordings of the confidential committee interviews from its off-site storage. A database file, including the audio recordings, was restored from the backup tapes by an IT expert. The file included 549 audio files. A random sample of these files was tested by the IT expert to verify if the audio files could be heard. A section of each sample file lasting a couple of minutes was played. All of the sample files played successfully and were audible. The commission has agreed to deposit the audio recordings with my Department, a commitment that is in keeping with other actions it is taking to transfer the rest of the archive to me by 28 February. The commission has repeatedly stated that this process and the associated actions were carried out with the knowledge of survivors and it documented this in its final report. It is clear that some survivors do not share this view. I hope the retrieval of the recordings offers reassurance to those survivors.

The commission states that consent was given by 549 of the 550 witnesses to the use of an audio device and the subsequent deletion of the recordings. For clarity, the final witness, who objected to their testimony being recorded, was not recorded. An important point to note is that I have received information from the commission that approximately 80 people who attended the confidential committee sought for their personal information to be redacted. The wishes of these people must be honoured and consideration is being given to how this will be met in terms of the audio recordings.

The retrieval of these audio recordings by the commission is a significant and welcome development. Their transfer to my Department this week will provide an avenue for those who consented to the recording of the interview to seek access to their personal data. If they consider that the record is inaccurate or incomplete, they will be able to exercise their general data protection regulation, GDPR, rights once my Department becomes the data controller after 28 February. This will involve persons making a request to exercise their right to rectification after the archive transfers to the Department. I will publish policies containing information about how this can happen shortly. I am acutely conscious that the next steps in relation to these audio recordings will need to be carefully managed in a manner that respects both the protections afforded to an archive of a commission of investigation and the rights of all parties involved.

My Department is preparing intensively for its role in the management of the commission's archive and is committed to managing subject access requests related to the commission's archive in an efficient, effective and transparent manner and in full compliance with the data protection regulatory framework. To that end, we have established a new dedicated information management unit. This unit is staffed with and supported by relevant expertise in data protection and records management. I am pleased to state that the Department has delivered on the recommendation of the commission to appoint an archivist. At the same time as establishing these new dedicated resources, the Department has also been liaising with and consulting the Data Protection Commissioner and will continue to do so. We have also sought the advice of external GDPR experts.

In addition to all the steps I have outlined, I remain committed to considering other options to support survivors in sharing their stories and vindicating their lived experience, including through enabling witnesses to submit their stories afresh to form part of the planned national memorial and records centre. It must be remembered that while 550 people appeared before the confidential committee, many people have contacted my Department and spoken about their experiences for the first time since the publication of the commission's report. The commission's report and the Government's response, including the State apology by An Taoiseach, have been significant in giving them the courage to come forward for the first time. In future, many of these people and others who did not appear before the confidential committee may wish to tell their stories and participate in the survivor centred process which must underpin all the Government's actions.

As I indicated, the Government has not tabled a countermotion today in the spirit of working together to provide solutions for survivors. We are focusing our energies on practical actions which can assist those distressed by the deletion of the audio recordings. Given the positive developments on which I have updated the House this morning with regard to the commission's retrieval of the audio recordings, it is not clear what practical purpose can be achieved by extending the term of the commission.

The focus of the Government must be on delivering the 22 actions which formed the response to the report of the commission. I am committed to sustained engagement and action to advance these measures in response to the identified needs of those who spent time in these institutions as adults and as children, even though they had committed no wrong. I have spoken with many survivors and heard the stories. I know they still suffer from the grievous breach of rights and harm done to them. I am committed to doing all I can to deliver for them. I know this commitment is shared across the House.

I was taken with a number of aspects of the Minister's contribution, in particular, his point that the Government is not tabling a countermotion because it is willing to provide practical solutions. That suggests the motion does not aim to provide practical solutions. I have an alternative view as to why the Government is not tabling a countermotion. It was reported in yesterday's newspapers that it would not do so and would allow the motion pass and then sit on its hands and do nothing.

This commission of investigation will dissolve unless the Government extends it. By sitting on its hands, the Government enables the State to become further complicit in the dissolution of a commission that has added to the retraumatisation of those to whom it set out to give dignity and truth. When people sit on their hands and do nothing, they become complicit.

In the months since this issue re-emerged and the Government forced through legislation in October, I have seen this descent into complicity. I have seen how people who I fundamentally believe are good and have good intentions can become complicit in the continuum of abuse, State-sponsored incarceration and horror that have been endemic in this country and were magnified to their fullest in the realities of the historical abuses in mother and baby homes. What we are seeing now and what we will see tomorrow, when Government Deputies sit on their hands and do nothing as a way of absolving themselves from blame, is further testimony to that. I call that out now because it is wrong. Those who claim they are somewhat confused or feel guilty, yet do nothing, are worse again.

We know the histories now. We have heard the stories of abuse and seen the retraumatisation of victims. Survivors have every right to take a judicial review, yet the Government continues to close its eyes and patronisingly tells them it will work with them. At every step of the way, good people have stood in this Chamber and asked us to trust them before being dragged into doing the right thing. That has happened a number of times. In the past couple months, the Minister told us GDPR rights did not apply in this case. When survivors and activists stood up and called foul on that, GDPR suddenly did apply. The Government said there would be no access to the archives. People again had to mobilise and relive their traumas by taking to the national airwaves to say this was important. Then, all of a sudden, we learned that there would be access to the archives.

In the past couple of weeks, right up until last night, people who, in my eyes, are competent and decent and want to do the right thing, adopted the line of the State and the institutions of power in this country by saying the testimonies were irretrievable and that 550 testimonies of abuse, incarceration and suffering of the most horrific kind were gone. They willingly said on the national airwaves and in Parliament that these documents were gone. Then, at the very last moment, they suddenly changed their minds again. I am fascinated by this descent into complicity. Is that how power works? Is that how we become manipulated? Is that how we become part of the continuation of abuse by people in this State of victims who have done no wrong?

It is wrong and I believe that today and tomorrow, people who say they are morally conflicted will sit on their hands and do nothing. They will watch the dissolution of a commission although it needs to stay in place because its work is not yet finished.

If we want to remember why we are at this point we have to go back to why we started in the first place. This started because 796 bodies of babies were found in Tuam. Then we had a situation in which public outcry resulted in politicians coming into the Dáil and saying that we would aspire to do better. The mechanism by which we would aspire to do better was to begin another commission of investigation. It appears that the commission of investigation was just a way of stopping public hostility at a point where it was going to really take hold in calling for truth and justice. We had a commission that went on for years and when the report came back, the worst possible results emerged. Victims are standing forward and saying their truth was, at best, not presented clearly and at worst, manipulated to serve a particular agenda.

I wish to highlight some of the work that has been done by Dr. Maeve O'Rourke, who has been incredible in recent years in standing up for truth and justice. Dr. O'Rourke has stated "The Commission finds, for example... there are no recommendations for redress for arbitrary detention". That is horrific. The Government should not tell those survivors and victims that they were not arbitrarily detained. The fact that a commission was able to make such a finding is wrong and I cannot stand over that. On forced labour, Dr. O'Rourke has stated "The Commission recommends that Magdalene Laundry-like redress should only be available for women in county homes,... women in Tuam,... women who worked outside the institutions without pay" and for nobody else. On unlawful and unregulated family separation, Dr. O'Rourke stated "The Commission makes no recommendations at all for redress for the unlawful or unregulated separation of mothers and children." That is horrific. She continued by stating "The Commission found very little evidence that children were forcibly taken from their mothers; it accepts mothers did not have much choice but that is not the same as 'forced' adoption." How we create words and how we put words on paper has meaning and it causes harm. I cannot believe that we would tell survivors that although their children were forcibly taken from them, that was not the same as forced adoption. It is a cruel manipulation of words. Dr. O'Rourke also refers to the harm caused to children in unsupervised care situations following their separation from their mother and family, including through boarding out, and domestic and foreign adoption. She noted "The Commission makes no recommendation for redress for harm caused to boarded out children".

