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Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Jul 2022

Vol. 287 No. 2

Institutional Burials Bill 2022: Report and Final Stages

Amendment No. 1 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, 12 and 16 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 10, line 37, to delete “and” and substitute “or”.

I second the amendment.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I will be concise, given we have little time to get through the amendments. The amendment will amend the meaning of "principal burial land" in the interpretation section. Currently, the section defines a principal burial land as land "associated with an institution where burials have taken place ... of persons who died while resident at the institution, and ... which were manifestly inappropriate". As drafted, there are two criteria, namely, the person must have died while a resident and must have been buried before the State may intervene. The requirement to meet both criteria is, potentially, a barrier and the amendment will change the wording such that only one requirement will apply. The fact that, for example, a young woman, a baby or a child died in a home or was inappropriately buried there should be enough in and of itself to trigger an intervention. It does not seem right that either of these circumstances on its own would not be serious enough to warrant an investigation.

Amendment No. 2 seeks to revise the scope of the Bill to align it with the international definition of “mass grave sites”, namely, that which has been derived from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It will incorporate this best-practice definition into the interpretation of what constitutes a principal burial site to ensure intervention will occur in a broader range of burials, whether they are inappropriate in terms of the nature of the burial or of the nature of the death of those persons who were buried.

Amendment No. 3 is closely related to amendment No. 1. As outlined, the Bill currently specifies that authorised interventions will be limited to cases where a person died while ordinarily resident in an institution and where he or she was buried in a manifestly inappropriate manner. Two criteria must be met before the State may act, namely, the person must have died while a resident and must have been buried inappropriately. The requirement to meet both criteria could be a barrier and, in our view, one should be sufficient. Amendment No. 3 will change the wording of the section such that only one of the criteria will be required.

Amendment No. 4 seeks to revise the scope of the Bill to align it with the international best-practice definition of "mass grave sites" to include any burial site where the circumstances surrounding the death, body-disposal method or both warrant an investigation as to their lawfulness. This will incorporate the best-practice definition into the section, which provides for the establishment, by order of the Government, of an office of the director of authorised intervention. Doing so will ensure the intervention and investigation occur in respect of the broadest possible range of inappropriate burials.

Amendment No. 12 will add a function to directors of authorised intervention to include the arranging of the forensic excavation and recovery of remains where there is a concern the person's death occurred in a violent, unnatural, sudden or unknown manner. The current provision is too narrow in that it specifies that only the circumstances of the burial be considered when assessing whether forensic excavation and recovery should be arranged by the director. As previously noted, the pre-legislative scrutiny report of the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth recommended that interventions give due consideration to suspicious or unlawful deaths as well as to the existence of inappropriate burials. The amendment acts on this recommendation as it relates to the arranging of forensic excavation and recovery by the director of authorised intervention.

Finally, amendment No. 16 seeks to expand the provisions relating to the obligations on a director of authorised intervention to notify An Garda Síochána and the coroner of certain evidence. As drafted, section 36 specifies An Garda Síochána and the coroner must be notified by a director where evidence emerges that human remains were buried in the principal burial land following death in violent or unnatural circumstances.

This means that even though a child, or mother or young woman may have died in an unknown or suspicious way, this will not be referred to the Garda or the coroner for further investigation, despite the fact the death may well have occurred in a violent or unnatural way. This amendment expands on the current provision by including death in suspicious or undetermined circumstances. This ensures that where the cause of death is undetermined or unclear but suspicious, the Garda and coroner would be notified and further investigation could ensue. This amendment acts on the 6th recommendation in the pre-legislative scrutiny report by the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which stated that intervention should give due consideration to suspicious or unlawful deaths.

I thank the Senators for facilitating the issue with voting today and I gather it may need to be facilitated again later this evening. I thank the Senators for putting forth this set of amendments. I know we discussed similar amendments in the Seanad on Committee Stage here and in the Dáil, and I am not going to be in a position to accept these amendments.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, seek to alter the definition of principal land, as Senator Ruane said, and the conditions for making a Government order to allow for interventions in cases where inappropriate burials have not been discovered but, rather, where the burials relate to any person who died while resident in an institution or where the circumstances of the death or body disposal method warrant an investigation as to their lawfulness.

