Thursday, 7 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries
104. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the implementation of the 22-point action plan following publication of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation final report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48694/21]
I am stepping in for Deputy Lahart. When the mother and baby homes commission report was released, many promises were made to survivors. What is the status of the implementation of the 22-point action plan, following the publication of the final report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation? It is important that survivors are aware of progress on the 22 recommendations. Where are we on those?
I thank the Deputy. This is an issue she raises with me on a regular basis, and I thank her for her ongoing engagement. As she said, in response to the final report of the commission of investigation, the Government approved a suite of 22 specific measures. My Department is finalising a high-level action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions. I intend to bring this action plan to Government and publish it later this month. Once approved, the action plan will support structured implementation with defined governance and monitoring processes for each of the 22 actions.
At the same time, my Department has been steadily working to develop individual measures to ensure that survivors see tangible results as early as possible. I will outline some of those. It is important to reiterate that there is a dedicated counselling support service available and it continues to be available nationwide for all survivors of these institutions. I have also established a dedicated information management unit within my Department, with a professional archivist to manage the commission's archive of records and support access for individuals to their personal information.
A key element of the Government's response is to develop a scheme to provide financial payments in the form of enhanced medical cards. I tasked an interdepartmental group with developing detailed proposals with a human rights focus, informed by significant consultations and engagement with survivors. I will be bringing costed proposals to Cabinet for proposal on the matter later this month.
As the Deputy knows, we published two substantial items of draft legislation. The birth information and tracing Bill seeks to enshrine in law the right of access to a full and unredacted birth certificate. That Bill is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny but, as I said to the committee last week, my Department continues to engage with the Attorney General on the issues that are arising and to bring forward early amendments. Separately, I am considering the committee's report on the certain institutional burials Bill. I think we are all in agreement that the children at the site in Tuam deserve an appropriate burial. I am determined to achieve this dignity for them and their families through this Bill.
I thank the Minister and welcome the news. Communication from the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is very important. We are working with the Minister and other Departments.
Survivors speak of urgency, particularly because so many of them are much older now than when the commission began its work. That is a concern. Those people are anxious to receive redress. This scheme is expected to open next year. I appreciate the work the Minister is doing but I feel that perhaps we should try to have more communication with different groups of survivors. History does not inspire survivors. Look at what happened with Caranua. Look at the Ombudsman report into the Magdalen redress scheme. Years later, some women have yet to receive compensation and medical support. We cannot let that happen in this case. For decades, this State oppressed women and children. We cannot further harm them by dillydallying on these recommendations. Can the Minister assure me that enough urgency is being placed on this matter?
I thank the Deputy. She has made important points. I will try to offer her reassurance. I hope the action plan, with each of the 22 points, and how we intend, quarter by quarter, to implement them, will provide some reassurance.
The point the Deputy made about communication is really important. It is an issue that has been raised when I have met survivors, particularly when I met survivors' groups in Tuam at the end of August. I have endeavoured to improve the amount of communications we send, particularly through the dedicated email list, to survivors. That has been acknowledged.
I also take the Deputy's point about the provision of redress and the importance of learning from the mistakes of previous schemes. That came through to us very strongly during the extensive consultation we did with survivors via the interdepartmental group. It also came through in the paper from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. That is central to the scheme I am seeking to design and get Government approval for shortly.
I thank the Minister. He is right, I have met with him regularly and I know he is totally committed. I thank him for that. I also know he has met with some survivors from my own area. I am delighted to tell him that we are working on five plaques in the County Carlow for cemeteries and buildings. We are making that change, although it is slow change. I am delighted to be part of my own group in Carlow.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has been asking the local authorities to review the lands that formerly housed mother and baby homes to prevent unsuitable development from proceeding. That is important. We must treat sites with delicacy, as we are doing. I am aware that the Minister is moving on many of the recommendations and associated works. As the Minister knows, I am a delighted to be a member of the children's committee. We are working on the adoption and tracing legislation, which is important.
What is the update on medical cards? Many survivors have contacted me about medical cards. People are not getting any younger and it is important that we ensure we deliver as many of the recommendations as we can as soon as possible.
Enhanced medical cards will be provided as part of the redress package, along with financial payments, the detail of which will be set out in the costed proposals I will bring to the Government this month.
Local memorialisation is very important and can often be the most meaningful for individuals who grew up in an area and were incarcerated in one of these institutions. It is valuable when they see that local recognition of what happened to them. I recognise the work the Deputy has done with the group she helped to establish in Carlow, the members of which she introduced me to.
The treatment of these sites, particularly in the context of development plans, is something that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I have been engaging on. I wrote to him a number of months ago and I know he is engaging with local authorities. I spoke to him about this matter earlier this week. Work is continuing in terms of the guidance he will give to local authorities about how these sites should be protected within county and city development plans.