Children's Minister 'deeply regrets' communication failure with Mother and Baby homes survivors

Children's Minister 'deeply regrets' communication failure with Mother and Baby homes survivors

Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O'Gorman defended last night's legislation. Picture: Julien Behal

The Children's Minister "deeply regrets" his failure to properly communicate with the survivors of Mother and Baby homes on new laws which will seal their records for 30 years.

Roderic O'Gorman has admitted a controversial Bill, which will seal records containing information on those who lived in Mother and Baby homes, has caused "anxiety".

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

Mr O'Gorman said he will now consult with survivor groups and academic experts after the Bill sparked fury among opposition TDs and former mother and baby home residents before it passed through the Dáil last night.

"I needed to do a better job at communicating what the government was doing and engaging with survivors groups, and I know a lot of anxiety has been caused and I certainly deeply regret the fact that my failures to communicate properly caused that anxiety," he said.

I should have done better in how I communicated what I was trying to achieve with this particular piece of legislation.

The Government had argued that the legislation was needed to protect the information which had been gathered by the Mother and Baby Commission over the past five years.

Mr O'Gorman said he will now consult with the Attorney General to see "what avenues there are there to address the 30 year issue, particularly with regard to personal information."

He said he will also work with the Oireachtas Children's Committee on the issue adding that he is "committed to addressing" the concerns around the 30 year rule.

The Minister admitted that the legislation had been "rushed" so it would be in place before the winding up of the Commission at the end of this month.

He said he didn't want to extend the time of the Commission as this would in turn have delayed the final report into Mother and Baby homes.

"I didn't want to ask survivors to wait more, because I understand how eager they are to see the results of the Commission's investigation from the last five years.

"The report is going to be about 4000 pages long. It's going to have specific chapters dealing with each of the mother and baby homes. 

"It's going to have a chapter looking at the social history of Ireland at the time to try and put what was happening in the mother and baby homes in a wider context and it's also going to have a chapter where people who gave their personal stories to the confidential committee of the Commission, where those personal stories will be reflected.

"So I think the Commission's report is an absolutely essential part of answering. What happened to these mother and baby homes," Mr O'Gorman told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

Children's Minister defends Mother and Baby Homes legislation

Late last night, the Minister for Children, Roderic O'Gorman, defended the controversial Mother and Baby Homes bill after it passed in the Dáil. 

In a statement, the minister insisted the legislation does not seal the records and, instead, preserves the data from the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes. 

The minister claims the Commission feels obliged to delete the data of women and children who passed through the homes and that he wants to protect the database. 

"I want to make it very clear, in the most emphatic terms: the bill vote on tonight does not seal the archive for 30 years. The bill was brought to ensure we could save information from being sealed by pre-existing requirement under an earlier law. I want to work to overcome this restriction too. 

"Nothing in this bill is a measure to seal records. That is not something I would seek to do, nor is it what this bill is about," said Mr O'Gorman. 

Opposition parties were highly critical of Mr O'Gorman in last night's debate in the Dáil that saw the legislation pass, 78 votes to 67, with all but two non-Government TDs opposed.

Mr O'Gorman's decision not to accept opposition amendments drew particular scorn with Holly Cairns, the Cork South West Social Democrats TD describing the action as "sickening". 

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

Responding to this criticism, 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.

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