Abuse documents not to be destroyed despite assurances

Evidence given in belief it would be destroyed to be retained in National Archives

Approximately 1,400 complainants gave evidence to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse’s investigation committee. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

Approximately 1,400 complainants gave evidence to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse’s investigation committee. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

 

Legislation is being prepared at the Department of Education to preserve testimony given in confidence by abuse survivors to the Ryan commission and the Residential Institutions Redress Board despite earlier assurance such information would be destroyed.

The plan now is to have the documentation retained in the National Archives and sealed for a period of at least 75 years, it has emerged. There would be restricted access to the information after that period.

The move will be of concern to those who gave evidence believing it would always remain secret. Responding to a query from The Irish Times yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education said “yes, the Government agreed in principle to the Minister for Education and Skills bringing forward legislative proposals to allow the retention of the records of the commission, the redress board and the review committee [of the redress board].”

Strict safeguards

She continued: “These proposals will include amendments to existing legislation where necessary. It is intended that the records will be retained in the National Archives and completely sealed for a period of at least 75 years following which access to them would be subject to strict safeguards. Preparatory work on the General Scheme of the Bill is under way.”

Queried as to the number of documents involved, she replied: “More than two million.”

Currently, State papers are released after 30 years.

Approximately 1,400 complainants gave evidence to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse’s investigation committee. Representatives of 18 religious congregations which managed residential institutions for children also gave evidence to the committee.

Tom Quinlan, head of acquisitions at the National Archives, said yesterday it had been in discussion with the Department of Education for some time on securing the documents, which “it was understood the Minister [Ruairí Quinn] was anxious be preserved”.

There were concerns at the department, Mr Quinlan said, “over undertakings given [to victims] by the confidential committee and claims by the orders that they could be defamed by release of the documents into the public domain”.

It [the department] “wanted better safeguards, with the documents completely closed for 75 years and restricted access” thereafter, he said. There was also concern that, under Freedom of Information legislation, the status of the documents might be changed legally on transfer to the National Archives, he said.