Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 26 November 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
Retention of Records Bill 2019: Discussion
Dr. Sarah-Anne Buckley:
I thank the Deputy. On the motivation, and the questions are connected, all we can say as a group is that these two commissions relate to the Department of Education and Skills. This Bill is not addressing the McAleese report. It is addressing two commissions that relate to the Department of Education and Skills.
I do not know what is in the archive. I would love to know what is in it. That would be really good. Many of the records relate to the Department of Education and Skills. That is a critical point for the committee. This, to me, as a historian, is very important. There are administrative records that it is possible we will not get access to after 20 years, which we should. That is problematic.
When it comes to the international context, I will briefly mention Canada and Switzerland and then Dr. O'Rourke can come in with some other examples. I have had the pleasure of dealing with the chair of the two Swiss commissions. There are 40 academics - historians, sociologists and archivists - working on one of those. They have as much access as they want. They laughed at a conference when I explained how difficult it is to get certain access, particularly to private archives. This is problematic. They have done a full disclosure, it appears to me.
In Canada, as Dr. O'Rourke and her colleagues have written in their submission, confidentiality was initially part of the discussion. Canada went back to survivors and now it is 15 years. I do not know why we cannot understand a passage of time has occurred. Some opinions have changed. Survivors, thankfully, are more vocal, as are their advocates. Now we need to have our plan for 2019.
On the processes that would need to happen, and I might refer some of this to Ms Crowe, we have expertise in understanding a different type of record. At present, what should happen in the Departments of Health and Education and Skills and other Departments is that records should be transferred after 20 years and I should be able to access them. That is not always the case, and I am sure other researchers would agree. If that is due to resources, we must address that. To my mind it is not a question of needing more legislation.
One can use redaction, although it is costly. One can choose, with legal advice, which records can be released. I cannot understand why survivors do not get their personal records immediately. We should take the opportunity to form this archive. It would be a body of records that could define some of our historiography over the next 20 to 50 years. This t is a big opportunity and we should not be fighting it.