Inquiry refuses mother access to adoption files

A mother who lost her child to adoption through a mother and baby home, maternity hospital, and adoption agency, has been refused access to her personal records by the state inquiry investigating the issue.

When the woman applied to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission for access to the records under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it confirmed it held a range of records concerning her.

The commission said it had received the records from Tusla, the child and family agency, but refused to give the woman any of the records.

Maeve Doherty, solicitor for the commission, wrote to the woman’s legal representatives in September, stating that the reason for the refusal was “to ensure the effective operation of the work of the commission and the co-operation of witnesses”.

File photo.

She pointed to an amendment made to section 39 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.

“The commission has determined that it is necessary and proportionate to refuse access to the personal data it holds relating to your client in order to safeguard the effective operation of the commission and the future co-operation of witnesses,” said Ms Doherty.

She confirmed that Tusla had sent personal data relating to the woman to the commission. This data included name, address, date of birth, age, date of admission and discharge, occupation, next of kin, social history, antenatal records, name and place of birth of child, and two letters from certain individuals.

Fred Logue of FP Logue, specialist in information law, said refusing someone access to their own data on the basis it may hinder the commission’s work is “logically impossible”.

“The thing is they are refusing access to information that is available from other data controllers like the HSE and the Department of Social Protection, on the basis that refusal is necessary to protect the commission,” said Mr Logue.

I don’t understand how the release of information that is available from another source can harm the commission. This is logically impossible.

Mr Logue criticised the commissions of investigation model in Ireland.

“This is a breach of a whole slew of rights. In fact, one of our clients didn’t even know, until she filed a subject access request, that the commission had taken receipt of her files,” he said.

Maeve O’Rourke, from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Clann Project, said: “The commission’s refusal to tell people what personal information it holds on them, without giving individualised reasons, appears to be in breach of the GDPR.

“The commission’s blanket insistence on secrecy also seems to contravene the right to an effective investigation under the European Convention on Human Rights where grave human rights violations are alleged.”

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