The Senator has asked a good question. It is an estimation based on nursing homes in particular places, as I understand it, but I can get further information on that. The main point is that they are not in the possession of the State at the moment.
Many Senators have mentioned people within civil society and journalists. I have met Conall Ó Fátharta and made sure he was informed about the announcement we were going to make. I acknowledged the contribution of the Adoption Rights Alliance and have met with it. They are key actors in this, along with other individuals who are telling their stories. We need to listen to the perspectives they have and the truth they bring to this matter. I assure the Members that I am doing that.
I note Senator Colm Burke's points about particular hospitals and cases. If anyone has any information about anything that he or she wants to share with the Department, please do. I appreciate some of the commentary about Tusla. It has stepped up to the plate very quickly on this issue; it was the agency that discovered the evidence we are speaking about, and then went through a very forensic process to establish it as hard evidence which has brought us to where we are now. It has found resources from within the resources it has been provided with to do that work. My primary responsibility now is to ensure that those who have been identified have the resources, and they will be supported in terms of the sharing of the information if and when we find them.
I am aware that people have called for a fuller audit. Of course I am aware of that, and that is very important. I am not at all against that. However, I do believe the most appropriate first steps are to look at a sampling of the different records we do have with a well-defined methodology which will be seen when the terms of reference are published. Every record that is investigated has to be scanned. There is a large amount of administrative work that has to be done, although we do believe it can be done within a four-month period.
Targeted sampling gives an initial sense of the situation. If there is any formulation of words or phrases used, or an indication of the way the file was developed by similar people over a period of time, we will then be able to say that we have evidence of an incorrect registration. If that appears in the targeted sampling it would of course be reasonable to make a decision to continue to go through all of the other cases. Is it reasonable to go through them all?
If we do not have that, it is something we will have to debate and consider. It will require considerable time and work. I have seen one of the files and it will also require judgment by experienced people. I am not ruling it out; I am just trying to indicate why we decided on the methodology of sampling. We wanted to see whether we should examine forensically every page in the society in question and spend our time and resources doing that, at least initially. It was individuals who did this and maybe people in other societies would not have considered doing it. As Senators have said, though, it happened in a culture in which we had a very different understanding of women giving birth from our current understanding. Thank goodness for that.
In answer to Senator Clifford-Lee, I did not mean to imply that all birth mothers gave their consent. Many did, however, and they expected their children to be properly placed and registered. Even the fact they felt they had to do that is remarkable in the circumstances. The commission of investigation into mother and baby homes is putting together the social history module, a study of the time when the mother and baby homes operated, and we will learn a great deal from that when it is finally published. It will help us interpret the records and the evidence around adoption, and maybe other settings in which mothers and children were left. The years from 1946 to 1969 is the period for which we have index cards. It does not mean it did not happen in St. Patrick's Guild before or after that.
I am aware of the strength of views on the information and tracing Bill and the struggles we have had. I want to get this right. I have some very strong personal views on how we could fashion the Bill but, so far, it has involved trying to balance privacy with the right to identity. Senator Boyhan knows that very few rights are absolute. The question is whether there is a better to way to achieve a balance than what we have come up with so far. We have to do it in the context of our Constitution and that has been stopping us until now. Every option we have provided to the Attorney General has been declared unconstitutional. If Members want me, as Minister, to bring forward something that is unconstitutional the Bill will ultimately fall. We cannot enact something perceived as unconstitutional by the Attorney General. They are the parameters in which we work and it is what happened to the Bill a number of years ago. The legislation is, however, a key priority for me.