File Photo: Brian Lockier/Adoption Rights Alliance
Some of Laois and Offaly's public representatives have explained why they voted the way they did in the Commission of Investigations (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters) Records and another Matter, Bill 2020, which passed through both houses of the Oireachtas this week.
Senator and Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Pippa Hackett voted in favour of the controversial Bill in the Seanad. Deputies Sean Fleming (Fianna Fail) and Charlie Flanagan (Fine Gael) voted in favour of the bill in the Dáil on Thursday night while Sinn Féin's Brian Stanley voted against it.
Neither Barry Cowen (Fianna Fail) or Carol Nolan (Ind) were recorded as having voted on the Bill on Thursday. The Bill passed by a margin of 78 to 67 votes in the Dáil.
Leinster Express's sister website the Offaly Express contacted all of the public representatives referenced above to ask them what way they voted on the Bill and why. To the two deputies who didn't cast a vote, we also offered them the opportunity to outline why they didn't vote in the Dáil on Thursday night. Below are their responses:
Deputy Barry Cowen did not immediately respond to requests for a statement on Friday as to why he did not vote on the issue. Deputy Carol Nolan told us that she did not vote on the matter on Thursday evening as she was unable to attend the Dáil. However, Deputy Nolan did say: "I was represented by my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group on this issue. We collectively took a position on this issue a few weeks ago and the group voted against the government."
Deputy Brian Stanley voted against the Bill.
"I voted against the sealing of the mother and baby home records for thirty years. For those who voted for it, it is an insult to all those survivors of the mother and baby homes. Bad enough that these women were locked away and their children taken from them, not to mention the abuse that they suffered," he added.
Deputies Sean Fleming (FF) and Charlie Flanagan (FG) did not respond to requests for a statement on their reasons for voting in favour of the Bill.
Minister Pippa Hackett (Green Party) told us that she supported the Bill in the Seanad. In a lengthy statement, she said: “I know that survivors and campaigners are deeply upset about this. I want to acknowledge that, and also acknowledge that we should have done a much better job of explaining what this Bill is trying to do.
"Because what it is trying to do, is what everyone wants, which is to preserve the records, not destroy them," she insisted.
"It is important to understand that this legislation is not about sealing the archive. That is already happening under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which required that the evidence people gave was private. People, many of whom were very vulnerable, gave evidence under assurances that confidentiality would be maintained, and that their testimonies in the archive would be kept private, and sealed for 30 years," she said.
"This Bill is about protecting a database which the Commission compiled in the course of its work. The database was due be destroyed, fully redacted, on October 30 when the Commission disbanded. The Bill aims is to protect and preserve this. It is trying to grab a once in a lifetime opportunity to safeguard an invaluable database so that it is not destroyed, but, can in the future be used to support information and tracing services.
"Minister O’Gorman intends to introduce information and tracing legislation next year. Passing this Bill protects the database which will help children who were in mother-and-baby homes to establish their identity," Minister Hackett claimed.
"That is why I support this Bill, and I welcome Minister O’Gorman’s willingness to engage on the wider issue in the coming months. I fully trust he will do that with the interests of the survivors at the centre of his deliberations.”
The Commission of Investigations (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters) Records and another Matter, Bill 2020 relates to a Commission of Investigation into the conduct of mother and baby homes around Ireland. Such homes were operated in the State from 1922 to 1998 when the last one closed. The Commission was established in 2015 after the discovery of multiple human remains in a septic tank at one of the homes in Tuam, Co Galway. The Commission collected all the available records relating to the homes and testimony from individuals who had been resident in such institutions.
The Commission is expected to publish its findings in a 4,000-page report at the end of this month, at which points the records will be sealed for a period of 30 years under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.
Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman has said this new Bill passed this week is a way to “preserve invaluable information, not to put it beyond reach," by transferring the records out of the Commission to Tusla, the child and family agency. Critics and survivors have taken issue with this with many criticising the lack of clear direction to Tusla on making the records available to survivors.
Some survivors will be stunted by the fact that the Supreme Court upheld the right of some of the mothers in these homes whose babies were surrendered not to be traced. This would complicate the intention that the records are to be available to survivors to access information relating to them.
Many opposition TDs and survivors also take issue with the Commission itself and how information has been recorded on the personal accounts given. The Commission took personal statements relating to the homes under the guarantee of confidentiality, but some survivors wanted to tell full stories with names and dates only to be told their accounts would be anonymised. Many believe this is a way of curtailing their stories in the fullest possible sense.
Opposition TDs fought to allow individual survivors of the system decide whether their names and testimony should be disclosed under the Bill but their amendments were refused.
In a statement issued prior to the passing of the Bill, the Justice for Magdalenes group and the Adoption Rights Alliance said the sealing of the archive "means no-one will be able to access their personal records [or information] 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," they added.
Minister O'Gorman denies this and insists this Bill seeks to preserve the records.