Survivors of mother and baby homes will be able to seek access to records

Ministers admit Government left 'badly shook' by controversies as Attorney General clarifies that access is permissable under strict conditions
Survivors of mother and baby homes will be able to seek access to records

Attorney general Paul Gallagher has clarified that access to individual records is possible, with all cases assessed on their individual merits. Picture: Colin Keegan

Survivors of mother and baby homes will be able to seek access to their personal records after the Government "clarified" concerns raised by furious survivors.

Cabinet ministers have admitted the Government has been left “badly shook” by the controversies involving the mother and baby homes and the establishment of the CervicalCheck Tribunal, which have enraged campaigners and survivors.

Despite it being said survivors could not access such records last week, the Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, has clarified that such access is permissible under strict conditions.

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

“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.

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,” he added.

The issue of the mother and baby homes dominated yesterday’s Cabinet meeting and was discussed for 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, women at the centre of the CervicalCheck scandal say they feel the Government is "going to fight us to our graves".

Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, has come under fire for keeping information from 221+, the CervicalCheck Patient Support Group, over the establishment of the tribunal into the scandal.

Campaigner Lorraine Walsh said at no point during lengthy meetings in recent days did Mr Donnelly mention that he might not be able to stop the establishment of the tribunal.

"We're so pissed off, we've been let down so many times, I feel deceived, and that they tried to pull the wool over our eyes,” she added.

Despite a government climbdown over the weekend in the face of anger from campaigners and meetings between the minister and the advocate group, health officials say a delay is not possible.

Mr Donnelly brought a memo to the Cabinet meeting proposing Tuesday, October 27, as the day The CervicalCheck Tribunal would begin its work, with his cabinet colleagues agreeing.

Ms Walsh said the minister told the group he would pause the establishment of the tribunal at that meeting, and would have conversations with the Attorney General and State Claims Agency.

However, Mr Donnelly had already signed the irreversible order — which formally established the tribunal with Tuesday of this week as its commencement date — and that order was sent for publication on the same day he met with the 221+ group.

"It seems to me they're going to fight us to our graves, that's what they're doing," Ms Walsh said. "They're hunting women into their graves. They don't want to do the right thing by us.

"This whole thing started because women were ignored and deceived, deceived by the medical profession and now the Government. Who are you supposed to trust?” she said.

We met on Monday, he said that he would pause it for a number of days to get issues ironed out — and then it turns out they knew on Monday that it wasn't going to stop. 

"I'm weary with the whole thing to be quite honest, I'm really disappointed, there was an opportunity to do the right thing here,” she added.

A spokesperson for Mr Donnelly said his officials formally pursued the delaying of the establishment of the CervicalCheck Tribunal.

“Unfortunately, it transpired that the order could not be altered or reversed. As soon as possible when department officials became aware of this fact on Tuesday afternoon, contact was made by phone with a representative of the 221+ group which was followed with a detailed note informing them of the position,” the spokesperson said.

This means that, technically and formally, the date of October 27 stands as the establishment day under the Act. 

“Engagement with the 221+ group in respect of the tribunal is ongoing and the minister remains committed to fully addressing the group’s concerns in respect of the tribunal,” the spokesperson added.  

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 is to not fall on the person seeking access, his officials said.

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