Thursday, 20 January 2022
Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
Listening to the contributions on this legislation, I think there is a sense of sombreness but maybe a sense of weightiness too. I think everyone is taking the Bill very seriously. I do not believe it is being treated in a partisan way. I think people understand the weight of what is involved here. It is also worth acknowledging that this is an advance on previous iterations of this legislation. That shows the importance of robustly challenging sometimes conservative advice that can be given to Governments and pushing back against it.
The Bill is not there yet. We have some concerns about it. It does not provide for unrestricted access to birth certificates, adoption files and early information files. There is a bit of an issue with the information sessions and the impact they could have on those who were adopted. The definition of "personal data" is not clear. There are a number of issues with the legislation that we wish to address on Committee Stage. This is so important. It is undoubtedly the case that the right of someone to know who they are and who their parents and birth parents are is one to which people should absolutely be entitled. They deserve their truth, their story and their history.
There are issues connected to this that the Department needs to explore. We talk about people's history and story. There are relatives of those who were born, lived and died in Bessborough who are very concerned about the Bessborough site. I call on the Department in this regard. A planning application for the site was refused by An Bord Pleanála. Many people believe that some of the many children who died in Bessborough - far too many children - may be buried on that site. The Minister's Department has a responsibility in that regard. Of course there is a planning process and so on, and the application was refused. In State policy terms, however, the Minister and his Department need to identify the best way these sites - and Bessborough is not the only site like this - can be treated, preserved and investigated in a way that is sensitive and finds out exactly what went on. This is an issue of concern to the people of Cork generally, but particularly to those who were born in Bessborough or who had people belonging to them in Bessborough and, as I said, who died in Bessborough. That story needs to be told. The Minister's Department has a role in that. There needs to be an investigation. We need to establish what happened there and where those children are. That goes to the ethos of this legislation and the ethos of everything that should be happening regarding the mother and baby homes, the county homes and all the various institutions that were part of this infrastructure of, in some ways, incarceration and significant cruelty and hardship to both mothers and children. It was all part of the same infrastructure, and we need to acknowledge that as well.