Department says consulting firm was hired due to ‘urgency’ in setting up mother and baby home redress scheme

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The government has hired OAK Consulting to oversee the consultation process at a cost of €20,000.

AN OUTSIDE CONSULTING firm was hired by the government to “expedite” the process of setting up a redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes, the Department of Children has said.

The government has hired OAK Consulting to oversee the consultation process at a cost of €20,000.

The process was launched by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman last week. The closing date for receipt of written submissions is 31 March.

OAK will also facilitate a number of “consultation events with interested parties” between 22 March and 29 March. These meetings will be online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The meetings are scheduled to last for three hours each, and attendees can bring a “support person” with them.

The department has said that efforts are being made to ensure the online meetings will be respectful and inclusive, after some survivors raised concerns about the format of the meetings as well as who will be in attendance.

A spokesperson for the department said the “urgency” to establish the redress scheme is why outside experts were hired.

They told The Journal: “To expedite matters and in recognition of the fact that experienced facilitators are required in order to obtain a broad cross-section of views in this survivor-centred process, the services of OAK were enlisted following a procurement process.

“OAK and their facilitators have long-standing experience of working, with sensitivity and understanding, with a broad range of people and contexts.”

One survivor told The Journal that, as the meetings are open to the public, people not directly affected by the issue may take the place of a survivor.

People may also “feel reluctant to speak” about personal issues, she said, depending on who is present at the meeting.

“Trust is very low amongst a lot of survivors,” she said.

When asked by The Journal about steps being taken to ensure these meetings are survivor-focused, a spokesperson for the department said most of the people who have registered for the meetings to date are survivors, their representatives, or people who work in organisations who provide support for survivors.

The spokesperson said the consultation process is open to all members of the public and “a broad cross-section of views is sought in relation to the design of the scheme”.

“In particular, former residents, their families, and advocacy and representative groups are encouraged to participate.”

There are 10 meetings currently planned and more will be “provided if necessary to ensure that all those who wish to attend a meeting have an opportunity to do so”, the department said.

The spokesperson added that “every effort will be made to facilitate everybody who wants to participate in an online consultation meeting”.

The meetings will be restricted to a maximum of 12 people and “facilitated by experienced facilitators who are sensitive to the needs of participants and will ensure that the discussions are held respectfully and inclusively”.

Privacy and connectivity concerns

The spokesperson said the focus of the meetings is “obtaining people’s views on what should be included in the restorative recognition scheme, and does not ask for personal testimonies or sharing of personal information”.

However, some survivors have noted that personal details are likely to arise during the course of the meetings.

The department’s spokesperson said undertakings will be sought from the participants to ensure the meetings are not recorded.

“The submission guideline sets out the areas for discussion which all pertain to the survivors. All meeting participants are in direct contact with the organisers and all their questions/queries with the process will be addressed in advance of the meeting.”

The spokesperson added that “connectivity issues on the day will be supported in advance of the meeting start times”.

Concerns have been raised about how technological issues and internet facilities may make it difficult for some survivors to participate – as was the case with a webinar in January when the Commission’s final report was published.

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A number of survivors have also raised concerns about the short timeline for people to submit their views as part of the process.

The department’s spokesperson said the government is committed to establishing the redress scheme “as soon as possible and for that reason there is a tight timeframe for this stakeholder consultation”.

“In recognition of this, the consultation process is being promoted widely both in Ireland and abroad by direct contact with interest groups, newspaper and social media advertising, and engagement with our extensive embassy network abroad who are publicising this process on our behalf.”

Written submissions can be emailed to [email protected] or posted to OAK Consulting, FREEPOST F5055. People can also apply to attend an online consultation group. More information can be read here.

Information on the support services available for mother and baby homes survivors can be read here.

A portrait of survivor Peggy O'Kelly is projected onto Sean Ross Abbey as part of the Herstory Light Show to celebrate St Brigid's Day in February (file photo).

A portrait of survivor Peggy O’Kelly is projected onto Sean Ross Abbey as part of the Herstory Light Show to celebrate St Brigid’s Day in February (file photo).

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