Belfast Telegraph

‘It’s so wrong’: survivors plead with committee to reconsider Records Bill

Evidence is to be sealed for 75 years under current rules.

A general view of a former Magdalene Laundry (Brian Lawless/PA)
A general view of a former Magdalene Laundry (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

Survivors of state and church institutional abuse have told a committee that sealing their evidence for 75 years is wrong and adding to their trauma.

The Education Committee discussed the Retention of Records Bill 2019 on Tuesday.

Education Minister Joe McHugh announced the publication of the bill in February, in which evidence of survivors who suffered abuse at state institutions from three key redress bodies will be sealed from public scrutiny for a minimum of 75 years.

At the time, the minister said the sealing of records would protect the identity and evidence of survivors.

The bill sparked immediate concern and outrage from survivors and historians, and was sent back to committee for further scrutiny.

Eileen Molloy who grew up in an industrial school from 11 months to 16 years old said giving evidence to the redress board was traumatic.

“(It is) one of the most stressful things we have had to endure,” she said.

“It’s our history right now, it may give us a clearer picture of what actually happened and who we really are.

“Life was difficult enough as children why should be have to fight for what belongs to us? It’s so wrong.”

Irish society must take responsibility for the abuse of women and children Mary Ludato

All the witnesses were in agreement that there are other appropriate and ethical ways to preserve records, and that survivors should be granted immediate access to their personal information.

Historians present argued that the current national archives act is appropriate but should be updated and that current retraction protocols could protect identity of those involved.

Carmel McDonell-Byrne, who co-founded the Christine Buckley Centre for victims of abuse, added she would have no issue with her evidence being made public, and said: “From speaking to survivors the bill is likely to cause practical, emotional and psychological problems for survivors.

“The acknowledgement by the state and the religious orders of their failures, was only the first step, further investigations were and are necessary.

“This bill will not allow such investigations to take place.”

Survivor Mary Ludato also told Committee members: “I understand our narrative can seem threatening to state bodies, however survivors still live with shame, they need a process of healing and this requires willingness to confront the past.

“Irish society must take responsibility for the abuse of women and children.”

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Education Minister Joe McHugh (Niall Carson/PA)

The bill was described as “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut” by Catriona Crowe from the National Archives of Ireland, adding that if the records were sealed for such a long period, it would set an “extraordinary precedent without recourse to the National Archives Act”.

“Why do we need something new for a particular cohort of citizens? It appears it is paving the way it would become a way of dealing with other kinds of records, such as that of the Mother and Baby Homes,” she said.

“What is wrong with us?

“Why are we coming up against situations ordinary citizens are treated badly and have to go through hell and high water to seek redress?

“Surely they should be at the centre of this.

“It seems to me unbelievable we’re still not at the stage where we can say; ‘Yes, you can have your records.'”

She laid out six recommendations, including using the current existing legislation, and information on those who gave evidence should be gathered to find out what they would wish to happen to the records.

Dr Sinead Ring, an assistant professor at Maynooth University School of Law, said children and women were “incarcerated, tortured forced into servitude, systematically degraded, denied identity and education and separated from their family members” in state and church institutions.

She said that failure to produce these records, to have them in an archive where individuals can retrieve their family history, and can contribute to national education undermines all other efforts of reparation.

The committee must send their amendments by Wednesday at noon, the bill is due to go ahead next week.

PA

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