Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has announced publication of the Retention of Records Bill 2019 which provides for testimony and other records from three key redress bodies to be preserved.
The legislation will cover documents from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee.
Government approved the legislation at its Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 11 February.
The Retention of Records Bill 2019 provides for the historically significant documents from the work of the redress bodies to be retained by the National Archives and sealed for 75 years from the date of transfer.
Minister McHugh said: “As far back as 2009, Dáil Éireann passed a motion calling for the retention of these vitally important records.
“Retention of the records is essential to ensure that we never forget the abuse that was perpetrated against innocent children in institutions and that future generations can be made aware of and understand what took place. We must learn from the past.”
The Minister noted that the Bill is required to strike a balance between the original confidentiality provisions around the work of the three redress bodies and the need to preserve records for future generations.
This is being achieved in the Bill by ensuring that the records will be sealed and withheld from public scrutiny for a minimum 75 years.
The Minister said: “I’m very conscious of how sensitive an issue this is. The legislation takes a balanced approach. We want to ensure records of such huge historical importance are preserved while at the same time respecting the real life stories and deeply personal testimony of all of the individuals who engaged with the redress bodies.
“Seventy five years is a very long period of time to restrict access to records but it is essential given the sensitivity of the material. Leaving the documents sealed for a shorter period is not possible given the issue of confidentiality around witness testimony and other sensitive records.”
The Minister also welcomed the endorsement of the Government for proposals for an interim review of the operation of the legislation.
Minister McHugh added: “I am acutely aware of calls from survivors that the abuse they suffered never be forgotten. The Bill is designed to ensure that. To further reinforce this, 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.”
Notes to editors
The Retention of Records Bill 2019 can be accessed at the following link - https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2019/16/?tab=bill-text
Original legislation enacted for the redress bodies provided for their records to be destroyed when their work had been completed.
While this was understandable in the context of the strictures of confidentiality which underpinned their work, it subsequently gave rise to concerns that an archive of historically important material would be destroyed in perpetuity.
The key provisions of the Retention of Records Bill are:
- To provide for interaction between the redress bodies and the National Archives to determine which records should be disposed of and which should be retained;
- To provide that on the dissolution of the bodies their records are deemed to be records of the Department of Education and Skills and transferred to the custody of the National Archives;
- To provide that on their transfer to the National Archives the records will be sealed and withheld from public inspection for a period of no less than 75 years;
- To provide that access to the records may only be possible at that point when regulations are made by the then Minister; and
- To provide that a number of provisions of the National Archives Act 1986 will not apply to the records – this mainly covers the disapplication of provisions that govern access by individuals and Government departments.
The review mechanism:
- An amendment is to be brought forward by the Minister at Committee Stage which will make provision for a review of the legislation 25 years after it has been commenced.