Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Ceisteanna (531, 543, 547, 548, 565, 570, 571, 572, 574, 575)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

531. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the 550 audio recordings of testimony given by persons to the Confidential Committee of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7510/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Browne

Ceist:

543. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he had prior knowledge that the audio recordings of mother and baby homes survivors’ accounts were to be deleted; if so, when he was informed; if the details of same will be provided; if there is a mechanism to recover those recordings; his views on the importance of those accounts in providing information that could lead to the resolution of questions which are thus far unanswered; if survivors, when being interviewed, were all informed of the intention to destroy the records in question; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6753/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

547. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Data Protection Commissioner has written to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes over the destruction of recordings of witness testimony; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6907/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

548. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth his views on extending the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to ensure the full recovery of all evidence received by and all documents created by, or for, the commission, including all recoverable recordings of witness testimony; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6910/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

565. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will report on the deletion of survivor testimonies to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes; the follow-up his Department is taking on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7275/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

570. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the taped records and evidence of 550 survivors that gave testimony to the Confidential Committee of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes have been destroyed; and if he will make a statement on the matter . [7357/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

571. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the written records and evidence of 550 survivors that gave testimony to the Confidential Committee of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes have been destroyed; and if he will make a statement on the matter . [7358/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

572. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if the evidence in audio and written form of the 19 survivors who appeared before a person (details supplied) will be available to the relevant persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7359/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

574. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if his Department has received an explanation from a person (details supplied) as to the reason the Commission destroyed the audio recordings and the written testimonies given as part of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. [7361/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Kathleen Funchion

Ceist:

575. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will consider an extension to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in order that a thorough examination can be undertaken to establish the reason 550 recorded and written testimonies were destroyed. [7362/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 531, 543, 547, 548, 565, 570 to 572, inclusive, 574 and 575 together.

I thank the Deputies for raising the important concerns of survivors in relation to the audio recordings made by the Commission's Confidential Committee. This specific module was created alongside the inquisitorial process to facilitate those with lived experiences of these institutions to provide accounts of their experiences in complete confidence and as informally as possible in the circumstances.

The Commission's terms of reference required the Confidential Committee to provide for individuals who wish to have their identity remain confidential. The Commission is independent in the conduct of its inquiries and I had no role in or knowledge of operational decisions taken by the Commission in the course of its work. In its Final Report, the Commission notes 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 for the researcher when compiling the report and would then be destroyed. All such recordings were destroyed after the report was added to the Confidential Committee electronic repository of information.”

Therefore, the decision not to retain these recordings was taken by the Commission to ensure the anonymity it had promised. My Department's understanding is that recordings were made as an aid to the work of the Confidential Committee and that the above reference includes contemporaneous notes taken by the note taker at the same time and used to create the records retained for the Confidential Committee.

In October 2020, Government introduced urgent legislation to protect and preserve the Commission’s records. This legislation prevented the redaction of personal information so that the records can be made available to those seeking access to their personal information.

The only exception to the above requirement was to facilitate persons who voluntarily met the Confidential Committee to decide to have their name and contact details redacted so as to protect their anonymity. This provision reflects the promise of confidentiality and anonymity which was given by the Commission to people who attended the Confidential Committee. No such anonymity applies to the sworn testimony given before the Commission itself.

Many of the mothers and children have undoubtedly had difficult experiences where their agency was taken away and it would be unconscionable to renege on a commitment of confidentiality given to them.

The Commission is due to deposit its full archive with my Department prior to its dissolution at the end of the month. In the interim, the independent Commission continues to be the data controller for its records.

Intensive preparations are ongoing to ensure subject access requests can be processed in my Department in full compliance with the Data Protection Regulatory Framework. In the context of these preparations, I have has sought further information from the Chair of the Commission to clarify whether it may be technically possible to recover any recordings or notes made by the Confidential Committee.

In addition, I am liaising closely with the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure these matters can be appropriately addressed by the Commission prior to its dissolution.

A decision on any further action will be informed by this information gathering exercise and the legal advices of the Attorney General. Any call to extend the timeframe of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes must have regard to the fact that the Commission completed the inquiries it was established to conduct when submitting its Final Report last year. It is not clear at this point that an extension is in fact necessary to clarify these matters, or that extending the timeframe of the Commission would assist in this regard.