As this commission dissolves, cases will be taken for judicial review. Who can these victims tell of their suffering and the experiences that they verbalised? They have had to relive their traumas. When they want to challenge these findings, how can they do so as the Minister allows this commission to dissolve? That is a question we need to ask ourselves and that the Minister needs to ask himself. That is a question that every single Government representative who intends to sit on his or her hands and do nothing tomorrow when the vote comes along needs to ask him or herself. As this commission dissolves, are those Government representatives further enabling themselves to be complicit in the retraumatisation of victims and the continuation of their abuse.

Since the foundation of the State, right through these mother and baby homes and the history of institutional abuse, incarceration and forced separation, there were people who stood up and believed themselves to be good. People enabled these acts to take place, all while these horrors were committed. When the Taoiseach stood up in this Chamber a couple of months ago, apologised on behalf of society and invoked societal complicity as a way of diluting the roles of the church and the State, it was another example. In ten years' time, when we fully realise the implication of allowing this commission to dissolve without first finishing its job, will we say again that society was complicit in this? It was not. It was society that ensured that these documents were retrieved and that the Government was not able to cover up. This is an example of society saying "No" all the way through and the State still forcing its agenda.

We see that through a multitude of forms. In yesterday's edition of The Irish Times, one could see a genuinely wrong scenario, whereby a representative of the commission invoked moral and legal authority in talking about these records. The Government is proudly saying these same records have been retrieved and that the commission has done a good job in doing so.

A representative of that same commission yesterday gave quotes to The Irish Times and invoked moral authority. In this age, when we almost have come to a full realisation of the horrors, we still enabled a powerful person in the State invoke moral authority. There are no grounds for anyone who is a representative of this State to invoke moral authority when trying to further the cover-up of silence in this country. There are no grounds for trust here. We have failed survivors time and time again. Tomorrow, the Government will fail them again when it sits on its hands, does nothing and allows the commission to dissolve. We have no right to ask for trust.

We are calling for an extension of the commission because its job is not yet finished. There is a further job that needs to be added to that, and that is accountability. Nobody gets to walk away, wash their hands and say their job is done while survivors are being re-traumatised even now.

I wish to share time with my colleagues.

Sinn Féin is supporting the motion. I thank Deputy Whitmore and her colleagues in the Social Democrats for bringing this motion to the Dáil today. Deputy Whitmore is passionate about this issue and ensuring that the voices of survivors are at the heart of every decision we make and I am happy to support the motion.

The mother and baby homes commission of investigation was originally due to report in February 2018 but it was not until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 12 January 2021, nearly three years later, that Ireland and the world first got to read another depressing account of the State and churches' appalling attitudes toward and treatment of women and children. Most of us were aghast at the findings of this report and the cold hard language used to describe the most heartbreaking of stories. I would go as far as to say that I believe this report has made the situation 100 times worse and has retraumatised survivors and done a great disservice to the brave women who came forward.

There are several fundamental reasons the commission of investigation should not be allowed to dissolve. First, it is obvious to all who are in constant contact with survivors that many survivors have not fully read the report. Many people were still only getting copies in the past week or two. That has meant they have not had the opportunity to alert the commission of serious anomalies with their testimonies.

There is also the outstanding issue of accountability around the legality of this commission destroying survivor testimonies. I accept that we have discovered in the eleventh hour that those testimonies can be retrieved but there still has to be a question answered as to why the commission believed it could do that in the first place.

During the course of its work the commission of investigation requested and was granted extension after extension. Reasons cited for the absolute need for these various extensions included the late arrival of documents from the HSE and, worryingly, the inability of the HSE to provide relevant material. Another vague reason was that the commission needed more time to further complete its robust and accurate findings. The last extension was granted due to Covid. At each time, despite many of us and many survivors and their representative groups being disappointed and frustrated at another delay, there was a degree of goodwill on everyone's part as all were united in wanting to see a comprehensive report that truthfully told their harrowing stories.

The importance of personal testimony has shown time and time again throughout history to play a vital role in our understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices made by many people. It is a little ironic that one of the reasons for an extension was there was a delay in documents being given to the commission and now, when there are serious and legitimate questions, there does not seem to be the same appreciation for the need to extend the commission.

Even with what the Minister can do today by agreeing to extend the commission, even if there was a situation of potential resignations which some have mooted, at least the entity exists and survivors may have a mechanism to amend their testimonies to reflect the reality of what they experienced and not the interpretation of that by the report's authors. I cannot emphasise enough that if the Minister is truly trying to find a resolution and is genuinely committed in this regard, he needs to listen to survivors.

I have drafted a very simple Bill. It is literally one page. That is all that has to be inserted into the legislation to extend the life of the commission and it is very important that it is done.

Yesterday evening, we heard that the back-up tapes had been fine. While I welcome this, why was there a question of them being destroyed in the first place?

My colleagues have asked some questions. At a committee last week, Deputy Ward raised the issue of verbatim records versus summaries. Now that we have the backup tapes, there is an opportunity to ensure that everything is taken down verbatim. This is a reason to extend the life of the commission. It would also give people an opportunity to pose questions or to take cases if they wanted.

I feel like a broken record when I say this, but it is not acceptable to say to people constantly that we understand, that we sympathise and that we want to do the right thing only to ignore the opportunity to do the right thing when it presents itself. The commission needs to be extended to give everyone the opportunity to get some justice. Extending it would not right all of the wrongs, but it would be part of what we needed to do. We must deal with the issues of redress, medical cards and access to birth certificates and other records. The importance of this cannot be understated. We also need answers about the report, how it was handled and why it took nearly six years. Looking at it, one can only ask how it took the commission so long to come up with such a disgraceful and whitewashed report.

We support the motion fully.

The mother and baby homes issue stands as a great stain on the history of this State. It has twice made victims of the people who suffered in those institutions, each time at the hands of the State, as victims of abuse and as victims of a cover-up. The Government, which has direct responsibility for the commission, must add its name to the long list of perpetrators who have inflicted suffering on the mothers and children who fell victim to these cruel State institutions.

I am unsure as to whether the Minister speaks to survivors. They speak of the trauma of the past few months and the terrible effect it has had on them. They feel that their truths are being questioned. They feel like they did decades ago, isolated and emotional. They say that the Government's lack of empathy is not helping to close the nightmares that they still experience and that the Government is heartless towards them, survivors who have lost their dignity yet again. They say that a stain has returned to their souls.

