On Friday 9th January 2015, the Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly TD, officially released the Terms of Reference for a Commission of Investigation into Mother-and-baby homes. The Irish Women Survivors Support Network (IWSSN) welcomes the Terms of Reference and is pleased about the Minister’s decision to widen the scope of the investigation. We are also in full support with the inclusion of Bethany Home, a protestant Mother-and-baby home.
IWSSN considers the Terms of the Reference considerably comprehensive, and we are content that the issues and concerns that we and other organisations have raised have been acceptably included. In a meeting with Minister Reilly several months ago, IWSSN shared knowledge about the Mother-and-baby homes and the treatment of particular residents that we were unsure would have been raised previously. In particular, we are very glad that the Commission will look into ‘the extent to which any group of residents may have systematically been treated differently on any grounds’, including relating to religion, race, traveller identity or disability. From our own experience in supporting Survivors living in the UK, we have come to understand well, the disproportionate suffering Survivors experienced because of their ethnicity or disabilities.
As an organisation, we endorse the inclusions in the areas in relation to adoption, and view this as very important. Through years of supporting the Survivor community living in the UK, we understand that the utmost balance and sensitivity will need to be upheld throughout the enquiry, as we know of many women who had to deal with their babies being put up for adoption and never spoke about the experience again, neither to their families or friends. We know there is a fear of speaking out about it and Survivors’ experiences becoming public knowledge.
The chosen time frame decided by the Minister is also well received by IWSSN. A timetable of thirty-six months ensures that the enquiry does not persist indefinitely, and will help Survivors secure closure. The very existence of the Commission and the nature of the enquiry will trouble Survivors who have suffered in silence for many years. Although thirty-six months may appear ambitious, it is in our opinion, a good aim.
Whilst IWSSN is pleased with the Terms of Reference, we are concerned about the potential legal costs this investigation might incur. Currently, the Irish Government has noted that ‘costs, exclusive of third party legal costs, are estimated to be in the order of €21.5m.’ If a cap is not applied to legal fees, the legal costs could quickly escalate. We have previously raised our concern about the high level of legal costs incurred with the administration of previous redress. In the case of the the Redress Compensation Scheme, over £165m was spent on legal fees, and we supported the introduction of a fee cap to help minimise ever-increasing legal costs. We are worried that a high level of legal expenditure will be a feature of this investigation too, so we encourage the Commission to consider introducing a cap.
As in previous investigations, IWSSN is looking forward to supporting this inquiry and ensuring that as many Survivors as possible living in the UK are aware of the Commission and their ability to provide evidence. We wholeheartedly support the Commissioners in their challenging work, and they have our full assurance that IWSSN will cooperate with the inquiry in any way that it can.
Sally Mulready, Chair of IWSSN, said:
“We are very satisfied with the proposed Terms of Reference. We believe this investigation will be highly relevant to survivors, birth mothers and people who experienced aspects of these homes.
“We are only anxious about the Commission’s commitment to ensuring that Survivors from all locations and backgrounds are able to give evidence. As an organisation supporting UK-based Survivors, we already know a large number of individuals who would like the opportunity to give evidence. IWSSN has played a key role in supporting Survivors give evidence in previous investigations, and we know from experience that modest costs relating to individual Survivors giving evidence will need to be facilitated to ensure important stories and voices are not excluded.We would also value playing a central role in assisting with promoting and publicising the Commission and the submission of evidence. IWSSN is well practised at supporting in this way, and we are well networked.
“Finally, we would just like to acknowledge the effort the Minister has committed to this investigation, as it is by no means an easy or straight-forward task. We are very reassured by the Minister’s approach to this important Inquiry.”