Dáil approves transfer of mother-and-baby home records to Tusla

Opposition claims legislation rushed through in spite of survivors’ fears in heated debate

The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother-and-baby home, Co Galway. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother-and-baby home, Co Galway. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Dáil has approved controversial legislation that would transfer a database of 60,000 records created by a five-year State investigation into mother-and-baby homes to the child and family agency, Tusla.

The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill was passed in the Dáil by 78 votes to 67 after a heated and emotional debate.

Two members of the Regional Independents group supported the three Government parties.

Five of the group voted against the Bill as did all the other Opposition parties and groups including Sinn Féin, Labour, the Social Democrats, Solidarity-People Before Profit, the Rural Independents and the Independent Group voted against the legislation.

The Bill provides for the database of the commission of inquiry into the homes to be transferred to Tulsa, which campaigners for survivors of the homes objected to because of concerns about access.

The remaining records will however be sealed for the next 30 years.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said that “surely, seven years after the very welcome apology from the then taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Minister [for Children] should tell the House how he is going to get around the 30-year requirement”.

She said: “I have no words to describe what the State did to mothers and children. It then heaped abuse on abuse after that” and now it had produced legislation that is not fit for purpose.

The Government refused to accept any Opposition amendments but an amendment introduced by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman means the legislation will go back to the Seanad for consideration.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said it was “disgraceful that after pleas from survivors of institutional abuse that the Government will not even consider one of the over 60 amendments from the Opposition”.

She said the commission which is expected to deliver a 4,000-page report at the end of October, was formed “after the discovery of 800 dead children and babies in a misused septic tank”.

Ms Cairns said the Government had voted the Bill through “without proper pre-legislative scrutiny and without input from survivors” and it was “sickening” that no amendments were accepted.

Labour TD Seán Sherlock said the Minister and the Government simply were not listening to the reasonable concerns of the Opposition for more time to debate the Bill.

Independent TD Joan Collins said “the Minister is ignoring the wishes of the people who have survived these institutions and their families and relatives. We are dealing with one of the major historical crimes of the 20th century that happened in this country.”

Mr O’Gorman said: “I am aware of the real rawness of the issues that we are discussing for the survivors of mother and baby homes. I am also aware that this debate, particularly over the past two weeks, has exacerbated that rawness. That does not sit easily with me.”

He said he would on advice from the Attorney General publish an interim report into the handling of records.

Mr O’Gorman insisted the Bill did not seal the archive of the mother-and-baby homes. “That claim has been repeated countless times in this House. It is incorrect. This Bill seeks to protect a database and ensure it is not sealed in that archive,” he said.

But he added that “the law on the archive being sealed comes from the original 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act. When the commission on mother and baby homes was established in 2015 by the Oireachtas, it used the 2004 law as its basis and the consequence of that was the application of the 30-year archive rule.

“Accordingly, when the commission on mother and baby homes brings forth its final report and stands dissolved in law, its archive will be transferred to my department and will be sealed for 30 years under the legislation.”

Mr O’Gorman said he introduced the legislation “because it will take the database out of the archive and give it to Tusla. That database is immediately available for use in the future, which will be incredibly beneficial.”