Preservation of Documents (Historical Institutions) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:30 pm on 24 March 2022.

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Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP 5:30, 24 March 2022

I, too, am immensely grateful to my party colleague Alan Chambers, thanks to whose initiative and commitment the Assembly has been able to conclude the mandate with the passage of such important legislation through his private Member's Bill.

I also commend the Members who supported the Bill's progress in such a challenging time frame. In particular, I acknowledge the commitment of Linda Dillon and Paula Bradshaw, who listened to the needs and experiences of victims and survivors of the historical institutions and responded with constructive amendments. Those amendments widen the range of information that is protected by the Bill and that can therefore be made available to a forthcoming inquiry or investigation or to individuals who are seeking information about their or a family member's origins.

I say this to those victims and survivors and their family members: I know that no words can adequately convey the emotional and psychological hurt and distress that you have suffered, not only in the institutions where you or your relatives spent time but in the years since, during which many of you have been seeking the information that you need to understand your origins or the identity of a family member. I can only express the hope that the statutory protection provided by the legislation that we will pass today will offer you and your family some reassurance for the future.

The right to know who you are is a fundamental human right. That means having access to the life details that most of us have always known about ourselves: where and when you were born, who your family are, who cared for you as an infant, what happened to your mother and where you spent your early years. Those are just some of the unanswered questions that victims and survivors have had to live with and that are so important to an individual's sense of identity. The Bill presents an important step towards securing the answers that so many mothers, their sons and daughters and their wider family have been seeking for so many years.

The passage of the Bill, although significant, is just one step in the process. Much remains to be done to achieve the justice, accountability and truth that are so urgently needed. Given the collaboration and commitment shown by Members across the House in progressing the Bill through the Assembly, I am confident that there will be continued cross-party support for achieving that outcome.

It is my hope and expectation that the statutory inquiry recommended by the truth recovery design panel will provide the answers that are so desperately needed. There are also powers in the Adoption and Children Bill, which the Assembly passed recently, to make regulations that will empower the Department of Health to strengthen and clarify provisions governing access to information about adoptions that took place prior to that legislation's commencement. Victims and survivors will play an important role in the process.

I have thanked the Bill sponsor, but I take the opportunity to also thank my Department's officials who engaged in this process with the Bill sponsor and with Members who proposed amendments. It was the same dedicated team of officials as brought forward the Adoption and Children Bill at the same time. I place on record their commitment to getting us to Final Stage today.

Mr Speaker, like others, I thank you for your support. I thank you and your office for facilitating our getting the Bill through so many stages as quickly as we have in the final days and weeks of the mandate. It means a lot to the people who are listening and seeking the surety of the preservation of information held across the institutions. As Ms Bradley said, when it comes to your legacy as Speaker, the Bill stands among the greatest testaments to you: you enabled us to bring the private Member's Bill through, and it was done in such a collaborative way by all parties in the House.

In addition, as Health Minister, I give my personal thanks to you, Mr Speaker, for the support that you have given me in the Chamber. I am probably the Minister who has been in the Chamber the most — possibly nearly as much as you at times. You have managed some challenging debates and legislation, and I thank you for your impartiality and for how you and your team have managed those.

It remains for me to thank once again my Assembly colleague Mr Chambers and other Members for their tenacity in securing this important legislation, to which I give my wholehearted support.

It is a privilege to do that as my final contribution as Health Minister in this Assembly mandate. It is fitting that this Bill is the final piece of business in this mandate, because it will be life-changing and will give that surety. It would have been challenging for many of those listening, to whom Ms Dillon referred, if the legislation had not been delivered and was put off until another mandate or put on the long finger. It is right that we have this private Member's Bill, and it is also right that it was granted accelerated passage, which was supported by you, Mr Speaker, the offices and all parties across the House. I have great pleasure in endorsing the private Member's Bill.