Belfast Telegraph

Report suggests DNA samples could be collected to help identify Tuam babies

In January this year, Tuam survivors called for their DNA samples to be ‘banked’ for future identification of remains.

Survivors of Tuam Mother and Baby Home may now be able to donate DNA to identify others (PA)
Survivors of Tuam Mother and Baby Home may now be able to donate DNA to identify others (PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

A new report suggests DNA samples could be collected to help identify remains recovered from the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

Dr Geoffrey Shannon’s Report on the Collection of Tuam Survivors’ DNA published on Wednesday, suggests that a voluntary scheme to collect biological samples from survivors and relatives is possible.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland found that 937 children and babies died in Tuam, either in Glenamaddy or the Tuam home itself.

The Glenamaddy workhouse had its own burial ground, and it was found that 79 children who died there are most likely buried on the site. However, there is no burial register available for the institution and it cannot be verified.

Many of the children who died in the Tuam home are buried in 20 underground chambers which could have been used for treatment of water or containment of sewage, dating back to 1937.

In January this year, Tuam survivors called for their DNA samples to be “banked” for future identification of remains found during the excavation of the site, in light of the health status of those involved, much of whom are elderly.

In response, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone had asked Dr Shannon to consider what actions may be possible under existing legislation.

The purpose of collecting samples would be to later compare them against any DNA profiles which may be generated from the juvenile human remains found at the Tuam site and, if possible, to make positive identifications.

I am keen to give every possible opportunity to survivors and family members to try and identify the remains of those who they hold dear in their hearts Dr Katherine Zappone

Dr Shannon’s report, 97 pages long, considers what may be possible within the current legislative framework, with particular reference to how best to ensure that the rights of those who give biological samples are safeguarded in respect of sensitive personal data and informed consent.

Dr Shannon concluded that it should be possible to develop such a scheme, even before the new legislation related to the discovery of remains at Tuam, which is currently being developed by the Department, has been implemented.

However, he added that the State should be actively working to enact legislation for the collection, storage and processing of close relatives’ biological samples, for the purposes of carrying out a matching process with the exhumed remains from Tuam.

However, no DNA profiles will be generated from the biological samples until the new legislation is in place and it has been proven possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile remains.

The report stresses that any scheme would have to be operated on the basis of informed consent in order to satisfy GDPR and constitutional requirements around data protection, and a Data Protection Officer must be designated.

Participants should be able to decide to withdraw at any time and request that their sample and the information held about them be destroyed.

Minister Zappone said: “Following Dr Shannon’s report, I intend to request my officials to develop an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme to collect those samples, subject to legal advice.

“As he pointed out, it is not yet clear whether or not it will be possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile human remains that are of such a quality that will result in them being capable of yielding familial matches.

“I do not believe that this should be a barrier to hope and I am keen to give every possible opportunity to survivors and family members to try and identify the remains of those who they hold dear in their hearts.

“My officials will now consult further with our legal advisers and relevant agencies towards developing an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme in the coming months.”

PA

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