Widespread outrage at decision to seal Mother and Baby Home records
The Green Party, Donegal, has defended the decision by Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman to pilot legislation through the Oireachtas, which sealed the records of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation for 30 years.
The Commission was established in 2015 and its report is due to be published in the next fortnight.
The Minister's action has led to a mass campaign across the State to 'Unseal the Mother Baby Home Records'. One such social media platform, which amassed 3,200 members in just two days, is dedicated to telling the personal stories of survivors of the homes and the inter-generational survivors.
Speaking to Donegal Live, Michael White, the Chairperson of the Green Party, Donegal said the purpose of the emergency bill was to save records from being destroyed.
Mr White added: “This is the very opposite of sealing them away. It was a specific piece of urgent legislation to prevent records being destroyed at the end of October.
“It is clear that there is still much to do beyond this urgent legislation, to fully honour the wishes of those who survived these institutions and who have been let down by the state time and time again.
“Minister Roderic O'Gorman has committed that this bill will not be the final word, and is working on the next steps to give greater access to records in future legislation, which will be able to be drafted in consultation with survivors and campaigners.
“The resignation of the Young Greens Chair [Tara Gilsenan] is unfortunate, but it was clear that she was unhappy with the decision to go into government back in June. Some of the Young Greens were and are unhappy about the compromises made to form the coalition,” said Michael White.
Mr White said it was his view the Green Party had already achieved some huge wins in government, such as “€1 billion being allocated to bus and rail travel and the new multi-million retrofitting programme. The Green Party will continue to deliver in Government,” he concluded.
Explaining the Government's rationale in sealing the records of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation for 30 years, Minister Charlie McConalogue said the investigation was held into “a very dark chapter in our history.”
Minister McConalogue added: “The story of the survivors and the people who were failed by the state and society at the time needs to be told in full, not hidden away. There needs to be a light shone on their experiences and on what happened. That is why the Mother and Baby Commission was established in 2015.
“It has heard hundreds of personal testimonies from those whose lives were affected by the experience in mother and baby homes. The Commission is due to report next week and I believe it will be a 4,000 page report, detailing the testimony which it received and I think that will be an important moment and a very important report.
“The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has also put together a database from all the records it has researched and acquired, of the names of all the mothers and babies who came through the various homes. Due to the fact that the Commission's reference period is due to expire on October 30, after that date, there would have been no legislative basis for the maintenance of those records. There would have been no guidance in law as to what should happen to those records.
“That meant there was a real urgency to introduce legislation, in advance of October 30, to ensure that that database and all of those records would continue to be maintained and held and overseen, so the records would not be lost. There would be a clear legislative basis for maintaining those records,” said Minister McConalogue.
Mr McConalogue stressed the legislation was not designed to hide the records.
He added: “It was designed to maintain the records not lock them away.
“There is now going to be further legislation required, to which the Government is fully committed and which will be introduced in the New Year, in terms of getting access to those records, to provide a legislative basis to enable people to access the records. This will enable people to trace their own personal history, and their own experience.
“This will require further legislation, which will be introduced in the New Year. The legislation will have to navigate difficult legal advices and is going to require a lot of consultation with all of the survivors and the representative groups, to ensure it is got right and that access can be provided to survivors.
“This is not about closing down or locking away. This is about following through on shining a light on the very harrowing experiences that many people had and how there were failed by the state and society at that time. I am very committed to ensuring this. I understand the harrowing experiences people had, through not having the support they should have had at that time, the mothers at the time and the babies who were born in those homes, the rights that were not accorded to them,” said Charlie McConalogue.
Donegal TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sinn Féin) spoke of his “disappointment and anger” as the controversial Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain related Matters) Records Bill passed committee and report stages in the Dáil last week.
Deputy Mac Lochlainn said: “I am shocked and furious that this Government has completely ignored the well-articulated wishes of survivors of state-sanctioned abuse, that their records do not go to Tusla and that they would not be sealed for 30 years.
“The outpouring of emotion and anger on this issue could not be ignored by any TD or Senator. We were contacted by thousands of survivors retelling their heart-wrenching stories, some of which I was honoured to read into the Dáil record.
“They were stories from woman and children who have been so cruelly cast aside, dismissed, ignored and simply not believed. The Minister had the opportunity with this legislation to stand on the right side of history. To say he believes their stories, he understands their pain and he will do everything in his power to take their concerns into account and to let survivors decide how to handle their own records but he chose not to.
“Throughout this, survivors, their families, their legal representatives and their advocates have been very clear that this Bill has been totally unacceptable. The Minister has dismissed their concerns and cast them aside. He has consistently defended this Bill, despite numerous issues being highlighted,” said Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Mr Mac Lochlainn said it had now been reported that the Data Protection Commission had advised the Children’s Minister that this Bill would breach the Irish and EU law on the accessibility of personal data.
The Donegal TD added: “This confirms many of the fears that survivors have expressed and highlights the inappropriate way in which the Minister has approached this Bill throughout.
“The Minister must explain what advice he received from the Data Protection Commissioner and how he responded to their recommendation. Survivors and their families deserve to know why this has been allowed to take place”.
“I want to assure all survivors of mother and baby institutions that Sinn Féin are committed to survivors’ and families’ right to access their own records, and to the preservation of all records. And I, and my colleagues in opposition, will continue to hold the Minister and Government to account.
“Huge numbers of people across Donegal have emailed their TDs about the issue over the weekend. The outpouring of emotion and anger on this issue could not be ignored by any TD or senator. We were contacted by thousands of survivors retelling their heart wrenching stories,” concluded Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Live editorial team any time. To contact Donegal Democrat and Donegal People's Press, email firstname.lastname@example.org To contact Donegal Post, email email@example.com To contact Inish Times, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.