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Fast-tracking of proposed legislation on mother and baby home records condemned

The Bill is being fast-tracked through the Oireachtas before the Mother and Baby Homes Commission publishes its final report at the end of the month.

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The Bill is being fast-tracked through the Oireachtas (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Bill is being fast-tracked through the Oireachtas (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Bill is being fast-tracked through the Oireachtas (Brian Lawless/PA)

The rushing through of proposed legislation that could see records of mother and baby homes sealed for 30 years has been condemned as “absolutely disgraceful” in the Seanad.

Senators voiced their opposition to planned legislation put forward by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman which would see a database of information gathered by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission provided to child and family agency Tusla.

The remaining records would be sealed for 30 years under a 2004 Act.

It would mean the documents are withheld from families.

It's absolutely disgraceful, and minister, it is your name that will be on it and your party's name that will be labelled with thisSenator Gerard Craughwell

The Bill is being fast-tracked through the Oireachtas before the commission publishes its final report at the end of the month.

It was debated in the Seanad on Friday after an amendment calling for extra time to be provided to consider the proposed law was defeated.

Senator Gerard Craughwell told politicians: “I want to once again condemn the way this legislation is being run through this house. It’s absolutely disgraceful, and minister, it is your name that will be on it and your party’s name that will be labelled with this. What are you thinking of that you’d allow this to happen.”

Mr Craughwell said he had received more than 4,000 emails this week relating to the matter and he had also received some “pretty harrowing” phone calls from women of his own age group.

“I remember with horror girls who got pregnant because until they disappeared they were the talk of the neighbourhood, every neighbourhood, the shame that was brought down on them, wrongly brought down on them,” he said.

Mr Craughwell said he understood that some survivors wanted their testimonies made public but he said the state “cannot go back on our word” to survivors and tell them that their testimonies were not fully confidential.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane disagreed with Mr Craughwell, saying if the records were sealed they would only be honouring a “flawed system”.

Ms Ruane said those who divulged information were never asked whether they wanted it to be public.

“People wanted to give evidence in public to the commission and they refused,” she said.

“They wanted it to be public, and for the people that wanted it to be confidential, they could have asked for that but they were not given the option.

“But to say we’re honouring their word. That’s not what we’re doing.”

Senator Alice Mary Higgins said many people who gave testimonies did not look for assurances for confidentiality because they were “not ashamed” and were instead “proud of themselves” for talking about the “horrors that had been inflicted upon them”.

They wanted the history books which had hidden them after decades of erasure and secrecy to show that they had stood up and given testimonySenator Lynn Ruane

“There was a huge moment for people to be brave and come forward and talk about their experiences and they wanted it to be recognised and they wanted the dignity of it being recorded,” she said.

“They wanted the history books which had hidden them after decades of erasure and secrecy to show that they had stood up and given testimony.”

Ms Higgins said the Bill would create a “very blunt” transfer of documents to Tusla, an organisation in which there was “distrust” in how it had engaged with survivors of institutional abuse and adoptees in the past.

Senator Ivana Bacik said it had become clear that too much remained uncertain about this Bill for it to be “rushed” like this and she said survivors and their families deserved more time for deliberation.

“Once again, we’re seeing Government placing privacy rights above rights of identity. That’ll be the effect of the legislation,” she said.

“Privacy should not trump rights to information and access to basic information about people’s identity. We know that now. We know how important it is to survivors and their families.

“That’s why we want a series of amendments and that’s why we oppose the rushing through this house.”

Their comments come as a cross-party group of senators came together to call on the Government to withdraw the Bill.

The Children’s Minister acknowledged the “haste” at which the Bill was being debated, saying it was dealing with a “very grim and long period in our nation’s history”.

Mr O’Gorman said the legislation needed to be passed by October 31, the deadline for the commission of inquiry to complete its final report.

He added that he was committed to introducing birth information and tracing legislation in the future.

The commission is examining the deaths of babies and children at several homes, including the Tuam home for mothers and babies, run from 1925 to 1961 by the Bon Secours Sisters.

PA