Twenty prominent archivists and information professionals at some of Ireland's main universities have called for "the full and immediate withdrawal" of legislation seeking to seal millions of child abuse records for 75 years.
In an open letter, the group - which includes staff at Trinity College archives, NUI Galway and UCD archives - describe the Retention of Records Bill as "unprecedented" in its aim to close access to records currently contained in the archives of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan commission), and the Residential Institutions Redress Board and Review Committee for 75 years.
The letter states the legislation will perpetuate trauma and stigma "by silencing survivors".
"Archival transparency, for survivors as well as for the wider public, is a key indicator of a functioning and open democratic society. It can offer healing and hope even to those who have continually been denied such things through a lack of access to their personal records."
Sealing records to the extent that is being provided for within the Retention of Records Bill 2019, can in such situations, act as a further barrier, perpetuating trauma and stigma by silencing survivors. Both now and in the future, survivors should be in control of their own records
~ states the letter.
The letter points out that there was now an "opportunity and a responsibility to prevent another dark absence in our records and histories" and calls for the legislation to be scrapped.
"We urge the immediate withdrawal of the Retention of Records Bill 2019 and the entering into a full consultative process with survivors and their representatives, as well as with the archivists, records managers and information management professionals nationwide."
"This process, through a respectful, appropriate and ethical manner, compliant with EU General Data Protection Regulation and existing archival legislation, can prove to be a defining moment for the State in its treatment of both survivors of abuse and of their testimony," states the letter.
The archivists point to international examples, such as at the National Library of Australia and The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba in Canada, as showing how" archive repositories, supported by adequate resourcing, staffing, and with public and academic consultation" have responded to records relating to institutional abuse.
"These examples have played central roles in respective national cases in terms of
awareness, commemorations and in legal recognition of instances of institutional abuse and/or
detainment of women, children, indigenous populations or others who have been victimised within society," states the letter.
The letter is signed by Dr Barry Houlihan (NUI Galway); Joanne Carroll; Catriona Crowe (Former Head of Special Projects, National Archives of Ireland); Conor Dent; Rebecca Grant (Doctoral Candidate, UCD); Aisling Keane (NUI Galway); Fiona Kearney (Fellow Information and Records Management Society); Leanne Ledwidge (Irish Film Institute); Kate Manning (UCD Archives); Dr Jane Maxwell (TCD Archives); Felix Meehan; Dr Kirsten Mulrennan; Lisa Murphy; Meadhbh Murphy (UCD Archives); Niamh Ní Charra (NUI Galway); Kasandra O’Connell (Irish Film Institute); Fionnuala Parfrey; Sarah Poutch (UCD Archives); Maria Ryan and Orna Somerville (UCD Archives).