Explainer: What is the Retention of Records Bill and why is it so controversial?
ByEva Wall – Extra.ie
The Retention of Records Bill was approved by the Cabinet in February 2019, but its passage into legislation has been controversial.
The Retention of Records Bill pertains to the records transferred to the National Archives by the Ryan Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee.
Purportedly seeking to replace existing legislation that dictates the destruction of all records and submissions gathered by these three bodies, the Retention of Records Bill proposes ‘sealing’ the documents for a period of at least 75 years, or until 2094 at the earliest.
The Retention of Records Bill proposes ‘sealing’ the documents relating to institutional child abuse for a period of at least 75 years, or until 2094 at the earliest.
Established in 2000, the Ryan Commission or CICA was instigated to investigate the extent and impact of institutional abuse perpetrated in State and Church bodies from 1936 onward, and to hear testimonies from those who claimed to have suffered such abuse.
Two years later, the RIRB was set up to make awards to survivors of institutional abuse, while the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee was established to review these awards.
All told, the three bodies hold over two million records concerning institutional abuse in Ireland from 1936.
The Retention of Records Bill pertains to the records transferred to the National Archives by the Ryan Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee. Pic: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland.
The essential stated aim of the Retention of Records Bill, as outlined by Minister for Education Joe McHugh, is to ensure that all records are preserved to ensure that the extent of institutional child abuse in Ireland is neither forgotten nor repeated, thereby supplanting earlier obligations to destroy the evidence while respecting the wishes of the 15,000 survivors who submitted testimonies, as well as confidentiality clauses reportedly outlined in the establishment of the Ryan Commission.
The proposed bill has been opposed by a number of survivors of institutional abuse, as well as legal, historical and archival experts, some of whom appeared before the Oireachtas Education Committee on Tuesday November 26 to outline their concerns.
The opposition towards the proposed bill centres on perceptions that the Government, by sealing the records for such a long period, risks ‘creating cynicism’, and concerns have also been voiced at the inability of survivors of abuse to access their own personal data and at the lack of investigation into the preferences of survivors concerning the storage and availability of their records.
Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said that the Retention of Records Bill is to preserve evidence and therefore to ensure that the extent of institutional child abuse in Ireland is neither forgotten nor repeated
The full written submissions made to the Oireachtas Education Committee in opposition to the Retention of Records Bill may be accessed online.
Among the recommendations made to the Committee were the enactment of legislation to allow survivors who submitted testimonies access to their own records, the possible anonymisation or redaction of records made available for public access, and the provision of legislation to enable individual survivors to decide how they would prefer to handle their records.
In her submission to the Committee, Maeve O’Rourke, a lecturer in Human Rights Law in NUI Galway, said: ‘We cannot overstate the potential impact of this Bill’s contents on our country’s historical record, on survivors’ and their families’ personal lives, and on our State’s ability to prevent abuse in the future.
‘The Bill deserves the most careful and survivor-focused scrutiny possible.’
Catriona Crowe, former Head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland, also addressed the Committee.
Describing the records as ‘a comprehensive account of atrocious treatment of vulnerable children over a long period of time’, Ms. Crowe said: ‘The records will provide a unique account of institutional childcare in a small country new to independence, of poverty and its consequences, of the close links between Church and State in the delivery of welfare services, of the damage done to families from loss of their children and siblings, and of the suffering of a large cohort of children in these institutions.
Caitriona Crowe, former Head of Special Projects at the National Archives, said: ‘The loss of the records, or the inappropriate restriction of access being contemplated, would be a significant and profound loss to historical scholarship on 20th century Ireland’. P
‘The loss of the records, or the inappropriate restriction of access being contemplated, would be a significant and profound loss to historical scholarship on 20th century Ireland.’
Ms. Crowe added: ‘The fact that so many survivors of this regime have managed to make normal lives for themselves is testimony to their courage and resilience. Let us not harm them again by treating their hugely important testimonies as outside the archival norms which operate for all other citizens.’
Researcher and survivor of institutional abuse Dr. Mary Lodato told the Committee: ‘The proposed 75-year sealing of our files creates cynicism. It makes it look as though the state is hiding something. This state has already robbed survivors of so much, and profited from our suffering. It must give us our history, and let us share it with the nation.’
I think it is an utter disgrace that the Irish Government are planning to hide abuse records from victims and their families for 75 years on the basis of a Finna Fianna Fail promise made to the corrupt Irish Catholic Church and its religious orders.
WONERSH SEMINARY CLOSES
If walls could talk…………