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Thursday, 3 Dec 2020

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

National Childcare Scheme

Questions (84)

Kathleen Funchion


84. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the actions he has taken to address the systematic discrimination of stay-at-home parents through their exclusion from access to the national childcare scheme, NCS. [40790/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

My question is about the current discrimination of stay-at-home parents whereby they are excluded from the access to the after-school programme. We sent a correction to the Minister's office and I hope it was received. It is not about the total national childcare scheme, NCS, but specifically the after-school programme. The Minister will be aware I already raised this issue.

Initially, it is important to state that stay-at-home parents are not excluded from the national childcare scheme. More than 44,000 children have benefited from that scheme to date and included in that are many children of stay-at-home parents.

The NCS universal subsidy is up to €1,170 per year and is available to all families, including stay-at-home parents. An income-related subsidy is payable to children up to 15 years of age and the subsidy level is determined by the family's income and the child's age. The number of hours subsidised is determined by the parent's employment or education arrangements.

Stay -at-home parents who are not engaged in work for two hours per week or more or not enrolled in a national framework of qualifications, NFQ, level 1 or above course, can avail of 20 subsidised hours of childcare per week if they are not below the current maximum threshold of €60,000 net household income. The 20 hours are available all year round for children who have not started school and in non-term time for children of school age. This latter rule is based on evidence that were a parent is available to care for a child, the child's development needs are generally met through school participation. There are some exceptions to this which I will deal with momentarily. Where parents are working or studying, they can access 45 hours of childcare.

My Department and SOLAS are working to increase awareness of the NCS supports for parents considering further study and to highlight the availability of accessible courses which would grant eligibility for up to 45 hours of childcare. The NCS will advertise shortly through the further education and training course hub, My Department will also be re-engaging with Intreo offices and the education and training boards, ETBs, to promote awareness of the NCS.

We discussed before that where children and families have extra needs that general NCS subsidies or rules do not meet, special sponsorship arrangements are available. With sponsorship, families can avail of up to 45 hours of free childcare with no work or study rule, and sponsorship referrals can be made by a number of designated bodies. Already, 700 children are being sponsored.

I am conscious that I raised this issue in the last round of questions. I would not be raising it again if I did not feel it was not still an issue. It consistently comes up, not just in my constituency but throughout the country. From Donegal to Cork, people have issues specific to the after-school part of the programme.

I am aware that last time around, the Minister said it was a new enough scheme and he was willing to have a review of that. Perhaps, he could elaborate further on when he sees that review happening. Currently, children whose parents are not in either education or employment do not qualify for the after-school programme. In the past, they possibly would have qualified through the subvention payment scheme. This means an awful lot of kids benefited from after-school programmes, or possibly homework clubs that were a place they got a hot meal and proper dinner. We have often spoken about child poverty. Childcare earlier settings after-school settings are important in the eradication of child poverty. A bunch of children are falling through the cracks.

I take seriously the points raised by the Deputy on this issue. That is one of the reasons we are taking this new initiative to make parents aware of the wide range of courses they can take. If they take courses, many of which are level 1, for two hours per week, they get the full 45 hours of childcare, which will resolve that particular issue. That was probably not well known. That is why we are working with SOLAS and with Intreo offices around the country to make that information available and known to parents.

We are also aware of the sponsorship arrangements because 700 children is good, but it is only a start. I want to see more children using the sponsorship arrangements. We are, therefore, engaging with the county and city childcare committees to enable them to put that information out further.

We are also engaging with child and young people’s services committees, CYPSC, across the country so they can make parents aware of the sponsorship arrangements and link up and advise parents about how to tap into those sponsorship arrangements.

I welcome that part in terms of engagement and consultation. The reality for many people, however, is even though it might seem like a two-hour course is something a person could do and end up getting 45 hours, some people might not be in a place right now in their lives where they can access that, or have the capabilities to engage in it. I feel that kids are falling through the cracks as a result.

Does the scheme the Minister is talking about cover after-school programmes or is it just for a full day care place in a childcare setting? I have a concern, because it seems there are huge issues in the childcare and early care sector. We could discuss it at length and I would love that opportunity. There is, however, an issue right now in after-school programmes. We are seeing closures, we will see more closures and those places will be gone forever.

