ARA and JFMR cautiously welcome Minister Zappone’s announcement

Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) have cautiously welcomed Minister Katherine Zappone’s announcement today in relation to the ongoing investigations into conditions at Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes. In particular, we welcome the Minister’s openness to exploring whether broader Terms of Reference for the Commission of Investigation might be appropriate, and we look forward to engaging with her in this regard.

We welcome the appointment of Ms Niamh McCullagh and her team of international experts who will advise on issues concerning the burial site at the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. However, we reiterate that Tuam is not an isolated case. Thus far we are aware that there may be similar unmarked graves at the sites of institutions run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary at Bessborough, Sean Ross Abbey and Castlepollard. Indeed, we are aware of over 180 institutions, agencies and individuals who were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children. Little is known of the conditions and practices - including burial practices and grave locations - of these institutions, most of which are not on the Commission’s Terms of Reference. Moreover, JFMR has consistently publicised the fact that many women who died in Magdalene Laundries also remain unidentified and in unmarked graves.

JFMR and ARA also welcome the appointment of Dr James Gallen who is assisting the Minister in mapping out a possible transitional justice model on this issue. We have serious concerns about the ability of the existing Commission of Investigation to provide restorative justice and access to the truth for those affected by Ireland's policy towards unmarried mothers and their children. The Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 enshrines a secret approach to investigations, which continues and entrenches the State’s established practice of secrecy when it comes to investigating our history of institutional abuse and other issues of corruption and trauma. The private investigative approach has failed to gain public trust because it signals that the State is not prepared to hold itself or the religious congregations properly to account for the systemic failings of the past. We look forward to hearing the Minister’s announcement on the proposed transitional justice model.

We acknowledge and welcome the Minister’s efforts to improve communications from her department regarding the Mother and Baby Homes investigations. We look forward to participating in the upcoming facilitated consultations on health and well-being support, and we note the Minister’s request to Tusla ‘to enhance its capacity for the provision of information to assist former residents who may wish to establish when they resided in a Mother and Baby Home’. However, in this context we wish to reiterate our deep concerns regarding the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, which, in its current format, serves to perpetuate the stigmatisation and suffering of the very same cohort that the Minister is seeking to assist through today’s announcements. The Adoption Bill and the ongoing investigations into conditions in Mother and Baby Homes cannot and must not be dealt with in isolation from each other. We also call on the Minister to make provisions to ensure that the administrative records of all agencies and institutions are made available to stakeholders.

Although the closing date for applications to meet the Commission’s Confidential Committee was 1st March, JFMR and ARA remind those who wish to give evidence to the Commission that they can still do so by simply sending in a written statement which can be verified by affidavit. Those who wish to avail of free witness statement drafting assistance can do so through the Clann project, which is a joint initiative of JFMR and ARA, in association with global law firm Hogan Lovells. For further information visit www.clannproject.org or write to Rod Baker, Hogan Lovells International LLP, Atlantic House, Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2FG. [See also Notes to Editors]

Notes to editors:

Clann Contact Details: info@clannproject.org

Clann Information Pack: http://clannproject.org/wp-content/uploads/Clann-Information-Pack.zip

Clann Short Films:

About the Project & How to Participate:          https://youtu.be/YSHaL2i4aMw

Philomena Lee and Jane Libberton:               https://youtu.be/gUZRJC6ePDM

Mari Steed:                                                      https://youtu.be/hVkHQclGK14

Maeve O’Rourke, Clann Legal Advisor:         https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQJHbvb–rs

Rod Baker, Hogan Lovells:                             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWj25ZjGj6w

Please note that Adoption Rights Alliance, Justice for Magdalenes Research and Hogan Lovells plan to submit the Clann group report at the end of September. Therefore, if you wish to have your experiences included in the group submission, you will need to have your statement completed by 31st August.

For current witnesses who are already engaged in the process, this means that you should ensure that you respond to any correspondence from Hogan Lovells about drafts of your statement, and/or regarding your consent form.

For new witnesses who wish to avail of the statement-drafting assistance, this means that you should email statements@clannproject.org as soon as possible, as the statement-drafting process can take at least a number of weeks to complete.

Please note that this does not mean that the free statement-drafting assistance will discontinue after the 31st August deadline. You are very welcome to contact us for assistance after this time, but we cannot guarantee that your experiences will appear in the Clann group report.