Since the publication of the commission's report, survivors have heard sympathetic words from the Government, but they need more than kind words. They require action to address their needs. Ensuring that the survivors can access their birth certificates is a vital first step towards meeting those needs. Through my colleague, Deputy Funchion, Sinn Féin has drafted legislation to make that happen. I hope that the Government will support it. The Government must also immediately act to prevent the mother and baby homes commission from dissolving in four days' time. The Government Deputies who are present today and those who will ultimately make a decision on this matter should take a moment to reflect on how they vote, the impact of that decision on their personal legacies and, more importantly, how it will impact on survivors and victims. Most people enter politics to do good. The very lucky get to serve in the Oireachtas at a national level. For those who are elected to the Dáil to serve, there are a few notable moments of moral duty that must outweigh all other considerations. This is one of them.

I thank the Social Democrats for tabling this motion. We have been here many times and I cannot believe that this has been going on for five or six years. I have been speaking to survivors. They still have no clarity or trust. Some simple redress has been mentioned a number of times in the Dáil. For four, five, six or seven years, or even since the final report, the Government has had access to the survivors' PPS numbers, addresses and so on. What about giving each of them a simple medical card? Many of them are elderly and have underlying conditions. They are not flush. I have spoken to many who cannot get care, even dental care, which is very expensive.

Just give them something that acknowledges their worth to society.

I welcome the fact the Government is not tabling a countermotion. I ask that for a change in approach, however. We have spoken here so many times about doing the right thing and I ask that on this occasion that we might all be in this together. I certainly believe there is no point in closing the door or walking off the pitch if the match is not over. We have to see it out to the end. That is very important. Sometimes, when we are in here, we find it very difficult to understand the thinking and the nature of the game in politics. Let us not have this as one of the biggest scandals in Irish history. Let us be the ones to set down a marker and do what is right for the survivors. We want to do this in order that it will never happen again. We can do it with the greatest amount of respect and clarity.

Somebody is pulling the strings here. Somebody must have told someone else to get rid of these records. I am surprised that the testimonies were recorded on tape rather than digitally. This is what I have been told and I ask the Minister to correct me if I am wrong, although that is a matter for another day. We are in it together and let us do it together. Let us do it for the people out there and let us never allow this to happen again.

I congratulate the Social Democrats on tabling the motion. I will begin by speaking about one survivor who gave her testimony to the commission of investigation. She is one of the survivors who did not recognise her testimony in the written report, she is also one of those whose testimony was said to have been deleted and she is among those who strongly dispute the commission's claim that she was told her testimony would be destroyed. Injustice was visited upon this woman even before she was sent to one of these institutions. I regret to say she continues to be failed to this very day. This lady said that when she read her so-called testimony in the written report, it bore little similarity to what she told the commission. The survivors went to great lengths to put on record their experiences so that the truth that had been purposely hidden could be brought to light. The Minister can understand why, after seeing her testimony so misrepresented, she cannot bring herself to read any more of the report. She states that it has set her back, which is the opposite of what the report was supposed to do. At the time, this lady had the recording of her interview to fall back on if she wanted to correct the record.

The next outrageous chapter in this period of our history begins with the deletion of records with no prior notice to survivors. This has led the woman to whom I refer and many other survivors to believe that they could no longer correct the record. How is this justice? Then we heard that backup files had been found but might not be saved. Last night, the story changed again with news that the recordings had been retrieved. While this is welcome, it does not do away with the need to extend the term of the commission. We need answers to these fundamental questions. Why were the survivors' testimonies changed in the report and who ordered those changes? Who ordered the original recordings to be deleted and why? Now that the recordings have been retrieved, the survivors must be given access to them and the opportunity to correct the written report. How can they expect to correct the report if the commission no longer exists? How can we possibly allow the commission to misrepresent the testimonies of survivors, attempt to delete any way of correcting the record and then be dissolved without being asked to defend these actions?

The survivors have been strung along and misled ever since the report was published. This must stop now. The commission must not be dissolved before all of these issues are investigated by the DPC and other relevant authorities. I ask the Minister not to step back any further from his commitment. I urge the Government to support the survivors by supporting the motion.

The mother and baby homes commission was set up six years ago. Its job was to investigate one of the darkest periods in our State's history and provide some closure and a sense of justice to victims and survivors. Six years after the commission's establishment and its final report, it is unacceptable that we are discussing how the State has once again failed survivors. It is disgraceful. The events of recent weeks have re-traumatised survivors and this is not good enough. This commission was supposed to be a line in the sand that would give them closure. Instead, it has traumatised survivors and their families all over again.

It is not fair, it did not provide any comfort and it is certainly not what justice should look like.

We need emergency legislation to extend the term of the mother and baby homes commission before it ends on Sunday. The fact that tapes containing testimonies were deleted hurt survivors who were already severely traumatised by our State. That is simply shameful. The term of the commission has to be extended. Despite the Minister's announcement yesterday that the audio tapes have been located, there is still too much uncertainty surrounding this matter. All survivors must be comfortable before the commission is dissolved. What happened is not acceptable, and people want answers. If the Minister does not act now, his legacy will be that he let this happen and let survivors and victims down again. The term of the commission has to be extended if the Government is to have any shred of integrity left come Monday. I ask the Minister to do the right thing by the victims and survivors.

I also thank the Social Democrats for bringing this motion before the House. In chapter 10 of the commission’s report, which deals with county homes, there is a reference to an inspection report from 1952 which noted that 20 of the 34 children in the Kildare county home were members of families admitted because of a failure to procure accommodation or other temporary cessation of home life. Almost 70 years later, we have many more children spread throughout the county and the country who are in emergency accommodation because of the failure of successive Governments to build public homes on public land.

We are overly reliant on private landlords to solve our housing crisis, with a housing assistance payment system that is clearly not fit for purpose. Families in Kildare who are fleeing domestic violence are being temporarily accommodated in County Louth because of a lack of capacity in Kildare. I have no doubt future Governments will be apologising to these children if we do not make a real effort to improve their situation.

I welcome the fact that the mayor and chief executive of Kildare County Council earlier this week apologised for the council’s role in this sad and sorry story. Last week I spoke to a man whose family had been sentenced - they were sentenced - to a spell in an industrial school. Their crime was that their mother died when he was three years of age and his father was a working man. He was found in the care of his oldest sister by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children - he called them the cruelty people. To this day he presumes that he still has a criminal record. Why would he have a criminal record? Is it because his mother died? He was one of the lucky ones. His aunt was able take him home after she discovered him with two black eyes during a visit. His sister was not so lucky, unfortunately, and spent her childhood in an industrial school. After a short spell of freedom, she spent the rest of her days in various psychiatric institutions. While in the care of the State, she had a number of children despite not having the capacity to consent to sex. We need an inquiry into the care of people in these institutions. Her family needs answers, and I am looking for answers in respect of this case.

The Minister stated that he understands people are angry. I do not think he understands how angry they are.

In Irish, a kite is called a préachán ceirteach. With the GDPR and the commission, the State has taken murders of paper crows and flown them sky high. The recordings, once lost, have been found. That is just amazing because the Government is still blind to how it must be accountable to survivors, the Dáil, the people, humanity and decency and what it means to have survived mother and baby homes. With its kite-flying in respect of the recordings and miracle finds, the only thing that separates the Government of the mother and baby homes era and the current Government is the passage of time. There has been no change. Today, the face of the State is as brazen, cynical and pitiless as ever. We have had enough of the patriarchy, the old and the new, and its willing defenders of the status quo. The survivors must have access to the recordings and be able to check them against the commission's findings.

I commend Deputy Whitmore on bring forward the motion.

The State respects the survivors in words only. Nobody in the commission sent them a copy of this unwieldy report. They were told to get it online, while their suffering was reduced to the usable content of a video at publication. It really was disgusting.

