Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Questions (164)

Michael McGrath


164. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will address a matter raised in correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53554/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Under the current legislation, the bulk of the records created by the redress bodies are legally required to be disposed of on the dissolution of the three redress bodies. Under the existing legislation (section 7(6) of the Commission to Inquire into Childcare Act 2000), it is a matter for the Commission to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for the making of as complete a record as is practicable of its proceedings and those of its committees in relation to the custody and disposal of its documents.

Section 28 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 provides that it is a matter for the RIRB/Review Committee to determine the disposal of the documents concerning applications made to them. The confidentiality provisions of the 2002 Act require that the records relating to the personal testimony of individuals be disposed of following the dissolution of the Redress Board and Review Committee. The Board received legal advice in 2009 that Section 28(7) of the Redress Act 'contemplates only such disposal as will render all such documents unusable and the information contained in it inaccessible to anyone and that in practice the only issue for the Board and Committee is the mechanism by which this can be achieved’. In other words, disposal means the destruction of the records

It is worth looking at the operating procedures used by the investigation Committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (attached). As you can see, the complainant and allrespondents got copies of all documentation. The Residential Institutions Redress Board have an existing protocol in place whereby people who appeared before the Board can access a copy of their file.

The provision in the Records Retention Bill that access to the records will only be possible under regulations on the expiry of the 75 year period was included, in part, to reflect concerns raised 4 years ago at the 2015 pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills, regarding matters such as

- the right to privacy of the individuals concerned

- the expectation of confidentiality under which persons engaged with the bodies.

There is a mis-apprehension about what information could be disclosed to the Garda Síochána. While people provided their personal testimonials on a confidential basis, that information could still be disclosed by the Commission to a member of the Garda Síochána if it was thought that such disclosure was necessary in order to prevent the continuance of an act or omission constituting a serious offence.

There may also be expectations that there is a wealth of material that the Commission holds that can be made available. The documentation discovered during the course of the Commission’s work exists in several categories:

(1) by named individual or organisation who provided services to the commission;

(2) by topic to which the discovered documents relate;

(3) by name of religious congregation. The discovered documents largely consist of copies of original documents submitted to the Commission.

There are issues surrounding the use of discovered documents for a purpose other than that for which they were discovered. There would, therefore, likely be issues surrounding the ultimate public release of discovered documents.

I would hold the view that historical abuse has not been hidden away but is thoroughly documented in the Ryan Report with chapters on the history of institutions, the administration and financing of those institutions, the role of the Department of Education and Skills, and the different congregations involved in the running of those institutions. Volume III documents the demographic and social circumstances of witnesses before their admission to the institutions, their experiences and reports of abuse while in the institutions and their life following discharge from the institutions.

Finally, there is no restriction on former residents describing the abuse they suffered when resident in an institution. Section 28(6) of the 2002 Act prohibits the publication of certain details of applications to or awards made by the Redress Board. This is a necessary requirement of the “no-fault” basis under which the scheme operated. Many survivors have documented their experiences in institutions through print or other media.

The Records Retention Bill was discussed at an Education Committee meeting in November and I understand that the next step is for the Committee to write to me concerning the Bill and the views expressed at that meeting.

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