Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (208)

Joan Burton

Question:

208. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on sealing the records of the Ryan Commission for 75 years; if he or his officials have met with survivors of industrial schools that are of the view this would be tantamount to the legally sanctioned silencing of victims of institutionalisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53072/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department and I have received correspondence in relation to the Retention of Records Bill from a number of former residents and it is clear that there are conflicting views as to how to procced in regard to the records. I am aware that some former residents have called for the current legislation to be implemented, i.e., that the bulk of the records would be disposed of, while other have called for the immediate release of the records.  Other former residents have indicated their support for the proposals contained in the Bill, i.e., the retention of the records subject to access being completely withheld for the proposed 75 year minimum period.  

The Retention of Records Bill which I published earlier this year and which is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas provides for the retention of the records of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee.

The Deputy will be aware, having been a member of Government when the initial decisions were made to proceed with legislation to provide for the retention of these records, that under the legislation establishing these bodies, the bulk of their records would, on their dissolution, fall to be disposed of, by way of destruction. 

Under the current legislation,  information provided to the Commission and the Redress bodies must be kept confidential and, with limited exceptions, disclosure of such information would be a punishable offence. Given that all individuals and parties participated in the work of the bodies on the basis of confidentiality and that former residents in particular provided information of a deeply personal and private nature to the bodies, the early release of the records would be anathema for some former residents and for their families.  

The retention and eventual release of the records, therefore, required fresh legislation.  It is necessary that the legislation balances the public interest in the retention of these records with the right to privacy and related rights of all of those who engaged with the bodies. By ensuring that the records are retained and withheld from public inspection for a period of at least 75 years, the Bill balances these rights and minimises the risk of legal challenge to their retention and that the approach set down in the Bill is the appropriate way to proceed.

However, the Government has decided to provide for an interim review of the operation of the legislation, to take place 25 years after the legislation is commenced. I will be bringing forward the necessary provision at Committee Stage to achieve this.