Amendment No. 12 seeks to alter the functions of the director so he or she would have to arrange for forensic excavation and recovery of human remains where death may have occurred in a violent or unnatural manner or suddenly from an unknown cause. These amendments will allow for interventions in cases where inappropriate burials have not been discovered. This approach would fundamentally alter the scope of the Bill and ultimately change the underlying objectives of the legislation. This is clearly at odds with the Government decision to create a lawful basis for forensic excavation, recovery, analysis and identification of remains at institutional sites where manifestly inappropriate burials have occurred, as is the case at the site of the former mother and baby institution at Tuam.

These amendments will also represent a strong interference with the jurisdiction of An Garda Síochána and the coroner. Any intervention and investigation where there are questions regarding the lawfulness of a circumstance surrounding a death should clearly come under the remit of those two bodies. This is why the Bill rightly provides up front that an order may not be made if an investigation or inquest is already under way, and the Garda Commissioner is of the view it would be premature to make an order for intervention pending the outcome of that investigation. Similarly, the Bill rightly provides that where an intervention under this legislation is under way, the director must notify An Garda Síochána and the coroner of any evidence of a violent or unnatural death that comes to light during the intervention and then follow their direction.

I also point out that the manner in which bodies are buried does form part of the considerations of what might constitute manifestly inappropriate burials or buried in a way that would not reasonably be considered to provide a dignified interment. I do not see a justification for referencing the body disposal method when the manner of interment is already included within the scope of the Bill.

The legislation seeks to complement existing law, including the Coroners Act and not replace it. I know this was significant in terms of the pre-legislative discussions. As Senators will know, as a very significant change from the original general scheme, we removed all restrictions on the jurisdiction of the coroner. Furthermore, under this legislation, the director will have to try to identify the circumstances and cause of death of recovered remains, and if evidence of violent or natural death emerges, the director must notify the coroner and An Garda Síochána immediately.

Amendment No. 16 is concerned with changing the description of the type of death that must be notified to the coroner and a member of An Garda Síochána. While I appreciate the intent, I can assure the Senator that the current wording of “violent or unnatural” would encompass any suspicious deaths where there is potential evidence of same. In practical terms, it is important the wording remains aligned with the basis of exhumation that already exists in the Coroners Act. More broadly, the director will publish a full post-recovery analysis report in respect of all recovered remains, which will include the causes and circumstances of death where it is possible for that to be determined by the director. The director will ensure it is brought to the attention of the relevant coroner. In addition, as a result of an amendment that was brought forward during the Dáil debate, the legislation will ensure the post-recovery analysis report will document where notifications of evidence of violence or unnatural death have been made to An Garda Síochána and the coroner. There will be a clear record of that engagement between the director and An Garda Síochána and-or the coroner, which has taken place. In light of those reasons I am not in a position to accept these amendments.

Given the time constraints, we will go straight to pressing the amendments.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 11, line 1, after “inappropriate” to insert the following:

“or circumstances surrounding the death and/or body-disposal method warrant an investigation as to their lawfulness”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 14, line 32, to delete “and” and substitute “or”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 14, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

“(ii) of persons, where circumstances surrounding the death and/or body-disposal method warrant an investigation as to their lawfulness,”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 15, to delete lines 4 to 6 and substitute the following:

“(c) the making of the order is in line with the wishes of the majority of relatives of persons buried on the land.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 5 seeks to delete the lines in the Bill which say that an order for an excavation of a burial site will only be made if it is necessary for the purposes of safeguarding important objectives of general public interest. It is not clear what these lines are achieving, so I propose a deletion and substitution that specifies the Government may make an order where doing so is in line with the wishes of the majority of relatives of persons buried on the land. I believe Deputy Cairns said it best in the Dáil debate when she said this provision creates unnecessary barriers. In what scenario could excavating an institutional burial site not be in the public interest? Who decides what is in the public interest? Would this ever be used as a justification not to excavate a site? It is my view these lines should be deleted and substituted as set out as, currently, they only create an unnecessary qualifier that risks putting another obstacle between the public and the truth.

