Anonymising abuse records expensive, archives council told

Anonymising abuse records expensive, archives council told
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Anonymising records and contacting institutional abuse survivors instead of sealing records for 75 years would involve “considerable expense” and “significant practical difficulties”.

That was the view of the Government in an April 2018 letter seeking the views of the National Archives Advisory Council (NAAC) on its controversial Retention of Records Bill.

The legislation will see records from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Residential Institutions Redress Board, and Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee placed in the National Archives and sealed for a minimum of 75 years.

In the letter to NAAC chairman Mr Justice John Hedig an, then education minister Richard Bruton outlined that the joint Oireachtas committee on education had made a number of recommendations as part of the scrutiny of the legislation.

  • The recommendations included:

  • That further consideration should be given to the extent to which a legitimate expectation of confidentiality can be reconciled with opening the records for public inspection;
  • The potential “chill effect” on the work of future bodies seeking disclosures from the public and offering guarantees of confidentiality;
  • Whether the records should be anonymised or, instead, that survivors be contacted to ascertain whether or not they wanted their confidential testimonies and information to be made public.

Mr Bruton said: “On the question of anonymising records or contacting survivors, the view taken at the time was that significant practical difficulties could arise in terms of contacting some 15, 000 former residents.

There could also be legal difficulty in writing to former residents as it could be seen as encroaching on their right to privacy.

“There would also be considerable expense in anonymising the records. It was considered that the question of whether particular records could or should be anonymised at the point of release in 75 years is one that was best left until that time and could, if required, be addressed by way of Ministerial regulations,” said the letter.

Mr Bruton said that it was because of concerns about “the potential interference with individual rights and the claims of legitimate expectation to absolute confidentiality” that the legislation would seal the records for 75 years “by which time it is expected that those who engaged with the redress bodies [will] be deceased”.

It was reported earlier this month that, in response, Mr Justice Hedigan advised Mr Bruton that, in relation to the period of time that the records should be sealed, “the Council felt consideration ought to be given to opting for a period of 100 years as this is generally regarded as a two-generation gap”.

The NAAC also stressed that there is “a very strong public interest” in not destroying the records “due to their historical value”.


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