Green light for voluntary DNA scheme for Tuam relatives

The Cabinet was told last evening 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 97-page report by family law expertand Galway-native Dr Geoffrey Shannon gives her “strong hope” 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.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the request appeared to be reasonable and Minister Zappone asked Mr Shannon to consider what actions might be possible under existing laws.

Yesterday’s 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.

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 was in place and it had proven that it was possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile remains.

Responding to the report, Minister Zappone said she was very sympathetic to the concerns of survivors and family members that their age and health profiles introduce an element of urgency when it comes to the collection of biological samples.

Minister for the Diaspora and International Development Ciaran Cannon has also welcomed confirmation that Minister Zappone will be requesting that a voluntary administrative scheme be developed, subject to legal advice, to collect samples which could lead to identifying the children interred at the site.

“I fully support the aim to give survivors and relatives every opportunity to identify the remains of their loved ones and it is my sincere hope that this process will conclude with positive identification of human remains and further healing for survivors,” he said.

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