Survivors will be able to access Mother & Baby Home records

Roderic O’Gorman said the Attorney General (AG) has clarified that access to individual records is possible, but all cases will be assessed on their individual merits
Survivors will be able to access Mother & Baby Home records

Protesters tie babies shoes to a sign at Mother and Baby Home protest event at Aras an Uachtarain Picture: Sasko Lazarov/ RollingNews.ie

Survivors in Mother and Baby Homes will be able to access their personal records in a manner consistent with GDPR rules, it can be revealed.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, children's minister Roderic O’Gorman said the Attorney General (AG) has clarified that access to individual records is possible, but all cases will be assessed on their individual merits.

“The Data Protection Commissioner raised an issue with respect to the 2004 Act. We referred that query to the AG and the AG has clarified this evening that the act does not preclude the consideration for data access by my department when we receive the archive from the commission.

"Any request still has to meet the requirements of GDPR, so we would have to consider does it impact on the rights of others.

“We will also have to assess if any restriction to access is necessary to safeguard the operation of the commission. 

"It is not absolute access by any means but it is an important clarification by the AG. We will look at each request on its individual merits,” he said.

When the Department is examining any data access requests for the archive, the burden will fall on the Department to prove that a restriction on access is necessary to protect the rights of others and protect the effective operations of Commissions of Investigation. 

The burden of proof to not fall on the person seeking access, his officials said.

The issue of the Mother and Baby Homes dominated Wednesday's Cabinet meeting and was discussed for 90 minutes.

At the meeting, Children’s Minister Roderic O’ Gorman apologised to colleagues for the difficulty caused to the Government parties in the past week.

Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O'Gorman arrives at Dublin Castle for a cabinet meeting.
Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O'Gorman arrives at Dublin Castle for a cabinet meeting.

Ministerial sources have said the meeting was “very collegiate” and operated in a spirit of fixing the problem.

Questions were asked of the AG Paul Gallagher as to how individual survivors will be able to access their records under GDPR and sources have said that it possible.

Some ministers asked why was this important clarification not available last week at the teeth of the controversy.

During the lengthy discussion at Cabinet, the “deep shock” felt within government was articulated with ministers asking “how was this allowed to happen.”

“Ministers asked the AG to provide us with clarity in relation to the GDPR issue and that is coming,” one minister said.

Sources at the meeting said rather than ministers beating up on Mr O’Gorman, they were seeking to be helpful.

Norma Foley, the education minister, and arts minister Catherine Martin stressed the need to de-politicise the issue and to put the survivors at the forefront of the government’s thinking.

It is likely that some central repository or national archive will be used as a means of holding the records.

Several ministers said they have sympathy for Mr O’Gorman saying they felt “he was let down by his officials”.

There was unanimity that the 4,000-page report of the Commission into the Mother and Baby Homes be published “with utmost urgency”.

In its statement, the Government said it acknowledges and regrets the hurt felt by many people across Irish society.

The final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, which is due for completion on Friday, October 30, will be published as soon as possible after it is received by the minister. Sources have said that is likely before the end of the year.

The Government will advance its work on the information and tracing legislation, with a view to publication next year. 

It will also urgently proceed with the legislation to provide for sensitive and appropriate actions at the burial site at the former Mother and Baby Home at Tuam, Co Galway, and at any other sites where this is appropriate.

Crucially, the Government will work to establish on a formal, national basis an archive of records related to institutional trauma during the 20th century.

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