I propose to take Questions Nos. 655 and 654 together.
The arrangements for preserving the records compiled by a Commission of Investigation in the course of its work are prescribed in the Commissions of Investigation Act, 2004. Section 43(2) of the Act directs that, on submission of its final report, the Commission will stand dissolved, and, prior to its dissolution, it must deposit all records with the prescribed Minister. On the expiry of a 30 year period, such records are considered for transfer to the National Archives and access is regulated in accordance with the National Archives Act, 1986.
The records of a Commission comprise all the evidence received by, and all documents created by or for, the commission in the course of its statutory inquiries. For the avoidance of any doubt, it is important to clarify that the Commission is not in possession of original departmental records and no original records will be sealed by these arrangements. State records remain in the possession of the relevant statutory body and appropriate access is regulated in accordance with relevant statute.
Given the particular challenges and opportunities raised by the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation in relation to the finalisation of its records, I sought Government approval for the urgent drafting of legislation to provide a bespoke solution to this issue. The proposed legislation provides certainty as to the immediate future of the specific database and associated records. The development of this database could be one of the most significant outcomes from the Commission’s work. I am satisfied that the Houses of the Oireachtas has the power to legislate in these terms. I am also mindful of the need to achieve this policy objective in a manner which does not undermine the current legal framework for current or future Commissions of Investigation.
It must be emphasised that unrestricted use or open public access to the information contained in the database is not being proposed. Importantly, in bringing forward this Bill, it is not proposed that it would extend to providing a basis for any new entitlement or right for access by individuals to these records. Access to personal information held in these records will continue to be regulated by the Adoption Act 2010, GDPR and Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act, having regard to the constitutional rights of third parties.
In advancing this bespoke legislation, I also wish to reiterate my commitment to advancing a comprehensive statutory basis for enhanced information and tracing services, while noting the complex constitutional issues which this involves and the absolute urgency of ensuring that the Commission’s database can be safeguarded in the immediate term.
I look forward to engaging with the Deputy on the development of the new statutory framework in the near future.