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

Sharon Keogan (Independent)

I welcome the Minister to the House. I want to express my empathy and heartfelt compassion for any mother or child who suffered in any institution. I say that, not only as a Senator, but also as a mother and foster parent. I want to put on the record of the House that I appreciate the important work of the commission in investigating the matters within its terms of reference and drafting a final report with its findings of fact. The records and reports of the commission will, I expect, be an extremely valuable resource. I am sure all Members of the House can agree on these three points.

I am sure all Members can also agree with the principle that if someone says something to them in confidence, and an assurance of confidentiality is given to that person, then it should be honoured. I am sure we can all agree that is honourable and the decent thing to do. The amendments proposed by Senators McDowell and Boyhan honour and give effect to legal commitments of confidentiality given to people and are in harmony with the existing legislative framework of data protection and associated fundamental rights and freedoms.

If we look at the statutory instrument that established the commission, it clearly reads, "The Commission shall not seek to provide an account of any individual case in such manner as to intervene in any effort by any individual to resolve their identity or trace a birth relative." The statutory instrument also reads, "The Confidential Committee shall [...] provide in its procedures for individuals who wish to have their identity remain confidential during the conduct of the Commission and its subsequent reporting." I have sympathy for all those seeking to trace a birth relative or to resolve their identities. I understand legislation will be introduced by the Minister to address this in the future. We should also honour the commitment to confidentiality that is enshrined in law and that was given to witnesses who gave testimony and helped the commission. It would be a betrayal of these people, women and mothers who assisted the commission on that basis if we were to renege on that.

The amendment proposed to section 2 by Senators McDowell and Boyhan is necessary to ensure these people are protected. We cannot in good conscience permit records created by the confidential committee to be deposited with Tusla in an unredacted format without the explicit prior informed consent of the people who gave that evidence.The deletion of section 5 of the Bill and its replacement with the amended section 5 drafted by Senators Boyhan and McDowell is also necessary to give full effect to the legal guarantee of confidentiality given to people participating in the work of the confidential committee. The commission should have the power set out in the amended section 5 to redact the personal data of those people who gave evidence in confidence.

It is in the best interests of the commission and all those involved in this work to defer dissolution until 30 November 2020. We can all agree that the administrative work of the commission is too important to be rushed. For this reason I support the amendment to section 6 of the Bill put forward by Senators Boyhan and McDowell. I respectfully ask my colleagues in this House to consider supporting amendments Nos. 2, 7, 21 and 23 which honour commitments of confidentiality that were part of the legal foundation of the commission in the first place.

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