The Minister for Children, Roderic O'Gorman, has said he does not think it is "morally feasible" for his Department to refuse access requests from survivors of mother-and-baby homes to their personal information.

He was speaking in the Seanad earlier this evening during a debate on the Government's Mother and Baby Homes Bill, which passed by 22 votes to 16.

A database of information gathered by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission is to be provided to the child and family agency, Tusla.

The remaining records - in an archive held by the Department of Children - will be sealed for 30 years.

The Attorney General's office had advised Minister O'Gorman that an amendment to Section 39 of the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act - put in place following the introduction of GDPR regulations in 2018 - effectively prevents survivors from accessing their personal stories.

This evening, Mr O'Gorman told the Seanad: "I don't see it as morally feasible that my department can continue to refuse access requests for personal information as we go forward.

"We need to fix this problem. I am absolutely committed to this. 

"We can have the legislation passed [tonight] and then deal with this process."

The minister said he "accepted" there would be litigation stemming from a blanket refusal for all access requests. "We do not want to see people being dragged through the courts."

He said he would sit down with the AG to explore alternative interpretations of the amendment to the 2004 Act.

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The Data Protection Commission has raised concerns with the Department over this interpretation. 

In a statement, it said the provision in the 2004 act was "not intended to provide an effective 'blanket' barrier to the exercise of rights" under the 2018 Act Data Protection Act. 

This Act gives people rights in relation to the privacy of their personal data as well as responsibilities on those who hold and process the data.

In the Seanad, Minister O'Gorman said his department had engaged with the Data Protection Commissioner in the last week. 

He said he will now discuss the issue further with the Office of the Attorney General. 

"What I also suggested in the Dáil is that we can use the Oireachtas Committee on Children to bring in the experts to explore alternative interpretations [of the legislation] as well as representatives from the survivors."

He said his Bill does not seal records for 30 years, "those consequences are from the original 2004 Act".

Mr O'Gorman said the debate over the commission's archive had highlighted the need for a "sensitive way in which the material can be stored and curated". 

He said the idea of a permanent memorial to survivors of abuse in Dublin's Sean McDermott Street was "definitely interesting".

The minister also confirmed that he would be extending the existence of the commission "beyond its final report at the end of this month". It will now continue until 28 February, 2020.

This will allow people who "courageously contributed to the confidential process to state their preference for anonymity or (not) for their stories in the archives".

He said the final report from the commission would contain no names. "The redaction of people's names only takes place in relation to what goes into the archive."

The Department of Children issued a statement later saying it has maintained "ongoing communication" with both the Data Protection Commission and the Office of the Attorney General.

It said it was important to recognise that the issues raised by the Data Protection Commissioner relate to the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, not to the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes Bill).

"The legal advice received by the Department is that the GDPR right to access personal data (Article 15) is expressly prohibited by section 39 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.

"Minister O'Gorman has acknowledged throughout Oireachtas debates this week that there are differing legal opinions regarding this.

"In recognition of this, the Minister committed to a re-examination of the current approach, focusing on how access is provided to the archives of this Commission for certain personal information that is validating for survivors."

Tusla said it recognises the many challenges for people dealing with very sensitive questions in the areas of information and tracing.

Much of the new legislation passed in the Oireachtas today centres around the Child and Family Agency which has said issues such as information and tracing have been particularly difficult for the many who were adopted as children and are now as adults searching their identity.

In a statement Tusla said the Minister had clearly set out in recent days that the legislation in the area is and remains very weak, which it said, has limited the ability of Tusla to respond to very understandable questions from people about their identity and birth parents.

The statement notes that the Minister has committed to advance necessary legislative proposals in 2021, that might strengthen the framework in which information can be provided and issues such as identity is dealt with. 

Tusla's CEO Bernard Gloster said "While we are and will continue to be limited up to that point of any future legislation, I want to assure people that every effort will be made to engage in a supportive and caring manner".

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children, Kathleen Funchion said Minister O'Gorman had questions to answer over the Bill.

"Throughout this, survivors, their families, their legal representatives and their advocates have been very clear that this Bill has been totally unacceptable," she said.

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"The Minister has dismissed their concerns and cast them aside. He has consistently defended this Bill, despite numerous issues being highlighted."

The Labour Senator and lawyer, Ivana Bacik, has said it was very disappointing to see the way in which legislation regarding the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was "rushed through unnecessarily".

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News she said the result of its passage will mean the transfer of the Commission's database to Tusla and the retention of the archive by the Minister. Under the provisions of the 2004 act, it will be sealed for 30 years.

This information will not be accessible to any survivors or their families until further legislation is passed, said Ms Bacik.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said: "We pleaded with the Minister not to rush the passing of the Bill so issues like this could have been identified.

"However, he and the government parties insisted they knew best and pushed it through without sharing the information behind his rationale."

Earlier today, the Minister for Children said he "deeply regrets" his failures to communicate the Government's position on the treatment of information provided to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission with survivors and for any anxiety it has caused.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr O'Gorman said that he is "absolutely committed to addressing the issue of the 30-year rule" and the very legitimate concerns about the information contained in the archive.

There was a highly charged atmosphere in the Convention Centre last night, as TDs debated the legislation.

While the legislation was passed by a vote of 78 to 67, the vociferous condemnation continued afterwards with Opposition parties slamming the Government's approach as sickening, disgraceful and devastating for the survivors of institutional abuse.