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Philomena Lee given leave to bring judicial review; Subject Access Requests deemed "complex"

18th April 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

Philomena Lee and four others were granted leave in the High Court to take legal action against findings in the final report of the Commission of Investigation. The cases were adjourned until May. The Department of Children has been further criticised for failing to promptly give people access to their personal data.

In legal documents, solicitor Wendy Lyon states there are “numerous findings of the Commission in its final report which are at odds with the testimony of [Lee] provided on affidavit to the Commission”.

Lyon states that, despite the fact that Lee is identifiable in the final report, the Commission did not provide her with “a draft of the report or any relevant part of the draft report as required by section 34 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004″.

The Irish Examiner reported during the week that as of Friday 9th April the Department of Children is dealing with 145 subject access requests. Some of these are requests which were originally made to the Commission of Investigation before it dissolved and many of them appear to have been deemed “complex” enough by the Department to require a two month extension to the one month time limit for handling.

Claire McGettrick of the Adoption Rights Alliance is quoted as saying:

“We’re not entirely sure what’s so complex about these requests. The Clann Project was a comprehensive submission that was catalogued really clearly in a way that would make the information easily accessible. So it is difficult to understand what the complexity is”.

"Imagine someone clicked their fingers and you had no family or history, that's the reality for thousands of us'’

11th April 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

Survivors contact the Taoiseach. The Minister says his “focus is to try and get these different resolutions implemented as quickly as possible” but the Heads of the Information and Tracing Bill have still not been published.

Excerpts from emails sent to the Taoiseach were published in the Journal.

Can you imagine, Taoiseach, if someone clicked their fingers and you, yes you, had no name, no mother, no father, no history, no relations, no memories, no background, but somebody had it in their gift to fill in at least some of these blanks. There are thousands of us today like that – but at least I am here to write this, unlike so many others.

The Irish Examiner also covered this correspondence with the Taoiseach.

Dozens of letters sent to the Taoiseach reveal the deep pain felt by many survivors of mother and baby homes who are still denied access to information about who they are.

Some 50 people contacted Micheál Martin after the publication of the report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.

Many of those called on the Government to urgently publish a bill that would give them access to their birth certs and other personal information.

The Journal also reported on the online meetings held as part of the redress consultation process which concluded last week.

“Linda*, one of the women who attended an online meeting, said “anyone who stepped foot within the door” of an institution should be compensated.

She said people who attended her meeting were “very strongly” against the Commission’s recommendation that people must have spent more than six months in an institution in order to get redress or a medical card.

Mary*, a survivor who attended a different meeting, said: “There should be no six-month rule, or a rule that you had to enter before 1973, to get a flat rate.

“I think we should get the same, more or less, as what the Magdalene Laundry survivors got, and maybe more depending on how long you spent [in the institution] and what happened to you while there.”

Information and Tracing Bill delayed, redress scheme consultation period concludes

4th April 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

The Irish Examiner reported that the draft of the promised Information and Tracing Bill has been delayed.

“Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman had initially hoped to have an Information and Tracing Bill ready by the end of March. However, it is understood that a number of legal issues remain unresolved.

Mr O’Gorman has met with Attorney General Paul Gallagher a number of times on the issue and officials are now working to iron out difficulties in order to draft legislation to allow access to birth and early life information.

The commission of investigation into mother and baby homes recommended that adoptees be given access to their birth and adoption documentation, a right which campaigners had sought for many years.”

Mari Steed initiated High Court judicial review proceedings “seeking to quash or correct findings made by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission in relation to vaccine trials.”

“Ms Steed also maintains in her proceedings she and other survivors should have been allowed to comment on the commission’s draft report before the final report was published.

“We were not given a right to any further dialogue with the commission after the [draft] report was written,” she said.”

The Irish Times mentioned the conclusion of the consultation period for the Restorative Recognition Scheme, with the outline of the scheme due to go to Cabinet.

“The Government is currently developing a separate compensation scheme for former residents of mother and baby homes.