It is important, therefore, that something be done for the children of parents who are not at work or doing a course. Even if the course takes only two hours a week, they may not be in a position right now to take it. These children are at risk of falling through the cracks but may not quite come under Tusla's remit. It was brought to my attention that this issue applies to children whose first language is not English, such as those who come from Syria or other countries. I appreciate the work that is being done on the matter but there is a little more to be done.

I appreciate the Deputy's recognition of what we have been doing to increase knowledge about the sponsorship, both for parents and for some of the major organisations. We have to do more with Tusla to ensure that it understands, from the top of the organisation down. Tusla is a huge organisation. I will talk about the matter with the chief executive when I meet him and the chairperson for our quarterly review.

I take the Deputy's point about after-school clubs and homework clubs. While I do not have anything clear to say about it now, we are working to see whether anything can be done with regard to the appropriateness of the existing sponsoring bodies. We are looking into that further and if we have any news on that point, I will be sure to update the Deputy and the Oireachtas.

Early Years Sector

Questions (85)

Seán Sherlock


85. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the engagement he has had with the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on rates of pay and conditions for the early years education sector. [41064/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

I want to keep the pressure on the Minister in respect of pay rates in the childcare and early years education sector. We have sight of a report, Pathways to Better Prospects: Delivering Proper Terms and Conditions for the Early Years Workforce in Ireland, of which the Minister will no doubt be aware. It was produced by the department of work and employment studies at the University of Limerick. The research was partly funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The report states that the sustainability of the sector is under pressure because "[t]he unsustainability is evidenced by a 2019 survey which found that 65 per cent of 3,200 early years professionals do not expect to be working in the sector in five years’ time". When will there be a sectoral employment order or some such mechanism that ensures we can retain staff and pay them properly?

I share the Deputy's commitment to ensuring that we have a well-paid workforce of childcare professionals. Improving access to high-quality and affordable early learning and childcare is a priority for me as Minister. I have spoken to both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform about this on a number of occasions and our officials are engaging intensively to progress the matter. Children need and deserve the highest quality of early learning and care experiences and current staff turnover rates in the sector are unacceptable. The primary cause of the high turnover rates is the terms and conditions and it is critical that this be addressed. I am leading on a number of actions to find an effective and sustainable solution.

The State is not the direct employer of early learning and childcare practitioners and, therefore, neither my Department nor any other can set the wage levels. The Deputy will be aware that in the programme for Government, there is a commitment to the creation of a joint labour committee for the sector, which could offer a mechanism to create a pay agreement. My officials are actively working to progress this in collaboration with colleagues in other Departments, including that of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which has responsibility for this industrial relations mechanism. I have met representatives of SIPTU, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and Childhood Services Ireland to discuss the issue of pay and the development of a potential joint labour committee. I hope that all the parties can continue to work together, that staff and employers will play lead roles in the process and that we can make progress in the coming weeks and months.

I am satisfied that work is also progressing on a new funding model, designed by the expert group. The model will be important to determine how, when we put significant State investment into childcare, we can ensure that one of the key deliverables is a well-paid early childcare workforce. I am happy to say the other element, the workforce development plan, is progressing rapidly. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is represented on both the expert group and the workforce development plan.

I welcome the Minister's response but I want to pin him down a little more in respect of what he said about joint labour committees. He stated that work is progressing, but it would be useful if we had more definitive timelines and if we knew what the expectations are for a successful outcome to that such that it can be guaranteed that there will be an improvement in the pay and conditions at the end of the process. The Minister told us that he and his Department are not the employer, but he is very mindful that the sustainability of the sector is in question because, even though there is increased demand for workers within the sector, that is not being met with increased rates of pay to reflect that demand. We would like to hear from the Minister a more definitive timeline and a sense of what his expectations are. There is a commitment in the programme for Government, as he noted. We would like to know when he expects that commitment to be delivered on.

