From top: Attorney General Paul Gallagher’s advice on the Mother and Baby Homes Commission file sealing asserted that Commissions of Investigations were excluded from EU data protection laws; Dan Boyle
One of the briefs I covered, when a TD, was as an opposition spokesperson on Social and Family Affairs. A bill that came before the house was the Civil Registration Bill. This was seen as a tidying up in how births, deaths and marriages were being recorded.
Someone close and important in my life had been adopted. There were many things that bothered her about not having even the most basic life information. Among them was that all her public documents recorded her as being born in Dublin. All adopted people were recorded as being Dublin born.
One of the few facts she had ascertained about her birth was that she was born at the now infamous Bessborough centre in Cork. One of amendments I sought to have accepted was to correct this wrong. I was surprised, perhaps I shouldn’t have been, at the unwillingness to accept an amendment.
The Minister, supported by Fine Gael and Labour spokespersons, argued that to list place of birth on the documentation of an adopted person would give them a tool to discover who their birth parents might be.
Into the twenty first century such thinking continued to inform official thinking on this subject. Sadly to a large extent it still does. Adoption in Ireland has always been implied as a social rescue process.
Removing the young ‘fallen’ woman from the fruit of her ‘sin’ was the first purpose of this process. The child available for adoption was to be given a new identity, as if a participant in a moral witness protection programme.
During that same parliamentary session the Oireachtas also finished its consideration of the Commissions of Investigation Bill.
Introduced by the then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, the bill’s intention was to have a more focused, more streamlined approach to investigations on matters of public concern.
Patience had been overly tested by the open tap to costs approach, that had existed with the Beef and Planning tribunals.
The bill outlined the establishment and more particularly the procedures that would be involved in the setting up commissions of investigation.
Among these procedures were processes to collect testimony confidentially.
A thirty year rule to archive the procedings of any established commission was put in place to protect this confidentiality.
This putting beyond use, and its length, could also be construed as protecting the guilty as well. The Oireachtas felt otherwise. The bill was passed without a vote.
Along with me in that Dáil are several current members of the Oireachtas – Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrat and Independent TDs.
Excluding Commissions of Investigation from GDPR, done through legislation passed in 2018, was a far more contentious matter. The opinion of the Attorney General that they can be and should be, is not an opinion I share, nor do I suspect do most people.
I’m hoping that the imminent publication of the report of Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes can become the key to unlock those rusting chains of shame that have denied so many for so long.
The pain of those denied is too deep and has been too prolonged. Only those who continue to experience this hurt know how this pain feels. The rest of us can only speculate. I fear that much of that speculation is intensifying the hurt. We need to be ending this hurt now.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle