Thomas Pringle TD

Thomas Pringle TD – Scrap The Mother & Baby Homes Legislation

DAIL SPEECH 21/10/2020:


I would like to echo many of Deputy Catherine Connolly’s points and to commend Deputy Connolly and her staff on the work they have done on this important issue, over many years.  All of us have received an astounding amount of correspondence on this piece of legislation in recent weeks.  While it is welcomed that Minister O’Gorman and his staff attempted to provide briefings to us, the Government’s intended treatment of the records of the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes is unacceptable. 


First of all, I would like to say to the thousands of people who contacted me, and indeed to those who are watching closely for the outcome of this debate, that I hear you, I am listening and I respect the agency of every survivor and your right to access your own data, your right to share your story publicly, anonymised or indeed, to not share your story again or at all.  I’m very conscious of the re-traumatisation the past number of weeks, media coverage and debates on the matter could be causing.  I have been working closely with my colleagues, Deputy Catherine Connolly, Deputy Joan Collins, Senator Alice Mary Higgins, Senator Lynn Ruane, as well as linking with Dr. Maeve O’Rourke, Justice for Magdalene’s Research and of course, considering all correspondence received by my office also from groups such as Aitheantas – Adoptee Identity Rights, in developing my amendments submitted for Committee and Report Stage.  I also want to thank Noelle Browne for speaking publicly with Tony Groves and Dr Vicky Conway, again on the Echo Chambers podcast, to share her powerful personal testimony of her perseverance in accessing information about her birth parents and life before adoption.


It is absolutely disgraceful that this legislation is being rushed through both Houses last week and this week when the Government has been on notice since 2016 from the Commission of Investigation.  Indeed, Deputy Naughten, supported by myself and others, tried to submit a motion tonight calling for the publication of the sixth interim report of the Commission (which is reported to contain matters around data protection and GDPR).  How can you rush through this legislation when we haven’t even had access to the sixth interim report?  It is utterly unacceptable that the Government is saying that it cannot do anything about the sealing of records because it is provided for in the 2004 Commission of Investigations Act, when this legislation is actually seeking to amend that same Act, albeit on different matters.  Your own amendments to this legislation will seek to amend the dissolution date of the Commission of Investigation and extend it to the end of February 2021, despite previously telling us that extensions were not possible. 


The question that most people and survivors are asking, Minister, is who benefits from the sealing of this Archive?  Many of the documents have already surpassed the 30-year rule and should now already be deposited with the National Archives, so why would they be re-sealed and the 30-year clock re-started?  Why would you and your Government deprive survivors, their families and relatives of answers?  Particularly with regard to survivors, they have a right to access their personal information and relevant data.  They have a right to answers about their ‘entry and exit routes’ as detailed in the Commission’s own database, as well as information about who was involved in forced family separation, illegal adoptions and all other information about their own lives.  If you haven’t yet read the ‘Testimony’ essay of the Éire-Ireland journal that was shared with us earlier today, please do.  It makes for harrowing reading, Minister and contains excerpts from an international conference in November 2018.


The rushing through of this flawed legislation is not only cruel, Minister, but according to Data Protection experts, it is also completely unnecessary.  It is widely accepted (except by your Government, it seems) that Articles 15 and 18 of GDPR regarding rights of access and rights of the data subject supersedes the secrecy provisions of the 2004 Commission of Investigations Act.  Ireland is a very changed country since the 2004 legislation was passed and I do not accept your defence that undoing the provision for sealing the archive for 30 years would undermine the whole work of the Commission of Investigation. 


Minister have you and your Officials reviewed the ‘Statement on restrictions on data subject rights in connection to the state of emergency in Member States’, which was adopted by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) on the 2nd of June 2020.  This statement, of course, followed a Hungarian Decree in May 2020 on derogations “from certain data protection and access to information provisions during the state of danger.”   This state of danger is the Covid19 pandemic.  The EDPB states that “GDPR remains applicable and allows for an efficient response to the pandemic, while at the same time protecting fundamental rights and freedoms.”  Point 11 in the EDPB statement says, “The mere existence of a pandemic or any other emergency situation alone is not a sufficient reason to provide for any kind of restriction on the rights of data subjects.”  Minister, why would you think that Senator McDowell’s flawed 2004 legislation would take precedence over European Law? It doesn’t make any sense.


Simon McGarr produced a very accessible blog entitled ‘Mother and Baby Home Commission records: An EU Law Perspective’.  Simon’s final sentence is “It would be perverse legacy for the government to legislate to deprive people of data they so sorely wish to access about themselves and open Ireland up to the risk of fines on foot of enforcement by the European Commission in order to do so.”   It could be said, of course, Minister, that the treatment of these young women and babies by religious orders, the State and indeed, the country, is already a perverse legacy and this is the exact reason why you should now be doing everything in your power to do what is right.  Scrap this legislation.  Give Ministerial Direction to the Commission that GDPR law supersedes any secrecy issues arising from the 2004 Act and start to make amends to all of the people who were hurt by these institutions and who continue to be hurt by this State.