Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Retention of Records Bill 2019: Second Stage

 

5:55 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an mBille tábhachtach seo.

The Bill’s purpose is to ensure the records of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and its review committee are not destroyed, but are instead retained for posterity.

I will now outline the Bill's key provisions. It provides for interaction between the redress bodies and the National Archives to determine which records should be disposed of and which should be retained. It also provides 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; that on their transfer to the National Archives the records will be withheld from public inspection for a period of not less than 75 years; that access to the records may only be possible at that point when regulations are made by the Minister; and 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 historical context for this Bill is important. It is almost ten years since the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its final report, popularly known as the Ryan report. The commission was established in an atmosphere when the scale of abuse in the residential institutions was only becoming known. However, without the benefit of the commission’s work and the testimony given to it, the truth of what happened in these institutions might never have been made public.

The commission and the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which was established to provide financial redress to survivors of abuse, are key elements in the State’s response to institutional child abuse. The Ryan report is an exemplary work which rigorously charts the history of the residential institutions. It exposes the scale and systemic nature of the abuse which was perpetrated within them and the failings of those who managed and supervised the institutions in allowing this abuse to continue to take place. While those institutions no longer exist, it is important that the history of institutional abuse is preserved and not forgotten.

It is also important that those who suffered abuse were provided with redress. As I have said, the Residential Institutions Redress Board provided financial awards to those who suffered abuse, while the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee provided for the independent review of such awards where applicants so wished. The redress board has virtually completed its work, with just a very small number of cases yet to be finalised. Some 16,650 applications to the redress scheme were accepted, with 15,600 awards offered to survivors or their families. Costs of €1.25 billion will have been incurred under the redress scheme, including awards, legal costs of applicants and administration costs.

The national counselling service and the family tracing service provided by Barnardos are other important elements of the State’s response and are available to former residents. Funding of €12.7 million was provided to the now dissolved Education Finance Board to enable it to provide grants and supports to former residents and their relatives to assist them in accessing educational services. The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund, which operates under the name of Caranua, was established in 2012. Caranua administers the fund of up to €110 million pledged by the congregations as part of their contribution to the costs of redress. To date, it has expended some €91 million, including administration costs, engaging with and funding supports for survivors. It has received more than 6,500 applications and more than 5,000 individuals have received support.

In addition to these measures, my Department has engaged professional facilitators to support the planning of consultations with survivors on their experiences of redress and on how they might be supported into the future. My Department has also convened an interdepartmental committee to examine how existing State services can support the needs of survivors.

I turn now to the nature of the records to which the Bill refers. These are highly sensitive and personal documents. The records of the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the review committee are essentially the applications for redress made by individual former residents. These records would include much personal data, including, for example, detailed family information regarding the individual applicant and perhaps others such as parents, siblings, spouse or children. They could include details of the circumstances leading to the individual being placed in a residential institution and details of the abuse suffered in the institution and its impact, etc. Detailed medical and psychological reports regarding the individuals which may also be on file. The views, if any, of the relevant management body on individual applications made to the redress board may also be included, together with papers regarding the determination of a redress award. The records are also likely to include information regarding alleged perpetrators of abuse, based on the information provided by victims. This information was not contested and the individual against whom an allegation was made may not be aware that such information exists in the records.

The records of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse contain the papers of both the commission’s investigation committee and its confidential committee. This includes personal testimony of former residents, members of congregations and other individuals who testified before the commission. Again, this testimony contains details of abuse of various forms and committed by various persons. It was certainly the view at the time of the establishment of the commission that, without assurances of confidentiality, it would have been very difficult to persuade people to engage with the commission. Without that engagement, the light which the Ryan report shone on the abuse would have been dimmed significantly.

It is, I hope, apparent from this summary of the very sensitive and highly personal nature of the records in question why mechanisms to ensure confidentiality, including the disapplication of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Acts, were enshrined in the legislation establishing the bodies. The Acts in question are the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 and the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002.

The ultimate protection provided in the Acts was for the disposal and destruction of the records of the bodies once they had completed their work and prior to their dissolution, which is also provided for in the legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. However, it is also the case that, with the growing state of knowledge about institutional abuse, to which the work of the commission and redress board made a significant contribution, concerns arose in relation to the destruction of the records. In this regard, a motion on the Ryan report, which was adopted by Dáil Éireann on 12 June 2009, noted "the desirability that, in so far as possible, all of the documentation received by and in the possession of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is preserved for posterity and not destroyed."

The Ryan report is a comprehensive account of the extent of the abuse that was perpetrated and its impact on the individuals concerned. However, even in some 2,500 pages, it could not tell the many personal stories of those affected. Retention of the records will ensure that these stories are kept. The records also contain testimony from those involved in the operation and supervision of the institutions. This is information which is also of great significance in understanding this dark period in our history. These are, therefore, historically important records which could, in time, become primary source material for historians and family members seeking to undertake genealogical research or simply to understand what their father, mother or other relatives suffered while in an institution.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the current legislation, which would see the records destroyed, to establish a new Act, which would seek to balance the need to retain the confidentiality that was promised to those who provided personal information with the need to preserve what are important historical records. There is no doubt that the question of destruction of the records - the current status quo- or retention is complex. The timing of release is also significant. On the one hand, it requires weighing in the balance the original assurances of confidentiality, the associated provision for the destruction of the records and the sensitive and personal nature of the records. On the other hand, due consideration must be given to the wider public interest in ensuring that the history of child abuse in the residential institutions is preserved.

