Question No. 630 answered with Question No. 624.

Question No. 631 answered with Question No. 628.

Questions Nos. 632 and 633 answered with Question No. 624.

Question No. 634 answered with Question No. 628.

Question No. 635 answered with Question No. 624.

Ministerial Advisers

Ceisteanna (636)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

636. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if a schedule of advisers and special advisers appointed and-or recruited by him since his appointment will be provided; the roles and responsibilities attributed to each; and the salary for each appointee in tabular form. [27065/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

On the commencement of every Dáil, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issues guidelines setting out the arrangements for the staffing of Ministerial Offices.

It should be noted that the appointment of individual Special Advisers is a matter for each Government Minister subject to the terms set out in the aforementioned guidelines, although the appointments are also subject to formal Government approval. At this stage, no Special Advisers have been formally appointed to my Department by the Government. However, the Deputy may wish to note that I have identified Eoin Wilson and Tom Sheppard to act as my Special Advisers who will be formally appointed by the Government in due course.

Early Childhood Care and Education

Ceisteanna (637)

Darren O'Rourke

Ceist:

637. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration the estimated shortage of early years staff; his plans to address the matter; if the eligibility criteria has been considered for those working in the sector for the duration of Covid-19, for example to retired teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27075/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I acknowledge that many early learning and care and school-age childcare services are reporting staffing and recruitment challenges, with increased pressures as a result of Covid-19. There is no official data on the extent of such shortages. However, officials in my Department have been actively monitoring the issue and have sought data and evidence-based proposals from sectoral representatives on the Covid Advisory Group on Reopening, which has been meeting regularly over recent months. The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme is available to the early learning and childcare sector, with a full exemption to the turnover rule, to assist them with staffing costs.

I am committed to supporting providers in responding to current challenges. In designing responses, it is important that any measures considered are proportionate to the problem they seek to address and that wider impacts would be carefully considered. In that regard, it is important to stress that the minimum qualification requirement to work directly with children in an early learning care service (Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications) was introduced in 2016 in order to improve the quality of provision and to achieve better outcomes for children. (There is currently no minimum qualification requirement for staff working in school-age childcare.) To remove this minimum qualification requirement could be contrary to the best interests of children and the vision for the sector that is outlined in First 5 , the whole-of-Government strategy to improve the lives of babies, young children and their families. Such a move could be a significant backwards step in efforts to improve quality outcomes for children and could only be considered if there were a very strong evidence base requiring a change.

Staffing and recruitment difficulties are being caused not by insufficient supply of qualified personnel, but by high levels of turnover and attrition. This is predominantly down to poor terms and conditions in the workforce, with for example, the average pay being €12.55 per hour, and half of staff only being able to access part-time contracts. It is expected that poor terms and conditions will be addressed in the medium to long term via three plans currently being pursued by Government: a new funding model, a workforce development plan and additional investment. Short-term measures are more challenging to find and, as stated above, the Department continues to work intensively with sectoral representatives to examine what might be possible. One potential solution that has been proposed by the sector is being given active attention at the moment by the Department of Education and Skills and my Department.

With reference to the example suggested by the Deputy of allowing retired teachers to work in the sector, individuals who hold qualifications to teach in primary schools have previously been approved by my Department to work in early learning and care services, and my Department’s list of recognised qualifications includes a number of teaching qualifications. In reality this is not likely to be a major source of staff due to the sectoral terms and conditions referred to above. The list of qualifications eligible to work in the sector can be found on my Department’s website. Any individual who holds a qualification not on this list may apply to my Department for recognition of their qualifications.

Childcare Services

Ceisteanna (638)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

638. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if he has had regard to correspondence from a person (details supplied) in relation to the childcare sector. [27126/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The correspondence referred to by the Deputy has been received by my Department and a response will issue shortly.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (639, 647, 651)

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

639. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the independently appointed Collaborative Forum of Former Residents of Mother and Baby Homes specifically and repeatedly recommended to his Department that the task of managing information and tracing be removed from Tusla on the basis that they experienced the behaviour of the agency to be demoralising and frustrating and damaging and retraumatising (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27308/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

647. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a group (details supplied) proposed amendments to the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 and several Senators submitted amendments at Seanad Committee Stage that would provide all adopted persons with their birth certificate following an information session as a proportionate measure to respect the rights of all concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27316/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

651. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration his views on whether the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 made no provision for natural mothers to access their own personal data; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27320/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 639, 647 and 651 together.