Elements in the Green Party learn quickly that it is all about the optics all the time, but the Minister still has a chance to give the survivors accountability. If he does not extend the term of commission and if we do not write the mother and baby homes into our history books, where they can be studied and contained, we will pay the price. As a State, we all live the trauma in every family and generation, with the pain, dysfunction, the named and the unnamed filling the spaces left in our families and society. The Minister simply must extend the term of the commission. For the first time in history, let this State explore what accountability looks like. Take down the kites and the paper crows and give the survivors what they need.

I move amendment No. 1:

To insert the following after “scope and jurisdiction”:

“— issue an enhanced medical card to all survivors who presented to ‘Mother and Baby Homes’ for any length of time, including while pregnant or on a post-natal basis.”

I support the motion. We welcome the motion and the fact that the Government is not opposing it, nor the proposed amendments, I assume, and the Labour Party proposal to extend access to the medical card to applicants. I will speak on that momentarily, but I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing it. The issue of the status of the motion then arises. The motion seeks to extend the life of the commission. If the Government is not opposing it, does it follow that the life of the commission will be extended? I do not believe that is the case because the Minister's remarks thus far suggest otherwise.

I wish to speak on the issue of data protection because there are some elements of this that are unclear in my mind. On 11 February, the Minister wrote to the clerk of the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. I am a member of that committee. The Minister quoted from the commission's final report with regard to the conduct of the confidential committee. He said that witnesses were asked for permission to record their evidence on the clear understanding that the recordings would be used only as an aide-memoire, and that all such recordings were destroyed after the report was added to the confidential committee electronic repository of information. If we fast forward to today, we now know that the information is available. It has been retrieved, and that is a fact.

As I understand it, the Minister will become the data controller for that information. However, there is something I cannot reconcile in my mind. If it was the understanding of the confidential committee testimony takers, evidence takers or whatever expression one wishes to use and of the commission that the evidence would be destroyed, if the Minister is co-ordinating with the DPC and if the Murphy commission is saying that it is handing over to the Minister data which it has already processed and if that information was used for a specific purpose - I use the expression "specific purpose" because it has a legal meaning for the purposes of the commission's work - what is the status of that data if the Minister becomes the controller of the data and if the DPC reports that it was used once for a specific purpose and that it was understood that it would be destroyed? Now the Minister will become the controller of that data and it can be used again for subject access requests. That is the question.

I apologise if I do not fully understand the process, but if the DPC decides that it was already used for a specific purpose, does it then follow that it must be destroyed under the terms of reference of the commission as already articulated by the Minister to the committee?

That is the question on our minds. This issue would not have arisen if people felt their narratives, stories and histories were adequately and properly reflected in the report. So great was the damage done by inaccurately reflecting the trauma of people that we have now reached the point where this House is calling for an extension to the commission's remit to deal with the matter. Someone somewhere made a hames of this and the buck now stops with the Minister. Short of the commission being reconstituted, the responsibility on him is to create a process that will give justice to and correct the narrative of those who feel rightly aggrieved by the fact that their stories were not adequately reflected in the final report. A great injury has been done to them.

The Minister stated:

The commission states that consent was given by 549 of the 550 witnesses to the use of an audio device and the subsequent deletion of the recordings. For clarity, the final witness, who objected to their testimony being recorded, was not recorded.

I am fascinated by that statement. Does it not make liars of the many people who feel they were never told that all of this was being recorded? We need to delve into that further because the question of consent has become a major issue. There are people who in their minds rightly feel they did not give such a consent. How do we reconcile that and why was it not reflected in the Minister's speech?

As I said at the recent committee hearings, and will continue to say, in the absence of the reconstitution of the commission, a mechanism must be found to ensure the narrative is corrected so that people can get some restitution of justice for their time and the pain they went through when they were telling their stories. If the Minister does not do that, I respectfully say that any other legislation or issue related to redress will be tainted because how will any survivor be able to trust or buy into any process until the matter of narrative has been adequately addressed? I ask the Minister to take that on board. If he does so and deals with the matter full on, he will go a long way towards repairing the damage that was done by the use of the cold language, to use his expression, that is in this report.

The Minister must deal with the issue of medical cards. The inclusion of a criterion that people must have spent six months in a home is cruel. I am sure Ministers will look at this again. Professor Louise Kenny, an eminent person, produced a report based on her examination of the death certificates of all 816 babies who died in the Bessborough mother and baby home. Extrapolating from the evidence adduced from these death certificates, it is possible to draw up a list of conditions - gynaecological-related issues - affecting those who gave birth and are still alive. There is enough evidence for medical cards to be issued forthwith.

The criteria should be that if one went in at 35 weeks, 36 weeks or whatever, that is the starting period. If one spent any period in the-----

I appreciate Deputy's interest in the topic but we are out of time. We will be in trouble in terms of the time for Leaders' Questions.

I will be sharing time. I thank the Social Democrats for tabling the motion. I will start by talking about something that came to my attention last weekend. The building used by the mother and baby homes commission for its work has a granite plaque outside it with a small seabird known as the turnstone carved into it. The turnstone pokes its beak down and overturns stones, hence the name. The point of the plaque being there is that the building was once used as the headquarters of the Health Research Board and at the heart of any good research is the fact that no stone will be left unturned, and hence the relationship with the little turnstone. What has happened with this Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is that many stones have been left unturned but in addition there has been an attempt to pour a pile of concrete on top of the truth. The Minister has been at the centre of controversy for almost the past five months because of the way the commission has both done its work and the report it has given us. I want to read an extract from a petition signed by hundreds of academics, lawyers, etc. It states:

We the undersigned note that the information gathered by the Commission of Inquiry is of immense importance, most especially the 500 survivor testimonies collected. However, the ensuing report is in no way the final word on the experiences of thousands of women and children who passed through Ireland's institutional architecture in the 20th century, and falls very far short of existing research in the field. Future research must endeavour to understand the full extent of the systemic discrimination against women which enabled this system of institutional harm, and continues to influence Ireland's policies today.

A couple of weeks after the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes published its report, a similar report was published by the assembly at Stormont but this was done quite differently. The latter report's conclusions were very different but the research methods used - going back to the turnstone and leaving no stone unturned - were quite different. The testimonies taken from women in Northern Ireland were used as evidence. The researchers involved were able to reach their conclusions once there were two or more similar testimonies. We have 550 recorded testimonies, many of which are very similar on the question of forced adoption, forced detention, abuse and the lack of supports. There are so many of these testimonies, given by many women, but the commission decided there is no evidence of that to which I refer. The commission used very different methodology from that used in Northern Ireland.

The conclusions from the investigations in the North are that there are questions to be answered. I believe there are still major questions to be answered here. We need to look at open access to all the records, including those still in church or religious control, relating to mother and baby homes and their management. We need the exhumation and the reburial of all the infants whose deaths went unrecorded and whose bodies are littered across the country, not just in Tuam and Bon Secours but also in Sean Ross Abbey and at many more locations at which an unknown number of dead babies are buried. No one knows who they are. That matter needs to be dealt with. I repeat the call that the locations at which they are buried are crime scenes and should be dealt with as such.

We need proper redress. At the heart of that redress must be the survivors themselves. I am not referring to the sort of redress that was given for the institutional abuse in the industrial schools or the Magdalen laundries; it must be redress that really matters, that takes everybody into consideration and that ensures that no stone is left unturned and that nobody is left behind. If the Minister can do anything, he has the power to do that in the coming months and years.