It has asked religious organisations involved in the homes to consider making a financial contribution to the costs.

A consultation period on the development of an ex-gratia Restorative Recognition Scheme for former residents ends today. The intention is for the outline of the scheme to go to Cabinet by the end of April.”

"This is an opportunity for the Government to try and address all of the issues around the mother and baby homes"

28th March 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

A data breach, agencies may not review adoption files because it would be too hard and many are at risk of being excluded from redress scheme.

Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland are both quoted in a piece in the Irish Examiner expressing the general opinion that it would be too difficult to review the tens of thousands of adoption files they hold between them, so they would prefer not to bother. Which is a rather remarkable position for both agencies to take.

The lackadaisical approach to the entire issue continued during the week with the Department of Children apologising for a “careless” data breach by one of its service providers.

Meanwhile the Irish Independent reported that a law firm had warned of the possibility that many would be excluded from the redress plan.

“This is an opportunity for the Government to try and address all of the issues around the mother and baby homes, particularly in circumstances where time is of the essence and is ticking away.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Children said no decision had been taken yet on categories eligible for redress, but an inter-departmental group was working on the matter currently and would report to Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman by the end of April.

"Ireland's reckoning with this aspect of its past still has some way to go"

21st March 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

Profiles of people affected by the Mother and Baby Homes and adoption appear in several outlets; delays in accessing personal data are still being encountered

There is a growing clamour for the right of adopted people for full access to the records that are often the key to their identity. Survivors and activists are asking how much of the reluctance to give adopted people access is rooted in fear of what those records might show.

In a long piece in the Irish Times four adoptees share their stories.

“It ruined two lives. It ruined her life and it’s ruined mine. People can say, ‘Ah get over it’, and all the rest of it, but you don’t. You never do.” — Joyce McSharry

Through sheer doggedness – including an encounter, almost farcical in the retelling, in which he persuaded a government official to give him the first letter of his birth mother’s name, and another official to tell him how many letters it had – he tracked down his birth family with the help of Milotte.

In a piece in The Journal Orla Ryan touches on the failure of the Commission to handle Subject Access Requests properly and the continuing delays being encountered with the Department of Children.

Weekly Roundup: Reynolds Review published; Mary Harney granted leave to take judicial review; State determined to fight claims

14th March 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

This week Mary Harney was given permission by the High Court to “bring an action aimed at quashing certain parts of the report of the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes”.

The Irish Times reported on Monday that Mary Harney’s action against the Minister for Children Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, as the Minister to whom the commission reported , had been granted leave to proceed.

She wants a finding to be corrected which says that although “perhaps the majority” of boarded out children were beaten, it was “impossible” to tell “how violently” they were beaten.

Ms Harney says, if she had been given the opportunity, she would have referred the commission to her own statement and affidavit, which described the beatings she received.

She would also have referred the record of her account to the confidential committee of the commission which provided a forum to former residents to provide either written or oral accounts of their experience.

On Tuesday the Irish Examiner reported that the Reynolds Review of a sample of illegal birth registrations in Ireland “found there could be potentially up to 20,000 suspicious cases.”

The Irish Examiner previously reported that the department was told about illegal birth registrations by the AAI as far back as in 2011, and again in 2013, before the St Patrick’s Guild scandal.

In a piece in the Examiner on Saturday Conall Ó Fáthartha provided some context on the Reynolds Review which much of the other reporting had omitted.

Crucially, the review had no remit to examine any other forms of illegal adoption including cases of falsified or questionable consents, where the mother consenting was a minor; adoptions granted in the absence of birth certificates of any kind; and in the case of children whose parents were married and instances of correct birth registrations which resulted in illegal adoptions.

Indeed, the report itself notes that wider concerns like, the trafficking of Irish children; forced or illegal adoptions; the absence of informed consent; or potentially profiteering from the alleged sale of infants were outside the scope of its terms of reference but are matters “which the State will wish to address”.

Documents seen by the newspapers led to reporting in several outlets that the State plans to fight any legal actions taken by survivors of the Mother and Baby Homes.

