Government facing pressure to allow free vote on mother and baby homes law

ireland
The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway (Niall Carson/PA), © PA Archive/PA Images
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By Cate McCurry, PA

The Government is facing pressure to allow a free vote on legislation that could see records of mother and baby homes put beyond the reach of survivors for 30 years.

TDs have also expressed anger and frustration after the Children’s Minister said he is not accepting any amendments to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Further debate took place in the Dáil on Thursday which heard TDs criticise parts of the Bill, which would see a database of information gathered by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission provided to child and family agency Tusla.

The remaining records would be sealed for 30 years under a 2004 Act.

However, Minister Roderic O’Gorman rejected claims the proposed legislation would lead to records being sealed for 30 years.

The Bill is being fast-tracked through the Oireachtas before the commission publishes its final report at the end of the month.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said he has been left “dumbfounded” by the response from the Government.

He backed calls for a free vote on the proposed legislation.

He added: “I think this stinks, this actually stinks because, if it didn’t, why would you impose the whip?

“Why would you not just say ‘you can have a free vote on this, it’s a matter of conscience’?

“The people who have been most abused by the state are concerned about what you are doing, and don’t want you to do what you are doing and you are going to ram through a Bill, despite those appeals and impose a whip.

“Why would you do that? There’s more to it than you are saying and your explanation don’t add up.

This Bill does not seal the archive of the mother and baby homes.

“I don’t understand these claims that underpins what you are doing, that somehow you are protecting the records otherwise they will be destroyed. What is the basis for you saying that?”

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Mr O’Gorman said the Bill protects the database.

The minister added: “I’m putting forward a Bill that has the purpose of protecting a database that was created by the commission and a database that the commission believes will be of huge benefit to the many mothers and children who were separated by the process of the mother and baby homes.

“This Bill does not seal the archive of the mother and baby homes. That has been repeated countless times and it is incorrect. It seeks to protect a database.”

Mr O’Gorman said that commission was to be dissolved at the end of the month, adding that the legislation will deal with legal issues.

Independent TD Marian Harkin said: “Somehow we are told we cannot find any possible mechanism to extend the timeframe before we vote on this Bill.

“We are told it is simply not possible, yet for some of the most draconian legislation this House has ever passed we could find a way of extending that.”

The Social Democrats’ Gary Gannon said the minister’s admission that he would not take any amendment was “extraordinary”.

“I believed we were coming in to debate, argue and to present our reasons but that was shut down within 20 minutes of the debate and it raises serious questions in relation to our parliamentary process and undermines it in a lot of ways,” Mr Gannon added.

“The level of structural ignorance is appalling.

“This Bill has been designed in a manner that is completely counter to the concept of parliamentary democracy.

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30-year seal on mother and baby homes records to b...
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“It was brought through without any scrutiny and rushed through the Seanad last night.”

He added that victims are being re-traumatised.

Labour’s Duncan Smith also criticised the minister’s decision to to accept any amendments.

“These are sound, legally-based amendments and it is absolutely shameful that are none are being taken today,” he added.

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