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'Excluded' Survivors vow to challenge new Mother and Baby Homes Bill in the Supreme Court

Last night, President Michael D Higgins signed the controversial Mother and Baby Homes Bill into law - despite the public outcry from survivors and those born in the institutions.

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Sheila O'Byrne

Sheila O'Byrne

Sheila O'Byrne

A survivor of one of Ireland's Mother’s and Baby homes has vowed to fight Minister Roderic O'Gorman's controversial new Bill in the Supreme Court.

Last night, President Michael D Higgins signed the controversial Mother and Baby Homes Bill into law - despite the public outcry from survivors and those born in the institutions.

The bill, allows for the transfer of a database of 60,000 records created by Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Speaking to the Sunday World, Sheila O’Byrne, who was sent to St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on Dublin’s Navan Road when she was just 19, said the the survivors will take their fight to the courts.

Sheila, who is a member of the group 'First Mothers and Survivors Unite', was sent to St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home in 1976 after falling pregnant.

She hasn’t seen her son since he was a little baby after he was taken from her arms by the nuns.

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Sheila O'Byrne

Sheila O'Byrne

Sheila O'Byrne

Sheila told the Sunday World that survivors will continue to fight the Bill.

“It was upsetting,” she told the Sunday World.

“We will be getting legal advice and take things to the next step.

“We can challenge it in the Supreme Court and thankfully we can look at that as a next step.

“It is incredible to think that they can take our information, our data and stop us from accessing it.”

In 2016, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission was established to investigate how women and children were treated in the State-funded institutions.

The Commission is expected to publish its findings next week.

During their investigation, the Commission created a database of 60,000 separate records - which includes a range of official and Church documents.

However, the newly-passed legislation allows this database to be sealed for 30 years.

Opponents of the believe the transfer this data to Tusla will mean survivors will not be able to access crucial information,

Children's Minister Roderic O’Gorman denies this, and says he is acting to avoid the records being permanently sealed.

To date almost 160,000 people have signed a petition asking Minister O’Gorman to allow survivors and those born at the homes to access the archive, fearing these records will be kept under wraps.

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Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has apologised for anxiety caused by his failure to explain controversial legislation over mother and baby homes (Niall Carson/PA)

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has apologised for anxiety caused by his failure to explain controversial legislation over mother and baby homes (Niall Carson/PA)

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has apologised for anxiety caused by his failure to explain controversial legislation over mother and baby homes (Niall Carson/PA)

Sheila said Minister O’Gorman should do "what is right" and to consult with the mothers who gave birth in the institutions.

“Roderic O’Gorman doesn’t recognise the mothers, and I believe he never will,” she said.

“I stood outside the Dáil the other day and he wouldn’t come out us.

“We have written to him asking for a meeting but nothing has come back. We have been excluded by everyone and it is a disgrace.

“I turn on the television and they have academics and different groups on but none of them were actually there.

“I am with First Mothers and Survivors Unite and the Minister won’t meet us.

“It’s a disgrace, we are a community of survivors who are the living witnesses from the Mother and Baby Homes, and he won’t engage with us.

“This is our data; our lives and we are being left out of the conversation.

“Well we won’t stop here; we will fight this.”

This weekend, Minister O'Gorman said there were legal issues to overcome in relation to the 2004 Act but “we need to fix this problem and I am absolutely committed” to doing so as it is no longer “morally feasible” to deny people access to the information.

Speaking to On The Record with Gavan Reilly he said: “ It has been a difficult week and what I am most conscious of this that this debate has created a lot of anxiety to survivors of Mother and Baby Homes.

“This debate has created a lot of anxiety for the survivors.

“To the extent that things I’ve done or have failed to communicate with survivors' groups, I regret that deeply.

“I’m very aware that when it comes to sensitive legislation that everything is sealed in the archive, it's not morally feasible to do that.

“I have committed to engage with the Attorney General and the Oireachtas Committee to see if legislative solution is necessary.

“I am determined that we can give people access to early life information. I think that is the least the survivors deserve.”

But for Sheila, these words ring hollow as she is still being denied a basic meeting with the Minister.

“We are the survivors and he won’t acknowledge us, so no, I don’t think anything will change.

“But we will continue to fight.”

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