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Dáil passes the Government's Mother and Baby Homes Bill

Opposition TDs had drafted amendments based on the requests of survivors and human rights experts.

Updated Oct 22nd 2020, 7:00 PM

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THE DÁIL HAS passed the Government’s Mother and Baby Homes Bill.

The Bill was passed with 78 voting for it and 67 voting against.

Though a request was made for a non-electronic vote after the vote, the Ceann Comhairle said that the difference between the two amounts was more than 10, and so it wasn’t possible.

Earlier, the Government said that it would not consider opposition amendments.

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman told TDs that amendments to the Bill which would enable victims to choose if they want their name recorded or to remain anonymous would not be considered.

A database of information gathered by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission is to be provided to the child and family agency Tusla, now that the work of the Commission is complete.

The remaining records would be sealed for 30 years under a 2004 Act, which would mean that they would be withheld from survivors and their families.

Opposition TDs had drafted amendments which they say were based on the requests of survivors and human rights experts. 

Social Democrat TDs Jennifer Whitmore and Holly Cairns were among the TDs who expressed annoyance that O’Gorman would not accept any amendments to the Bill.

Whitmore called for a free vote on the legislation.

In a statement sent to TheJournal.ie, Cairns said:

It is unbelievable that after pleas from survivors of institutional abuse and thousands of messages from ordinary people that the government will not even consider one of the over 60 amendments from the opposition.

“Tonight the government will vote through a bill which has had no input from survivors.”

Labour TD Seán Sherlock said the refusal to accept amendments “makes a mockery of the legislative process”.

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said that she wasn’t going to intervene, but felt she had to:

I don’t know what that says for the democratic process, but it doesn’t say much.

A number of TDs expressed surprise that O’Gorman has backed the Bill and is also not accepting amendments. 

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Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the Oireachtas debates on the Bill have been exacerbated by the “rawness” of the pain felt by survivors.

O’Gorman says he has listened carefully to the concerns raised by people, and put forward an amendment that commits to him receiving a full copy of the Commission’s entire archive, including a copy of what is sent to Tusla.

The amendment to the Bill has drawn controversy since it first arose last week

O’Gorman said yesterday that the debate around what should be done instead had “conflated the genuine aims of this Bill with the pre-existing legal requirements in place regarding the sealing of the Commission’s records for 30 years”- but added that it was “impossible” to ignore the volume of correspondence he had received.

O’Gorman also said last night said it is clear that “a re-examination of the current approach on how access is provided to the archives of the Commission for certain validating personal information for survivors is needed”.

In so doing, it is my view that there exists an obligation to survivors and their relatives that goes beyond purely legal questions.

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To begin this process, O’Gorman committed to two actions:

“First, I have requested – this has been agreed – a detailed engagement with the Attorney General’s Office on the issue of personal data access in the Commission’s archives, which is so vitally important to so many former residents.

“Second, I intend to request the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration to lead on this re-examination in a format that would allow for survivors and their representatives, expert legal opinion and other leading academics to explore thoroughly the major principles underlying the debate on access to personal information in the commission’s archive and to make a set of recommendations aiming to resolve the very real difficulties which the passage of this legislation has highlighted.

“As part of this, I am committed to working closely with the committee towards finding a way forward,” he said.

With reporting from Órla Ryan

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