I published the Commission's Fifth Interim Report, which had a focus on burial arrangements, on the 16 April 2019 and it has been circulated to relevant State authorities for their appropriate attention. We know from this Interim Report that the Commission has dedicated significant time and effort to advancing its investigations into these matters. As the matters referred to by the Deputy are within the scope of an extant Commission of Investigation, it would not be appropriate for me to make direct contact with the religious order while these independent statutory investigations are on-going. Therefore, I have not raised these issues directly with the religious order.
The Commission of Investigation is the appropriate authority to investigate these matters. It has the necessary legal powers and resources to conduct these investigations. The Commission's Fifth Interim Report describes its engagement with the order, and its interim findings are based on its assessment of the available documentary evidence and witness testimony. Notably, the Commission also confirmed that private burial grounds, including those owned by religious institutions during the period in question, were not automatically subject to the same regulation as publicly owned burial grounds. Most significantly, there was no was no legal requirement to keep a register of burials in such burial grounds.
The Commission has conducted geophysical surveys and test excavations on the designated child burial grounds on the site of Sean Ross Abbey. The Commission has stated that it will report further on these investigations in its final report. Information regarding the sale of parts of the former institution at Sean Ross Abbey is available in the public domain. This information indicates that the areas designated as burial grounds were excluded from the sale and would remain in the ownership of the religious order. It is important to clarify that the sale of these lands in the course of the Commission's on-going work does not alter the powers of the Commission or impede the exercise of these powers.
While I do appreciate the deep personal sensitivity for families around these issues, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I do not have statutory powers or responsibilities in relation burial grounds or a role in the Planning and Development Acts. There is scope within current planning regulations for the relevant Local Authority to consider archaeological and heritage concerns in the context of any proposal or application for redevelopment of the site.