Written answers

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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400. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the method by which the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is obliged to make every reasonable effort to notify persons who gave evidence to the confidential committee of their entitlement to request that their personal information be redacted prior to that evidence being deposited with his Department as part of the commission's archive; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the commission has contacted persons by phone and not in writing in the first instance. [43204/20]

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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In accordance with the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Act 2020, the Commission is obliged to make every reasonable effort to notify persons who gave evidence to the Confidential Committee of their entitlement to request that their personal information is redacted prior to that evidence being deposited with my Department as part of the Commission's archive. Notably, the legislation does not prescribe the methods to be employed by the Commission in notifying relevant persons. This reflects the understanding that each person who attended the committee completed a form indicating the means by which they could be contacted, with many opting for mobile phone contact only, with no contact to be made by email or by post. As such, the legislative approach respects the preferences indicated by those who attended the Confidential Committee.

Many of the witnesses who described their personal experiences to the Confidential Committee did so in the legitimate expectation that their confidentiality would be protected. Others may wish to ensure their name is attached to their story. Most importantly, the amendment made to the records legislation following the Seanad debate protects the agency of each person who provided a personal story to the Confidential Committee to decide if they want their name included in the records which the Commission must transfer to the Department. Any person who wishes to have their name redacted must tell the Commission this in writing.

It should be noted that this process only applies to material provided to the Confidential Committee. As such, it relates only to the stories which people voluntarily came forward to tell with the understanding that they were doing so in a 'safe and uncontested space' where they would remain anonymous. It does not relate to any broader evidence or documents, eg. Institutional records or evidence given under oath.

In terms of what personal identifying information stands to be redacted, the Commission has confirmed that, as per the leaflets prepared for the Confidential Committee, the typed record of the story recounted by the individual is created in a manner which, at the outset, does not contain identifying information either in relation to the person who came forward to tell the story or in relation to any other person. As such, the only identifying information is the name and contact details of the individual which are attached/ indexed to the story.

I understand that the Commission is making initial contacts with relevant persons by telephone but it is important to clarify that I have no role in the arrangements by which the independent Commission is contacting witnesses.

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