The mother and baby homes commission was ostensibly established to seek out truths and it should have been a help to survivors. To be clear, if the Government shoots down this motion and if it closes down the commission in four days' time, it will be doing it in the teeth of opposition from the very survivors the commission was meant to be helping. Sitting around the Cabinet table today discussing plans to defeat this motion and to finish the work of the commission in four days' time are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Ministers but also Green Party Ministers. Are the Green Party Ministers going to betray survivors on this issue?

Survivors have been treated horribly by the church over decades. They have been treated horribly over decades by the State. To close the commission in these circumstances in four days' time would be to add insult to injury. The term of the commission must be extended. The questions that have been asked must be answered. That includes a new question, namely, how did these files come to be disposed of in the way they were? When, hopefully, the commission is extended survivors must be brought into the heart of the decision making processes around all of these issues.

The mother and baby homes report has not only failed to address the concerns of survivors, in many respects it has made the situation worse. If it was not for the outpouring of anger from survivors, the Government would have gone along with the plans to destroy their testimonies. I welcome the U-turn on the part of the Government and its promise not to destroy those recordings. The survivors need more than that, however. When the mother and baby homes commission put out the appeal, 549 brave witnesses came forward to share their stories about these detention centres. Three hundred and four were mothers who were sent to them and 228 were people who were born in them. They shared their stories hoping to shine a light on the brutality and exploitation in those centres but then the report came out which ignored and undermined much of their testimony, stating that it was not evidence and whitewashing issues like the forced adoptions which took place. This entire report is yet another failure of those survivors.

The mother and baby homes survivors deserve the truth but, moreover, they deserve justice and redress. Those who bear particular responsibility for those centres, particularly the religious orders who ran them, should be made to pay for what they did. The Bon Secours Sisters ran the Tuam home. That order is now the second largest provider of private healthcare in the State, with revenue in 2019 of €314 million, including €5 million in public funding. In 2019, the HSE gave out more than €1.3 billion in funding to services owned by five religious orders. In 2021, well over 90% of primary schools and a large majority of secondary schools remain under the control of the Catholic Church. Rather than giving them a slap on the wrist and a packet of public money, we should be seizing the assets of those religious orders to fund proper redress for their victims and fully separating church and State once and for all.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important topic. Again, we have put the survivors at the centre of attention nationally for the wrong reasons and poured more pain onto them. In terms of the amount of correspondence I have had on this issue in the past two weeks, it is the single biggest issue that has come to my office in a long time.

It is important that we stop and think about what we are actually doing. I welcome the motion put down by the Social Democrats. I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing the motion. However, we need to hear from the Government what it is going to do about the matter. First, is it going to make sure that the term of the commission will be extended? Second, in terms of the records that rightfully belong to these witnesses who bravely came forward, will the Government ensure that they will have access to them? Will that be done clearly and unambiguously?

I understand we have made a very complicated matter more complicated and the idea that we are introducing legislation to do this, that and the other is of no comfort or consolation to the survivors. It is of no consolation to their families, who have seen them tormented for years, and apparently continuing to be tormented by the Government. We need to stop it and ensure these people are put centre stage.

I support the motion but we must also ensure we are not just talking about this matter. The time for talking is over and we need to see the survivors and families put centre stage. We can do it and we have the power to do it. We can say "No" if we do not want to do it and we can give reasons we cannot do it. If we have a will, a way will be found. I plead with the Minister and the Government to stand up for survivors once and for all to ensure these are the people who benefit from any decisions we make. We must not torment them any further. I also support the Labour Party provision relating to enhanced medical cards for all, which has been called for repeatedly. I ask the Government to do this and little will convince me otherwise until I see that done. The Government has an opportunity and I fervently ask the Minister to take it and ensure it does something for the survivors.

This is a very emotional subject for people and we keep talking about it but the time for action has come. Today is the Minister's day. He must extend the life of the commission as there is much that it still has to deal with. I ask him to extend it and to ensure the survivors are heard, their rights are protected and their records given to the commission - their property - are also protected and given back to them. It is their right and their property. The laws are there. Amnesty International and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have asked for the commission of investigation to be extended and for the survivors to be put centre stage. I am pleading with the Minister to take this on board and not just say he is not opposing this while he does nothing about it. I want action to be taken.

The commission's report is a reminder to us all of how vulnerable people are often removed from society. I grew up 20 miles from the home in Tuam, which Ms Catherine Corless told us about in 2014 and which prompted this investigation into the homes. These homes were scattered throughout the country, that is, all Thirty-two Counties. As the church did not see any borders, children were trafficked North to South and on to adoption in Catholic families. Children in Protestant homes in the State were treated equally badly by the powers that be at the time. They endured forced separation from their mothers and even today, due to how the law stands, many cannot find basic information that we take for granted.

The Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance approached me some years ago and I was only too happy to be able to help access various supports to allow for quality of life in the years to which people often look forward. I am aware of the news that emerged yesterday that back-up tapes of the interviews with survivors have been retrieved and many survivors are waiting to hear what the outcome of this latest development will be and what final decision will be made on these recordings. I acknowledge the tremendous work done by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, in the past number of months, as this is a problem he inherited from previous Governments.

The commission's report contradicts survivor accounts. Survivors have lost trust and this House must respond to that. We have not got the answers but, like my colleagues, I feel we must listen to survivors and speak for them. It is for that reason I am supporting the motion put forward by the Social Democrats for an extension to the lifetime of the commission. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of Ms Breeda Murphy in supporting the survivors through the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance. She has been a tremendous advocate for the survivors in helping them access supports and advocating on their behalf for many years.

In closing, I urge the Minister to do right by these people. He should not delay the legislation on burials or adoption and tracing. He should put in place the DNA database that was promised in order that families can be matched with deceased children when remains are recovered. We owe them that and much more.

I support the Social Democrats motion. I am a bit perplexed by the actions of the Government. We know there were rumblings on the backbenches about opposing this motion and some Members were uneasy about that but now we seem to have a typical split decision as the Government is not opposing the motion but is not extending the time for the commission either.

I was interested to hear Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness, a retired judge, explain yesterday on the radio how members of the commission should have no issue coming before an Oireachtas committee. We need to get to the bottom of this for the sanity, health and welfare of the victims who are still alive and their families. I salute the brave victims, some of whom came before Tipperary County Council recently when it had a full meeting on this matter. It happened in every county and the practice was endemic in society. We need to draw a line under it.

The Taoiseach came in and was the second or third holder of that office to make an apology on this and be emotional and everything else. That does not cut it when we see the volume of mail we get in constituency offices. We could find no other mail because we have been flooded over the past number of weeks with passionate pleas to extend the time of the commission. What is the point of having a commission with recorded testimonies when these are destroyed? I note we have been told this week that some or all of the tapes might be retrieved, as they should be. There is enough trick-of-the-loop going on here and this is a typical act of this ham-fisted coalition Government of three parties supported by some Independents. It is saying it will not extend the time for the commission but it will not oppose the motion. We had a vote here recently on a forestry Bill and I was one of the few people to vote against it but that legislation has made things worse. I am not comparing the forestry provisions with this serious matter but it demonstrates that we have a feeble and inept Government. This fumbling or bumbling to keep backbenchers on board is not good enough. The survivors now need tangible supports and closure on this matter.

