Yesterday, the Irish Government pushed through with lightening speed, the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain related Matters) Records Bill 2020; all that remains is for the Bill to be subject to a final vote in the Seanad (where it is expected to be approved) and to be signed into Law by the Irish President.
It has taken just 17 days for the Irish Government to pass a Bill which has profound implications for the Magdalene Laundry Women, their Children and their Families.
The Commission of Investigation into the Mother & Baby Homes have completed their inquiry and are due to deliver their final report and documentation to Minister Roderic O’Gorman by the end of the month.
In preparation for this event, the Minister and the Irish Government have been engaged in a legislative exercise in which they have claimed that the Bill is necessary, in order to safely maintain the entire outcome of the Commission. As a result, the database created by the Commission will be passed over to TUSLA (the Irish Child & Family Agency), who will be tasked to provide access to personal information, that should in theory, deliver information on personal identity and confirmation on what happened to them within the Magdalene Laundry system.
The Minister will then become custodian of the remaining Commission records (apparently to now include a full copy of the database) and all records, the government claims, will have to be sealed by law for 30 years.
Last night, the justification for this course of action has revealed an Olympian political juggernaut, designed it seems to justify to the Irish Public, that they had no choice; the law had dictated their hand and they had to act to prevent ‘damage’ to the Commission records! These are complex issues not assuaged by Twitter ramblings, as they reveal contradictions in law, interpretations of the law and the supremacy of EU and Human Rights Law.
On 13 October 2020, Minister O’Gorman tweeted in response to the growing outcry against the Bill that:
“The draft bill is focused on protecting a valuable resource which will assist in accessing personal information under existing law and be hugely beneficial in any future information and tracing legislation. I'm absolutely committed to addressing the wider matter of providing a new architecture surrounding access to birth information and tracing; this will be advanced soon”.
Frank Brehany, the Grandson of a Magdalene Woman, issued an Open Letter to the Minister which accompanied a Press Release, discussing the issues and calling upon him and the Irish Government to reflect on and delay their proposed actions. Despite these being sent directly to the Minister’s Department, no acknowledgement nor comment was received from the Minster.
After yesterday’s vote in The Dáil, Minister O’Gorman again took to Twitter and expressed that:
“But this Bill is not the end point. Many campaigners have rightly pointed to the overwhelming need for greater access to information from the commission’s investigations. I agree with them, and I’ve brought amendments to this bill and made fresh commitments to finding a solution around the legal obstacles…I am in touch with the Attorney General on legal ways to improve access to records”.
Despite the general assertions of Irish Politicians, it is clear that many of the Magdalene Victims, Survivors and their families enjoy strong rights contained within EU Law; to suggest otherwise or as some have done, to offer governmental justifications and restrictions through that law is highly questionable.
The sealing of the remaining records also raises several troubling questions:
- What is the scale of information that is intended to be held under lock and key for 30 years?
- Does it reveal criminality; breaches of natural, canon and secular laws?
- If the Commission records do reveal criminal actions, how are those matters going to be resolved?
- Are the Magdalene Women simply being offered breadcrumbs from the table when perhaps their story, the understanding of the ‘why’, is contained within the sealed papers?
Frank Brehany states:
“As night follows day, this was inevitable, given the Irish Coalition’s rush to Law; they have made a terrible error of judgement in seeking to hide records rather than promoting a culture of openness, truth and reconciliation”
“The Minister is clearly troubled by the actions the government has taken and the public outrage expressed, evidenced by his latest comments to the Irish Times this morning. He has publicly made it clear that he intends to introduce measures that will be “advanced soon”, presumably to bring balance back to individual rights? The time to have brought such measures forward was surely at the introduction of this Bill? Therefore I call upon the Minister to lay out his proposals in this next week as a matter of urgency”
“The issue of the Magdalene Laundries is a stain on Irish history. Is it any wonder that the surviving Magdalene Women are scathing about the 2013 Dáil apology given by the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and supported by a succession of Irish politicians on that day? There was never a need for such hasty actions by the Irish Government. A veil of shame has descended upon The Dáil and arguably, on the principles the modern Irish Republic stands upon”.
- Frank Brehany is a surviving Grandson of a woman who was incarcerated for 42 years, until her death in 1972. His Father had to face a life, carrying with him the stigma of his birth, being fostered out and never knowing his Mother or Father. Frank has spent over 10 years, painstakingly researching his family secret and discovering the remarkable story of his family.
- ‘Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain related Matters) Records Bill 2020’ can be found here: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2020/38/?tab=bill-text
- Frank’s Open Letter to Minister O’Gorman can be found here: http://frankbrehany.com/blog/open-letter-minister-o-gorman-don-t-bury-the-mother-and-baby-homes-commission-archive/
- Frank Brehany is based in Wales and is an Irish Citizen. Frank has extensive Media Experience, primarily dealing with Consumer & Rights issues. Frank’s CV can be found here: http://frankbrehany.com/media/1151/fbs-cv-24220.pdf