Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s department has said there are “no plans” to open to the public the McAleese Committee archive on the Magdalene laundries despite repeated calls from campaigners and survivors.
It comes just weeks after Mr Varadkar asked the Pope to use his “office and influence” to ensure “justice and truth and healing” was given to survivors of institutional abuse.
The archive, which contains data from the religious congregations that ran the laundries as well as copies of relevant official records across departments, State agencies, and bodies, has been with the Department of An Taoiseach since 2015.
The department has refused calls to open the archive to the public in the years since.
In a Freedom of Information refusal issued to the Justice For Magdalenes Research (JFMR) group in 2016, the department said it was holding the archive for “safe keeping” and that it was “not held within the control of the department for the purposes of the FOI Act”.
The department has said the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 informed the decision to deposit the archive with the Taoiseach. However, it pointed out that the act “does not apply to the work of the Inter-Departmental [McAleese] Committee or bind it in any way”.
Professor James Smith of Boston College and JFMR asked, given that the Taoiseach had asked the Pope to use his “office and influence” to bring about “justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors” of the Magdalene laundries and other institutions, could he not do the same by opening the archive.
“There is now an opportunity for Mr Varadkar also to use his office and influence to ensure that the McAleese Committee archive is made public in the interests of ‘justice and truth’. An Taoiseach’s department currently holds that archive. It was placed there for ‘safe keeping’, as detailed in the committee’s first interim report.
“The Commission of Investigations Act 2004 informed these decisions and yet the McAleese Committee was not subject to that legislation. The archive is exempt from Freedom of Information requests. It is not governed, that we know, by the National Archives Act 1986.
“It sits, literally, in a legal limbo that impedes greater understanding and truth.”
Prof Smith also said the department’s stance was at odds with the Government’s response to the UN Committee Against Torture last month when it stated: “Any records held in a public archive are publicly available.”
“Is the Taoiseach’s department suggesting that it is somehow exempt from that assertion?” he said.
In a statement, the department said there were “no plans” to open the archive but said any future decision would have to take account of the “sensitivity” of the records.
“If at some point in the future there is to be any access to the data, such access could only ever be considered in the context of the sensitivity of the material and on the basis of the legislative protections for the personal and confidential information,” the statement said.
“This would include the requirements for any consultations that might be necessary at that time.”