As the Deputy will know, the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 has lapsed and I am currently considering the complex matters involved before deciding on how best to legislate in this important area. In that context, I am aware of the Report of the Collaborative Forum and the views expressed regarding Tusla being tasked with an information and tracing service.

I am also aware of the amendments proposed at Seanad Committee stage on the 2016 Bill in relation to a proposed information session and I know that this concept is acceptable to many stakeholder groups. However, there are constitutional considerations in that regard, specifically in relation to the right to privacy. The legal advice received from the Attorney General at that time was that the proposed information session would not adequately vindicate the privacy rights of birth parents.

The Deputy refers to the Bill having made no provision for natural mothers to access their own personal data. While I am conscious that the Bill has lapsed, the Deputy will be interested to know that this legislation did not affect any rights under data protection legislation and birth mothers and others could apply for their own data under that legislation, and specifically through the subject access request route.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Ceisteanna (640)

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

640. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if instead of transferring records from the archive of the Commission for Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes to Tusla he will transfer the specified database to the Adoption Authority of Ireland until such time as the records can be preserved in an independent centralised archive of all historical injustice records in view of the fact that the authority has been preparing to take possession of all adoption records since publication of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 (details supplied). [27309/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The rationale for specifying Tusla as the recipient of the database is that the Agency already has statutory responsibility for adoption tracing services under the Adoption Act 2010. In addition, it currently holds the originals of many of the relevant institutional records. As such, the database will provide the agency with an organised, digital system for the records it already holds, supporting the delivery of this important public service.

Tusla already dedicates substantial resources and expertise to carrying out tracing functions, and it is considered the most appropriate statutory body to take immediate possession of the database, given the time restraints. In this way the proposed legislation is interfering with existing arrangements in the most minimal manner.

By contrast, a transfer to any other body, such as the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), would mean that two different statutory bodies would hold the same records, with Tusla holding the originals and the AAI holding the database and associated copies. Such duplication would be inefficient, lead to confusion and is not the preferred approach at this time.

The immediate and urgent policy intent in drafting a Records Bill is to ensure the Commission's database, and related records, are preserved and available to support current and future tracing services. It is my intention to separately legislate for an enhanced information and tracing service and further consideration will be given to the prescribed body which will carry out these functions in the development of that legislation.

Child and Family Agency

Ceisteanna (641)

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

641. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) has called into serious question the legality of Tusla’s practice, for which there is no published policy, of risk assessing adopted persons that seek access to their personal data. [27310/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

As the subject matter of the Deputy's question relates to an operational matter for Tusla, I have referred the matter to them for a direct reply.

Adoption Data

Ceisteanna (642)

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

642. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration his views on whether the existing situation regarding access to records of forced family separation is highly problematic and that alongside adopted persons that are being denied their own file, mothers are also being denied their own data and relatives of deceased infants are being denied information regarding the fate and whereabouts of their family member (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27311/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The details supplied by the Deputy include an article which refers to correspondence with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

In accordance with section 9 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is independent in the performance of its functions. It must operate within its terms of reference and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs does not have any role in this regard. The Commission is due to submit its final report at the end of next month.

As the Deputy will know, the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 has lapsed and I am currently considering how best to legislate in this important area. In that context, I understand the anguish that the lack of such access, or limited access, can create. Access for adopted people and others to information in relation to their origins will be a primary consideration for me, in my decisions on how to progress this complex and emotive issue.

