On Wednesday last the Social Democrats introduced a Private Members Motion in the Dáil that called on the Government to extend the term of the Mother and Baby Home Commission for another 12 months to 28th February 2022. The aim of this was to facilitate a review from the Data Protection Commissioner and other relevant authorities into the destruction of the recordings and allow for any potential salvage of remaining testimony.
In reply, the Minister for Children Roderick O’Gorman, stated that while he and the government were not going to oppose the Soc Dem’s motion they were not going to comply with the request to extend the life of the Commission either:
“Given the positive developments on which I have updated the House this morning with regard to the commission’s retrieval of the audio recordings, it is not clear what practical purpose can be achieved by extending the term of the commission.”
This was not nearly enough for the opposition parties. Galway TD Catherine Connelly even went so far as to tell Minister O’Gorman that:
“Looking at his speech, the term “weasel words” comes to mind – absolute weasel words.”
The government had decided however that enough was enough and that it was no longer prepared to be cast as “the villain of the piece” while everyone else draped themselves in the mantle of disinterested protectors of the survivor’s interests.
Instead, it chose to robustly destroy the carefully crafted, and factually incorrect narrative that the Soc Dems were presenting to the public; namely that they were there acting on behalf of all survivors.
Based on the facts, it succeeded (for once).
This was mainly down to the contribution of the Minister of State Anne Rabbitte, who, to her personal and political credit, successfully unmasked this dishonest perception.
The reality, Minister Rabbitte made clear is that to date at least 80 of the 550 people who provided oral testimony have written to the Commission specifically demanding that their recordings not be included as part of the retrieval process:
“A total of 80 people have already come forward to request that their recordings be redacted. They say they only engaged with the commission because they believed their stories would not be made public and the tapes would be destroyed to protect their privacy.”
The perception, both public and political, that all survivors want the lifetime of the Commission extended is also false. Again, Minister Rabbitte:
“I spoke to representatives of Aontas yesterday who told me that they do not want the term of the commission extended. They want us to start the information and tracing process and to begin looking at the burial’s legislation. I spoke to Pat and Liam, representatives of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance…they do not want the term of the commission to be extended; they want access to information and supports.”
But it was her indirect, but blindingly obvious reference to the possible motivations of the Social Democrats that Minister Rabbitte was at her most caustic:
“the attempt to bunch survivors together for questionable political gains, with catchy hashtags and headline-grabbing sound bites, is disheartening. Nobody should be trying to utilise or weaponise survivors’ trauma for their own gain, whether in politics, academia or otherwise.”
The Social Democrats as the proposers of the Dáil motion understood quite clearly that this was government accusing them of engaging in the basest level of disingenuous political game playing. Here is Soc Dem Deputy Jennifer Whitmore in reply:
“referring to survivors pitted against each other, really disgraceful and unacceptable. There is absolutely no need for that. We are here for survivors.”
By any measure this was an extraordinary and eye-opening attack by a government Minister.
It finally put words to the grubby and unpalatable political truth; that the voices of a significant number of survivors are being silenced and shut out by those who profess themselves to be their champions, and all for the odious prize of a temporary lift in the polls or perhaps a trebling of Dáil seats in the next general election?
This government has gotten it wrong far more than it has gotten it right. But on this specific issue it might just have a point you know.