What happened to women and children behind the high walls of Ireland's mother and baby homes casts a long and a dark shadow. For decades, these homes were shrouded in secrecy and the awful abuse of single mothers, the forced separation of families and the horrors of what happened in places like Tuam is still hard to comprehend. Those who survived these institutions, those who did not survive and their families are entitled to justice and to the truth.
I am sure the Taoiseach received thousands of emails and letters from survivors and families regarding the fast-tracking through the Oireachtas this week of the Bill relating to their records. There are huge concerns over the lack of consultation regarding this Bill and there are serious questions as to the reason the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Deputy O'Gorman, is proceeding with this approach.
The main concern is the intention of the Minister to transfer part of the commission of investigation's archive to Tusla without keeping a copy and a plan to seal the remainder of the archive for a period of 30 years. This will prevent people accessing their records from the Minister's archive and it will stop families accessing information about disappeared family members or babies buried in unmarked graves. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that this is very wrong. It also means that all the information, the files and the records that show how abusive the system was will be withheld from the very people who are entitled to the truth.
The role of the State and the Government should be to remove the veil of secrecy surrounding mother and baby homes, not to reinforce it. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has yet to credibly explain why he is taking these actions. He says that it is a requirement under the legislation to preserve access to valuable information and evidence but that is not correct. There is no legal obligation under the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act on the Minister to seal these records thereby preventing people accessing their information. In fact, the Commissions of Investigation Act enables the commission to deposit these records with the Minister for children on its dissolution. It is also not credible for the Minister to suggest that allowing survivors and families access to their records could in any way impede or undermine the operation of the commission. In fact, as the Taoiseach well knows, under data protection legislation survivors have the right to access their own data. Surely allowing people to access their information and records serves only to advance the cause of truth and justice. Rather than being bound to secrecy, the Oireachtas could legislate to unseal records and evidence gathered by the commission.
The proposed legislation needs to be scrapped. The Minister needs to produce an anonymised index of the records held. He needs to consult with survivors and their advocates and then draft the appropriate legislation that meets the needs and rights of survivors and the moral obligations of the State. That is the right thing to do.
Provision should also be made to enable survivors decide how to handle their records in the future. There is also a need for a dedicated archive to be set up at Sean MacDermott Street. I believe there is great merit in that proposal.
I believe that everyone in this House wants to see justice and truth for those women and children of the mother and baby homes. However, the Minister is doing the wrong thing and he is causing enormous alarm and great upset. I ask the Taoiseach to intervene immediately and that we would work together across the House to resolve this very important matter.