Friday, 16 October 2020
Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Ivana Bacik (Labour)
I welcome the Minister and the opportunity to debate this important Bill, albeit that we had proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to delay the taking of Report Stage today. It is most unfortunate we are taking Committee and Remaining Stages today. As expressed already on the Order of Business by Senator Sherlock on behalf of the Labour Party, and other colleagues from across the Opposition group, we are unhappy at the way in which the Bill is being rushed through both Stages today. It is unfortunate and not good legislative practice, particularly when such important matters are at stake.
I support Senator Higgins's amendments. I reiterate her point on the need for a clear rationale as to why the legislation is necessary. I raised on Second Stage that despite the briefing, and the lengthy document we received this morning providing further information on the reason for bringing forth the Bill, it is still not entirely clear precisely what aspect of the commission's data is to be transferred to Tusla and why it needs to be done at this point. I also said that there was a sense of cart before horse. The new document we were given confirms that the enactment of the legislation is to achieve a number of purposes, including to provide a statutory basis for preservation of records of the commission but, as far as we can see, the preservation of records is already provided for under the 2004 Act. We are still not clear why this is necessary, other than, perhaps, to confirm in section 5 of this Bill the existing position under section 43 of the 2004 Act. It is not clear why it is necessary to make that clarification or confirmation if the 2004 Act already provides, as we believe it does, for preservation of the records of the commission.
The second rationale is that this legislation is to provide further for the transfer of a database and related records to Tusla, to enable Tusla to access the database for purposes of discharging obligations and for the purpose of supporting the creation of a future adoption information and tracing service to be established in law. This goes to the crux of Senator Higgins's amendments which seek to provide that the Adoption Authority would have a role in this legislation. The amendments illustrate the difficulty we have with the legislation. We do not yet have an adoption information and tracing service. The Minister has committed to introducing future adoption information and tracing legislation. On Second Stage, I spoke about the immense difficulty we had in the previous Oireachtas term with the former Minister, Katherine Zappone, seeking to introduce such legislation. Many of us worked constructively with her to try to do that but it was not possible to do it yet we are being told that part of the rationale for enactment of this Bill in this rushed way is to ensure there is support for the creation of an adoption information and tracing service. As Senator Higgins said, we do not know exactly what role Tusla will play in that regard. We have not yet seen any outline or framework of legislation to support this future adoption information and tracing service. In the absence of that, it is not clear why this Bill is necessary or why anything is necessary beyond, perhaps, section 5 to clarify that the records must be preserved. It seems to me extraordinary that there would be any doubt about that. In the absence of this legislation, the 2004 Act would provide a statutory basis for the deposit of the full records of the commission with the Minister. Again, we are puzzled. There has been an opaque aspect to the information we have been provided in that we are not told precisely what information will go in what database and to what authority, be that Tusla or the Minister, or why we cannot provide that the Minister take possession of the entire archive unredacted from the commission. This lies at the heart of our concern.
Senator Higgins's amendments in this grouping seek to address this issue and to provide for a role for the Adoption Authority. It is not clear why the Adoption Authority does not have a role somewhere in this Bill and nor is it clear what Tusla's role will be under the future adoption information and tracing service.I know the Minister and all of us have been receiving immense amounts of correspondence from those who are most directly affected, including survivors and their families. There are heartbreaking stories from relatives who have been unable to access the most basic information about their identity or the identity of relatives of theirs who may have died in homes or been incarcerated in homes, or who were abused in homes. They are being denied access to that information. If this Bill is passed, it will not in any way further their search for knowledge about identity. As with the previous failed attempt to bring forward information tracing legislation, we are once again seeing the Government place privacy rights above rights to information on identity. I know the Minister is shaking his head. I know that is not his intention. Unfortunately, that is how it will look and that will be the effect of the legislation. We have rehearsed these arguments many times in the context of the previous Bill, that privacy should not trump rights to access basic information about people's identity. We know that now and how important this is for survivors and their families. That is why we are seeking to make a series of constructive amendments and why we oppose rushing this Bill through the House.