Wednesday, 17 November 2021
Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries
137. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the reason a coroner’s inquest has not been ordered in respect of the Tuam burial site and other institutional sites of unmarked graves; if he will provide clarity on whether the Government will order inquests into the deaths and burials of mother and baby home residents; the reason the proposed certain institutional burials (authorised interventions) Bill disapplies the coroner’s powers relating to these exhumations; and the steps being taken to ensure the birth information and tracing Bill will comply with the State’s obligations under international law (details supplied). [56281/21]
The General Scheme of a Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill, which was approved and published in December 2019, was designed to provide the required legal basis for exhumation, identification and dignified reburial of the infants at the Tuam site and other locations should similar circumstances come to light. The Bill underwent Pre-Legislative Scrutiny in the first half of 2021 and the Joint Oireachtas Committee published its report in July. I am currently carefully considering the recommendations from that process and hope to publish this Bill by the end of the current parliamentary session.
Coroners are independent public officials who have the general duty to hold an inquest if they are of the opinion that the death or deaths may have occurred in a violent or unnatural manner or happened suddenly and from unknown causes. The Coroners Act 1962 makes only limited provision in respect of exhumation and removal of a body, providing only for the Minister for Justice to order an exhumation at the request of the Coroner if the Coroner is informed by a member of An Garda Síochána that a death or deaths may have occurred in a violent or unnatural manner. The Coroner cannot exhume for the purposes of identification. The Coroners Act does not provide for the establishment of Identification Programme, using DNA to establish familial matches, as proposed under the new legislation.
The proposed legislation is intended to complement the Coroners Act 1962 by providing a mechanism for guaranteedintervention at the Tuam site, which otherwise would have been difficult to achieve. It does not remove the obligation on the coroner to hold an inquest where it is required under the 1962 Act and, importantly, where the remains show evidence of violent or unnatural death, the Director overseeing the intervention must immediately inform the coroner within whose district the remains were recovered and An Garda Síochána.
In May 2021, draft legislation was published to guarantee a clear right of access to birth and early information for all persons who are adopted and others who have questions in relation to their origins. The proposed Birth Information and Tracing legislation aims to enshrine in law the importance of a person knowing his or her origins. I am giving careful considerations to all feedback received on the draft legislation as part of the process of drafting the Bill.