There is sustained engagement between officials in my Department and representatives of SIPTU and of the new body, Childhood Services Ireland, which has been set up under the auspices of IBEC. I cannot give the Deputy a specific date today, although I would love to be in the position to do so. Nevertheless, there is sustained engagement and I hope that in a short number of months, we will have a clear indication of where we are going with that process. It is fundamental, which is why we are putting such efforts into providing it. It is one part of a wider issue, however, and the funding model will be important as well. There will be clarity on the funding model and key information from the expert funding group in the middle of next year, which can then inform my negotiations for budget 2022.

I believe the Minister to be genuine in the agenda he is pursuing on this. I welcome his reply and fully acknowledge that he cannot give a definitive timeline, and it is useful for us to have some sense of the workings, but we want this to end up as an interminable process that outlives the potential mandate of any sitting Government. The workers in the sector expect clear timelines and clear deliverables and it is reasonable that they should not have to wait two or three years before they see some light at the end of the tunnel, which is the essential point I am making. I want to keep the pressure on the Minister in respect of ensuring that we all move towards a scenario in this country whereby people are given a proper wage for the work they do and in recognition of their qualifications.

I fully agree with the Deputy and am very aware of the pressures that childcare professionals are under, from the raw data we get from work such as the report the Deputy mentioned and from my engagement at a constituency level. I have talked to childcare professionals and heard how they feel that having gone through significant training and education to take up the role, they are not rewarded. They feel they do not have any career prospects. That is why we are trying to bring together the workforce development plan, the expert funding model and the work we are doing on the joint labour committee.

It can never happen fast enough - I fully understand that and know that childcare professionals have been waiting a long time - but in the sphere of what we are doing in this part of my Department, this is an absolute priority. I have no doubt the Deputy will continue to put pressure on me with oral questions, and appropriately so.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (86)

Kathleen Funchion


86. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will announce the date he plans to publish the report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters. [40791/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

When does the Minister plan to publish the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes?

Following its five-year statutory inquiry, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters delivered its final report to me on 30 October. I signalled previously that there would be a short time interval between receipt of the report and the separate arrangements for its publication. It is essential that publication is done in the right way with former residents being given the priority and support they deserve. In recent weeks, I have spoken to former residents and advocates in this area, including a majority of the collaborative forum and representatives of many of the organisations and individuals affected. I have listened carefully to their views and concerns.

The work around the publication of the report is at an advanced stage but I am mindful, too, that the uncertainty around when those affected will be able to read the report could add to their anxiety. For this reason and in the hope of offering some reassurance, I wish to confirm today that I will be bringing a memorandum to the Government in the week of 11 January next seeking approval to publish the report immediately. I also intend to publish the sixth interim report from the commission at the same time.

I recognise how important it is that former residents and their families are the first to be notified about plans to publish the report and how to access it. My Department contacted former residents earlier today to tell them of the planned publication arrangements.

Deputies will agree that it is important that former residents are informed first. In my communications to survivors this morning, I also highlighted the counselling supports available to those who feel they need additional support immediately and over the Christmas and new year period. Available capacity in these services will be primed to respond to the anticipated increased demand when the report is published and in the weeks following. An information line has been established in my Department and all relevant contact information is on my Department's website.

Deputies will be aware that the certain institutional burials (authorised interventions) Bill was approved by the previous Government in December of last year and referred for pre-legislative scrutiny. Due to the general election in February, this did not happen. It is my intention to bring a memorandum to the Government on the general scheme of this Bill also in the week of 11 January and then refer it to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability and Integration for pre-legislative scrutiny.

I welcome the fact that there is a date for publication. I, along with many others, have been anxious to get a date but I am also mindful that today marks exactly three weeks to Christmas Eve. I have been speaking to many survivors and various representatives over the past two weeks. I have had a number of online meetings. People are concerned that the report is to be published and everyone would leave them high and dry over the Christmas period. Unfortunately, that has been their experience of dealing with the State over the years. They have been let down. I do not blame people for feeling like that.

