The Collaborative Forum process was established by my predecessor as a representative body to advise on the issues of priority for former residents of the institutions under investigation by the Commission.
The Collaborative Forum last met formally in December 2019. The process was unfortunately interrupted by the general election and subsequent change in Government. In addition, it was necessary to put these meetings on hold from March 2020 in the context of the restrictions introduced in an effort to reduce the spread and impact of COVID-19. A number of members travel from outside the jurisdiction and, given the age profile involved, some members would also be categorised as being in the 'at risk' groups identified by public health authorities.
From our experience to date, it is evident that remote meetings based on the use of technology would present additional challenges for an engagement process as sensitive as this one.
However, throughout 2020, the members of the Forum have been appraised of developments and updated on any matters related to the Commission of Investigation by the Secretariat to the group. It is the practice and policy of my Department to issue updates and announcements to the Forum and other relevant stakeholders before they are issued more generally. With regard to the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Act 2020, the Forum and other stakeholders were the first to receive news of the Government's support for the development of legislation to address the difficulties and opportunities raised by the Commission, and the subsequent news of the publication of the Bill.
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters has now submitted its final report, and I recognise the importance of consultation and dialogue with those who have lived experiences of these institutions. I have commenced direct engagement with Forum members and other former residents and their advocates.
The Commission investigated the lived experiences of mothers and children in Mother and Baby institutions and I am acutely aware that this is not simply a historical or legal matter, but that these experiences continue to impact the lives of many women, children and their families today. I am committed to effective stakeholder engagement on all matters that impact former residents of these institutions.
The Deputy may wish to note that a copy of the Collaborative Forum's report was provided by my Department to the Commission of Investigation for its appropriate attention and consideration in the context of its statutory investigation. Now that the Commission has submitted its final report, the Government will be in a position to examine its findings and conclusions and engage with former residents and their advocates in formulating an appropriate State response. The significant work of the Collaborative Forum to identify the priority concerns of those most centrally involved will greatly assist to inform this process. It will also be possible to reconsider the question of publishing the Forum's report, subject to any further advices of the Attorney General.