The Cabinet has been told that it should be possible to develop a voluntary scheme to allow for the collection of biological samples from survivors and others connected to Tuam's mother-and-baby home in advance of a law being enacted to underpin the process.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has said a report by family law expert Geoffrey Shannon gives her "strong hope" that that it will be possible to develop an administrative scheme in the coming months to allow for the collection of samples.
Last January, more than 20 survivors and relatives of former residents of the Tuam home called for the immediate collection of their DNA samples to allow them to be banked to eliminate any delay in returning human remains to identifiable relatives for dignified burials.
In 2016, the Commission of Investigation into mother-and-baby homes had revealed that a substantial quantity of human remains had been found on the site in the vicinity of a disused sewage tank.
The group said that in light of the age of survivors and relatives, and of the declining health of some, the State should begin collecting DNA samples immediately in an effort to positively identify the deceased.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the request appeared to be reasonable and Ms Zappone asked Mr Shannon to consider what actions might be possible under existing laws.
The report, which Ms Zappone presented to Cabinet, said it should be possible to develop a voluntary administrative scheme to collect biological samples from relatives before the enactment of the legislation that her department is developing in response to the discovery of juvenile remains at Tuam.
The department has already told RTÉ News that the heads of a bill for that legislation should be ready by the end of October, but observers agree that it could take a long time to enact the legislation.
Legal sources said that administrative schemes have been used here in key areas before, for example to underpin direct provision for asylum seekers. No new legislation is required to implement them.
Dr Shannon recommended that such a scheme be subsumed into the Tuam-related legislation once that was ready.
He said no DNA profiles would be generated from the biological samples until the legislation is in place and it has proven that it is possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile remains.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
- Special Report: Inside the Tuam Mother and Baby Home
- Site of Tuam Mother and Baby Home to be excavated
- Human remains found at Tuam former mother-and-baby home
- Further excavation at former Tuam mother and baby home
Mr Shannon said participants should be able to decide to withdraw at any time and request that their sample and the information held about them be destroyed.
Publishing Mr Shannon's 97-page "Report on the Collection of Tuam Survivors' DNA" with the Cabinet's approval, Ms Zappone said it gave her "strong hope" that it will be possible to develop an administrative scheme in the coming months to allow for the collection of samples.
She added that legal consultations would now take place to consider appropriate scheme.
Thanking Dr Shannon for what she called his "judicious and comprehensive assessment of the complex questions at hand", Ms Zappone underlined his observation that it was not yet clear whether or not it would be possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile human remains that are of such a quality that will result in them being capable of yielding familial matches.
But Ms Zappone said she did not believe that this doubt should be a barrier to hope, adding that she was "keen to give every possible opportunity to survivors and family members to try and identify the remains of those who they hold dear in their hearts".
She said officials at her department will now consult further with its legal advisers and relevant agencies with a view to developing an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme in the coming months.