Thursday, 25 November 2021
Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements
It was given detailed consideration at the joint Oireachtas committee, which provided me with a detailed report outlining issues members had with the proposals. We are looking to respond to that and to bring forward amended legislation.
Deputy Higgins spoke about a project run by the Christine Buckley Centre concerning the lived history of survivors of institutional abuse generally. As set out in the action plan, we are working on capturing that lived history and the personal stories and accounts of survivors to see how they can be reflected in measures taken. We have an opportunity in terms of the records and the memorial centre, which I see as doing two things. First, we can reflect that lived history in order that people can understand exactly what happened in these institutions and, second, the memorial centre can also act as a repository for many of the records. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, spoke about the importance of records. There is a commitment in the plan to protect and make public the vast array of records that are relevant to this time period. That is one of the reasons we have put in a dedicated archivist in the Department who is working to ensure as many as possible of those records, many of which were used by the commission as part of the breadth of evidence it assessed, can be made publicly available. We will look to do that through the birth information and tracing legislation.
Deputy Bacik raised the issue of illegal birth registrations, which was also mentioned by Deputy Connolly in previous contributions. We were all struck by the "Prime Time" programme that outlined the awful situation for people whose births were illegally registered by St. Patrick's Guild. They were told they were not the person they thought they were but without being able to access information about their original identity. We are addressing this through the birth information and tracing Bill, which will include a specific section providing a route for people to have their lived identity given legal recognition or to seek recognition of their original name on their birth certificate. An independent reviewer looked at the practices that took place in St. Patrick's Guild and examined whether they were likely to have been carried out in other institutions. On foot of that, I asked the special rapporteur on child protection, Professor Conor O'Mahony, to provide recommendations on the next steps to address the issue of illegal birth registration. He has provided me with a report containing his recommendations. I am studying it closely and will respond to the recommendations in due course.
Finally, there is a strong sense across the House that we need to see a contribution from the religious congregations and charitable organisations that ran these homes on a day-to-day basis. Inasmuch as the State has made an apology and come behind that apology with an action plan setting out the range of measures we intend to take to show our apology is more than just words and will be met with actions, I believe the religious congregations need to do the same. I recognise that most of them have issued apologies since the publication of the commission's report. It is not for me to accept that apology but I believe, from speaking to survivors, that it will ring hollow unless it is followed up by actions. One of the clearest actions the congregations can take is to provide a substantial contribution to the cost of the payment scheme. That would be seen as a step towards a genuine apology to survivors of these institutions.