The future of some records relating to child sexual abuse settlements has been placed “in jeopardy” after concerns over data protection were flagged.
Briefing notes prepared for the Department of Education reveal that the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has told the Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) that the way it retained and processed some files is in breach of data-protection legislation.
The board was set up to make awards to people who were abused as children in industrial schools and other institutions.
The briefing notes, which were drawn up last December, show that the DPC told the board last year it had formed a preliminary view that “in retaining and processing data relating to applications made to it, [the RIRB] was in breach of data-protection legislation”.
The preliminary view relates to five complaints taken by five individuals and while it is unclear if there is a wider significance relating to the archive, the briefing notes state that “if the DPC were to maintain its position on this matter, which is likely, the future of the records would be placed in jeopardy”.
The briefing goes on to state that this means that “maintaining the status quo is an increasingly untenable approach for the Government”.
The DPC said in a statement that its position is not final.
But the RIRB said the position remains as stated in the briefing note, although it has made submissions to the commissioner on the matter.
The RIRB and other bodies established as part of the State’s response to systemic abuse in residential institutions hold more than two million records related to their work, including transcripts of hearings and recordings of testimony, applications for redress and supporting documents given in the applications.
Applications held by the RIRB can contain statements of abuse or the effects of abuse, medical records, personal identification such as birth certs or photo IDs, and details of court proceedings.
Many of the bodies have completed their work and could be dissolved, but the notes point out that closure of the bodies “is linked to the future of their records”. In 2013, the government indicated its intention to preserve the records held by these bodies.
Legislation drafted in 2019 provided for the records to be transferred to the National Archives with access restricted for 75 years – a period which was criticised at the time. Ultimately, that legislation was not passed.
It is currently intended that the records will transfer to the new Centre for Research and Remembrance, to be constructed in the former Magdalene laundry on Seán Mac Dermott Street in Dublin. However, completion of that project is at least four years away.
According to the briefing document, proposals are being drawn up to transfer records from the redress bodies to the department on an interim basis. This would require amendment of existing legislation from 2000 and 2002.
The DPC said its preliminary analysis was provided in the context of its complaint handling and investigative functions. It said it was a matter for the department to ensure that the ongoing management of the records is conducted in a manner that complies with data-protection law.