I thank the Social Democrats for bringing forward this very important motion. It is important that we discuss it here and support the Social Democrats in what its members are trying to achieve. They are seeking fairness and fair play, with a proper listening process for victims and their families, who have been the subject of the commission's work. Extensions have already been given but the events of recent months have put a big question mark over the process, with the disappearance and reappearance of files and records. All people want is the truth and to know what happened and how it happened. They want records and a determination of culpability. They want the truth and they are entitled to it. It would be very neglectful of any person not to support this excellent motion before the House today. It is seeking something honest and straightforward.

For God's sake, will the Government come off the fence on this? Its members should stop saying one thing on the radio and something else in the Dáil. There are mixed messages being sent out by the Government. Sometimes it gets things wrong and very wrong but why not accept what is being sought here? Give the extension of time. It is the right and honourable thing to do. Will the Minister agree with the context and content of the motion to allow the victims to get what they want, which is justice, honesty and fair play?

We need to extend the lifetime of the mother and baby homes commission and I support the motion put forward by the Social Democrats. By winding down the mother and baby homes commission now, we would, in effect, prevent the carrying out of full investigations, leaving remaining questions unanswered. We need to buy more time for the survivors in their search for truth and justice.

Last Thursday, it was confirmed that the recovery files, which could contain the 550 deleted recordings of witness testimony, had been found. These files were supposedly destroyed, then all of a sudden, a backup was discovered. They should be handed over to the Minister's Department to be forensically examined. The Minister immediately responded and asked that more information be provided within in 24 hours, according to weekend media reports. However, the information was not made available to the Minister within the requested time window. That, in itself, raises serious questions of both the Minister and the commission. Why did the Minister not act with greater urgency? Why did he simply issue a letter to the commission? Could the Minister not lift the phone or arrange a meeting to get to the bottom of this scandal? Could a team of top officials not be dispatched? The survivors deserve answers and the extension of the life of this commission may, at the very least, prove helpful in keeping the commission accountable.

Surely the Minister should be much more concerned about the fact that the witness testimonies were deleted, and that if the commission is dissolved on 28 February, no responsible entity will be held accountable or will be available to answer questions. Like every other Deputy, my office is inundated with emails, calls and messages from constituents, some of whom are survivors of the mother and baby homes. They need this commission to continue and access to their own information. It is time that this Government stopped playing cat and mouse with this issue and did the right thing.

The Minister has said that he is not opposing the motion. That is absolutely scandalous. By not allowing the life of the commission to be extended, he is opposing the motion. He should be honest and straight about it. He is not fooling the people. They are well aware of the games he is playing. He should be straight about it. He is opposing the motion but he cannot come out straight and do it. The Government's Deputies have it cornered and he cannot come out straight and do it. He has treated the people disgracefully.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this very important matter. I thank the Social Democrats for bringing the motion before the House. I support it.

People around the country are outraged at the Government and what it is doing, and has done over the past number of months, to the survivors. First, it tried to lock away the records for 30 years. What is it trying to hide? Why is it blackguarding these poor people who have been through hell on earth as it is, and have come this far? Many of them did not survive at all. Why is it doing this to these people? The Minister has been dishonest by saying that he is not opposing motion, but he will still not extend the life of the commission. The life of the commission was extended a number of times before. Why can the Minister not do it once again? We are close to revelations being made and getting to the truth. The Government does not want the truth to come out. Why is it blackguarding these people?

These people are entitled to know who they are, where they came from and who their mothers and grandmothers were, like the rest of us. It is natural for us to know who we are and who came before us. The Minister is being very unfair in this. Once again, the Government is showing its dishonesty towards the people. Even people who are not involved are outraged by what the Government is doing. It is very unfair. I call on the Minister to extend the life of the commission and to give the survivors the information that they want. They are surely entitled to it. It is a human matter. These people should be treated fairly. The Minister should not blackguard them, as he has for the past number of months. We fought the Government hard here in the House on the locking away of the files for 30 years. The Government stuck together and voted the motion down and then the following day said that was not what it was doing at all. The Minister is not codding the people-----

Thank you, Deputy. Your time is up.

First, I thank Deputy Whitmore and the Social Democrats for bringing this Private Members' motion to the Dáil. Like every Deputy here, I have received hundreds of emails from survivors in respect of the report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. There is a common thread in the emails I have received, the conversations I have had with survivors and those I have heard speaking on the radio. To say that there is extreme disappointment with the report, is an understatement. It is an appalling situation that a commission which could have gone some way to help heal the trauma of those who suffered, has simply now added insult to injury.

The findings of the report are strenuously contested by those who gave evidence to the commission. For example, the following findings are contested: that the institutions involved provided a refuge; that there is no evidence that women were forced into them and were free to leave; that there is very little evidence that children were forcibly taken from their mothers; that there is no evidence of the denial of pain relief during labour; no evidence of discrimination against mixed race children or those with disabilities; no evidence of injury to children in vaccine trials; that criticism of Tusla in respect of the provision information and tracing is "unfair and misplaced"; and that Diocesan records and those of religious orders are their property, and they have the right to decide on who accesses them. In cases where mothers were in institutions when their babies died, the report states that "it is possible that [she] knew the burial arrangements or would have been told if [she] asked".

These statements and findings in the report are incredible. They come nowhere near the truth of what happened, what these institutions were for and the experience of those who went through the horror of incarceration in them. Further, the survivors who gave evidence found that recordings of their testimonies had been destroyed. They were told that transcripts were made from the audio and tape recordings were wiped. At a stroke, the ability of those who gave evidence to refute erroneous accounts of their testimonies was eliminated. It was outrageous and very possibly a criminal offence. The destruction of evidence breaches sections 31 and 43 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has also made the point that the action breached GDPR legislation. It supports the extension of the commission beyond 28 February.

All evidence should be transferred to the relevant Minister. The destruction of evidence dates back to October 2020. Why did the Minister not act immediately, and not four months after the report was issued to him? The Minister, his Department and the commission have been forced to the find the testimonies, only through huge pressure, activity and people power. These so-called "disaster files" must first be accessed by witnesses who want them. It must be confirmed by the witnesses that the files are the testimonies that they gave and if not witnesses must be able to find out why. That cannot be done in three days. The Minister must act, and the commission must be extended beyond 28 February.

Full access to the entire archive of files in the commission by those affected must be given. The Minister must legislate to provide unconditional access to birth certificates for adopted people. It is not too late to salvage something from this debacle and to give survivors and their adopted children the right to the truth, to which they are entitled under international and EU law. I ask the Minister to stop the re-traumatisation of survivors and to extend the life of the commission. He should at least give some trust back to the survivors who have been retraumatised over the past 50, 60 and 80 years.

I thank the Social Democrats for using their time to put the spotlight on this topic. We need more than a spotlight. Continued light must be shone on it through the democratic process of Deputies asking questions and getting answers. I am afraid that I am not reassured by the Minister. I have a difficulty when things are personalised, but something somewhere is very wrong in the Minister's Department. Looking at his speech, the term "weasel words" comes to mind - absolute weasel words. We deserve more than that, but those who went forward and took their courage in their hands deserve much more than that.

