Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Questions (378)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

378. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he can provide clarity regarding the online presentation he provided to survivors of mother and baby homes on 12 January 2021; the process through which survivors could ask questions; if these questions were submitted live during the presentation; if not, if they were submitted by email in advance of the presentation; and if the microphones of survivors on the call were kept muted throughout the presentation. [2783/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

When I confirmed in December that the Commission's Final Report would be published in January, I committed to hosting a webinar on the day with former and their families to ensure they were the first the hear details of the report and to learn of the Government's response to the findings of the Commission.

I was acutely conscious of how important it was that former residents and their families are the first to be notified of plans to publish the Report and how they would be able to access it. While my Department does not have the contact details necessary to directly reach to the many thousands with a connection to these matters, it was important to do what was possible to ensure former residents were informed first, giving them the recognition and respect to which they are entitled.

It is a matter of deep regret that details of the report were leaked ahead of its publication. I contacted survivors immediately on learning of the coverage in a Sunday newspaper and the matter is now under investigation at Government level. I understand why many survivors feeling hurt and let down that any element of the report might be shared before the webinar. This is not what we had planned and it should not have happened.

The links necessary to connect to the webinar were provided to the Department's email circulation list ahead of the event. Part of that communication was to advise that the links to the event could be shared with any person with a connection to the matters being investigated by the Commission. As a result approximately 600 participants connected to the event.

Immediately following the Cabinet meeting on 12 January, the arranged webinar was hosted by An Taoiseach, with myself and Minister of State Anne Rabbitte. It was unfortunate that we could not meet in person with survivors to engage directly with them on this long awaited report, and holding the event online was the only practical option. I acknowledge the limitation of the webinar approach as I know it was not ideal.

One complication of holding the event online is that we could not have the kind of interaction we normally would have. I know some participants may have wished to speak and comment in response to the major findings of the report. Personally, I would have much preferred such meaningfully engagement on the day. However, it was not possible at that point due to the sheer scale of this event .

The Office of An Taoiseach provided the digital platform and hosted the event. The official hosting on the day, facilitated a live webchat, where participants could submit comments and questions live as the event unfolded. I did have an opportunity to field and respond to a very small number of these questions, primarily relating to the practical arrangements around publication. The remaining questions have been reviewed by my Department to ensure any themes can be addressed by updating our published Frequently Asked Questions. I also invited participants to contact my Department by phone or email and we have had several hundred contacts since the report’s publication.