I am not in a position to accept this amendment that seeks to remove the very important concept of safeguarding the public interest from consideration within this legislation. The excavation and recovery of human remains is a complex and sensitive intervention. In making a decision to undertake this, the Government must strike a balance between the need to intervene with the need to respect the long-standing tradition of the sanctity of burials and consider the overall public interest. Consideration of the safeguarding of public interest is not unique to this legislation. It is a particularly important concept in legislation where elements of constitutional rights are at play and are being balanced. When legislation does impact on constitutional rights, it is vital the legislation sets out a robust legal basis grounded in public interest for any potential adverse impacts on constitutional rights. The legislation, therefore, sets out a number of factors a Government would have to take into account when determining if an intervention is proportionate, including the need to accord dignity to persons who are buried in the land, the need to respect the views of the relatives of persons buried in the land, public health, and alternative options, if any, that may be available.

I believe the amendment proposed would fundamentally weaken the protection of constitutional rights within this legislation and, therefore, the legislation itself. I do not think that is in the ultimate interest of those most centrally affected and as such I cannot accept the amendment. To be clear, I do not believe anything about the public interest test will in any way interfere with our ability to intervene at the site in Tuam, which is the stated intention of Government.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 15, to delete lines 17 and 18.

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 6 seeks to remove the subsection that provides that the Government shall not make an order to establish an office of director of authorised intervention if the burial site comprises a burial ground in whole or in part. In doing so, the amendment would ensure that the authorised interventions occur in the greatest possible number of cases. As drafted, principal burial land would not be eligible for intervention if even a small part of the land comprised a regulated burial ground. This amendment expands the provision to ensure that regulated burial lands can be intervened in, where there is a cause to intervene. Subsection (4)(c)(ii) already specifies that interventions should not occur where the land cannot be excavated without disturbing appropriately buried remains. In my mind this seems like a sufficient protection for remains that are buried appropriately.

While I understand the sensitivity with which we must approach disturbing appropriately buried remains, we must balance this with the rights of concerned persons to justice and to a dignified burial. Maintaining the provision that appropriately buried remains should not be disturbed strikes me as an adequate provision in and of itself. This is why I propose a straight deletion of lines 17 and 18.

Amendment No. 7 seeks to ensure that every possible effort is made to excavate inappropriate burials. It is related to some degree to amendment No. 6.

Section 7(4) refers to land that "could not be excavated without disturbing appropriately buried human remains". This amendment adds a small qualifier that the provision would not apply in circumstances where written consent for the excavation was given by living relatives of the person whose remains are buried appropriately. This could be a productive amendment because the current version of the Bill seems to create a barrier to uncovering inappropriately buried remains in the future. One can imagine a scenario where a family may be living in a small town where an institutional burial site is discovered. Perhaps the family had relatives in an institution and a mass burial site is discovered close to one of the family graves or a family plot. One can imagine that the family would want their appropriately buried love ones to rest in peace, but they may also want to desperately know the truth about what happened in the local institution and what happened to relatives who may have been in it. In that case the family might want to give permission for a family grave to be excavated. They might be willing to make that sacrifice to find out the truth about their family, another family's history or their local history. It is with this scenario in mind that I propose a small qualifying amendment, which I hope can be seen as a constructive suggestion.

Amendment No. 8 seeks to expand the context in which an authorised intervention takes place. Currently in legislation an intervention would not take place where recovery of human remains would be unreasonably difficult. Will the Minister clarify what constitutes unreasonably difficult? It seems somewhat unclear to me and the provision seems vague. It is also unclear as to how the perceived difficulty would be assessed and who would assess it. This amendment seeks to delete this vague term from the Bill and replace the relevant subsection with an alternative, which specifies the intervention should progress unless there is a risk of serious physical harm to the persons responsible for the excavation. In my view this substitution strengthens the section through the removal of what is a very vague term. In doing so, the amendment ensures that a greater number of interventions will occur where they are required.

