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Dear TDs and Senators,
I am emailing to ask that you demand that the Government drops the Retention of Records Bill 2019, and immediately starts a proper consultation with survivors of institutional abuse to find out their views about how their personal records and the administrative records of the abusive system should be treated.
The Retention of Records Bill 2019, which is currently making its way through the Oireachtas, seeks to seal for at least the next 75 years every single record in the archives of (1) the ‘Ryan’ Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, (2) the Residential Institutions Redress Board, and (3) the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee.
The Bill must be stopped. It denies survivors’ rights to access their own personal information. It also denies the possibility of public education and research into how the Industrial and Reformatory School system operated.
A July 2019 Consultation with Survivors commissioned by the Department of Education itself found that numerous survivors see this Bill ‘as a violation of their rights to their own stories’. The Consultation Report stated that ‘many survivors’ wish to see the Government establish ‘a place of learning and information … a place for the study of institutions for all students interested in this issue’.
The ongoing Collaborative Forum, established by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, has similarly recommended that, alongside a national monument to memorialise the system of institutional abuse and forced family separation in Ireland, survivors’ history should be taught in schools as part of the national history curriculum.
Nowhere does this Bill state that survivors of Industrial and Reformatory Schools will have a right of access to all personal data belonging to them which is contained in those archives. This personal data includes their own transcripts, all records relating to their complaints of abuse and their applications for redress, and all records of their own personal histories, including their medical histories and their family histories.
Nor does the Bill provide for the family members of children who died incarcerated in Industrial and Reformatory Schools to receive the records of their relative’s treatment, death and burial place.
In addition, the Bill will seal all administrative records contained in the archives of the system that led to ‘endemic’ child abuse. These records include financial records, inspection records, and all other operational records. Researchers should be allowed to study these records to help the Irish public better understand this dark chapter of our shared history.
The Bill also undoes provisions of the National Archives Act 1986 that would allow the records to be accessed in the future by the Gardaí and the courts.
For too long, survivors have been silenced and expected to forget about the so-called ‘past’. They have been denied their right to full knowledge of who they are and the circumstances of their incarceration.
Not all survivors wish to have their testimonies made publicly available, nor should they be compelled to do so. However, this Bill as written threatens to seal all survivor testimonies, regardless of their wishes, and the administrative records relating to the system underpinning the treatment of children in industrial and reformatory schools.
I am calling on you to insist on a new approach to the preservation and release of information about Ireland’s institutions. Please ensure that the Government immediately withdraws the Retention of Records Bill 2019 and consults pro-actively and systematically with survivors.
Please ensure that survivors are asked whether they would favour the following measures:
1. Release to survivors of all personal information that relates to them, including transcripts of evidence and all personal records, upon request.
2. Release of personal information relating to children who died while incarcerated to their family.
3. Public release of all administrative records, anonymised where necessary to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the Irish Constitution, according to the ordinary practice of the National Archives of Ireland.
4. The opportunity for survivors to voluntarily deposit their testimony and records (anonymised or redacted to the extent desired) in a public archive, for access now or in the future.
5. Amendment of the infamous ‘gagging order’ in section 28(6) of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to clarify that nothing bars survivors from disclosing their life experience to others.
6. Access to information not publicly released where Garda investigations or court proceedings require it.
Survivor Carmel McDonnell-Byrne has stated, “We were the forgotten children, we don’t want to be the forgotten adults.”
If the Retention of Records Bill 2019 is passed:
* Records which are vital to our nation’s understanding of so-called ‘historical’ abuses will be hidden for 75 years until the year 2094.
* Family members will have to wait 75 years before they can learn about what became of their relatives who died in the industrial and reformatory schools.
* Most importantly, the voices of 15,367 institutional abuse survivors will be silenced for 75 years and they will be prevented from accessing their own information.
Please do everything you can to ensure that this does not happen. Thank you.