Sir, – We are a group of industrial school survivors, children of survivors, and academics working in the area of “historical” institutional abuse. We are calling for the immediate withdrawal of the Retention of Records Bill 2019.
If passed, this Bill would censor (or, in the Government’s words, “seal”) for at least 75 years all records currently contained in the archives of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan commission), and the Residential Institutions Redress Board and Review Committee.
Nowhere does the Bill state that survivors of industrial and reformatory schools will have a right of access to personal data belonging to them. This personal data includes their own transcripts, records of their own personal histories, and all records relating to their complaints of abuse and their applications for redress.
This Bill does not allow survivors to voluntarily provide a copy of their testimony, anonymised or otherwise, to the public.
The Bill does not provide for family members of children who died incarcerated in industrial and reformatory schools to receive the records of their relative’s treatment, death and burial place.
The Bill will prohibit access to all of the administrative records contained in the archives, whether created by State, religious or other bodies. These include financial records, inspection records, and all other operational records of the system that perpetrated “endemic” child abuse.
The Bill further undoes provisions of the National Archives Act 1986 that would allow the records to be accessed in the future by the Garda Síochána and the courts.
Contrary to some commentators’ beliefs, the Acts governing the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board do not require the destruction of the records gathered. Nor do those Acts require all records to be “sealed” without exception. Furthermore, when survivors gave their evidence (whether to the commission or the redress board), it was not on the basis that their personal information would then be withheld from them and their families for three generations.
On November 26th, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills heard powerful testimony from abuse survivors. It also heard from experts in human rights, data protection law, history and archives. All survivors and other experts agreed that the Bill denies survivors’ right to know the truth about their personal history and the larger history of the system that abused them. The Bill denies accountability, and it further denies the possibility of memorialising the abuses through public education, with the aim of ensuring that nothing similar ever happens again.
A July 2019 consultation with survivors commissioned by the Department of Education found numerous survivors see this Bill “as a violation of their rights to their own stories”. The 2019 consultation report also stated “many survivors” wish to see the Government establish “a place of learning and information ... a place for the study of institutions for all students interested in this issue”.
The ongoing collaborative forum, established by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, has similarly recommended that, alongside a national monument to memorialise the system of institutional abuse and forced family separation in Ireland, survivors’ history should be taught in schools as part of the national history curriculum.
We are calling on the Government to immediately withdraw the Retention of Records Bill 2019 and to consult pro-actively and systematically with survivors.
Our recommendation, which we believe survivors must be asked about, is for a new approach to the preservation and release of information about Ireland’s institutions that ensures at least the following:
1. Release to survivors of all personal information that relates to them, including transcripts of evidence and all personal records, upon request.
2. Release of personal information relating to children who died while incarcerated to their family.
3. Public release of all administrative records, anonymised where necessary to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the Irish Constitution, according to the ordinary practice of the National Archives of Ireland.
4. The opportunity for survivors to voluntarily deposit their testimony and records (anonymised or redacted to the extent desired) in a public archive, for access now or in the future.
5. Amendment of the infamous “gagging order” in section 28(6) of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to clarify that nothing bars survivors from disclosing their life experience to others.
6. Access to information not publicly released where Garda investigations or court proceedings require it. – Yours, etc,
ROSEMARY C ADASER,
Survivor and CEO
Association of Mixed Race
Irish; CONRAD BRYAN,
Survivor; Dr SARAH-ANNE
BUCKLEY, NUI Galway;
CREAN, PhD UCC; TOM
University of Birmingham;
FIONNA FOX, Solicitor and
Second Generation survivor;
Dr JAMES GALLEN, DCU;
ANNE GREHAN, Second
Generation Survivor; MARY
HARNEY, Survivor; Dr
MARY LODATO, Survivor
and founder of Blooming
Survivor and co-founder of
Christian Buckley Centre;
Survivor; Dr MAEVE
O’ROURKE, NUI Galway &
Dr SINÉAD RING,
C/o Maynooth, Co Kildare.