Letter to the Editor: Survivors should be in control of their own records

As individual professional archivists and information professionals, we wish to add our support to the calls for the full and immediate withdrawal of the Retention of Records Bill 2019 (Abuse records Bill should be withdrawn, December 4, 2019).

Letter to the Editor: Survivors should be in control of their own records

As individual professional archivists and information professionals, we wish to add our support to the calls for the full and immediate withdrawal of the Retention of Records Bill 2019 (Abuse records Bill should be withdrawn, December 4, 2019).

Since the foundation of the State, Ireland has been working against absent records and histories owing to the destruction of records at the Public Records Office of Ireland in Dublin in 1922.

As archivists, we work to preserve, document, and make accessible records of official, public, cultural, and other activities in the country so that all others in future generations may learn and understand the development of the State and its people.

Until as recently as 1986, Ireland had no established legislation to ensure the preservation and access of State and public records for future generations until the enactment of the National Archives Act.

This new legislation, the Retention of Records Bill 2019, which is currently being debated, is 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.

International examples, such as at the National Library of Australia and The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, Canada, show how archive repositories, supported by adequate resourcing, staffing, and with public and academic consultation, have responded elsewhere.

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.

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.

As we are moving through a Decade of Commemorations, within which turbulent years of reflection lie ahead, 2022 will see the centenary of the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to prevent another dark absence in our records and histories.

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.

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

Orna Somerville (UCD Archives)

This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on December 7, 2019.

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