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I am acutely aware of the pain so many people felt over the years, and especially now with all the negative attention this bill has attracted. For many, that pain may never dissipate.

In the first instance, I would like to respond to the concerns raised, from a legislative perspective as that’s what my job is - to assess the facts based on legislative powers. This legislation is about protecting records. As part of its work, the Commission created a database of every person to have passed through the main Mother and Baby Homes. That database contains personal information which the Commission felt needed to be redacted to protect people’s identities, this meant that the Commission would be effectively destroying the database before handing it over to the Minister on 30th October. I think we all agree that that information should be protected and that is why I voted for the Bill.

In my opinion there has been a lot of misrepresentation and distortion of the facts relating to the Mother and Baby Homes Bill. I feel that, regrettably, this Bill has become so politicized that the facts aren’t being understood by many people.

I would never vote to seal an archive, I would never vote to disrespect people’s lives like that. This legislation, which I voted on, was not about sealing the archive – it was about protecting it and making it available as a resource to those who were tracing their own identity and families. Let me explain why. The Commission was established under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, legally requires all documents relating to the Commission to be private and sealed for thirty years after which point it is transferred to the National Archives. This Bill was set up to protect and preserve the records of the Commission, not to put them beyond reach. It aims to grab a once in a lifetime opportunity to safeguard an invaluable database so that it is not destroyed, but, rather, can be used to support future information and tracing services.

While it is clear to me that this Bill saves (rather than seals) the database that has been compiled by the Commission, it is also obvious that other issues need to be urgently addressed - in particular the ‘seal’ provision of the 2004 legislation and the inadequate information and tracing provisions for adoptees. I want to make sure that this Government addresses that.

Some people seem to have arrived at the opinion that last week the Government voted to brush this dark period of our past under a rug - that could not be further from the truth. In fact, the Government will shine a spotlight on that dark period of our history, when the Commission publishes its report. The report is a painstaking 4,000 pages long and won’t make for easy reading – but it is an extremely important document that details the stories of hundreds of people who shared them in confidence. I believe these stories need to be published to help us as a nation to confront our dark past (and more recent past) and to help those who have been through such trauma process their pain and heal.

It’s really important that you know that the Commission does not possess the original documents of State Departments. So, no original records created by State Departments will be sealed by the Commission. State records remain in the possession of the relevant statutory body and appropriate access is regulated by law.

I want to give you some facts about the Commission that I hope helps by way of an explanation as to the terms of the Commission and what the people who gave evidence understood to be the terms of the Commission, when they so bravely came forward:

- The Mother and Baby Homes Commission, in the course of their work, created a database of every woman and child who were resident in the main Homes, and when they passed through. This legislation is about preserving that database because it could be of enormous value for future information and tracing purposes in line with a robust statutory framework.

- Given the personal data contained in this database, the Commission feel that they are legally required to redact this database prior to handing over the report at the end of this month when they are due to report this week, thus effectively destroying it.

- The Bill brought forward by Minister O’Gorman sought to prevent its destruction and safeguard the database by providing a legislative basis for the Commission to transfer the database to Tusla.

- If the Bill was not brought forward to protect that database by October 30th, the database would have been lost forever and been of no help to those hoping to use it to track the experience of loved ones or trace their identity.

It is really important that we acknowledge that some of the people who came forward to tell their story gave evidence under assurances of confidentiality. The terminology always reiterated that, for example they gave evidence to what was called the Confidential Committee. In order to provide truth to the fullest extent possible, we have to provide confidentiality to vulnerable people who otherwise may not provide testimony. This confidentiality was legally binding by the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. Publishing their details without their consent would not, in my opinion, be justice for them.

I fully understand the concerns people have on this bill and I read many of those concerns in hundreds of emails and social media posts, but I would hope that people can understand that without it, the records would be effectively destroyed. That’s why we needed to act. I believe that we need to provide a second piece of legislation to ensure no one is denied access to their records.

Legitimate concerns exist around this and I agree that former residents should be afforded agency and choice over how their own stories, their own lived experiences, are treated. On one hand, many former residents who provided their story believed that they would remain fully anonymous and their name would never remain in any record even after 30 years. Equally, others who told their stories would wish their names to remain attached to the story. That’s why the Minister has asked the Commission to go back to everyone who gave evidence and ask them do they want to waive their anonymity or remain anonymous. I believe that’s the right thing to do. That’s their choice, not mine, not TUSLAs, not the Commissions; and it not something I or other TDs should be voting on, it’s something we should be asking them to decide for themselves and their life – that is only right, fair and just.

Regarding the issue of Adoption Information and Tracing, there is the wider and complex issue of providing a new legislative arrangement to govern access to birth information and tracing. That is something that cannot be addressed by this legislation. It’s a complex issue which requires complex legislation that should not be rushed to meet a deadline. It will, however, be addressed by a much broader piece of legislation which the Minister has committed to bringing forward in the near future. I want you to know that this is something I am personally committed to ensuring happens and that I’ll be keeping the pressure on the Minister to deliver on this.


Emer

The Government has announced a Climate Change Plan to get us to 2050 as a carbon-neutral country


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Emer Higgins #1

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