Tuesday, 20 October 2020
Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries
39. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his position and actions either taken by his Department or scheduled for the future on archival infrastructure to ensure truth for mother and baby homes. [31365/20]
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was established in 2015 in order to examine what happened to the women and children who spent time in these institutions.
The Commission now is due to submit its final report by 30th October 2020. I know it has been a long and difficult wait for many but we are now rapidly approaching the point where these matters can be examined by all.
The Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 dictates that the evidence of the Commission be deposited with the prescribed Minister in a sealed form and must remain so for a period of 30 years, pending its transfer to the National Archives.
The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 that I am currently progressing, aims to avail of the opportunity to safeguard an invaluable database so that it is not destroyed or put beyond reach but, rather, can be used to support future information and tracing services.
The Bill also aims to ensure that the entire Commission archive will be preserved in full so that future generations can benefit further from the important work of the Commission. It is important to note that the majority of the archive is made up of copies of documents received from a number of public bodies such as the HSE, Tusla, Local authorities as well as Diocesan records.
I recognise that the issue of access to birth and early life information has long been a contentious issue for those who have tried to find the truth of their origins. I am absolutely committed to addressing the wider matter of providing a new architecture surrounding access to birth information and tracing.
I am aware that interesting proposals have been developed in relation to the potential development of a national archive of institutional abuse at the former Seán McDermott Street Laundry.
While this is a matter worthy of further discussion, I am mindful that it is a complex matter which extends beyond my own Department. It would require detailed consideration and extensive engagement, both with other Government colleagues and Departments, and with a large number of statutory bodies and stakeholder groups.
I am also conscious that the Government will wish to consider the final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation prior to considering its overall response to issues of this nature.
However, I do welcome the further engagement with all stakeholders that will undoubtedly happen at a future date in relation to archiving, memorialisation and remembrance.
40. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31380/20]
52. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020; if he will table amendments to provide immediate access for all affected persons and families to all records concerning them. [31314/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 52 together.
The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 was published on 8th October following Government approval.
The Bill was considered and passed all stages in the Seanad last week. I will be bringing forward a number of amendments this week, at Dáil Committee stage, in relation to the legitimate expectations of individuals who engaged with the Commission’s Confidential Committee module, and to ensure a complete copy of all the records in the archive will be deposited with my Department at the completion of the process.
I look forward to engaging with members of the House on this important matter.
The urgent necessity for the Records Bill is to ensure the Commission's database, and related records, are preserved and available to support current and future tracing services. The Bill ensures we protect the opportunities provided by this invaluable digitised and searchable information so we can support its appropriate use now and into the future.
In addition, the legislation provides that the records to be deposited with my Department are preserved in full as appropriate.
It must be emphasised that unrestricted use or open public access to the information contained in the database is not being proposed. Importantly, in bringing forward this Bill, it is not possible to provide a basis for any new entitlement or right of access by individuals to these records.
Access to personal information held in these records will continue to be regulated by the Adoption Act 2010, GDPR and Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act, having regard to the constitutional rights of third parties.
However, I am absolutely committed to addressing the wider matter of providing a new architecture surrounding access to birth information and tracing and this will be advanced soon. I look forward to engaging widely to allow all those with a stake in this process to have their voices heard.