Sunday 22 September 2019

DNA samples can now be offered to help identify kids who died at Tuam Mother and Baby home

Mass grave: Historian Catherine Corless with the list of children's names at the Tuam Mother and Babies Home site. Photo: Andy Newman
Mass grave: Historian Catherine Corless with the list of children's names at the Tuam Mother and Babies Home site. Photo: Andy Newman
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home will be able to voluntarily offer DNA samples in the hope that children who died there can be identified, under a scheme to be developed by the government.

It comes after survivors' representatives called for such a scheme to be put in place as soon as possible giving the age profile of people who lived in the home.

A Commission of Investigation is probing Ireland's former Mother and Baby Homes which were run by religious orders.

The Commission, chaired by judge Yvonne Murphy was set up following revelations about the Tuam Mother and Baby home where the remains of hundreds of infants were discovered.

The Cabinet today discussed a report by Dr Geoffrey Shannon who was asked to consider if taking DNA samples is possible under existing laws.

His 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.

This afternoon, Children Minister Katherine 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 that in the wake of Mr Shannon's report she will request that her officials develop “an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme to collect those samples, subject to legal advice.”

Katherine Zappone (Niall Carson/PA)
Katherine Zappone (Niall Carson/PA)

She said that Mr Shannon points out that 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 Ms Zappone 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.”

She said the goal is to have a voluntary scheme in place “in the coming months”.

Read more here: Tuam mother and baby home: 'Secrets in the vaults of our cruel and troubling past'

Mr Shannon's report said it should be possible to develop a voluntary, interim, administrative scheme before the enactment of Department of Children legislation responding to the discovery of the remains of children at Tuam.

The administrative scheme would then be subsumed into the legislation once that is ready.

DNA profiles will not be generated until the legislation is in place and it has proven possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile remains.

Mr Shannon's report stresses the voluntary nature of any scheme that is developed and how it would have to be operated on the basis of informed consent in order to satisfy GDPR and constitutional requirements around data protection.

A Department statement said: “Participants should be able to decide to withdraw at any time and request that their sample and the information held about them be destroyed.”

Mr Shannon's report says that it will be necessary to demonstrate that the participants received full information prior to providing DNA samples and that and that they consented to participate of their own free volition.

It says the proposed scheme should stipulate that data will be retained until a matching process occurs, or until consent is withdrawn, whichever occurs first.

Read more here: 'I want to find my baby's grave': Bessborough mother's plea

Participants must be informed of their right to withdraw consent.

The scheme would allow participants the option of nominating an individual to whom information gleaned from the DNA matching process can be provided in the event that the participant dies before a match is successfully made.

The report says that it's of “vital importance” that in tandem with the scheme being established, the State should be actively working towards enacting necessary legislation.

Read more here: Cormac McQuinn: 'Time running out for people to speak up on horror in homes'

This legislation would create a statutory mechanism for the collection, storage and processing of close relatives’ biological samples, for the purposes of carrying out a matching process with the exhumed remains from Tuam.

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