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MINISTER O’GORMAN: DON’T BURY THE MOTHER AND BABY HOMES COMMISSION ARCHIVE

Take custody of the full archive and release it to those affected.  Create a centre for public education and truth telling in Sean McDermott St.

Dear TDs and Senators,

The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain related Matters) Records Bill 2020 is scheduled for fast track Oireachtas approval this week.

There has been no consultation on the Bill.

Minister Roderic O’Gorman claims that this legislation is necessary to ‘safeguard’ the records gathered and created by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

However, the Minister is giving away part of the Commission of Investigation’s archive to TUSLA, without keeping a copy. He has stated that once he receives the rest of the Commission’s archive (minus the records transferred to TUSLA), the archive will be ‘sealed’ for the next 30 years.

This means that no-one will be able to access their personal records from the Minister’s archive, or information in his archive about their disappeared relatives or babies who are buried in unmarked graves.

All of the administrative files, which show how the abusive system of forced family separation was run, will also be withheld.

It will not be possible to question the conclusions of the Commission of Investigation, to do further research, or to hold wrongdoers to account.

Let us prevent this further human rights abuse. The secrecy has to end.

The Bill itself demonstrates that it is possible for the Oireachtas to ‘un-seal’ the Commission’s archive if it wants to.

Under the Bill, SOME of the records gathered by the Commission (a ‘database and related records’ of women and children detained in 11 Mother and Baby Homes) will be given to TUSLA. The rest of the archive will go to the Minister for ‘sealing’. How is it acceptable to release some but not all of the records?

TUSLA is not the appropriate recipient for any part of the Commission’s archive. It operates legally troubling and discriminatory practices, including defining adopted people’s birth name as ‘third party data’ and undertaking ‘risk assessments’ of all adopted people who request their records.

The Bill ignores the views of the Collaborative Forum of Former Residents of Mother and Baby Homes, which was established to advise the Government and repeatedly stated that TUSLA should have no further role in adoption information and tracing.

Members of the Adoption Rights Alliance online peer support group (with 2,162 members) complain almost on a daily basis about their experiences when they request their personal data from TUSLA.

Just two weeks ago, the Minister promised that he would receive a copy of all records gathered by the Commission of Investigation. But this Bill breaks that promise: it states that the ‘database and related records’ transferred to TUSLA will not form part of the Minister’s archive.

When the Minister emailed stakeholders including survivors, adopted people, natural mothers and relatives with a copy of the published Bill he failed to inform them of this fundamental change.

We need your help to ensure that:

1. The Bill is amended so that the Minister takes custody of the whole archive and provides immediate access for affected individuals and families to all records concerning them or their disappeared relatives once he receives the records. In fact, this is currently required by Section 43 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 and Section 198 of the Data Protection Act 2018.

and

2. The Government commits to establishing a dedicated archive at Sean McDermott Street to provide national education and truth-telling regarding all connected forms of ‘historical’ institutional and adoption-based abuses. Administrative records can be anonymised as necessary to protect survivors, adopted people, natural mothers and relatives. Individuals should be entitled to voluntarily deposit their testimony.

The Government is progressing this Bill at lightning speed. It can act swiftly when it chooses to do so.

The relatives of disappeared women and children throughout the country, and living survivors and adopted people, have been denied any access to the Commission of Investigation’s archive.

Witnesses have even been denied a transcript of the evidence that they gave to the Commission of Investigation.

The ‘sealing’ of abuse records has to end.

In 2019 politicians rightly recognised that the Retention of Records Bill, which proposed sealing all records in the Ryan Commission’s archive for at least 75 years (even from survivors themselves) was unacceptable.

Recently, the Information Commissioner found that the Department of the Taoiseach was acting unlawfully by claiming that it is holding the McAleese archive of state records on the Magdalene Laundries ‘for safe keeping’, rather than allowing access to the records under Freedom of Information.

Minister O’Gorman, and all members of the Oireachtas: now is your chance to do the right thing. Truth is the only way forward.

Yours sincerely,