Dáil debates

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Ceisteanna - Questions

Commissions of Investigation

4:05 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the investigation being carried out by the Secretary General of his Department into the leaking of details of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. [25802/22]

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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16. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the investigation being carried out by the Secretary General of his Department into the leaking of details of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. [32076/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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17. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the investigation being carried out by the Secretary General of his Department into the leaking of details of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. [32140/22]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, together.

Prior to the consideration by the Government of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, certain information with regard to matters in the report was disclosed in a newspaper report. In that context, I requested that an investigation be carried out. This investigation is being done in the context of a broader consideration of the arrangements in place for the management of documents for Government meetings as this bears directly on the protection of their confidentiality. The investigation is being undertaken by a senior official in my Department and the process is ongoing.

The House will be aware that in January 2021, I apologised on behalf of the Government to those who spent time in a mother and baby home or county home. The Government published a comprehensive action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions in November 2021 and we are very clearly focused on advancing the action plan. The 22 actions set out in the plan have been arranged into central themes, which have emerged as fundamental in how the Government responds. Those themes are a survivor-centred approach; a formal State apology; access to personal information; enduring archive and database development; education and research; memorialisation; restorative recognition and dignified burial. Detailed and sustained engagement with survivors and their families has been central to the development of each of these actions and very significant progress has been made in giving effect to them.

The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 was signed into law on 30 June. This provides for a full and clear right of access to birth certificates, birth and early-life information for all persons who were adopted, boarded out, the subject of an illegal birth registration or who otherwise have questions with regard to their origins. On 1 July, the provisions of the Act to establish the contact preference register and give effect to statutory public information campaign were commenced, which paves the way for the release of birth and early-life information from October 2022.

The Institutional Burials Bill 2022, which provided a legal basis for recovery and identification of those who died in residential institutions and were buried in a manifestly inappropriate manner, has passed both Houses and is with the President for his signature. Subject to that, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, plans to commence it immediately and seek the Government's approval to make an order for an intervention at the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam.

As part of the supports available to survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions, the HSE national counselling service is available for individuals who feel they need this support. Those who identify themselves as former residents of the institutions will be prioritised for the service. The HSE also operates a dedicated freephone information line for former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions. The Department of Health, in partnership with the HSE, is currently working on establishing a patient advocacy liaison service for all survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions. A business case for this initiative has been developed by the HSE and has been approved by the Department of Health.

The general scheme of a mother and baby institutions payment scheme Bill was published on 29 March. It is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny and, in parallel, is the subject of priority drafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. This legislation will provide financial payments and an enhanced medical card to defined groups, in acknowledgement of suffering they experienced. An implementation group has been established to oversee preparations for the scheme and project planning work is under way.

On 29 March, the Government approved proposals for a national centre for research and remembrance. The centre will stand as a site of conscience and will be a national memorial to honour, equally, all those who were resident in mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalen laundries and related institutions. The centre will be located on the site of the former Magdalen laundry on Seán McDermott Street in Dublin city centre and will comprise a museum and exhibition space, a research centre and repository of records and a place for reflection and remembrance. The centre will also make a significant contribution to the long-term social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north-east inner city by encompassing social housing, local community facilities and an educational and early-learning facility.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth first contacted the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach seeking an investigation into the leaking of details of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation report in January 2021. We have subsequently raised the outcome of this investigation on a number of occasions but to no avail. The Taoiseach has, in fact, accepted our concerns with regard to the Government's protection of such sensitive documentation and information. In January, we were told that new mechanisms had been requested to ensure the protection of material that comes before the Government. What are these protections in practical terms? What reassurance can the Taoiseach give to survivors who are still waiting on a formal conclusion from him on this matter?

I will briefly raise Ms Margaret Donovan's search for her twin siblings who died in the Bessborough mother and baby home, but for whom there are no burial records. Some 923 children died at Bessborough, or in hospital shortly after being transferred from the institution, but there are burial records for just 64 of these children. When this matter is raised with the Minister he passes the buck to Cork City Council, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and An Bord Pleanála in terms of future development of the site. The passing of the Institutional Burials Bill 2022 is welcome but related matters remain outstanding. Does the Taoiseach accept and agree that relatives such as Margaret Donovan should not be abandoned to navigate the very complex State bureaucracy alone?

