Abuse survivors concern over plan to seal records

Abuse survivors concern over plan to seal records

A majority of abuse survivors have expressed concern over government plans to seal millions of child abuse records for 75 years.

That’s according to a study prepared for the Department of Education and Skills and based on a series of more than 30 consultations with over 100 survivors of abuse in residential institutions.

The controversial Retention of Records Bill 2019 will see records from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Cica), the Residential Institutions Redress Board, and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee placed in the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) and sealed for a minimum of 75 years, in what has been labelled “a dangerous and unnecessary precedent”.

The study found most of the survivors who spoke to the independent facilitators leading the study had concerns about the legislation, with a smaller number expressing support for it.

“The planned legislation which will see records from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board put into the National Archives of Ireland and sealed for over 75 years was seen by some as a violation of their rights to their own stories, by others as excessive, while a smaller number who spoke about it expressed relief,” said the report.

In June, the Irish Examiner revealed that just four survivors of child abuse responded to a 2015 Department of Education call for submissions on the legislation.

Documents released under Freedom of Information show that just four survivors contacted the department since 2015 expressing views on the legislation. Two were against the sealing of records, while a third felt the records should be permanently sealed. The opinions of the fourth survivor were redacted.

Former head of special projects at the NAI, Caitríona Crowe, has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the proposed legislation, saying the Government’s decision to “override the 1986 National Archives Act” sets “a dangerous and unnecessary precedent”.

The provisions of the National Archives Act have proved perfectly adequate, over more than 30 years, to protect privacy and deal with sensitive subject matter.

“There is no reasonable argument for setting them aside in the case of these particular records, which will be extraordinary sources for scholars in the years ahead. The department’s action opens the gate for future restricted access to any records the State may not wish citizens to see.”

In May, this paper also revealed that the NAI advised the department in April of last year that there was no need for the legislation.

It said that records from the Cica are already covered by the National Archives Act, and that the latter two bodies could be brought under its remit by simply adding them to the schedule of the act. This would mean the records would be open to inspection after 30 years, subject to some exemptions.

However, in response, Aongus Ó hAonghusa, assistant principal officer of the residential institutions redress unit at the Department of Education, stressed that the need to seal records for 75 years was “an essential component of the whole retention project” and that to “leave open even a remote possibility of release”, under the National Archives Act, “could jeopardise the strategy, by making it potentially more vulnerable to legal challenge”.

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