Mother and baby homes report will increase calls for State redress, Cabinet told
There will be fallout for departments found to have been at fault, Ministers told
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Publication of the mother and baby homes report will increase pressure on the Government to issue a State apology and move forward with a financial compensation scheme for victims, the Cabinet has been told.
During the course of a lengthy Cabinet briefing on Wednesday, Ministers were told the publication will lead to calls from former residents and campaigners for a State apology, financial redress and considerable supports for victims.
The 4,000-page report from the Commission of Mother and Babies Homes, headed by former Circuit Court judge Yvonne Murphy, will be sent to the Government on Friday, though publication could be months away.
However, the fallout from the publication will have widespread repercussions for departments historically found to have been at fault for failing to regulate the homes properly, Ministers were told
People who were held in industrial schools and reformatories have received compensation from the State through redress boards, while those held in Magdalene laundries were separately compensated.
However, women who were held in mother and baby homes, most of who are now dead, and their children have neither been compensated or received an apology from the State.
The Government is minded to swiftly publish the commission’s report, though it wishes to publish simultaneously a number of “milestones” that will address campaigners’ concerns and demands.
Following 10 days of recrimination over legislation to govern the handling of records created by the commission, it is clearly understood now that a mishandling of the report could have serious implications.
Ministers were also told that a referendum or new legislation will be needed to deal with confidentiality and privacy issues where birth parents do not want their data released.
During the course of the Cabinet briefing, Ministers were also told that concerns over prejudicing potential criminal trials must be factored into the decision as to when to publish the report.
The 2004 Act, under which the commission was constituted, requires the Minister to apply to the courts for direction on publishing the report if it might prejudice proceedings.
Several people have already made Garda complaints.There will also be a need to engage with the Attorney General, the gardaí and the Director of Public Prosecutions on this point.
The Government’s position on controversial legislation passed last week was also discussed, with Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman reiterating his belief that it was necessary in order to preserve the records of the commission, and to give people who had made submissions the chance to remain anonymous if they wish. There was further discussion of the issue of accessing records of the commission, which Mr O’Gorman has committed to facilitating in line with people’s rights under GDPR.
The Minister told The Irish Times on Wednesday that these rights under data protection regulations will have to be balanced with how they impact on the rights and freedoms of others, and whether the restriction on access to information is necessary or proportionate to safeguard the operation of commissions of investigation and future co-operation of witnesses.
At the meeting Ministers also discussed different options for information and tracing legislation. Data protection laws have made it more difficult to release personal information about birth parentage, especially if the parents have died, or have not given consent for their data to be shared with the adopted person.
In these circumstances, successive governments have struggled to balance the rights of the parents to privacy and the rights of the adopted children to information about their identity. The previous minister for children, Katherine Zappone, sought to address these issues with the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, which proposed that the adopted person would sign an undertaking not to contact their birth parents. However, this Bill stalled and lapsed when the last Dáil was dissolved.
Among the options being considered by the Government would be the creation of “opt in” legislation. This would require parents who don’t want their information released in the future to indicate this, and if a request was later made for the information, a decision would be made by the relevant authority concerned.
Alternatively, the issue could be put to a constitutional referendum, or referred to the citizens assembly, Ministers were told.