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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In January 2021, parts of the final report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation were leaked to the media prior to the survivors being furnished with the information. This was an enormous slap in the face to many survivors of those mother and baby homes. The Taoiseach verified the leak by giving a comment to the same journalist who ran the particular story. An internal Department investigation in to the leak has been going on for the past 19 months. It must be an incredibly in-depth investigation given the length of time it is taking. When will that investigation be complete?

Will the Taoiseach indicate to the Dáil whether he knows who leaked the final parts of the report of the mother and baby homes investigation? It is very important that we have clarity on whether the Taoiseach knows who that individual was.

We also know, because the Taoiseach confirmed it to me in writing, that there is another separate investigation taking place into a separate leak in his Department. What does this investigation relate to?

4:15 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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The premature leaking of aspects of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes caused great anger and distress for survivors of those homes. It is 19 months since an investigation was launched into that leaking and all of us want to know when we will see the outcome. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the legislation for the payments scheme will be passed in the autumn?

I raise the separate matter of the case of thalidomide survivors in light of a number of reports over the weekend. Just last week, the Scottish Government guaranteed lifelong support for thalidomide survivors there. In 2013, it committed over £14 million to help survivors with health and living costs but it is now extending assistance to survivors on a needs basis. Finola Cassidy, who is the spokesperson for thalidomide survivors here, has asked for the Government to put in place similar measures. I have raised this before in the House and ask whether a similar approach to that adopted in Scotland would be adopted here in respect of this small group of survivors who really need this support from the Government.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The report is still working on the mechanism in terms of Cabinet confidentiality and more general Cabinet documents and also the degree to which, in the modern era, many documents or many proposals are aired well in advance. There is, therefore, a fairly complex piece of work required to come up to pace with where we are today in terms of what happens with the briefing of a whole variety of proposals and policies. Given the more open approach to policy development in the current era, it is timely to update that entire area.

Deputy McDonald raised the individual case of Margaret Donovan. Ms Donovan should not have to navigate this on her own. I referenced earlier the survivor advocacy liaison services in the HSE. Assistance should be given to people in Ms Donovan's situation to navigate to get the truth. I have met the residents of Bessborough who have views on that site. They have a view as to where the site is located and that housing development should not take place on that site. I agree with the survivors in that respect. They are not objecting to other developments in the vicinity of the site, it has to be said. I hope Cork City Council will work with the survivors who have taken a very reasonable approach to the matter. The future development of that site is important. I would have preferred it if the council had purchased the entire site because some of the services there are State services and amenities, and also maybe some social housing, could have been provided there as well.

On Deputy Tóibín's point, I do not know but I will come back to him on the separate investigation. The scheme of the mother and baby institutions payment scheme Bill was published on 29 March. It is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny but is, in parallel, being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, so that when the pre-legislative scrutiny is over we may be in a position to get the legislation published faster. I would like to see it published in the autumn and enacted in the autumn session. That will need co-operation across the House because we need to start the process of payment in respect of this. It is an important issue. An implementation group has been established to oversee preparations for the scheme. Project planning work is under way on the scheme itself. It will provide financial payments and an enhanced medical card but, again, much will depend on its progress through pre-legislative scrutiny.

To be fair to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, if we go through all the areas, we can see he has made very significant progress in respect of the entire action plan. The Birth Information and Tracing Act is the most complex legislation of its kind and has been groundbreaking in terms of what it will provide. It is far superior to earlier iterations in previous Dáileanna. Also, the Institutional Burials Bill is very important legislation and the Minister stands ready to intervene immediately in relation to that. The HSE national counselling service is also available. The payments scheme is key and a very important part of the action plan is the memorialisation centre. We were hoping we would have that at Cabinet today but I am anticipating we will have it at Cabinet in the next number of weeks so we can give effect to it. That would be a very significant issue in itself.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I asked three questions.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In relation to the thalidomide issue, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has met the thalidomide organisation, as have I in the context of the parliamentary party. We are anxious but again there is a whole range of issues there. It is also the subject matter, I understand, of litigation but we would like to resolve this with the thalidomide organisation on a range of issues it has raised with us. I intend to pursue that with the Minister for Health.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I asked the Taoiseach three questions. The first was when the investigation would be complete, the second was whether he knows who leaked it and the third was to indicate to what the other leak was related. I only have one answer, which was "I don't know", and I do not know what it related to.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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What I said on the Deputy's second question was that I did not know. On the third question, I said I would come back to him in respect of the separate investigation and the details of that.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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When will the investigation be completed?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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On completion, I do not have a date or timeline but I hope it is soon, certainly before the end of the year.