I have checked and I raised this matter on 4 February, 10 February, 11 February and 17 February. I was told that the evidence was gone. Why was it gone? To protect people's confidentiality. That was a terrible reply. As the Minister well knows, people's confidentiality can be protected in many ways. Indeed, of the approximately 550 people who came forward, only a small group - I believe it was 60 - asked for their anonymity to be to the fore. That tells us that overwhelmingly, people came forward and asked for their stories to be published and for people to listen to them.

Not alone were those stories not published but lies were told. I use that word very advisedly. Lies were told that the evidence was destroyed. Now we find out, at the last minute, that it was not destroyed. That in itself raises questions about the whole issue of trust around this process. If a commission of inquiry tells us on page 11 of its confidential report that the evidence was destroyed and it turns out there are backup tapes that it did not tell us about, that brings the whole trust aspect into question. The Minister has not mentioned that today. It is pretty serious that we were told on page 11 of the report, in patronising, patriarchal language, that this was being done for the good of the survivors.

The Minister used weasel words in saying he will not oppose the motion. What is he proposing to do? Will he extend the term of the commission for the time necessary? I am not sure I understand the sentiment behind what he is saying An extension of a year is not necessary. I am firmly of the belief that a commission of inquiry is independent, but this is beyond the issue of independence. There are serious, practical questions to be answered. How is it that we were told the evidence was destroyed and then told it was not destroyed? On what legal basis was that done and how much time is necessary to address it? Is the Minister happy to step into the shoes of the commission, as the most important person in the Government in this matter, if there is a judicial review? Will he clarify that for us? Will he clarify when the transcripts will be written up from the tapes, by whom that will be done and when they will be available?

Those are the two issues I want to see addressed. First, there must be a body there that can be the subject of a judicial review, notwithstanding how difficult such a review is to initiate for ordinary people. I ask the Minister to take his courage in his hands and clarify that today. It is not what I deserve; it is what the people deserve. Second, when will the testimonies be written out and the transcripts made available? When will the report on the St. Patrick's Guild home be published? When will the Minister tell us the result of his investigation into the leak of the report? When will he tell us whether everybody who has asked for a copy of the report has received one? When will the report go to the libraries? How can he ask people to rectify their testimony if, first, they do not have a copy of the report and, second, they do not have a copy of the transcript of the recording? For God's sake - again, I am using the word "God" - it is clear that we have a person or a group of people in the Department telling people what is best and not learning anything at all. It is the Minister's role to take charge in this matter, unfortunately or perhaps fortunately. He might embrace that role and begin to lead. I have told him before that he will have my full support if he leads. What he is doing is not leading. We are hearing weasel words again, the same weasel words that were used in the report.

I conclude by referring to an interview I heard yesterday with a former Supreme Court judge relating to an article in The Irish Times the previous day. The content of it shocked me to my core and I thought I was old enough not to be shocked. The content of that newspaper report is truly shocking. It is clear that the troops have been rounded up and the boys' club is in operation. Unfortunately, on this occasion, there are also women in the boys' club protecting what should not be protected.

I thank Deputies for their contributions to this debate. The motion put forward by the Social Democrats outlines why they believe that an extension to the term of the commission is necessary. Their proposal is "to extend the term of the Commission for another 12 months... to facilitate a review... into the destruction of the recordings and allow for any potential salvage of remaining testimony". It is positive, for some, that this extension does not need to happen now because the resulting outcome has already been met. The tapes and the stories they contain have been found.

However, this development raises issues. A total of 80 people have already come forward to request that their recordings be redacted. They say they only engaged with the commission because they believed their stories would not be made public and the tapes would be destroyed to protect their privacy. The motion brought forward today states that "many survivors have refuted the Commission's claim that permission was sought from witnesses regarding the destruction of their testimonies". There is no mention, however, of the many other survivors who state that they engaged solely on the basis that their testimonies would be redacted.

I spoke to a woman called Sheila last night. Deputies may know her because she stood outside Leinster House for the past four years and spoke to us as we went into the House to deal with the different motions that came before us. She told Members that she wanted her story to be heard, her pain to be removed and for the Government to make amends. I spoke to representatives of Aontas yesterday who told me that they do not want the term of the commission extended. They want us to start the information and tracing process and to begin looking at the burials legislation. I spoke to Pat and Liam, representatives of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance, to which Deputy Grealish referred, who told me that members of their group want access to their medical cards. They do not want the term of the commission to be extended; they want access to information and supports. Sheila told me that she has not been contacted by any member of the Opposition. She rang me because she is terrified that the term of the commission will be extended. She pointed out that she and her fellow survivors are getting older and that extending the term would mean that, yet again, she will be left waiting for redress, reparations and closure.

I am not putting the cohort of survivors to whom I have spoken up against the cohort to whom the Opposition has spoken. I am telling the story of Sheila only to highlight the fact that survivors of mother and baby homes are not one homogenous group. They do not have one grand need or want from the Government. Each of them has his or her own experiences and needs. I know this and Members opposite know this. For anyone to bunch survivors together once again for questionable political gains, with catchy hashtags and headline-grabbing sound bites, is disheartening. Nobody should be trying to utilise or weaponise survivors' trauma for their own gain, whether in politics, academia or otherwise. As a Parliament, and as a society, we can and must do better. Survivors deserve that and society as a whole deserves it.

I am always happy to sit across from the Opposition. When I was in opposition, I was happy to sit across from the Government. I am happy to debate, criticise, be challenged and held to account. However, on this issue, it is not fair for the Opposition to cast government in the role of some kind of villain. Since I was first elected to this Chamber, I have always wanted justice for mother and baby home survivors. That has not and will not change. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and my other colleagues in government have always focused on the concerns of survivors. He has successfully engaged with the commission and secured the audio recordings of the confidential committee.

The fact that those recordings were destroyed and then, apparently, not destroyed is like something out of an episode of "Father Ted". The content of the tapes should always have been treated as sacred. If I were to track an IKEA delivery to my home in east Galway, I would know how it was progressing, bit by bit, all the way along. The same should have happened with these files. They should have been minded like the most precious items. Only for the Minister's continuous engagement with them, they would have been destroyed. That is why I am relieved that he will become the data controller of the records from 28 February. He can then provide an avenue for those who consented to the recording of their interview to seek access to their personal data. He can also ensure that those who want their testimonies redacted have that right.

We need to learn from this issue and consider how commissions of investigations operate. It is not right or proper that survivors have their trust in institutions shaken yet again. The Government has accepted the commission's report and recommendations and has responded with a commitment to introduce a strategic action plan spanning 22 ambitious actions. Initial work is already under way on that plan and in respect of many of the actions. Access to birth and early life information, including one's birth certificate, is a fundamental issue and a top priority for the Government. Officials in the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth are working with the Office of the Attorney General to advance information and tracing legislation, with a view to having heads of Bill ready by the end of March or early April.

The Government has also committed to a scheme of restorative recognition and has established an interdepartmental group, IDG, to support that work. The group held its first meeting on 4 February, will hold its second meeting tomorrow and will report back to the Minister by the end of April. It has been asked to develop detailed proposals for a restorative recognition scheme. Its work must take account of the specific groups identified by the commission but is not limited to those groups. This work will be underpinned by a human rights focus and informed by strong stakeholder consultation and an understanding of the criticisms that were made of previous commissions and schemes.

Restorative recognition is about more than just financial compensation. One strand of the scheme will involve the provision of an enhanced medical card, similar to that provided to former residents of Magdalen laundries, and the IDG proposals will encompass this element.

