Thursday, 25 November 2021
Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements
I thank all the Deputies for their contributions today and for taking the opportunity to read into the Dáil record many of the items of correspondence that they have received from survivors. Deputy Gino Kenny’s contribution was particularly meaningful.
Throughout today’s debate and the debate on Tuesday, Deputies have raised a range of concerns regarding the payment scheme that I brought forward. I have been given Government approval to bring forward legislative proposals on the basis of the scheme as outlined. We will have a legislative process and through that we can examine the issues that have been raised. We will have that opportunity.
I know that Deputies today and again on Tuesday have raised the urgency of this and the age group of many of the survivors who will be seeking to avail of this scheme. I have given my commitment that I will work as hard as possible to get this scheme available to people. I and my Department will do everything we can to make these payments and enhanced medical cards available as quickly as possible and particularly with that focus on those who are oldest and those who are most vulnerable.
While there was a focus on the payment scheme in the debate, another issue, which even came through in the email that Deputy Collins has just read out on the lack of information, raised was the fact that the State for years has denied people access to their information. We now understand that a person’s right to know one’s identity is a basic human right and the work to deliver and to vindicate that right is, I believe, coming to fruition. I know that the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, which the Acting Chairman chairs, has worked very hard on this issue over the past four months and is working towards bringing together its final report. The proposals we have are very strong to deliver finally a right to an unredacted birth certificate, and not just the birth certificate, but the right to the early life and birth information together with access to items that were held, which Deputy Collins has just referred to in the case of Alison who wrote to her. There will be legal rights granted to all of those that have been denied up to this point.
While we are waiting for that legislation to be passed, and I hope very much and believe that early next year that will happen, there is General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, access to the archive of the commission, that is, the archive of those institutions that the commission examined that is held by my Department. Deputy Tóibín raised concerns about constituents and I am happy to talk to him and to any Deputy who has a constituent who is concerned about information. We can assist them in making a data subject access request.
We should also note, given Deputy Collins spoke about the delays that Alison had encountered over the years, that the resourcing of the new system is also very important. In this year’s budget we have provided additional resources to both Tusla and the AAI.
When the new law comes in, we will be able to deliver accessibility to the records in good time.
Another theme that came across in Deputies' contributions was the very real vulnerability of many survivors and the impact on their lives subsequently of their experiences in these institutions and the traumatic start they received in life. I have heard this directly from a number of survivors. Deputy Funchion spoke about an individual who is homeless and I am happy to engage with her on that. Other speakers referred to people who have struggled with addiction. The action plan sets out our undertaking to look at those issues. I draw Deputies' attention to the patient advocacy liaison service that will be introduced early next year, which is designed to signpost supports for survivors. We know some have issues with literacy and some have deep antipathy to engaging with officialdom because of their experience in these institutions. The patient liaison service will work with the HSE to mange the delivery of supports and provide greater clarity for survivors in that regard.
The action plan provides that we will work with local authorities to see how they can better recognise the needs of survivors such as those, for example, who are on their housing lists. This was an issue the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, raised with me when we were bringing forward the plan. She has experience of a network in Tuam that has worked with local authorities to secure housing for survivors. That is something we can work on and roll out in local authorities across the country.
In response to Deputy Cronin's question, I absolutely am committed to the excavation of the entire site in Tuam and the exhumation of the remains of all children, their identification and dignified burial. I brought forward draft legislation in January to achieve that.