An "anti-democratic" Oireachtas ICT measure potentially redirected thousands of heartfelt letters, begging TDs not to pass the controversial mother and baby home legislation, away from their inbox ahead of a key Dáil vote.
A surge of emails hit the Oireachtas server on budget day, crashing the system, as approximately 30,000 concerned people contacted their TDs about the bill relating to the records of those who passed through mother and baby homes.
In an effort to cope with the sudden email surge, the Oireachtas ICT unit created a system whereby some emails would be siphoned off away from the TD's inbox, or 'quarantined'. They asked Oireachtas members to check their spam folder instead for missing emails.
A Government source said this measure was “effectively gagging people” as TDs potentially missed thousands of letters from constituents contacting them about this sensitive issue.
“I’ve never seen the volume of emails, I’ve never seen the authenticity, with people begging — begging — the Government not to go through with this legislation,” the source said.
“The campaign was so successful it crashed the system on budget day.
“The next day, all TDs received a notification from ICT saying that certain messages would now be quarantined.”
Another Oireachtas source said: “The server couldn’t cope last week and started quarantining the emails, so God knows how many never got delivered.
“I’ve never encountered something like this in all my years here. They actually filtered the lobby from the inside.”
This is the latest in a string of controversies and complaints related to the Mother and Baby Home Bill, which will allow a database of 60,000 records created by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to be transferred to Tusla, the child and family agency.
The bill drew loud and angry opposition, with some 60 amendments suggested by the opposition — all refused to be considered by Children's Minister Roderic O’Gorman.
Mr O’Gorman apologised on RTÉ for poor communication and inadequate engagement with survivors’ groups over the legislation, which passed by 78 voted to 67 in the Dáil on Thursday night.
He defended the legislation and said that concerns over the sealing of documents related to the commission of investigation was not related to the bill but to the 2004 act under which the commission operates.
He said the 2004 Act “was amended to explicitly exclude GDPR from applying to the commission’s archives” after GDPR was introduced in Ireland in 2018.
Simon McGarr, a solicitor and director at Data Protection Europe, said this is not the case. “A national law cannot overturn an EU right," he said.
“The proposal to ‘seal’ the archive of documents to be presented to the minister for 30 years is simply impermissible under EU law.
"The GDPR can’t be alienated by a piece of national legislation unless that restriction of GDPR falls within a recognised field of restriction. And this one doesn’t."
Mr McGarr said the legislation is so weak legally that it could be challenged in the courts.
Mr O'Gorman had also claimed he was “bound” to accept the Attorney General’s advice, which is also untrue, according to many legal experts, including Fiona Donson, director of the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in the Law School at University College Cork.
“It’s an easy excuse to say ‘the AG told me to do it’," said Ms Donson.
“But to say that Government is 'bound' by the AG's advice in some legal or constitutional sense is not accurate.
“I find it very hard to accept that this legislation had to be rushed through in this way. This debate has been going on for some time. Even this archive has been on the agenda of people conscious of it for months.
“These timelines being adopted appear to be self-imposed timelines.
“Why pass this legislation now and say you’ll have a nuanced discussion after? Especially when it relates to a group of people who have been so badly treated already.
"This lack of transparency and openness is deeply damaging and retraumatising. This process should be about healing but there’s no healing in it."