This Adjournment matter concerns the need for the Department of Education and Science to make available for academic research his Department's files on reformatory and industrial schools between 1924-68. The National Archives Act, passed in 1986, requires that all State files be made available within the 30 year rule. All material up to 1968 should now be made available to the National Archives and failure to comply with the terms of the Act must mean that the Department of Education and Science is in breach of it and is, therefore, acting illegally.
Files covering a 44 period of reformatory and industrial schools should now be made available as they represent almost half a century of archival material. That material is of enormous interest both to the individuals who were inmates of those institutions and their relatives and historians and archivists who would be interested in bona fide research in this area. Indeed, the community at large would have an interest in it as we have heard so much rumour and innuendo about the period. Books and plays have been written on the reformatory and industrial school system in Ireland but we know nothing of the facts and figures involved. We know nothing of the people who attended the schools, the polices pursued, the administrative or behavioural systems which operated and so on. The Kennedy Report published in 1970 recommended that the entire system be closed down. However, we do not know why such a conclusion was arrived at and we can only gain that information by access and research into those files.
This is an area of great historical, as well as personal, importance. Some of those who attended the schools are still alive and others have left the country. We do not know what happened to many of the young people who, it seems, were transported out of the country after the four year term — the maximum allowable period — spent in the schools. Where did these people go? It is something of a scandal that we have not been provided with any information on this matter.
Young people were sent to reformatory and industrial schools for a variety of reasons, among them truancy and involvement in petty larceny and vandalism. A large number of orphans also ended up in such schools. This issue is one of national concern.
We are familiar with the names of the schools at Letterfrack, Daingean, Artane and Marlborough House, yet, we do not know what went on in them. All of the schools were State registered ones and all of the material relating to them is, therefore, available in the State archives. The National Archives have not been able to gain access to that material. I tabled this matter because a number of bona fide researchers are anxious to carry out historical work on this period, some for the purpose of making television documentaries. They are at a loss as to how to proceed when they cannot gain access to the primary material.
The Department of Education and Science has no choice but to conform with the provisions of the National Archives Act. I hope the Minister, in his response, will inform the House of when and how the Department intends to do this. I suggest the method used should be along the lines of that recently adopted by the Department of Foreign Affairs in the issue of foreign adoptions. The Department adopted a two-fold approach; personal files of a highly sensitive nature were only made available to the individuals concerned, thereby maintaining confidentiality. Matters relating to policy, administration, statistics and so on were, however, made public as they were not of the same sensitive nature. If that model were adopted in this case, we could easily ensure that the material would be available in the archives for the purposes of research.
We have recently implemented freedom of information legislation which imposes a further tier of accountability on the State towards the citizen. Therefore, the Department of Education and Science doubly breaches legislative provisions. We must ensure that all State Departments are fully accountable and that they fully disclose the material they are obliged to disclose under law. The public is entitled to have access to this information.
I am disappointed the Department of Education and Science has not seen fit to act on this matter. I know there is not enough space in the National Archives, but the amount of space for personal files is not required for files relating to the administrative and policy archives. The National Archives would be able to store those files.
I hope the Minister does not say he has a problem with space and, therefore, cannot make the files available. The personal files are voluminous because they date back for almost 50 years but the essential policy making files can be made available. Even if there is a problem in providing the files, there is legislation stating that they should be made available. The Department of Education and Science is legally bound to make them available.
I have covered all the angles and I will not accept any excuses. I hope the Minister will state how the files on the reformatory and industrial schools 1924-68 will be made available.