It is vital that the correct counselling supports are put in place. They should have been put in place a long time ago regardless of whether a report was being published. Now that we will have the report, which I believe is 4,000 pages long, it will be difficult reading. Obviously, it was a difficult lived experience for so many people and their families. It is important that there are the correct counsellors and that people are not merely guided on to some number, where one is on a waiting list and one will be 18 months waiting, or to somebody who does not really understand. There needs to be trauma-specific counsellors dealing with people. They need to be services that are available specifically for survivors and those affected, not added on to an existing overburdened service. That is crucial. I welcome that we have a date because it is important for people to be able to prepare for it mentally as well.

Like the Deputy, I have been in touch with a significant number of survivors over the past number of weeks and I have heard the various views. There are various views out there. Talking to more and more of them as we get closer to Christmas - it has been a hard year for everybody - there is a real sense that this Christmas will be a difficult and unusual one. With the significance of this report, it was clear to me that publishing it close to Christmas would not be appropriate. That is why we are giving clarity today that we have a specific date. It is the second week in January. We will bring it forward in that week.

I take on board all that the Deputy is saying about the need for the provision of appropriate counselling and supports at that time. We are engaging on a consistent basis with the Department of Health and the HSE. When the announcement is made, there will be clarity as regards the counselling services. Those counselling services will be put in place at that time. The Deputy is correct. That is essential and necessary.

There a few final points I want to make. It is really important that survivors and people affected by this get the report first. While that might seem like common sense to everybody, there has been a history and a pattern of things being leaked and of people hearing media stories. I was contacted by people who thought the report was being published this week and that was not the case. It is really important that survivors get copies.

Some people have even contacted me to ask whether they will get a copy or will have to read it online. We might think "of course they will get a copy", but that needs to be reaffirmed to them. They need to be communicated with and told that they will get a copy and their views will be respected in terms of them getting this first, before it is released to the wider public. That is the least they deserve.

I want to briefly mention Bessborough. I welcome the fact that the Minister mentioned that we will definitely have the pre-legislative scrutiny of the certain institutional burials (authorised interventions) Bill in January. In the past week or two, there has been a planning application in relation to the former site at Bessborough. The burial grounds are included in that. People are concerned that works will go ahead there. We should have that pre-legislative scrutiny and have that proposed Bill passed before any works are carried out.

The Deputy raises two important and separate issues there. On Bessborough, I am aware of the planning application. I have engaged with one of the leading survivor groups for survivors from Cork. I was looking at the planning application this morning. I am concerned about that planning application. I will not say more about it now but I am aware of what is happening there.

As regards engagement and informing survivors, the survivors on the departmental mailing list were mailed this morning with information. The plan is that it will go to the Cabinet that week, and following the Cabinet meeting, the Taoiseach and I will host a webinar solely for survivors at which we will discuss and bring out the major conclusions of the report for survivors. It will only be after that point that it will be available. We will hold a press conference for the general public, but we will be engaging with survivors first and telling them first. Probably the following week, because everyone will need time to read it, there will be time for an extensive Dáil debate on the issue as well. We will provide more detail in the new year about the specifics of getting this report to survivors.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (87)

Jennifer Whitmore


87. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the extent to which he consulted with and sourced international and national independent law and data privacy advisers in advance of the publication of the mother and baby homes report; if not, if he will appoint independent advisers of national and international standing in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41065/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

The recent debates about the mother and baby homes situation brought into stark reality how important it is to have clarity on data protection, what rules will apply and who will be applying them to ensure we have a data protection system that is fit for purpose and has the needs of the survivors at its heart. To what extent has the Minister sourced and consulted international and national independent law and data privacy advisers in advance of the publication of the mother and baby homes report? If he has not done this, will he appoint independent advisers of national and international standing in future? I ask him to make a statement on the matter.

As I stated in response to the previous question, the commission of investigation delivered its final report to me on 30 October. I had said that there would be a short time interval between its receipt by my Department and its publication. I have now outlined the plans for publication.

One of the matters undertaken was to refer the report of almost 3,000 pages to the Attorney General to ascertain whether there were any legal impediments to publication. The Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government, and he has not indicated any concerns to me in relation to data privacy or data protection in respect of the publication of the report.

As I have already indicated, I am open to engaging with other experts on the data protection issues relating to matters connected to the report more widely, as my work on dealing with access to records continues. To that end, I have already reached out to a number of experts - national and international - and sought a meeting to hear their considered views on this matter. My officials are engaging with the Office of the Attorney General and I will ensure that any independent views are shared with that office.

