Seanad debates

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

 

10:30 am

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)

I want to address a couple of the issues to which the Minister has spoken. I also wish to add my concern about the manner in which this has been done. I suggest, frankly, that notwithstanding the urgency the Minister sees, there is still no excuse for Committee and Report Stages to be taken together. It does not allow for any real concerns. There are significant legal and legislative concerns, not simply concerns about matters of justice or ethics. By taking Committee and Report Stages together, the Minister does not allow himself the opportunity to take those points on board and reflect on them to ensure he produces an adequate and robust piece of legislation.

Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that we know that Members of the Dáil were given a deadline of 2 p.m. today to submit amendments. Unfortunately, there will likely be a large degree of replication in those amendments. If an issue of genuine legislative concern that requires a nuanced response during the debate here on Committee and Report Stages emerges, no Deputy will have the capacity to reflect those issues in a proposed amendment. Their part of the process has been effectively short-circuited.

Legislation is, of course, important and needs to be dealt with in a timely way but there are questions about the urgency relating to this legislation, as others have spoken about. We got notification that the Bill had been reprinted to incorporate additional commas. I would suggest that it needs more than that in terms of extra punctuation. It needs punctuation that would allow opportunities for thought and reflection so that it can be proper and robust to its function.

The Minister did not address one of the serious concerns that I raised. I want a response to these matters before I press forward. In what manner will these documents will be stored? One of my rationales for preferring the Adoption Authority of Ireland was that we had guidance as to how the authority would take the documents. The authority would maintain the documents, keep them to an archival standard and would include a crucial index explaining what is in the sets of documents so we know from where they came. The database is a valuable tool but there had been a commitment made to the inclusion of an index and a searchable electronic database. It was envisaged in previous legislation that if these documents had gone to the Adoption Authority of Ireland, there would have been a database which was of use not simply to one body, as envisaged here - namely, Tusla - but to other bodies, as appropriate and regulated for.

I esteem the work and thinking of my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney. However, if the database is the issue and this legislation is to allow for the database to be transferred, there is nothing disallowing the database to be shared with the adoption authority, which holds a large number of relevant records, as well as with Tusla and, crucially, the Minister. One of the weakest points the Minister made was that there is some principle of duplication and it would be inefficient to have two copies of this documentation in the world. That was the logic. It assumes, if we are legislating to transfer the database, that we cannot legislate to transfer it to the Minister and the adoption authority as well as to Tusla. If we want to talk about efficiency, how inefficient is it - not to mention cruel - that individuals who seek information have to go from body to body to body, submitting different requests, putting together piecemeal records that may include burial records, records of committal and legal records of adoption? It is inefficient not to use a document and tool that would allow bodies to respond to applicants appropriately and identify documents the body has that are relevant to the applicant and inform the applicant that there are other relevant documents elsewhere, in that way giving them an arrow. How much additional inefficiency and difficulty are we piling on individuals by not having a usable index or database?

I disagree with the Minister's analysis regarding the database and think it should have been shared. I intend to press these amendments but, before I do, I would like a response from the Minister about the future and what might happen next.The lacuna is that between now and whatever future arrangements might be put in place we do not know what will happen to these records. When these were going to be transferred to the Adoption Authority of Ireland we knew what would happen. We knew they were going to be kept in a certain place, to a certain standard, in a certain situation and they would be kept together. Is there anything in this Bill that stops Tusla, for example, deciding to scatter these copies to a number of different locations?

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