Mother and Baby Homes records to be sealed for 30 years as controversial bill passes

Controversial bill will seal records for 30 years
Mother and Baby Homes records to be sealed for 30 years as controversial bill passes

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has confirmed to the Dáil that he will not be taking any amendments on the Mother and Baby Homes Records Bill, to Opposition anger. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The Dáil has tonight decided the fate of the archive collected by the state inquiry into Mother and Baby homes.

It has passed a controversial bill by 78 votes to 67 with all but two non-Government TDs opposed.

Apart from a database which is being sent to the child and family agency, Tusla, the records will be sealed for the next 30 years.

Opposition TDs had hoped to allow survivors of the system decide whether their names and testimony should be disclosed but their amendments were refused.

Earlier today, TDs described as “sickening” the Government’s decision to reject all Opposition amendments to the controversial Mother and Baby Homes bill, which will seal records for 30 years.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has confirmed to the Dáil that he will not be taking any amendments on the Mother and Baby Homes Records Bill, to Opposition anger.

TDs during a debate in the Dáil have been left shocked at Mr O’Gorman’s decision to reject all amendments amid controversy over the provision which would seal records for 30 years.

Holly Cairns, the Cork South West Social Democrats TD, said it is absolutely disgraceful that after pleas from survivors of institutional abuse and thousands of messages from ordinary people that the Government will not even consider one of the over 60 amendments from the opposition. 

“Tonight the government will vote through a bill which has had no input from survivors,” she said.

Holly Cairns: 'We now have hours of argument and requests from the opposition in full knowledge we are being ignored.' Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Holly Cairns: 'We now have hours of argument and requests from the opposition in full knowledge we are being ignored.' Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The collaborative forum, established by the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, was to be the new participatory approach in the State's response to survivors. The forum was not consulted in the drafting of this legislation, Ms Cairns said.

“Myself and other opposition TDs submitted amendments based on inputs from survivors and human rights experts. In last night’s debate, the minister said that he was aware of the responsibility that he has to do the right thing by the survivors of mother and baby homes,” she said.

“But, how can he claim this, if the Bill has no input from them? I put in amendments designed to help achieve the outcomes the government claims they want. Amendments which have been developed in consultation with survivors and their representatives. 

It is sickening that the minister is unwilling to make amendments. 

"We now have hours of argument and requests from the opposition in full knowledge we are being ignored,” Ms Cairns said.

Her colleagues Gary Gannon described Mr O’Gorman’s decision as "possibly one of the most disappointing responses I’ve heard during my time in politics". 

“20 minutes into a debate, Minister O’Gorman states that he’ll be taking no amendments. No argument, no reasoning, no space for persuasion. I’ve no idea why it needs to be this way,” he tweeted.

Cork East TD Seán Sherlock said the minister for children and the Government simply are not listening to the reasonable concerns of the Opposition for more time on the Mother and Baby's Home Commission Bill.

"We're being asked to legislate with one hand tied behind our backs, because we feel that we are speaking to reason in seeking more time for more deliberation on the issues. And one of the issues that is absolutely and utterly pertinent to this bill is the whole issue of information and tracing. We don't have an information and tracing bill, which renders this bill, and its effects, I would say useless for the countless numbers of people who will want access to information in relation to the contents of the database. And I'm not convinced that the minister's own amendments will ameliorate that. We've been told that the documents received, that there are 60,000 records.

"We are seeking to appeal to reason. The minister has said that he will not accept amendments. It renders the next few hours an utter sham. It makes a mockery of the legislative process. It shows that this is a Government that is not willing to listen to the voices of those on the Opposition benches who, to our mind, are putting forward reasonable amendments. We now have to go through the choreography and pageantry of the next hours, knowing that whatever we say is for nowt, thus disappointing and traumatising people who feel rightfully aggrieved because of the method by which this legislation is being passed."

Responding to TDs, Mr O’Gorman said that on advice from the Attorney General he could publish an interim report into the handling of records.

He said he was tabling two amendments himself to try and address TDs’ concerns.

“I am aware of the real rawness of the issues that we are discussing for the survivors of mother and baby homes. I am also aware that this debate, particularly over the past two weeks, has exacerbated that rawness. That does not sit easily with me,” he said.

“I am bringing forward a bill today whose purpose is to protect a database created by the commission on mother and baby homes,” he said.

The minister said the bill does not seal the archive of the mother and baby homes. “That claim has been repeated countless times in this House. It is incorrect. This bill seeks to protect a database and ensure it is not sealed in that archive,” he said.

“The law on the archive being sealed comes from the original 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act. When the commission on mother and baby homes was established in 2015 by the Oireachtas, it used the 2004 law as its basis and the consequence of that was the application of the 30-year archive rule. Accordingly, when the commission on mother and baby homes brings forth its final report and stands dissolved in law, its archive will be transferred to my Department and will be sealed for 30 years under the legislation,” he added.

Following the refusal to accept any opposition amendments, the Dàil passed the bill by 78 votes to 68.

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