I am not in a position to support these amendments that seek to amend the criteria under which the Government cannot make an order. The criteria set out are all important factors that need to be considered in decisions on whether an order should be made. There is a strong rationale for excluding official burial grounds, ensuring that appropriately buried human remains are not disturbed unnecessarily and health and safety considerations are taken into account.

Section 44 of the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1948 specifies where burials can appropriately take place. Where this legislation applies, there is an existing provision for an exhumation licence to be issued by the relevant Minister for a body or bodies that were buried at that location. An intervention under this Bill would, therefore, not be warranted if the provisions of the 1948 Act are applicable to the burial grounds in question.

It is also reasonable not to disturb remains that were buried appropriately. A similar condition exists under the 1948 Act. It is important to respect the long-standing tradition of the sanctity of burials and, in some cases, it may be necessary to consider the impact of the intervention on other human remains that were interred appropriately. While the views of relatives in relation to this would be important, and would be provided for under amendment No. 7, the Government may need to consider the other factors in this regard. I believe the current wording represents the best approach.

In certain sites, excavations may be unsafe or disproportionately difficult. These health and safety considerations must be taken into account. While the risk of serious physical harm to persons responsible for an excavation would be an important factor, as suggested by amendment No. 8, it would not be sufficient to cover situations where an intervention may not appear to pose a risk of physical harm but may be so complex that any attempt to recover the remains would not afford dignity to the deceased. It should be stressed that such circumstances would be exceptional. We are aware that the Tuam site will be challenging, but intervention here is justified and the Government has made a clear commitment to doing so once this legislation is passed.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 15, line 21, after “recovered,” to insert the following:

“unless written consent is obtained from living relatives to excavate the appropriately buried remains,”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 15, to delete lines 22 and 23 and substitute the following:

“(d) recovery of human remains from the land would pose risk of serious physical harm to persons responsible for the excavation,”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 15, to delete lines 31 to 34 and substitute the following:

“(5) Where difficulties listed under subsection (4), or any other substantive difficulties, are identified in respect of a site which meets the criteria outlined in subsection (3), the Government shall make every effort to resolve difficulties and to decide, in consultation with relevant persons, whether it is necessary and proportionate to thoroughly examine burials on the land, before it is determined that memorialisation of the burials on the land, without further intervention, is more appropriate.”.

I second the amendment.

This amendment proposes to delete the lines in the Bill that allow the Government to choose to create a memorial instead of excavating a site and replace them with a paragraph providing that the Government must make every effort possible to excavate a site and overcome any difficulties that may arise. Only once all possible routes to examination of a site have been exhausted should the Government consider a memorial and nothing else.

This amendment is also about removing barriers. There should be no easy outs for the Government when it comes to excavating institutional burial sites. Every site should be examined fully. It is in the public interest to examine every single one of these sites, so long as there are living families who desire information about relatives buried in them. As I have said many times already, this is about the truth and closure. These can only be achieved if we do the hard work of examining the burials.

This amendment is slightly different from the version I tabled on Committee Stage, in that it specifies that the Government shall consult with relevant persons and parties when deciding whether it is necessary and proportionate to thoroughly examine burials on the land. It ensures that creating a memorial is not used as a window-dressing exercise to avoid excavation of a burial site. The amendment ensures that a memorial, without further intervention, is only ever a last resort.

Amendment No. 10, like amendment No. 9, seeks to remove from the Bill the provision that equips the Government with the power to unilaterally decide not to intervene on a site where it decides memorialisation is more appropriate than intervention. The Government has a positive legal obligation under the European Convention of Human Rights Act 2003 to investigate all sites where there are suspicious circumstances surrounding death. These investigations can happen without excavations and do not preclude memorialisation. Memorialisation should complement rather than replace the process of intervening in and investigating mass graves. Any decisions concerning memorialisation should include meaningful participation by survivors and family members. Regardless of the outcome of consultation with families and survivors in relation to a particular site, the legal obligation on the State to carry out investigations into the deaths of the individuals buried there, if the circumstances are suspicious, should be provided for in the Bill. This amendment would achieve this.

