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Sligo TDs stand by controversial Bill

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Frank Feighan TD and Minister of State at the Department of Health.

Frank Feighan TD and Minister of State at the Department of Health.

Frank Feighan TD and Minister of State at the Department of Health.

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Minister for State, Frank Feighan and Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry have both stated that the Mother and Baby Homes Records Bill passed by government last week is aimed at protecting the database and preserving the information the database contains, and not to seal it for 30 years.

As part of its work, the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes created a database of every person to have passed through the main Mother and Baby Homes.

The Commission was established in 2015 to inquire into the treatment of women and children in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes between 1922 and 1998.

It was set up after a significant quantity of human remains, aged from 35 foetal weeks to two to three years, were found interred at a former Bon Secours home in Tuam, Co Galway.

There was widespread anger at the passing of the Bill on Thursday night last, as it was seen as the Government ensuring that survivors and their families would be denied access to valuable information for the next 30 years.

Since then a nationwide campaign, 'Repeal the Seal' has been established, with a petition gaining over 165,000 signatures and protests being held yesterday [Monday].

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Since the Bill was passed, Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman has set out on clarifying matters saying the Bill was needed to safeguard the records after the dissolution of the commission at the end of the month.

When contacted by The Sligo Champion for comment, Minister for State, Frank Feighan, TD, said he wished to make things "crystal clear" and said, "This legislation is about protecting a database, and to stop it from being sealed. It's about preserving invaluable information, not putting it beyond reach."

Minister Feighan said the legislation needed to be passed by October 30th, hence the haste in passing the Bill, or it would be redacted under current law, and rendered useless.

"We cannot allow this important information to be lost, which is why we are passing this legislation urgently."

Feighan said the Bill aims to protect the database so that it is not destroyed and said the legislation was not about sealing the archive.

"When the Commission was established in 2015, it was set up under the Commission of Investigations Act 2004. That Act says that the archive created by Commission will be given to Department for Children & Equality, before moving to the National Archives in 30 years' time."

Feighan went on to refer to two amendments brought forward by Minister O'Gorman, the first will require the Commission to engage with those who have given testimony to the Confidential Committee to ascertain their preference to remain anonymous or to allow the record of their story within the archive to bear their name. The Commission will be given dedicated additional time to finalise its archive.

"The second amendment will ensure that a full archive is deposited with the Minister. This will maintain a single sealed archive, while still ensuring that the database and related records can transfer to Tusla and remain available for use in accordance with existing and future statute."

The Minister of State at the Department of Health described the Bill as a "complicated issue" and said opposition parties were using it to "confuse many people with mistruths and convoluted theories."

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail TD, Marc MacSharry told The Sligo Champion the Bill does nothing to restrict GDPR access to any records. "It was intended to preserve records that would otherwise have been destroyed," said MacSharry.

MacSharry outlined statements made by the Commission's sixth interim report which set out, "As the information compiled in the database is all sensitive personal information, the Commission would be obliged to redact the names and other identifying information about the residents of these homes before submitting to the minister. This would have the effect of rendering the database useless."

He also referenced that the Commission suggested legislation was required in order to ensure the preservation of the database.

"In light of those statements by the Commission it was necessary to take immediate and decisive action to preserve the database and related records for future access pursuant to the GDPR and adoption tracing legislation which must be fast tracked," said the Deputy.

Meanwhile, Independent Councillor Declan Bree has described the government's decision as "shocking" and told The Sligo Champion it "perpetuates all the crimes of Church and State against those who suffered and died in these barbaric institutions."

"It must be clearly stated that the State holds ultimate responsibility for what occurred in these homes, and for what happened in the Magdalene laundries and industrial schools."

"Yet, despite all the investigations, commissions and inquiries into this abuse and torture, we are today witnessing another injustice, compounding the mistreatment these women and their stolen children suffered at the hands of the State," said Cllr Bree.


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