Government agrees plan to allow Mother and Baby Home survivors to access records

The Government said it ‘acknowledges and regrets the genuine hurt felt by many people across Irish society’.

Majella Connolly (front), an adoptee from the St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home in Dublin, joins protesters outside Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin (James Ward/PA)

By James Ward, PA

The Government is to engage with the office of the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure that survivors of Mother and Baby Homes have access to their records.

Controversial legislation passed this week allows a database created by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to be sealed for 30 years.

The bill caused massive public outcry from survivors, campaigners, opposition parties and the general public.

Protesters outside Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin, after President Michael D Higgins signed the controversial Bill into law (James Ward/PA)

The Government are said to have been taken aback by the strength of the backlash, and at a lengthy Cabinet meeting on Wednesday it was decided to address the concerns.

The Government said it “acknowledges and regrets the genuine hurt felt by many people across Irish society.

“It is determined to take the necessary actions to ensure that these concerns are dealt with in a manner that is timely, appropriate and that is focused on the needs of victims and survivors.”

Part of a suite of measures is to ensure that survivors can access their records – one of the key concerns about the bill.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said he had been advised by the attorney general that the GDPR legislation was applicable in terms of rights to access personal information.

“It isn’t the solution as regards access to all information, but it is a significant development and I welcome that clarification today” he told RTE.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will engage closely with Tusla and the office of the Data Protection Commissioner to “ensure that the rights of all citizens to access personal information about themselves, under data protection legislation and the GDPR, are fully respected and implemented.”

The Government had previously argued that under the 2004 legislation around commissions of inquiry, the records must be sealed for 30 years.

The Data Protection Commissioner had disputed this, saying there could not be a “blanket” ban on access to records, which should instead be determined by EU data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The Final Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, which is due for completion on Friday October 30, will be published as soon as possible after it is received by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman.

The report will be immediately referred to the attorney general for legal advice as to whether it might prejudice any criminal proceedings that are pending or in progress

“To expedite publication, the AG will ensure that additional resources are in place to speedily review for publication what is expected to be a very lengthy report” a Government statement said.

The Government will also “urgently proceed” with legislation to provide for “sensitive and appropriate actions” at the burial site at the former Mother and Baby Home at Tuam, Co Galway.

The discovery of more than 700 babies and infants near the home run by the Bon Secours Sisters in Tuam in 2014 sparked the initial commission of investigation.

Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman arrives at Dublin Castle for a cabinet meeting (Niall Carson/PA)

A national archive of records related to institutional trauma during the 20th century is also to be established.

“This will include archiving relevant records and witness testimony by victims and survivors.

“It will be developed at a suitable site and operated in accordance with the highest international standards.

“”t will be designed in cooperation with professional archivists and historians, as well as with victims, survivors and their advocates” the statement said.

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