While I appreciate the sincere intent that lies behind amendments Nos. 9 and 10, I am not in a position to support them. As outlined previously, it is vital to recognise excavation is not a desired option in every circumstance. From my discussions with families and survivors, I am aware that for some family members, these sites are the graves of their loved ones and they do not want them to be excavated or the remains to be exhumed in any circumstances. For them, that would be regarded as a violation of the sanctity of the remains of their loved ones. Indeed, for some family members, what is important to them is a memorial recognising and marking the burial site.

The legislation, as we know, is not site specific and has to be sufficiently flexible to allow Governments to take account of differing circumstances and views that may arise in the future. On foot of a recommendation from the pre-legislative scrutiny process, this provision in the legislation has been amended to specify the Government must have “substantive reasons” to form the view that memorialisation of the burials on the land without further intervention would be more appropriate. I would like to dispel any potential misconception that the provisions will allow the Government to refrain from intervention. The Government would have to set out clearly the reasons for choosing memorialisation and, in coming to this view, consultation with all relevant parties would be important. The rationale will have to be sufficient and reference to some technical difficulties would not be adequate to justify the decision not to make an order.

I hope this provides some element of reassurance.

I will withdraw the amendments in light of the Minister's response.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 15, to delete lines 31 to 34.

I second the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 11 has been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 22, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

“(b) a member having expertise in transitional justice,”.

I second the amendment.

The amendment specifies that at least one member of the advisory board should have knowledge of and experience in transitional justice. Transitional justice is a response to systemic or widespread violations of human rights that seeks recognition for victims and the promotion of possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democracy. It is justice adapted to a society transforming itself after a period of pervasive human rights abuses. We must ensure we take on board the available expertise in this field in order that the victims of human rights abuses in Ireland and their families will receive the justice they so deserve.

Amendment No. 14 seeks to remove the requirement to have an advisory board member from the relevant local authority where the principal burial land is situated and to substitute the provision with an alternative wherein an expert in transitional justice would sit on the advisory group. The provision, as drafted, runs contrary to the requests made by survivors and stakeholders during pre-legislative scrutiny. Given the history of complicity of local authorities in the operation of these institutions, it would be insulting to survivors to include this provision. Instead, a member with knowledge of transitional justice would be better and more appropriate to have on the board. Like amendment No. 13, this amendment will also make up for the lack of any reference to transitional justice throughout the Bill.

I cannot support the amendments, which would change the membership of the advisory board. The Bill provides for an advisory board that will be established to guide and support the director of an intervention. It will include scientific experts and former residents, family members of the deceased or both, and consultation with the advisory board will be required at regular intervals, including at key decision points in an intervention. The addition of an advisory board responds to a number of recommendations from the pre-legislative scrutiny report to enhance transparency and accountability and, in particular, to ensure meaningful engagement with families and survivors. It is an important change, brought about between pre-legislative scrutiny and the Bill having been introduced to Dáil Éireann.

In November last year, I published a 22-point action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions. This overarching Government response to the legacy of these institutions adopts a survivor-centred approach with a focus on human rights, and the State's obligations under domestic and international law underpin every action in the plan, including action 22 relating to this legislation. The primary role of this advisory board is to provide advice and guidance to the director at key points in the intervention, and in that context, it is important the director consider the views of family members and survivors but also have access to scientific expertise. In inserting provisions for an advisory board into the Bill, a key aim was to uphold the rights of family members by promoting their voice and views at key decision points in the process. Furthermore, in appointing a director, expertise in human rights will be one of the considerations, as will be coronial expertise.