As the Deputy will be aware, the commission is independent in the manner in which it chooses to conduct its investigation and the commissioners are the appropriate persons to consider any data privacy or protection issues ahead of submission of the report to me as the prescribed Minister.

The Deputy has asked previously about providing mechanisms for individuals to access personal information contained in the archive of records which is due to be deposited with my Department on 28 February next. My Department is carefully examining the advice of the Attorney General and the views of the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure we can put in place the procedures and practices that will enable relevant persons to access certain personal information in accordance with existing law.

As I said, I have committed to, and begun, the steps of engaging with international experts to obtain their advice and views on the provision of information.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am pleased to hear that he has already made contact with experts. He mentioned that the Attorney General has given advice in regard to data protection. Previously, there was confusion as a result of the advice from different Attorneys General in regard to data protection. It is important to have clarity in this regard.

Survivor groups have expressed concern that there be adequate consultation with the international experts on this matter. My understanding is that the groups offered suggestions in October as to the external experts with whom it would be particularly beneficial for the Minister to engage. They also asked that a dedicated unit be established within the Data Protection Commission, which would have a dedicated advisory committee. Will the Minister commit to setting up such a unit?

Will the Minister also agree to reconvene the collaborative forum for former residents of mother and baby homes? He said he has spoken to the majority of members of the forum, but has he spoken to the forum in its totality? Will he reconvene it and appoint a chairperson and member with data protection expertise?

The next question, submitted by Deputy Pringle, is specifically on the issue of the collaborative forum. If Deputy Whitmore does not mind, I will address her last question in my reply to Deputy Pringle, in which I will set out my past and future engagements with the forum. I have written separately today to all members of the forum indicating my intention to convene a meeting of it once the report of the commission of investigation has been published.

On the wider issue of independent advice, the Adoption Rights Alliance gave me the names of two individuals. I have approached those individuals to obtain advice. The Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government and I am bound to accept his advice. However, in order to get the widest range of views on how we can deal with this issue properly, I am also engaging with the international experts to whom I referred and the Data Protection Commission. I cannot create a separate unit within the commission. My understanding is that the survivor groups were looking for a separate unit within my Department to deal with these particular queries. We are examining how we can best meet that request.

Everyone wants to see the survivors being central to all the decision-making that happens from now on. Many of them were traumatised by the recent debates. It is really important that survivors do not feel they must fight for access to data concerning their own histories. I ask that the Minister keep that consideration to the fore of all his decisions as he moves forward on this matter.

Absolutely. In respect of today's announcement about the publication date, we put survivors first by notifying them even before we notified the Dáil. That was the appropriate thing to do. When the report is published, it will be presented to the survivor groups and individuals concerned before it goes out to the general public. I have said a number of times that we will provide the full allowable GDPR access, but GDPR is not going to solve all the problems. That is something even the Data Protection Commissioner recognises. The way to resolve the issue of access to information is via information and tracing legislation. It is important that I keep putting that on the record. We are not going to have a panacea when the archive comes to my Department on 28 February. The issue will be solved by information and tracing legislation. I am engaging with the Attorney General in that regard and my Department is working hard on an options paper. I look forward to bringing information and tracing legislation to the Oireachtas next year.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (88)

Thomas Pringle


88. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the interactions he has had with the collaborative forum for former residents of mother and baby homes since becoming Minister; when members of the forum will receive copies of the sixth interim and final reports of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes; his plans for the forum in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40385/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

From what I can tell, the last official meeting of the collaborative forum for former residents of mother and baby homes was this time last year, on 11 December 2019. There were 13 forum members present, including the chairperson, Dr. Gráinne Healy, as well as the Minister's predecessor, Katherine Zappone, and six officials from the then Department of Children and Youth Affairs. From the notes of the meeting, it seems that a number of commitments were made to the forum and follow-up was expected. Instead, the forum was sidelined after the general election and blindsided when the Government introduced its legislation dealing with access to the database and records in October. What meetings has the Minister had with the forum and what are his plans for the forum next year?

