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Abuse files must be preserved

I READ with interest your report headlined ‘Year delay before abuse inquiry decides on documents’ (July 5).

The very idea that any documents related to the Ryan Commission would be destroyed is deeply concerning. These documents — all of them — constitute part of the nation’s heritage and, as such, they should be preserved and protected so that future generations never forgot the past while also ensuring no repetition of it.

Survivors of the state’s residential institutions, moreover, are deeply divided, indeed sceptical, regarding the Redress Board and Ryan Commission process. One must ask therefore who precisely is being served by destroying documents?

Might it be the state itself? Or the religious congregations?

Given the potential conflict of interest, it would seem appropriate that the Minister for Education commission an independent review prior to any irreversible action.

In this context, I would also ask whether documents related to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission were destroyed? Would anyone consider destroying documents related to the Holocaust? Confidentiality and privacy are, of course, always legitimate concerns. But professional archivists can ensure ethical handling of sensitive materials. The Ryan Commission documents also contain material related to the Magdalene laundries and other institutions ultimately excluded from the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002.

Given that the religious congregations refuse to provide access to records for women entering their Magdalene institutions after January 1, 1900, it is inconceivable that the state would consciously destroy documents that might help us better understand how such institutions operated, as well as the nature of the relationship between Magdalene laundries and state residential institutions.

Again, there would appear to be a potential conflict of interest at play in this particular regard.

The Ryan Commission will remain significant in helping Irish people understand who we are as a nation, in the present as well as the past. These materials must be preserved.

James M Smith

Associate Professor

English Department and

Irish Studies Programme

Boston College

Chestnut Hill

Massachusetts 02467



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