This week is the deadline for submissions to the Oireachtas committee that will scrutinise proposed legislation allowing excavations, exhumations and re-interment of remains at former mother-and-baby home institutions.

The General Scheme of the Certain Institutional Burials Bill was published in December 2019, following the Fifth Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into mother-and-baby homes, which highlighted major issues with burials in Bessborough and Tuam.

Last month, on the day that the final report by the Commission of Investigation was published, Cabinet agreed that the Institutional Burials Bill should proceed.

In its final report, the Commission found that most of the Mother and Baby Homes did not hold burial registers and it was unable to establish where the majority of the Bessborough children are buried. 

The general scheme of the Burials Bill provides for the creation of an agency, which can oversee the excavation, exhumation, identification and reburial of any remains found at certain sites where "manifestly inappropriate burials have taken place".

In its submission published today, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission says the general scheme of the bill raises a number of human rights and equality issues. 

It has made 25 recommendations. 

The 30-page report highlights the State's obligation in making the best effort in retrieving, identifying and returning human remains to family members.

It recommends that the scope of the bill be revised to align with the international definition of mass grave sites - to include any burial site where the circumstances surrounding the death or body disposal method warrant an investigation as to their lawfulness.

Ultimately it says the State is under a legal duty to investigate mass burials and to preserve and protect evidence at relevant sites.

It is evident from the submission that the IHREC is concerned about the proposed exclusion of certain sites where there is an ongoing Garda investigation into circumstances around the burials or the way the deaths took place.

It says a criminal investigation should not be a reason to exclude sites from proposed legislation. 

Such a restriction it says could result in the exclusion of many manifestly inappropriate burials, including potentially some burial sites identified in the Commission of Investigation. 

The role of the coroner as set out in the heads of the bill is also addressed by the IHREC. 

The proposed legislation suggests that the Coroner will not have jurisdiction under the Coroners Act in respect of bodies exhumed from a site while the Agency examining the site is in existence.

The IHREC says in the absence of a coroner's inquest to establish a cause of death, it’s unclear how the State intends to ensure family members know the truth about the cause and circumstances of the death, and the manner of the burial of their relative.

It recommends an amendment to recognise that the jurisdiction of the Coroner applies to burial sites.

Another issue noted by the IHREC relates to the role and function of the agency and the records that it gathers.

Just like the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, the agency overseeing the excavations, exhumations and identifications will be dissolved after a period of time.

At that point, it will deposit all documents and records in its possession with the 'sponsoring' Minister.

The documents and records will be deemed Departmental records under the National Archives Act and will be sealed for a period of 30 years.

The IHREC says this requires further examination.

The deadline for final written submissions is noon on Friday. They will feed into the consideration of the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, before a text is finalised.