I recognise that those most profoundly affected by any intervention will be the family members of the deceased and former residents of the institution in question, and the advisory board includes family members of the deceased and former residents for this reason. Nevertheless, we need to appreciate the sensitivity and impact of an intervention on the local community, as well as the role of the local authority in the protection and preservation of burial sites. Accordingly, the advisory board will include a member of the local authority to represent the interests of the local community and to reflect general responsibilities for the protection of burial sites and local planning.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 22, to delete lines 12 to 13, and substitute the following:

“(b) a member having expertise in transitional justice,”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 33, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

“(6) Nothing in this section shall prejudice the rights of those who wish to make a protected disclosure under the Protected Disclosures Acts 2014 to 2022.”.

I second the amendment.

The amendment seeks to ensure that nothing in the Bill will prevent someone from making a protected disclosure with regard to wrongdoing in the process of excavating a burial site or in the sharing of information of significant public interest relating to a burial site. It is a small addition to section 30, which prohibits the disclosure of confidential information by specified persons, including the staff of the director. “Confidential information” is defined quite loosely in section 30(5) and seems to include anything the director decides is confidential. I understand the practical need for confidentiality within the section but it seems to have the scope to prevent staff members from disclosing any information the director tells them they are not allowed to disclose. This is a very general provision and, therefore, it is important to include this clarifying amendment, which will provide that nothing in the section means a person cannot make a protected disclosure in respect of a burial site. In recent weeks, the Protect Disclosures Act was debated in the House and on several occasions it was highlighted how important the legislation is. This clarifying amendment will simply ensure our important protections for whistleblowers are not diluted in regard to burial sites.

The amendment is significant in the context of the next Bill before the House, the Employment Equality (Amendment) (Non-Disclosure Agreements) Bill 2021. In preparation for the debate on that Bill, we have seen cases of barristers and other legal scholars writing clauses into legal contracts and non-disclosure agreements that state the parties will no longer be protected by the Protected Disclosures Act.

It is a funny thing for somebody who studies law to think they could preclude somebody from legislation applying to them. Based on my experience in recent years of seeing that written into NDAs, I want to ensure under this section that, regardless of the confidentiality aspect, there is that qualifying piece and people are still protected by the Protected Disclosures Act.

I hear the Senator's concern and I hope I can reassure her. I am not in a position to accept the amendment because I do not feel it is necessary. I believe there is a protection there and, as we discussed on Committee Stage, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 protects the rights of those making a protected disclosure under that Act. This Bill does not in any way prejudice the rights of those making a protected disclosure under that Act. While under section 30(2) of the Institutional Burials Bill it is an offence intentionally or recklessly to disclose confidential information, that has to be read in light of section 15 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, which sets out the defences that exist under that Act and states:

In a prosecution of a person for any offence prohibiting or restricting the disclosure of information it is a defence for the person to show that, at the time of the alleged offence, the disclosure was, or was reasonably believed by the person to be, a protected disclosure.

This means anyone who discloses confidential information in the reasonable belief he or she is making a protected disclosure will have a complete defence from prosecution under section 30 of this legislation. The amendment is unnecessary because that defence is there.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 35, line 31, to delete “or unnatural circumstances” and substitute “, unnatural, suspicious or undetermined circumstances”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 37, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“Review of operation of forensic examination and recovery and post-recovery analysis of human remains

40. Following the expiration of the period of operation of an Office of Director of Authorised Intervention, the Minister shall cause a report to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on the carrying out of the functions under this Part, including the performance by the coroner of their specific functions, in respect of the entire period of operation of the Office”.

I second the amendment.

This amendment addresses the operation of forensic examination and recovery and the post-recovery analysis of human remains. More specifically, it calls for a review to be undertaken and a report to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas regarding the functions of an authorised office under this Part of the Bill, once the examination of a site has concluded and the office has ceased operation.

As the Minister will be aware, the role and involvement of the coroner was a point of significant deliberation during pre-legislative scrutiny in the Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and during the Stages of the Bill in the Dáil. I understand the Minister has amended the legislation to take account of these deliberations and discussions, and I very much welcome the changes that have been made to the Bill in this way.

