Efforts to identify Tuam babies using DNA could start next year
There is hope that DNA sampling aimed at identifying the remains of children who died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home can begin early next year.
It comes after calls from survivors' representatives for such a scheme to be put in place as soon as possible given the age profile of people who lived in the home.
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said last night she is instructing her officials to develop a voluntary scheme to collect DNA samples.
She said she hoped that survivors and possible family members of those who died will be able to give biological samples early next year.
A Commission of Investigation chaired by judge Yvonne Murphy is probing Ireland's former mother and baby homes, which were run by religious orders.
The probe was set up following revelations about the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, where the remains of hundreds of infants were buried in an underground chamber inside what's believed to be a decommissioned sewage tank.
The historian who raised questions about the burial of 796 children at Tuam, Catherine Corless, responded to plans for the DNA sampling, saying it is a "step forward".
The Cabinet was briefed on a report by family law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon, who was asked to consider if taking DNA samples is possible under existing laws.
The report found that it should be possible to develop a voluntary administrative scheme to collect biological samples from relatives prior to the enactment of new legislation.
The Government is still working on the laws that are necessary to allow for the exhumation of remains and DNA profiling.
Ms Zappone said she is "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".
She said she will ask officials to develop "an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme to collect those samples, subject to legal advice".
Ms Zappone said it's not yet clear whether or not it will be possible to generate DNA profiles from the human remains that are of sufficient quality to yield familial matches.
However, she added: "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."
Mr Shannon's report says that the interim DNA administrative scheme would be subsumed into legislation dealing with the Tuam home and DNA profiles would not be generated until the law is in place.
The scheme would have to be operated on the basis of informed consent in order to satisfy data protection laws.
Participants would be able to decide to withdraw at any time and request that their sample and the information held about them be destroyed.