Taoiseach Micheál Martin has insisted that legislation on mother and baby homes is being urgently introduced in the Oireachtas to “preserve invaluable information, not to put it beyond reach”.
Mr Martin defended the fast tracking of the legislation which Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said would result in the archive of the commission into mother and baby homes being sealed for 30 years.
Ms McDonald appealed to the Taoiseach in the Dáil to scrap the Bill, warning that “this will prevent people accessing their records from the Minister’s archive and it will stop families accessing information about disappeared family members or babies buried in unmarked graves”.
The Sinn Féin president said “this is very wrong. It also means that all the information, the files and the records that show how abusive the system was will be withheld from the very people who are entitled to the truth.”
But Mr Martin insisted that the Bill aims to provide “urgent and critical legal clarity” on the future use of a database compiled by the mother and baby homes commission. They wanted to “ensure that we preserve the invaluable cache of information and not lose it forever”.
The commission compiled a database of the mothers and children who were resident in the main mother and baby homes, which includes information extracted from institutions whose original records are now held in the main by Child and Family Agency Tusla.
The Taoiseach said the Bill aimed to address concerns raised by the commission about the need to redact personal information “and the impact which such redactions would have in terms of effectively destroying this database”.
The Bill is an “urgent, bespoke solution to protect the complete records of the commission, including the database, before its expected dissolution by the end of this month”.
He insisted the current legislation would make it possible for the database to be accessible, and future birth information and tracing legislation would also make it available.
The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill is currently going through the Seanad where concerns were also raised.
Labour Seanad leader Ivana Bacik said the party's five Senators could not support the rushing of the legislation.
Ms Bacik said she had received thousands of emails about the issue, comments echoed by Ms McDonald.
The Labour Senator, who has put down amendments to the legislation said “these important records must be respectfully preserved and rendered accessible in an anonymised or redacted manner to people”.
Independent Senator Michael McDowell also raised concerns about the Bill and said there had been no informal consultation of any kind whatsoever with the Independents group. “This is an instance where we are being asked to legislate on something without any pre-legislative scrutiny or prior discussion.”
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman who introduced the Bill in the Seanad insisted the Bill aimed to “to safeguard the records gathered by the commission over the course of its complex five-year investigation so they are preserved intact and available into the future in an appropriate way”.
In the Dáil Ms McDonald said the Minister had not consulted survivors and insisted that he was “doing the wrong thing and he is causing enormous alarm and great upset”.
The Taoiseach accused Ms McDonald of casting aspersions on Mr O’Gorman’s intentions “which are very sincere and heartfelt”.
Mr Martin said the homes demonstrated an “appalling approach to the treatment of women and mothers and, at the time, the separation of child from mother”.
He said the database “will be of considerable assistance to those involved in providing information-tracing services to individuals who were residents in these institutions”.