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It should be possible to collect Tuam survivor DNA samples before legislation, report says

Dr Geoffrey Shannon’s Report on the Collection of Tuam Survivors’ DNA has been published today.

Image: Laura Hutton via RollingNews.ie

A REPORT ON the collection of Tuam survivors’ DNA has suggested that it should be possible to develop a voluntary scheme to collect biological samples from relatives before the enactment of legislation. 

The Tuam Home Survivors’ Network earlier this year called on the government to begin collecting their DNA samples as soon as possible, highlighting their age profile and health status.

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

The first excavations at the site of the former Tuam mother and baby home were expected to start in the latter half of 2019 but legislation must first be passed by the Oireachtas to give the government the power to carry out these excavations.

Today, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has published Dr Geoffrey Shannon’s Report on the Collection of Tuam Survivors’ DNA

The Minister asked Dr Shannon to consider what actions may be possible under existing laws to begin collecting DNA samples immediately in light of the age profile and health status of survivors. 

Dr Shannon has considered that it should be possible to develop a voluntary administrative scheme to collect biological samples from relatives before the enactment of the legislation that the Department of Children is developing. 

The scheme should then be incorporated into the legislation once that is ready, it was noted.

No DNA profiles will be generated from the biological samples until the legislation is in place and it has proven possible to generate DNA profiles from the Tuam remains. 

Dr Shannon stressed that any scheme that is developed would have to be operated on the basis of informed consent in order to satisfy GDPR and constitutional requirements around data protection. 

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

Responding to the report, Zappone said: “I am very sympathetic to the concerns of survivors and family members that their age and health profiles introduce an element of urgency when it comes to the collection of biological samples.”

Zappone said she intends to request her officials to develop an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme to collect those samples, subject to legal advice. 

As [Dr Shannon] 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. 

“But 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,” Zappone said.

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

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