President signs Mother and Baby Homes Bill

More than 150,000 people had signed a petition to lift the seal on archives testimony from survivors of mother and baby homes as of 10.45pm Sunday
President signs Mother and Baby Homes Bill

Minister for Children Roderick O'Gorman has sought legal advice from the Attorney General on the sealing of mother and baby records. Picture: Sam Boal

President Michael D Higgins last night signed the controversial Mother and Baby Homes Bill which will seal records for 30 years.

More than 150,000 people had signed a petition to lift the seal on archives testimony from survivors of mother and baby homes as of 10.45pm Sunday.

A spokesperson said that while President Higgins had noted the concerns raised over the bill, the bill itself did not directly raise a constitutional issue suitable for an Art 26.1.1 referral.

Under the bill, which sparked fury when it passed through the Oireachtas, all records apart from a database being sent to the child and family agency, Tusla, will be sealed for three decades. 

There will also be the final report of the Mother and Baby Commission, estimated to be 4,000 pages long, which is expected to be delivered next Friday.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has again apologised to the survivors and admitted that it is no longer “morally feasible” to keep sensitive personal information from individuals. 

He has now sought legal advice from the Attorney General on the matter.

Sinn Féin’s Martin Kenny, Solidarity-PBP TD Bríd Smith, and Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice all called on the President to not sign the bill into law, saying that it should be referred to the Council of State instead.

“It’s outrageous, and I’m calling on the President not to sign this legislation,” Ms Smith told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics. “Please, Michael D — don’t sign it, and you will be the best hero the women of Ireland ever had.”

Describing it as “one of the worst pieces of legislation” to ever pass through the Dáil, Mr Fitzmaurice hit out at the Government for “ramming” the bill through.

Mr Kenny said the issue of sealing of records had been “bubbling under the surface” since legislation to establish the Mother and Baby Home Commission was introduced in 2004.

“Then, at the last minute, it was rushed in,” he said. “It’s absolutely wrong, and it’s despicable.”

Mr Kenny added that the distress caused could have been avoided if the Government had accepted amendments from the opposition. Instead, further legislation will now be required to deal with the issue.

Mr O’Gorman said he “deeply regrets” the anxiety which was caused by his failure to communicate or better engage with survivors groups before the legislation was brought before the Dáil and Seanad.

He said legislation from 2004 stated that the archive would be sealed once the commission reported. The bill passed last week will allow a database of the names of women and children who were resident in the homes to be taken out of that archive. However, all other data collected will remain sealed for 30 years.

However, Mr O’Gorman admitted that “it is not morally feasible” to seal what he described as “personal sensitive information”, and he will now work to make sure this is changed.

“People deserve information about their early life,” he told Newstalk. 

“So I’ve committed to engage both with the Attorney General, but also to work with the Oireachtas committee on children, equality, disability, and integration, to see if a legislative solution to that particular point is necessary."

"I'm determined to ensure that we can give people access to early life information. That's the very least that survivors of mother and baby homes deserve," he told Newstalk's On the Record.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the database detailing those who were resident in mother and baby homes will be "protected and preserved" under the legislation and survivors would have access to their own information.

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