In the immediate term, counselling services are available for all former residents through the national counselling service of the HSE. This includes telephone and face-to-face counselling through an established nationwide network of counselling locations. All former residents will have access to a patient advocacy liaison support service. In addition, a targeted programme of health research will be undertaken to assist and inform the development of future service provision for former residents. Preparatory work on this research study has begun.

The overarching theme for all this work is a commitment to progressing it in a survivor-centred manner, characterised by continuous engagement with former residents and their representative groups, as well as survivors living overseas. This can happen only through a radically enhanced model of engagement of the scale necessary to support the many voices and perspectives in this space. The Minister is committed to establishing such a model, following consultation, and has met with the collaborative forum twice in the past two weeks to discuss this and other issues.

We have approached today's debate with the survivor at the centre of our considerations. The focus of the debate has been on seeking to engage on the concerns raised by survivors regarding the audio recordings. This focus has resulted in a positive outcome. Responding to the needs and wishes of survivors will be paramount as we focus on delivering on the Government's response to the commission's report.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Whitmore, for her work on this motion. I thank all the contributors today.

First, I want to address some of the comments made by the Minister. He talked of full compliance with the requirements of the DPC. If there is to be full compliance, it is important that the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation be extended so the DPC can carry out an investigation. If the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is not extended, there cannot be full compliance with the requirements of the DPC. This is an important point the Minister has not addressed.

Second, the Minister said it is not clear what the practical reasons for extending the term of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation are. In this regard, I must ask whether he has been listening to survivors? If he had been, he would be fully aware of the practical reasons for extending the commission. One reason is so the DPC can continue its investigation. Another is so that, where testimonies are not recoverable, survivors can seek a remedy under GDPR, as required by EU law. Yet another is that if survivors wish to seek a judicial review, they will be able to do so. They are entitled to this, and they are entitled to challenge the narrative of the report that contradicts the testimonies of many survivors.

Are we to understand from the Minister's comments that the Government, although not opposing this motion, will not extend the term of the commission? If so, that diminishes this Dáil. It will diminish our democracy if the Government does not oppose a vote in the Dáil in favour of the extension of the commission and then ignores that vote. That would not be acceptable. It would diminish both this Dáil and the wishes of survivors. Issuing apologies to survivors and then failing to act diminishes those apologies. Meaning must be given to apologies through actions.

After everything that has happened, survivors of mother and baby homes are still not being listened to. They are still being denied their right to their own information and data. Let us be very clear: survivors of mother and baby homes were not sent a copy of their evidence to check it for accuracy before the commission wrote its report. Survivors who were subject to gross and systematic human rights violations were not allowed to have a copy of their evidence and testimony to check whether they were recorded accurately. They did not have any access to the evidence coming in from institutions run by the State and church and were not given an opportunity to challenge it. Requests for public hearings were refused. Survivors are still being denied access to their own information and their own family files. There is simply no excuse for not giving people access to their birth certificates. People have a right to their identity.

At times, the commission's report reads as if the testimonies of survivors have not been heard. The executive summary of the report states there is no evidence that women were forced to enter mother and baby homes by the church or State authorities, yet the commission had testimonies from survivors indicating they were brought to mother and baby homes by gardaí. There is testimony recounting the involvement of social workers and judges. How is it possible, after everything that happened, that the commission could have drawn its conclusion in this regard? How could it not have heard and believed the testimonies of the survivors?

Furthermore, as my colleagues, Deputies Whitmore and Gannon, have said, the recommendations in the report state that survivors were not incarcerated, yet the commission had testimonies from survivors to the effect that they were locked into institutions and unable to escape, and also testimonies about girls and women who ran away but who were found and brought back against their will by gardaí. Did the commission not hear the survivors on this? It is absolutely reasonable that the commission, or any commission, be subjected to reasoned scrutiny, criticism and calls for accountability. The motion to extend the term of the commission by a year is about accountability. It is about survivors being heard. It is about survivors being given the time to question and challenge a narrative that has been foisted on them yet again by official Ireland - a narrative that does not speak truth to the reality of what survivors have lived through.

It is not good enough for the Minister to state that he cannot see any reason to extend the term of the commission. It is not good enough for the Government to issue apologies to survivors and then not to listen to them. It is not good enough for the Government to stand over this report or to remain silent on a report that does not reflect the testimonies and lived experience of survivors.

I thank all the Members who spoke in support of our motion. I thank the survivors and survivor groups for all their efforts and for all the work they have done. Yet again, they have had to fight, agitate and campaign for rights every single one of us should enjoy in this country. Those of us in this Chamber have those rights while the survivors are left to fight for theirs. I refer to their right to their own information, their right to have that information rectified and the right to seek a judicial review of decisions public bodies make. I really wish they did not have to fight so hard for rights that should just be available to them.

I have been listening to the commentary this week. We have had so many twists and turns in the road. I have been reflecting on what it means and what I can take from it. What we saw this week was a clash of the old Ireland and the new Ireland. We have seen a clique that has come together and pulled strings. We have seen a power imbalance and we have seen an arrogance directed towards the survivors and their needs that is no longer acceptable in modern Ireland. The report that was delivered was probably the report expected six years ago, when it was commissioned. Ireland was a different place six years ago, but we have come a long way since then and we will not accept that kind of power imbalance and misinformation anymore. We will not accept the tone, victim-blaming, misinformation and inaccuracies in the final report.

I asked the Minister two questions during my first contribution. I am really disappointed that he did not use the final allocation of Government time to address the issues to which they relate. I found the speech of his colleague, referring to survivors pitted against each other, really disgraceful and unacceptable. There is absolutely no need for that. We are here for survivors. The Minister is coming at it from his own perspective. I would like to think he is doing what he really believes is right. We believe he is wrong in what he is doing, and survivors believe he is wrong. Pitting survivors against survivors is not how this should be done.

The first of the two questions I asked relates to whether the Minister can absolutely guarantee that every minute and second of the survivors' testimonies is intact and that a survivor who seeks her or his own information or story in a week, month or six months will not be apologised to and told the tape has been deleted - deleted by a commission that acted outside the scope of the legislation when deleting files. Can the Minister give an absolute guarantee? If he cannot do so, does not extend the commission and does not give people an opportunity to seek retribution or justice in this regard, it will be his responsibility.

The second question I asked the Minister was on the judicial review. Every person in this State has the right to a judicial review. What will happen when that commission dissolves? There will be no body that can be held accountable. Our country is looking for accountability. We recognise that commission was independent but being independent does not mean one is not answerable for one's actions. The commission needs to be answerable and survivors need to have access to the justice of the State through a judicial review. The Minister did not answer the question as to whether that would be available to them.

I say to all Deputies that it seems to me the tapes miraculously appeared out of the back of a sofa and everyone thinks that is fine, we do not need to extend the commission anymore and our job is done. That is not the job done. That report does not reflect what happened. The report will become the history of this State and by not extending the commission or allowing survivors to challenge the narrative of that report and the facts presented in that report, the Minister is allowing the rewriting of history. When the Minister - I was going to say "votes" but he is not even going to vote on this. He is playing political games and that is what we need to call out here. He says he is doing it so we can all work together for survivors. That is wrong. He should be actively extending this commission because we cannot stand over the rewriting of history like that. Any Deputy who does not actively seek the commission to be extended is doing so. I hope Deputies look hard and deep. They know what is the right thing to do. Please do it tomorrow.

Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.