A group of Mother and Baby home survivors have accused Minister for Children Katherine Zappone of misleading the Dail.

The Coalition of Mother And Baby home Survivors (CMABS) a loose umbrella group and the largest representative group of survivors, say a Freedom of Information request has undermined a statement Minister Zappone made in the Dail last year.

“I have previously relayed my commitment to the House to inviting the UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, to come to Ireland,” Minister Zappone told the Dail on 13th February 2018.

“I believe he can assist us in our endeavours to establish the truth and advise us on how best to move forward and deal with this part of our history.

“Arrangements are at an advanced stage and I expect an invitation to be issued to Mr. de Greiff in the coming days.”

Minister Zappone was commenting on plans to set up a forum which would give former residents of Mother and Baby homes an opportunity to contribute to decisions made on their behalf.

She said the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of nonrecurrence, Pablo de Greiff, would be invited to the forum consider the State’s response to the legacy of the homes and examine the progress made.

CMABS however now say an admin officer in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) has flatly contradicted this statement from Minister Zappone.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, Liam Doolan of the Mother and Baby homes investigation, replied that: “…no communication was made between the actors listed [Katherine Zappone and the Dept of CYA] and Mr. Pablo de Greiff”.

The Freedom of Information request also revealed that no invitation was ever issued to Pablo de Greiff despite Minister Zappone making repeated references to such an invitation for several months from as early as the beginning of June 2017 until 13th February 2018.

On 2th January 2018, Minister Zappone in a written answer in the Dáil informed Denise Mitchell TD that:

“..in addition, the Government has agreed to invite Mr. Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur, to assist Ireland in our response to issues related to former Mother and Baby homes and  I am working with my colleague the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to arrange this invitation”.

According to the written reply from Liam Doolan in the Mother and Baby home investigation unit in the DCYA, there is no record of any communication whatsoever between Zappone’s office and Tánaiste Simon Coveney’s office relating to this invitation.

The Freedom of Information request (ref #: FOI/2019/108) was sent on the 23rd July 2019 and the reply was received on the 22nd August 2019. The request asked for:

1. Any and all communications between Minister Zappone and/or, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and/or any political advisors and/or outside advisors, directly or indirectly, and, Pablo de Greiff, the United Nations Chief Rapporteur (both before and after his formal appointment) from the 1st of June 2016. This request covers all communications in any format, to or from any of the aforementioned parties, from the 1st of June 2016.

2. Any and all briefing notes and/or transcriptions and/or notes of any description, relating to meetings and/or communications and/or discussions held by Minister Zappone and/or, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and/or, any political advisors and/or, outside advisors, directly or indirectly, relating to Pablo de Greiff, the United Nations Chief Rapporteur (both before and after his formal appointment) from the 1st of June 2016.

Liam Doolan’s written reply states that “…no communication was made between the actors listed [Minister Zappone and/or, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and/or any political advisors and/or outside advisors, directly or indirectly] and Mr. Pablo de Greiff”.

The DCYA claim there is no record within the DCYA of a single briefing note, file or phone call relating to Mr. de Greiff or his invitation to come to Ireland either from within the Department or with any other Government departments whatsoever.

Other than Doolan’s letter, the request returned just one email dated 26th January 2018; three quarters of the email was completely redacted leaving just one paragraph of several lines as the sum total of all written records of any description concerning Mr. de Greiff (see attached ‘Schedule’ and ‘Record no1’).

James Gibbs, a senior adviser to Minister Zappone, expressed concern that the invitation to Mr. de Greiff should “… issue as a soon as possible in light of the public commitments by the Minister…” but still the invitation was never issued. Mr. de Greiff left his position as Special Rapporteur and was replaced by Fabian Salvioli who was invited to Ireland on the 18th April 2018.

The DCYA FOI unit charged €64.00 in advance for this single paragraph in an email.

Minister Zappone also publicly stated during the opening of the Survivors Forum on 13th February 2018 that Mr. de Greiff would be given a copy of the Forum’s final report.

That report has since been suppressed on the advice of the Attorney General’s office.

Paul Redmond (Castlepollard Mother and Baby home group & CMABS) said: “This is yet further proof that Minister Zappone has no interest in the living and aging survivor community.

“It seems the unofficial policy of ‘deny till they die’ is alive and well and ruthlessly enforced by the Minister and her deeply dishonest and disingenuous answers to Dáil questions is further evidence of her bad faith.”

Clodagh Malone (Beyond Adoption Ireland & Saint Patrick’s Mother and Baby home group & CMABS) said: “Minister Zappone will have to start listening to voice of the survivors and stop trying to convince listeners that she/ DCYA that she is the sole arbiter of her truth in an effort to define, and thereby exert greater control over the survivors daily harsh reality. This is called Gaslighting…”

Derek Leinster (Bethany Home Survivors Group ’98 and CMABS) said: “The Protestant Bethany Home Survivors have been prevented from getting the 2002 Redress by Ministers and Civil Servants for over 20 years.

“Even when Judge Murphy’s 2016 interim report recommended that Bethany Home Survivors were eligible for Redress, the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh said no and the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone went along with it.

“How can it be that Ministers are allowed to interfere with the 2015 Commission recommendations?

“How can we ever believe what they say again.

“The Protestant Bethany Home Survivors have been consistently discriminated against – could it be because they are from a Protestant Mother and Baby Home, which in most countries would be considered sectarian.

“At this stage there is only a few of us left and the State’s strategy is obviously to let us all die off – yes definitely sectarian.”

Dublin Gazette contacted Minister Katherine Zappone in regard to CMABS claims that she misled the Dail.

A spokesperson from the Department for Children told us the following:

“The response issued to the FOI request in question provided, as requested by the applicant, specific records of communications between Government officials and the former Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Mr Pablo de Grieff.

“This invitation to the office of the Special Rapporteur was issued in April 2018 by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in accordance with his role to manage international relations on behalf of the Government.

“This invitation was released to the FOI requestor on an administrative basis.

“In responding to this FOI the Department made clear that as Mr de Grieff’s time in office was coming to an end a decision was taken that the invitation would issue to his successor Mr Fabián Salvioli.

“The invitation was announced in a press release on Tuesday 1st May, 2018.

“I include a link below for your convenience.

“To clarify, in relation to your attached quote, Minister Zappone did not state that she had contacted Mr de Grieff as this would not be the correct protocol for matters of this nature.

“I attach a link to the full speech for your convenience.

“The Minister’s statements were at all times consistent with the Government’s deliberations and subsequent arrangements for this invitation to issue to the office of the Special Rapporteur.

“Ireland is committed to its international human rights obligations and it is important to note that there is a standing invitation to all United Nations thematic mandate holders.

“Minister Zappone also met with Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children when she visited Ireland in May 2018.”