I thank the Deputy for his question. I am committed to strong and ongoing engagement with former residents of mother and baby institutions and their advocates. The process of engagement with the collaborative forum, which was established by my predecessor, Katherine Zappone, as a representative advisory body on issues of priority for former residents, their families and supporters, was interrupted by the general election and the Covid-19 pandemic. It was necessary to put meetings of the forum on hold in the context of the restrictions put in place to reduce the spread and impact of Covid-19. A number of members travel to meetings from outside the jurisdiction and some would also be categorised as being in the high-risk category.

Throughout 2020, the members of the forum have been apprised of developments and updated on matters related to the commission of investigation by the secretariat to the group. It is the practice of my Department to inform them of any major announcements prior to their being made public. In the course of the debate on the database legislation, I acknowledged my own shortcomings and those of my Department in terms of our communications and engagement with the collaborative forum. I voiced my commitment to renewed engagement with survivors and advocates, including members of the forum. As a first step towards that, I have spoken to former residents and advocates in this area in recent weeks, including a substantial majority of forum members. I spoke individually to anyone who was happy to speak to me.

I have given my commitment to convening a meeting of the forum in whatever manner is possible following the publication of the report of the commission of investigation. I repeated that commitment in a communication I sent to forum members this morning as part of the notification process of the date for the publication of the report. As I said, I am advancing the publication of the report for the week of 11 January. I have communicated that to the collaborative forum, as well as my intention to meet it thereafter to discuss the report and its ongoing involvement in the process of advising and representing survivors, together with wider issues to do with the legacy, many of which we discussed in the debate on the database legislation.

I thank the Minister for his response. It worries me that he talks about it not being possible to have meetings of the collaborative forum. There is the option of video conferencing, which has been availed of by the Oireachtas. That could have been put in place. I am concerned that there is a possibility of the forum being put on hold.

In the notes of a previous meeting of the forum, it was stated that members "feel that their voice and opinions are not being adequately recorded in order for it to be evident to a wider audience". Forum members were told that the Department would organise a presentation on the report of the commission of investigation at the next meeting, which we now know will take place in January. An action noted was that the Department was to seek clarification from the Attorney General and revert to the forum. There seems to have been a reluctance to engage with members. The Minister has much work to do to get people back on board given the way the database legislation was handled and how the forum has been treated over the past year. Not all of that happened under his watch, but it is his responsibility now and he has a great deal of work to do to get things back on track.

There is work to do and I started that work by reaching out to, and having lengthy and detailed conversations with, many of the forum members. Some of them were very forthright in their views on the issues, as is absolutely appropriate. It was an important first step to rebuilding trust. I made the commitment that we would convene subsequent to the publication of the report. A number of members voiced their dissatisfaction that the forum's own report has never been published, only the recommendations. I made a commitment to go back to the Attorney General to see whether we can get that report, or a substantial part of it, published. A huge amount of work went into it and the forum members made the point that their recommendations, which were published, were very much out of context without the full report to give them a broader perspective. I have made a commitment to engage with the Attorney General on the forum's report.

Perhaps we should have a question about the role of the Attorney General in the operation of the Department. It seems that everything has been done according to his say in this matter, and that is worrying.

The legal view takes a very narrow view of how things can actually be done and how people can be dealt with. These people need a more humane view rather than a legal view. That would go a long way towards meeting it. The Minister needs to be strong and stand up to the Attorney General. He needs to tell him it is the Department with responsibility for children, a Government Department, rather than a legal office. This will be important in how the matter is dealt with in the future.

Since the Attorney General and I took office, I have found him incredibly supportive in the work that I have done. My engagement with him resulted in GDPR now applying to the archive, a significant step. Everyone has recognised it as such. That should be noted.

Obviously the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government. I recognise that, in the context of the debate on the database legislation, I took a legalistic approach. I saw a legal problem and saw that as a solution. I am endeavouring to ensure that I continue to engage with survivors. I have had significant engagement with survivors over the past number of weeks and I will continue to do so. It has been extremely useful for me to hear at first hand the absolutely shocking and different experiences of so many survivors. I have committed that in my Department's approach in future, we will ensure that survivors are absolutely central in everything we do.