‘Family-tree’ websites could be model for Tuam DNA database

Geoffrey Shannon says commercial tests show how easily DNA can be gathered

Popular "family-tree" websites such as ancestry.com and myheritage.com could provide a model for the Government to help identify human remains at the Tuam mother-and-baby home, Geoffrey Shannon has suggested.

In his report into the legal feasibility of a DNA database of survivors which may help identify children buried at the site, the former special rapporteur for child protection says families of the deceased have specific rights under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Their ability to invoke those rights rely on them being able to identify any relatives buried at the former home in Co Galway, and this would be helped by a system allowing families to volunteer DNA samples.

Mr Shannon says there is “no inherent prohibition” on the operation of such a system, adding: “Anecdotal support for this might be seen in the existence of various commercial services involving DNA analysis.”

“It is interesting to note the existence of online and Irish providers which allow for such voluntary DNA testing and which are in operation within the State at present,” he says in his 97-page report, which the Government has agreed to act on.

“There are a number of such providers which advertise and promote the ability to ‘uncover ethnic origins’ and ‘find new relatives’. This includes myheritage.com, findmypast.ie, ancestry.com and easydna.ie.”

The companies send out simple saliva tests in the post – a small tube for the collection of a sample – which customers mail back. The DNA of the sample is then assessed at a laboratory.

Mr Shannon points out the tests “uncover family origins – not only geographically – but also by linking with relatives online, often distant cousins”.

“There appears to be a compelling justification to establish an appropriate administrative scheme rendering it permissible to collect Tuam survivors’ DNA samples on a voluntary basis once privacy and GDPR concerns are addressed,” he added.

“This would assist in ensuring they are capable of asserting their family rights at a later date, if a family connection is made.”