Controversial legislation to seal millions of abuse records for at least 75 years has been sent back to the Dáil education committee for further scrutiny.
The Retention of Records Bill will see records from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA), Residential Institutions Redress Board, and Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee placed in the National Archives and sealed for a minimum of 75 years.
The legislation had been due in Committee State in the coming weeks but this has now been deferred to allow the Oireachtas education committee to further scrutinise the legislation and seek the views of survivors and campaigners. This will take place on November 14.
Sinn Féin education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said major concerns had been expressed about the legislation by survivors, archivists and historians and that plans to seal records for 75 years were "way over the top".
“It is welcome that the Education committee will now take more time to consider this Bill, but more crucially, to hear of the concerns of survivors. The proposal on hand, to seal records from the Ryan Commission, is disproportionate, and is a very dangerous precedent," he said.
Mr Ó Laoighaire said survivors have expressed concern that they are being denied their right to their own testimony.
"The National Archives act is being overridden, and I do not believe that is right. The opportunity to hear the concerns of survivors in Committee will be very valuable, and will allow the committee to reflect, but also, I hope, the Department," he said.
Tom Cronin — a survivor of St Joseph’s industrial school in Cork and a former board member of Caranua from which he resigned in 2018 over its treatment of survivors — described the legislation as "undemocratic" and sets a dangerous precedent.
The records of the survivors belong to them and the decision on what to do with them should be theirs alone. In my opinion, they should be in the public arena in places like schools and libraries with the consent of the survivors
"I believe the sentence: 'Locked up as children and now their story, which must have been very hard for them to revisit, are being locked up again' well it says it all," he said.
A recent study prepared for the Department of Education and Skills based on consultations with more than 100 survivors of abuse in residential institutions revealed that the majority of those interviewed expressed concern about the plans to seal records.
Former head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) Caitríona Crowe has said the Government’s decision to “override the 1986 National Archives Act” in the Bill sets “a dangerous and unnecessary precedent”.
In May, the Irish Examiner also revealed that the NAI advised the Department of Education 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.