Sunday 21 January 2018

Outrage as abuse records may be sealed for 75 years

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan

SURVIVORS of institutional abuse have expressed outrage over Government plans to seal all major industrial school and orphanage investigation records for 75 years.

The move, which also allows for the possible destruction of documents, must now to be ratified by the Dail in a Bill that will be brought forward by Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan.

The Herald has learned that the Bill has already been approved by Cabinet for drafting.

The Retention of Records Bill, 2015, will provide for the strict and confidential sealing of documents from the Commission into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Review Committee.

Tom Cronin of Irish Survivors of Institutional Abuse International (ISIAI) warned abuse survivors are "shocked and horrified" by the revelation.

"I can understand that these documents are sensitive and that they might need to be sealed for a period of years.

"But why seal them for 75 years? Why not seal them for five or 10 years? By the time they can be accessed again everyone associated with this most shameful period of Irish history will be long dead.

"The whole thing won't be anything more than a footnote in history by 2090," he said.


Mr Cronin also expressed concern that, by sealing the documents, the Government may unwittingly also frustrate any potential future legal action.

"Who knows what new evidence or material might arise in future? That new evidence might prove completely worthless because documentation will be locked away for 75 years."

Ms O'Sullivan defended the Government's position: "These records are highly sensitive and contain the personal stories of victims of institutional child abuse.

"I believe that it is very important that these records are not destroyed both to ensure that future generations will understand what happened and out of respect to the victims who came forward.

"By sealing the records for 75 years and ensuring appropriate safeguards on the release of the records thereafter, we are in a position to preserve these sensitive records."

The charity One In Four (OIF) said the Bill represented a difficult compromise between those who wanted the records kept and those who demanded all documentation be destroyed.

"Our position was that these records had to be preserved. In fact, we felt that the destruction of these documents would be a crime," OIF director Maeve Lewis said.


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