In the past decade or so, the State has opened up in an unprecedented way on many issues. I initiated the inquiry into the industrial schools as Minister for Education. Many people did not expect that would happen. I was the first to do it despite many survivors having gone to successive Governments before that without any satisfaction. Likewise, we introduced and started inquiries into the church in relation to sexual abuse. I initiated the inquiry into Ferns, for example. The then Minister, Senator McDowell, initiated an inquiry about Dublin and the then Minister of State, Barry Andrews, initiated the Cloyne inquiry, without fear or favour. A previous Government initiated this inquiry into the mother and baby homes, which was designed to reveal and open up the story.
It is disingenuous and wrong of the Opposition and Deputy McDonald to suggest that someone was trying to undermine people's rights or to seal off archives. That is the opposite of the intention of setting up a commission of inquiry in the first instance. The same applies to the Magdalen laundries, which the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, initiated an inquiry into. It was to open it up. GDPR applies to all records since it is a European law. People can apply for access to their data in all records under GDPR. That is adjudicated on, as Deputy Barry knows. The 2004 Act relates to certain people giving evidence so that we could find out what was going on in those institutions, when people wanted to avail of confidentiality clauses so that they could be protected. There is a good article by Patsy McGarry in The Irish Times which lays that out. He made the point that the provisions of that Act enable us to find out much more and to have these inquiries in a more expeditious and effective way.
It is important that the Deputies opposite acknowledge their failings too. They deliberately misrepresented the 2004 Act. I could imagine the debate that we would have in this House this week if it was discovered that, having been told by the commission of inquiry that if he did not legislate, the records would be destroyed, rendered useless and redundant, the Minister did not act to legislate, and the uproar and furore that there would be in the House. Those were the bona fide reasons the Minister brought in that legislation. The Deputies need to show humility too because some of the assertions made in that debate were wrong and the Minister's bona fides were wrongly undermined. He has no interest in closing off any archive, yet he was presented as such. That was wrong and did not do public debate any good. It did not help to ease the anxieties and genuine concerns of survivors, which should be all of our primary concerns.
The commission of investigation has compiled a database of all the mothers and children who were resident in the main mother and baby homes. They said to the Minister that it is clear that this database would be of considerable assistance to those involved in providing information and tracing services under existing legislation. They said the database would effectively have to be destroyed. As the information compiled in the database is all sensitive personal information, the commission would be obliged under existing legislation, prior to the Minister introducing the Bill, to redact the names and other identifying information about the residents of these homes before submitting it to the Minister. That is not what we wanted. The commission stated that this would have the effect of rendering the database useless, and of course that is not what we wanted. That is why the legislation was introduced. I accept that it was in a hurry. It was to make sure that by the time the commission's report was sent to the Minister, we would have protected the records for the survivors so that they could access them under GDPR, yet that was horribly misrepresented. The Minister accepted that he should have consulted with the groups and he accepted some fault regarding communication, but in my humble opinion, it still should not have been misrepresented and distorted to the degree that it was that weekend. I am putting that on the record of the House in a fair manner and would like some acknowledgement of that.