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17 Aug 2022

‘State must listen to the voices of those directly impacted’, says Longford Women's Link CEO

Longford’s Louise Lovett ‘honoured’ to be elected National Women’s Council of Ireland chairperson

Louise Lovett, the CEO of Longford Women’s Link (LWL), who has been elected as the new chairperson of National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI)

CEO of Longford Women’s Link and chairperson of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Louise Lovett, has welcomed a clarification by government last Wednesday night that survivors of and adoptees from mother and baby homes will be legally entitled to access their personal data.

The clarification came last Wednesday after widespread uproar over the passing of the controversial Bill, which will allow the transfer of a database of 60,000 records compiled by the Commission of Investigation to Tusla.

“The Government has said it had a ‘detailed reflection’ on the issues raised in recent days and ‘acknowledges and regrets the genuine hurt felt by many people’. The Government has taken different advice (than that referred to last week), from the Attorney General on foot of an intervention by the Data Commissioner, which has led to this change of position,” Ms Lovett explained.

“However, in relation to accessing personal data, the devil will be in the detail as, although requests can be made to the Department of Youth and Children for personal information held in the records, there are two ‘tests’ that will be put on the request by the department before it is granted: (1) that the request does not impact on the rights and freedoms of others, which is a general test under GDPR and (2) the application of a test set out in Section 39 of the 2004 Act, that any restriction on access to information has to be necessary and proportionate to safeguard the operation of Commissions of Investigation, and the future cooperation of witnesses.

“Already there is a question over the second test as, according to a recent Journal article in which solicitor Simon McGarr explains that an abundance of ‘case law going back to the 1970s says that States have a duty to directly apply European law and in any instance where there is a national law which contradicts or infringes upon the European rights exercise, they must set that aside and they must basically ignore it and apply the EU law directly’.

“So despite the Government’s ‘detailed reflection’, it appears we still have confusion.”

The other legitimate concern for survivors and adoptees, Ms Lovett added, is having to deal directly with an agency, which they feel has let them down so badly in the past, namely Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

“The access process must be as streamlined as possible and I fully support the joint call from the Adoption Rights Alliance, Justice for Magdalene’s Research and the Clann Project ‘for swift recruitment of data protection law expert committees, to administer the data protection obligations of the department and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla’,” she said.

“It is also extremely important that the promised measures of health and well-being supports for those who wish to avail of them are progressed without delay.”

In Ms Lovett’s view, the public outcry, which was addressed in the Leader last week was a direct result of the relative speed at which the Mother and Baby Bill was brought through the system, “the perceived lack of empathy for survivors and adoptees” and “the lack of understanding and acknowledgement that the voices of survivors and adoptees need to be heard at every step in the process”.

“The only thing that the survivors and adoptees would have heard in the cacophony surrounding the rushed progression of the bill was that, after years and years, of fighting for justice, their records would be ‘sealed’ for 30 years,” she remarked.

“It seems that the degree of public outcry and the associated social media campaigns calling for a reversal of the decision to ‘seal’ records for 30 years took the Government by surprise leaving government representatives all across the country attempting to defend the indefensible.

“All of this could have been avoided. What was the hurry, why couldn’t there have been more debate? Particularly when the Commission’s report has yet to be published.

“The degree of public emotion around this issue should have been anticipated.

“Opposition TDs had drafted 60 amendments which they say were based on the requests of survivors and human rights experts.

“Despite this, the Government refused to accept any amendments or to allow time for more debate, ignoring the requests of survivors.

“Had the bill been delayed, the subsequent AG advice could have been sought during this period and some of the hurt and anguish caused to those impacted, avoided.”

“We have had a similar situation this week”, Ms Lovett continued, where CervicalCheck campaigner, Vicy Phelan, said she felt “betrayed” after Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly formally established the CervicalCheck tribunal despite announcing that it would be paused for a number of days to allow the 221+ group to engage with its members.

“It emerged on Tuesday night that order establishing the tribunal had already been signed the previous week,” she explained.

“Vicky Phelan has indicated that the 221+ group is not happy with the format of the tribunal and therefore will not support it in its current format.

“So we now have a commission which will be funded by the taxpayer but not supported by those impacted by the CervicalCheck Scandal.

“Why? Because we are still not listening to the voices of those affected.

“Our State must listen to the voices of those who are directly impacted, when attempting to document and address past wrongs, otherwise we will simply compound those wrongs and prolong the suffering of survivors.”

Read also: Longford politicians defend Mother and Baby Homes legislation

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