Data Protection

Ceisteanna (643, 644, 645)

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

643. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if his attention has been drawn to the fact that under the GDPR, according to the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Nowak v Data Protection Commissioner, the same information may relate to more than one individual and this does not affect the right of access; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27312/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

644. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if he acknowledges that a person’s identity at birth is their personal data according to the definition of personal data in Article 4 of the GDPR (details supplied). [27313/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

645. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if he acknowledges that deceased persons do not have rights under the GDPR (details supplied). [27314/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 643 to 645, inclusive, together.

These questions relate to specific provisions of the GDPR, the interpretation of that legislation and the Nowak judgement from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Data protection responsibilities fall on the relevant data controller, and it is the data controller who is obliged to interpret and implement data protection requirements and responsibilities, in relation to the personal data that they hold.

Under the GDPR and Data Protection legislation, an individual can ask a data controller for their personal data held by the controller and I understand that the Nowak judgement gave further interpretation of the scope of ‘personal data’. However, I am aware that there can be constraints on the release of data, even where a person is deceased, as the rights of third parties may have to be taken into account.

The challenge posed by GDPR and data protection legislation, in relation to birth information, is that elements of that information can constitute shared personal data.

More widely, the Deputy may be aware of impact that GDPR is having on bodies locating individuals for the purposes of information and tracing. The current difficulties arise because of the absence of the necessary, sufficiently robust statutory basis for sharing of information in the context of information and tracing.

I am acutely aware of the complexity of the interface between GDPR and information and tracing, which by its nature involves the personal information of more than one individual. I am planning to address this issue in legislative proposals to establish the necessary statutory framework. The legal opinion forwarded by the Deputy will be taken into consideration in that context.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Question No. 647 answered with Question No. 639.

Ceisteanna (646, 653)

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

646. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if he acknowledges that adopted persons, survivors and advocates have not called for unrestricted use or open public access to the archive of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes but they have requested differentiated rights of access to the archive, namely personal data access for those personally affected, access for family members to information regarding the fate and whereabouts of their disappeared loved ones that died while in institutional custody, freedom for survivors of abuse to voluntarily publish their own testimony and records if they wish and public access to administrative records which may be redacted as necessary and proportionate (details supplied). [27315/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

653. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration if he will facilitate personal data access requests from survivors, adopted persons, relatives of the disappeared and all others to whom information in the archive relates. [27322/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 646 and 653 together.

I know that access to personal information is a recurring and priority concern for those directly involved and personally affected by mother and baby homes and related institutions. It is Government policy that persons should have access to such information insofar as is legally and constitutionally possible.

I acknowledge that there are differing views and complex privacy issues in respect of access to information, and it is important to reiterate that unrestricted access it is not the intent of the legislation being drafted to provide for the preservation and transfer of the Commission's database.

The Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 directs that, on submission of its final report , the Commission will be dissolved in law, and, prior to its dissolution, it must deposit all records (defined as “all evidence received and all documents created by or for the Commission”), in a sealed manner with the specified Minister, and these records shall remain sealed for 30 years. The records, when deposited with the specified Minister, are subject to robust safeguards for the confidential preservation of such records.

It is the Commission’s own view that its database on mothers and children should be preserved. It also acknowledges the requirement for the State to legislate to do this, and this is the policy intent of the urgent legislation I am bringing forward.

It must be emphasised that unrestricted 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.

I am committed to separately advancing robust information and tracing legislation to provide an enhanced statutory framework for the release of birth and early life information.

Protecting this valuable database, and the information it contains, is an important step in this regard.

Question No. 647 answered with Question No. 639.

Adoption Data

Ceisteanna (648)

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

648. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration his views on whether adopted persons personal data access and contact with natural family members are separate issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27317/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Children)

The distinction between access to personal data and contact with natural family is a point made by adoption stakeholder groups and I understand that, while a lot of adoptees would like access to family of origin details, it often does not necessarily follow that they want contact or to build a relationship with that family.

As I have noted in previous responses to legislative proposals for an information and tracing service, the legal advice received by my Department is that there are two rights at play, the right to identity and the right to privacy, and legislation in this area must seek to harmonise these rights.

I would also reiterate that adopted persons are entitled to avail of the provisions of data protection legislation for access to their personal data, subject to any restrictions or conditions set out in that legislation.