The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone TD, has published Dr Geoffrey Shannon’s Report on the Collection of Tuam Survivors’ DNA. Minister Zappone had asked Dr Shannon to consider what actions may be possible under existing laws in response to a request from some representative groups to begin collecting DNA samples immediately in light of the age profile and health status of survivors. The purpose of collecting samples would be to later compare them against any DNA profiles which may be generated from the juvenile human remains found at the Tuam site and, if possible, to make positive identifications.
Report suggests that it should be possible to develop a voluntary administrative scheme to collect biological samples from survivors and relatives
Dr Shannon’s report is 97 pages in length and considers what may be possible within the current legislative framework, with particular reference to:
· the collection of biological samples for comparison purposes;
· the extent to which any relevant family rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights might apply; and
· how best to ensure that the rights of those who wish to give biological samples could be safeguarded in respect of sensitive personal data and informed consent.
Statement by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone TD
Dr Shannon considers that it should be possible to develop a voluntary administrative scheme to collect biological samples from relatives before the enactment of the legislation that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is developing in response to the discovery of juvenile remains at Tuam. The administrative scheme should then be subsumed into the legislation once that is ready. No DNA profiles will be generated from the biological samples until the legislation is in place and it has proven possible to generate DNA profiles from the juvenile remains.
Dr Shannon stresses that any scheme that is developed would have to be operated on the basis of informed consent in order to satisfy GDPR and constitutional requirements around data protection. Participants should be able to decide to withdraw at any time and request that their sample and the information held about them be destroyed.
Legal consultations to take place to consider appropriate scheme
Responding to the report, Minister Zappone said: “I am 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. Following Dr Shannon’s report, I intend to request my officials to develop an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme to collect those samples, subject to legal advice. I would like to sincerely thank Dr Shannon for his judicious and comprehensive assessment of the complex questions at hand. As he pointed out, it is not yet clear whether or not it will 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 I do not believe that this should be a barrier to hope and I am 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. My officials will now consult further with our legal advisors and relevant agencies towards developing an appropriate voluntary administrative scheme in the coming months.”