Despite the damning findings, correspondence from the State Claims Agency (SCA) indicates it plans to fight the cases by arguing they fall outside the statute of limitations.

If successful, the approach adopted by the SCA would significantly damage the prospects of survivors who opt to seek damages by way of the courts rather than through an expected redress scheme.

Weekly Roundup: RTÉ Investigates: Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions broadcast; update on probe into leak of report sought

7th March 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

Devastating stories of illegal adoptions and bureaucratic roadblocks thrown up by state agencies when individuals seek their personal information are broadcast on RTÉ, highlighting that the abuses of the past continue into the present.

On Wednesday 4th March ‘RTÉ Investigates: Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions’ was broadcast which is at the time of writing still available on the RTÉ Player.

“I’d like acknowledgement for all of us that have been illegally adopted – against the wishes sometimes of our birth mothers, women who were put into a position where they felt they had no choice, and their babies were just used as commodities,” she told RTÉ Investigates, pain visibly etched on her face.

“This is life, stuff happens; don’t try and hide it away because what happens when you hide it away is people like me suffer for it and I didn’t do anything wrong. All I did was be born.” — Brenda Lynch

“It’s very simple for somebody to just get a piece of Tippex and white something out, but they don’t actually realise that what they’re whiting out is vital information for somebody,” he said.” — Brian Webster

Kathleen Funchion TD, chairwoman of the Oireachtas children’s committee called on the government to give a deadline for its investigation into a newspaper leak from the report of the inquiry into mother and baby homes.

Audio recordings thought deleted may be recoverable

19th February 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

After initially telling the Minster for Children that the audio recordings it had destroyed last July were not recoverable, the Commission of Investigation has now discovered backup tapes of the recordings which may contain the recordings.

The timeline appears to be as follows:

On Tuesday the 16th February the Minister told the Oireachtas Children’s Committee he had been informed by the Commission of Investigation that the recording of witness testimony could not be retrieved.

On Thursday the 18th February the Commission of Investigation informed the Minister that it had become aware of backup tapes.

On Friday the 19th February the Minister told the Seanad the following:

“The commission informed me yesterday that it had become aware of backup tapes held off-site, which may – and I must stress the word “may” – contain the audio files of the personal accounts given to the confidential committee. This followed my earlier request to the commission to exhaust all possibilities to retrieve data from the interviews, if those data still existed. I responded immediately to the commission to arrange for these tapes and their content to be made available urgently to my Department as part of the transfer of the archive that is beginning to happen. I am expecting a response from the commission to that request later today.”

Minister writes to Commission of Investigation to ask if deleted testimonies can be retrieved; fears Commission members may resign if asked to stay on

16th February 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

The Irish Times reports today that Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has written to Judge Yvonne Murphy, chairwoman of the Commission to ask if the recordings which were destroyed by the Commission could possibly be retrieved.

“In a letter to Judge Yvonne Murphy, chairwoman of the commission, Mr O’Gorman asked if “with the assistance of specialist technical expertise, it may be that personal data may be retrieved from any source, including the server or from backup copies that may have been made”.”

“The Minister told Judge Murphy that clarification on whether or not information could be salvaged “would be hugely helpful in informing how I intend to proceed to give effect” to his obligations.

The chairwoman had not responded to the Minister’s letter at the time of publication of the story. The Commission is scheduled to dissolve in twelve days.

The Minister was asked when he had first become aware that the recordings had been destroyed by the Commission when he appeared before the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. His response was that he had first learned of the destruction of the testimony when he read the Commission’s final report. The final report was delivered to the Minister on the 30th October 2021.

Meanwhile the Irish Examiner reports that there are “serious fears that the members of the Mother and Baby Home Commission will resign en masse if its term is extended to allow for an investigation into the destruction of witness testimony.”

“The commission has yet to respond to the minister, and has also refused to come before the Oireachtas committee on children to answer questions, claiming it would not be appropriate for them to engage with the committee.