The amendment seeks to insert a provision that would see a review undertaken of the functions under this Part of the Bill, including by the coroner, and the subsequent delivery of a report to both Houses based on the findings of the review. This would ensure the very important functions provided for by this section receive additional oversight to ensure they are being carried out effectively. Given the extent of the concerns and the deliberations during pre-legislative scrutiny on this issue, this amendment would act as an important safeguard.

I believe we cover all of what the Senator seeks to achieve in the existing provisions on reporting, so I am not in a position to accept the amendment. Section 35 provides for a director to prepare a report following post-recovery analysis, and this report must document the circumstances of the discovery of human remains, the forensic excavation and recovery and the outcomes of activities carried out during post-recovery analysis. A report on the functions carried out under this Part of the Bill is therefore already provided for and there is a requirement that this report be published and publicly available. The legislation also has two separate reporting mechanisms. The director must submit an annual report in section 23 and a final report in section 105. Both of these reports must be laid before the Oireachtas. In addition, section 106 provides that, following the submission of the final report of an intervention, the Minister shall "undertake a review of the implementation of this Act, in so far as it relates to the Office of the Director". This report, again, must be published.

The coroner does not have a specific function under this Bill. The Bill is designed to complement existing law, including the Coroners Act, and not replace it. We spoke of the significant change made following the publication of the general scheme concerning the removal of all restrictions on the jurisdiction of the coroner. Under this legislation, if evidence of violent or unnatural death emerges, the director must notify the coroner and An Garda Síochána immediately and, following an amendment made in the Dáil, the director's post-recovery analysis report must include whether any notification of evidence of violent or unnatural death was made to An Garda Síochána and the coroner. The report will clearly set out if the circumstances set out in the Bill were activated and the coroner needed to be informed, but anything beyond that would be for the coroner to report. It would not be appropriate for the director to report on the activities of another arm of the State.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 18 is deemed out or order as it involves a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendment No. 18 not moved.
Bill received for final consideration.

When is it proposed to take Final Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

What happened in Tuam represents a stain on our national conscience. This Bill will allow us at last to offer the children interred at that site in Tuam a dignified and respectful burial. The Government is committed to a full-scale forensic excavation of the site and this legislation is essential to deliver that. My sincere hope is this will finally bring some form of solace and closure to the families and survivors who have been so deeply affected by this abhorrent situation. I have met with many survivors and family members, as have Members of this House, and I thank them for their generosity in sharing the impact on them of what the State allowed happen in Tuam.

I take this opportunity to single out the work of Catherine Corless and her tireless dedication to uncovering what happened in this location and ensuring the public and the State never forgot those children. Much of what we are achieving as a House and an Oireachtas today is due to her work. I thank the Senators and Deputies who spent so much time working on this legislation. I believe we have greatly strengthened the legislation through the pre-legislative scrutiny process and the process in both Houses. I thank my officials for their extremely hard work and engagement on this legislation.

Subject to the enactment of this legislation, I hope to commence it immediately. I will then seek Government approval to make an order under it establishing an office of the Tuam director of authorised interventions. The draft order will then be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Once approved, the office of the Tuam director of authorised interventions will be established. A director will be appointed with a view to starting excavation at the site in Tuam as quickly as possible.

Without making a speech from the Chair, I believe the Minister is so right in identifying Catherine Corless as a national heroine.

To be fair, the Minister has covered absolutely everything I wanted to say other than thank you. He is the only person left out in that regard. He has shown great commitment and passion to bring about the solace he speaks about. I, too, pay tribute to Catherine Corless. I think of the Preamble to the Constitution and of the concept of cherishing all the children. I hope the decision today will bring forward the spirit that underpins our Republic, which involves cherishing all the children, and bring dignity and respect where there has been none heretofore, because that is the very least those affected deserved.

Go raibh agaibh uilig as an dea-obair atá déanta agus as comhoibriú liom.

Question put and agreed to.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 8.51 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 9 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 8.51 p.m. and resumed at 9 p.m.
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