Report backs case for collecting DNA samples of Tuam survivors

Minister says she will develop an appropriate voluntary scheme to help identify Tuam bodies

 Minister for Chidlren Katherine Zappone said she was ‘very sympathetic to the concerns of survivors and family members that their age and health profiles introduce an element of urgency when it comes to the collection of biological samples’. File image:   Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Minister for Chidlren Katherine Zappone said she was ‘very sympathetic to the concerns of survivors and family members that their age and health profiles introduce an element of urgency when it comes to the collection of biological samples’. File image: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

An independent report on how to identify human remains at a mother and babies home in Tuam, Co Galway has said it may be possible under existing laws to collect DNA samples from survivors to aid the process.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone said she would act on Dr Geoffrey Shannon’s report by asking her officials to develop a voluntary scheme to collect such DNA.

Ms Zappone had asked Dr Shannon to consider what actions may be possible under existing laws in response to a request from some representative groups to begin collecting DNA samples immediately in light of the age profile and health status of survivors.

The purpose of collecting samples would be to later compare them against any DNA profiles which may be generated from the juvenile human remains found at the Tuam site and, if possible, to make positive identifications.

Dr Shannon’s 97-page report considers what may be possible within the current legislative framework.

He concluded that it should be possible to develop a voluntary administrative scheme to collect biological samples from relatives before the enactment of the legislation that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is developing in response to the discovery of juvenile remains at Tuam.

The administrative scheme should then be subsumed into the legislation once that is ready, he recommends.

The department said no DNA profiles would be generated from the biological samples until the legislation was in place and it had proven possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile remains.

Dr Shannon said any scheme that was developed would have to be operated on the basis of informed consent in order to satisfy GDPR and constitutional requirements around data protection. Participants should be able to decide to withdraw at any time and request that their sample and the information held about them be destroyed, the report said.

Survivors’ network

Trina Morrissey, of the Tuam Home Survivors’ Network, said any DNA database should not be under the auspices of the Minister.

“Our position hasn’t changed, in that our aims are that there is a forensic exhumation of the Tuam mass graves and this would include the creation of a DNA database, but we would expect that should be carried out by the coroners service, and not related to anything the Government is doing,” she said.

“We don’t see this as a role for Minister Katherine Zappone at all, we see this as falling under the Department of Justice’s coroners service, an independent service.

“To me, it does feels like the government is trying to cover up something, because why would you not use the relevant independent body to carry out an investigation.”

But Ms Corless said it was a “step forward” that survivors could give their DNA and predicted future success in obtaining samples from the remains.

Responding to the report, Ms Zappone said: “I am very sympathetic to the concerns of survivors and family members that their age and health profiles introduce an element of urgency when it comes to the collection of biological samples.

“Following Dr Shannon’s report, I intend to request my officials to develop an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme to collect those samples, subject to legal advice. I would like to sincerely thank Dr Shannon for his judicious and comprehensive assessment of the complex questions at hand.

“As he pointed out, it is not yet clear whether or not it will be possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile human remains that are of such a quality that will result in them being capable of yielding familial matches. But I do not believe that this should be a barrier to hope and I am keen to give every possible opportunity to survivors and family members to try and identify the remains of those who they hold dear in their hearts.

“My officials will now consult further with our legal advisors and relevant agencies towards developing an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme in the coming months.”