Preservation of Documents (Historical Institutions) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 24 March 2022.

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Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:45, 24 March 2022

The Bill has been of particular interest to the Committee, and I thank the Bill sponsor for bringing the legislation to this point.

It has been a particularly uncertain time for victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses. A key first step for those who are still experiencing the legacy of those institutions, for the groups that speak for them and for the truth recovery design panel has been the preservation of records. The First Minister and deputy First Minister stated that legislation would be put in place to ensure that records would be protected, then there was no Executive to bring the legislation forward. Imagine the consternation among victims and survivors at the prospect of the legislation waiting for a new mandate. The Committee was contacted by people in despair who were fearful that these important documents would be imperilled. The answer lay in the introduction of this private Member's Bill. I cannot overemphasise the importance to victims and survivors of the Bill's becoming law.

I thank the Members who introduced helpful amendments. The circumstances and legacy of what happened to people in these institutions are broad and far-reaching. While others have been looking at the process by which babies were taken away from their birth mothers and given to others to bring up as their own, the Committee has been looking at what happened to them when they died. It has not been a comfortable journey, but it is one that needs to be embarked upon. The Committee has called for an independent investigation into this aspect of a very, very sorry episode in our history. The preservation of documents to inform such an investigation is essential. We cannot undo what has happened to people and to their loved ones in the past, but we can do our very best to support those who are still with us in any way that we can. Preserving documents to ensure that those who want to know the truth can find it is one part of that support. The Committee for the Executive Office supports the Bill.

I will make a few comments or observations on behalf of the SDLP.

I put on record my thanks to all the victim and survivor groups that have shown exceptional leadership. The Bill will support their fight for truth and justice by protecting documents that will give light and transparency to their identity.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I am glad that you are here to hear me say to you, in person, that you and your office have done tremendous work. Today is testament to that work and to your legacy. As you depart from the House, this evening, let today give you comfort and joy, because you have changed lives. You and your team have worked tremendously to get the private Members' Bills through. They are important to the whole of society. I thank you personally and wish you good health and well-being as you move on to a different part of your life. Thank you, and well done.

I commend the Bill to the House.