Religious order did not want 'eternal besmirching of names of good people' by keeping abuse records

A religious order that accepted that children were abused in its care told the Minister for Education in 2015 that plans to retain child abuse records would lead to “eternal besmirching of the names of good people”.

Provincial of the Rosminians, Fr Joseph O’Reilly, wrote to then education minister Jan O’Sullivan in 2015 to express his shock at the Government’s plans to retain and seal records relating to child abuse in institutions for 75 years under the Retention of Records Bill.

The original legislation enacted for the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA), the Residential Institutions Redress Board, and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee provided for their records to be destroyed when their work had been completed.

In the letter, released under Freedom of Information, Fr O’Reilly hit out at the planned legislation, saying that if records were retained and not destroyed, future generations would “naively take as truth” the submissions made by victims to the Redress Board and that this would damage the good names of individuals.

“Future generations will naively take as truth the submissions to the Redress Board and lead to the eternal besmirching of the names of good people. Injustice heaped upon injustice,” he said.

Fr O’Reilly said that those who were involved with the Redress Scheme “know well” that it was “purposely designed with a very low burden of proof to facilitate the State”.

“The motivation was as much to do with politics as with justice,” he said.

The Rosminian Provincial said the plan to retain records would damage the credibility of such schemes in the future.

“In a future scenario when the Government of the day is trying to encourage people to participate in a confidential institution with promises that ‘everything will be destroyed at the end’ or ‘everything is confidential’ concerned persons or institutions will have ample evidence of broken promises,” he said.

The Order, in both its submissions and in its evidence to the Ryan Commission, accepted that physical and sexual abuse had occurred in two of its industrial schools during the period under investigation — St Patrick’s, Upton in Cork and St Joseph’s, Ferryhouse in Tipperary. The Order was praised by the Commission for its refusal to take up an adversarial approach to the victims of abuse.

In another letter, Provincial of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul Sr Goretti Butler wrote to the principal officer at the Redress Unit at the Department of Education expressing concerns that plans to retain rather than destroy records could result in “a serious injustice” as the burden of proof in relation to allegations was low.

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