Irish Government fast tracks Bill to seal Mother and Baby Homes Commission Archive

The Minister for Children has received government approval for a proposed Bill restricting access to Mother and Baby Homes records as a 'safeguard' measure.

Mother and Baby Homes Bill

The Oireachtas are fast-tracking a Bill which will seal the records gathered and created by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

On October 6, Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman received government approval for the text of the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records Bill 2020. The proposed legislation will alter arrangements regarding the transfer and management of records, including databases and information relating to the mothers and children who resided in Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes.

The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records Bill 2020 has completed the first stage in Seanad Éireann. Minister O’Gorman stated, “There is an absolute urgency to safeguarding the commission’s database in the immediate term, and I welcome the support of my government colleagues in this matter.”

“When the commission deposits its records, along with its final report into these matters, with me by the 30 October, this new legislation will ensure that the archive of records and databases compiled by the commission will be appropriately protected,” Minister O’Gorman continued. 

Following the discovery of up to 800 bodies of babies and children in unmarked graves at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Co. Galway, both national and international sources demanded a full investigation into the site along with other such institutions. In 2015, the Commission of Investigation was established by order of the Irish government as a response to this outcry.

Under the proposed Bill, records from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes will be handed over to child and family agency TUSLA. The organisation previously acted as custodians for information regarding three Mother and Baby Homes. 

In 2014, the agency told RTE News they had nine registers dating from 1921 to 1961 from Tuam, St. Patrick’s, Co. Dublin, and Bessborough, Co.Cork. The files contained information on admissions and discharges, maternity registers, records of children boarded out or adopted, and quarterly statistical returns to local authorities. 

At the time, TUSLA Chief Executive Gordon Jeyes stated, “The Child and Family Agency is currently the custodian of extremely personal data belonging to those who formerly resided in Mother and Baby Homes.”

“Our key priority is to ensure that these confidential records are available, in the first instance, to the individuals whose personal information is contained within. Our staff will willingly assist with and contribute to any State investigations that may arise,” Jeyes concluded. 

Following the Bill’s fast track through Oireachtas, people are criticising the agency as an inappropriate recipient for the Commission’s archive. They are demanding records be un-sealed and remain in the custody of ministers with immediate access available. 

People are also appealing for public support to prevent records being sealed through an initiative to email TDs and Senators. On the Justice For Magdalenes Research website, it states, “We need to prevent this further human rights abuse. The secrecy has to end.”

The Justice For Magdalenes Research article further reads, “All of the administrative files, which show how the abusive system of forced family separation was run, will also be withheld. It will not be possible to question the conclusions of the Commission of Investigation, to do further research, or to hold wrongdoers to account.”

Speaking with GCN, writer and adoption activist Noelle Brown has called the Government’s fast tracking of the Bill ‘appalling’. She stated, “We have been battered by the system since we were born. To seal those records is again an even bigger step in denying the history of this country, the absolute inhumanity to women and their children.”

While addressing the proposed Bill, Brown shared the phrase, ‘delay, deny, until we die’ as she denounced the Government for trying to seal away these records. The writer further spoke on the impact of this legislation, “To put a 30 year seal on something is appalling, it’s such an erosion of our human rights and a lack of equality. It has a smack of discrimination. To do that to anyone in this situation, I’m stunned.”

“I thought we moved away from all that. But there seems to be this absolute refusal that we have eleven baby homes across Ireland with mass graves, including Tuam and Bessborough, where I was born. And that is not being acknowledged or dealt with,” Brown stated.

During a time when Ireland has only begun to recognise the harm caused by inhumane systems such as the Mother and Baby Homes, the Bill has sparked widespread alarm as a worrying step backwards. Brown expressed, “The 30 years of sealing those testimonies sets us back even further and says how little we matter.”

“I can only hope this does not go through and people speak up,” Brown continued. 

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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