There are now concerns in Government that the commission would take the view that they have fulfilled their obligations and would resign if their term is extended beyond February 28, when it is due to be wound up.”

Irish Association of Social Workers issues unreserved apology for the pain and distress caused by the failings of social work

15th February 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

In a statement on the Report of the Commission into the Mother and Baby Homes released today the Irish Association of Social Workers apologised unreservedly for the pain and distress caused by the failings of social work and committed to both learn from and stand with survivors.

The full statement is below.
“The Irish Association of Social Workers apologises unreservedly for the pain and distress caused by the failings of social work, outlined in the Report of the Commission into the Mother and Baby Homes. The report provides examples of times when the social work profession did not provide compassionate support, failed to uphold basic human rights, and failed to challenge the social and institutional injustices, which caused such devastation in the lives of women and children. We have heard the powerful and brave testimonies of the survivors. The IASW will now reflect on how we can best respond to what we have learned and continue to learn from the survivors.


‘IASW Statement on Report of the Commission into the Mother and Baby Homes’, Irish Association of Social Workers, 15th February 2021

Clann Project publishes first tranche of anonymised witness statements​

4th February 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

The Clann Project is in the process of contacting the witnesses who spoke to it between 2015 and 2018 with a view to publishing their statements anonymously. “These witness statements came from adopted people, mothers, relatives and others who experienced institutional abuse and/or the injustice of Ireland’s closed, secret, forced adoption system.”

The first selection of witness statements is available now on the Clann Project website.

“The vast majority of Clann Project witnesses contacted so far have generously consented to their anonymised statements and supporting documents being made available. We are extremely grateful to all of the witnesses who have shared their experiences. In doing so, they have made an invaluable contribution to our collective understanding of how girls and women who became pregnant outside marriage, and their children (now adults), were and are treated in Ireland.”

We’ll possibly add some extracts from these statements to our ‘Stories’ page over the next while.

Commission of Investigation confirms deletion of records; DPC and Minister seek clarification

5th February 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

On Wednesday 3rd February The Irish Examiner reported that Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman had contacted the Commission of Investigation to seek clarity around the treatment of records of witness testimony. The same newspaper reported on Saturday 30th January that the Commission of Investigation had deleted the audio recordings of all testimony given to its Confidential Committee.

The Examiner also reported on Tuesday 2nd February that the Data Protection Commission has written to the Commission of Investigation seeking answers about the circumstances surrounding the destruction of these recordings.

“A spokesperson for the DPC said the body “has written to the commission with a number of questions around the deletion, and the legal basis for the deletion, of these records. We are awaiting their response”.”

The Minister has been in touch with both the Commission of Investigation and the Data Protection Commission.

“Mr O’Gorman has also met with the Data Protection Commissioner to discuss this issue, and to ensure robust processes are in place for the management of the commission archive when it transfers to the department.”

The Journal has more reporting on this. The Department of Children is not answering queries about the Commission of Investigation and is referring journalists to the Commission itself. The Commission is refusing to answer questions.

“When asked by TheJournal.ie about the destruction of the audio recordings, a spokesperson for the Department of Children said it was “a matter for the commission”.

At the time of publication, the commission had not replied to a request for comment.”


Minister for Children confirms in a letter to Thomas Pringle T.D. that the GDPR applies to the archive of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation

28th January 2021

Article Eight Advocacy Team

In response to a question from Thomas Pringle T.D. the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has confirmed in writing that the GDPR applies to the Commission of Investigation’s archive.

The Minister also confirmed that the GDPR takes precedence over any conflicting domestic law.

“More generally, I can assure the Deputy that, as a regulation, the GDPR is directly applicable and it did not require transposition into Irish law. … While Irish law must be interpreted in line with EU law to the extent that it is possible to do so, in case of conflict, EU law would prevail over any inconsistent domestic law in accordance with the principle of primacy of EU law.”

The letter was posted by Deputy Pringle on Twitter and is reproduced below. We assume the date 21st January 2012 is supposed to read 21st January 2021.

First page of letter from Roderic O'Gorman to Thomas Pringle


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