Commission proposes to seal abuse records

Isabella Finn

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse proposes to seal the documents in the National Archives for 75 years in order to respect the confidentiality provisions of the commission.

The commission’s report, known as the Ryan Report, was published in May 2009 and detailed accounts from abuse survivors of Irish industrial schools from 1936 to 1970, stating that approximately 170,000 children were admitted during this period.

The Retention of Records Bill 2019 proposes to seal these records in order to respect the confidentiality of the commission but it could also deny survivors accountability for what happened to them as children.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has stated that they believe the report to contain a ‘seriously erroneous statistic according to the general agreement of relevant experts and bodies’.

The chairperson of the commission, Justice Sean Ryan, reviewed this number with the Department of Education and Skill. They believe this number to be incorrect as Industrial Schools were in operation from 1930 to beyond the 1970s. The statistics provided by the Department also consist of the children who were admitted to Reformatories, not just industrial Schools.

Justice Ryan’s statement included ‘while it is not possible to establish a precise figure, the Department’s calculation of the number of children in Industrial Schools and Reformatories from 1930-1970 and beyond is approximately 42,000 or somewhat higher’.

Dr James Gallen from DCU’s School of Law and Government explained that “By proposing to “seal” records for 75 years, as well as being in breach of GDPR under EU law and the ability of Irish courts to access archival documentation, the Bill would disable academics, activists and policymakers from auditing or assessing the manner in which CICA or the other bodies did their work”.

He also stated, “the inquiries into historical abuse in Canada, UK and Australia have allowed survivors access to their testimony and have engaged in significant public outreach to maximise the impact of their processes and findings”.

While these “erroneous” statistics could be sealed for 75 years there is a provision in the Retention of Records Bill that the files may still be released 25 years after the Bill becomes law.

The committee are waiting on a response from Minister for Education Joe McHugh in the interest of the matters raised by survivors and legal experts.

Author: Isabella Finn

Image Credit: Joy Nwagiriga