Mother and baby home legislation will 'negatively impact' on right to justice and truth, UN tells Government

Mother and baby home legislation will 'negatively impact' on right to justice and truth, UN tells Government

In a strongly worded letter, eight UN bodies have raised serious concerns around a promised redress scheme for survivors and are critical of how the Government plans to address the exhumation of babies at the Tuam site. Picture: Hany Marzouk

The UN has written to the Irish Government warning that proposed mother and baby home legislation will "negatively impact upon the rights to truth and justice".

In a strongly worded letter, eight UN bodies have raised serious concerns around a promised redress scheme for survivors and are critical of how the Government plans to address the exhumation of babies at the Tuam site.

The six UN special rapporteurs and two chair rapporteurs have demanded to know why the Burials Bill dis-applies the coroner’s powers relating to these exhumations. Legal experts and campaigners have already raised worries that the new laws to allow for the phased excavation of mother and baby home burial sites will breach families' rights as it excludes coroners from the process.

The UN bodies have also asked for clarity on whether the Government will order inquests into the deaths and burials of mother and baby home residents.

Issues with Burials Bill

Detailing issues with the Burials Bill, the group states it is "concerned that this proposed new legislation would, if adopted, in practice, negatively impact upon the rights to truth and justice of affected individuals, whose relatives may be buried in these sites."

We are concerned that this bill may create additional obstacles to undertaking effective investigations into the deaths that occurred in the mother and baby homes and analogous institutions."

The letter also warns that under the legislation an "ad hoc" agency that would have the power to undertake excavations and exhumations would only be established by a Government Minister if a list of specified conditions are met.

"The discretionary power eventually granted to Government officials in this matter is a source of concern and would fail to ensure an impartial, effective and transparent system and process of investigation."

The letter claims the Information and Tracing Bill, which aims to provide adoptees with access to birth certs and other personal documents, in its current draft, "fails to ensure and effectively vindicate rights of access to records and personal data".

They point out the draft legislation does not provide a right for mothers to receive their full records; and there is no provision in the draft legislation to ensure the right of relatives of those who died in institutional custody to obtain full records about their disappeared relatives.

The bodies have pressed the Government on the steps being taken to ensure  the Birth Information and Tracing Bill will comply with the State’s obligations under international law.

Delayed redress scheme

On the issue of the delayed redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes, the UN bodies say "little information has been provided to date as to the nature of this scheme", and its scope "appears to be limited only to certain institutions".

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman have indicated the redress scheme, which had been promised to be published in May, will be ready and will be brought to Cabinet in the coming weeks.

The letter recommends that any new restorative scheme "encompasses measures to provide full reparation to victims that extend beyond financial compensation" to include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

In a detailed reply sent on behalf of the Government Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney stressed that the Irish Government “takes its responsibility to investigate and address historic wrongs very seriously” and pointed to the action plan published in the wake of the final report of the mother and baby homes commission.

“The Irish Government is conscious of the need to move swiftly to implement the commitments made. As a result, while the Strategic Action Plan is expected to be published very shortly, significant progress has already been made in advancing the actions,” he wrote.

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