I am aware that when the draft scheme of the Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny, there was significant concern about what would be the impact on individuals if the records were released. Some of those concerns have been amplified by the coming into force of the general data protection regulation, GDPR. Cognisance of those concerns has been reflected in the drafting of the Bill and in the context of the data protection impact assessment which my Department will publish in due course.

I am also aware that there is a spectrum of views. Some favour disposal of the records, some want their immediate release and others support retention for varying periods and-or release with redaction.

These matters required careful consideration and that consideration has been given in the development of the Bill before the House today. The Government has been supportive of the intention behind the Dáil motion and has been anxious to give that intention effect in a way which takes account the sensibilities and rights of those persons who are named in the records.

The result of that consideration, which includes significant legal advice, is that the records should be retained and transferred to the National Archives, but that they should be withheld from public inspection for a lengthy period. This period is specified in the Bill before the House today as being at least 75 years.

I will now address the main provisions of the Bill. The Bill is short and contains only 11 sections, a number of which are standard provisions. I will now outline them.

Section 1 defines the terms used in the Bill. Section 2 provides a mechanism for the disposal of records not requiring to be retained. As would be expected in archival processes, not all the records of the bodies will warrant preservation. For example, there will be routine administrative records on file. Decisions in regard to the disposal are, in my view, best left to the bodies themselves with the director of the National Archives having the final say in the matter. Under this section, the bodies will certify that particular records or classes of records are not required to be retained and the director, on being satisfied that the records in question do not warrant preservation, may grant an authorisation for their disposal. Records must be disposed of confidentially. These provisions are similar to those in section 7 of the National Archives Act 1986 and reflective of the normal practice the National Archives would go through when assessing records for preservation. The section also provides for the inspection of records by the director and for the making available to the director by a body of records for the purposes of the section that may otherwise be prohibited from being disclosed. This provision is required in order to overcome the restrictions on access set out in existing legislation.

Section 3 provides that the records of the three redress bodies will, on the dissolution of the bodies, become records of the Department of Education and Skills and be transferred to the National Archives. The records will then be withheld from public access for a period of at least 75 years. Release of the records will be contingent on regulations being made under section 6 of the Bill. It is important to note that if no regulations are made, then the records cannot be released.

As the records will come under the scope of the National Archives Act 1986, it is necessary to provide that the definition of "archives" in that Act should include a record transferred under section 3(1) of the Bill. Section 4 makes provision for this.

Section 5 provides that a number of sections of the National Archives Act 1986 will not apply to a record transferred under the Bill, while other sections will not apply during the sealing period. This is to ensure the integrity of the confidentiality provisions. Essentially, any provision of that Act that provides for access to records is being dis-applied. For example, under the 1986 Act, a Department could retain a copy of a record transferred to the National Archives or could requisition records back from the National Archives. This will not be possible in the case of these records. Once records are transferred to the National Archives, they may not be disposed of during the period for which they are sealed. The existing right of persons to inspect archives in the custody of the National Archives must also be dis-applied. As the Bill contains provisions regarding the disposal of records and the transfer of records to the National Archives, the existing provisions set down in sections 7 and 8 of the National Archives Act are being dis-applied.

I mentioned earlier that access could only take place if regulations are made and section 6 makes provisions for this. Such regulations can be made no earlier than 12 months prior to the expiry of the 75 year period and following consultation with the director of the National Archives. The regulations do not prescribe the specific issues that should be addressed in the regulations as it is not possible at this remove to specify what those issues might be. As I mentioned earlier, the regulations will consider arrangements in regard to the release of the records based on the circumstances prevailing at that time, and not now. However, the regulation making provision requires that the Minister of the day, when proposing to make regulations, must have regard to the impact that any resultant disclosure of information may have on the well-being and emotional state of persons alive at the date of the making of the regulations. This enables any concerns that there may be that the release of the records may have an effect on persons still alive at that time to be taken into account. Positive resolutions of both Houses of the Oireachtas are required before any regulations are made.

Sections 7 and 8 provide for the removal of the existing power of the redress bodies, set down in the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 and the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, under which the bodies would determine or make arrangements for the disposal of their records. Other amendments to those Acts are also being made.

Section 9 continues the existing restriction of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 to records transferring under section 2(1). Sections 10 and 11 are standard provisions dealing with expenses, citation and commencement.

When the draft scheme of this Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny, the substance of concerns raised related to: the right to privacy; the right to a good name; and the issue of legitimate expectations of confidentiality. I must stress again that these issues were given detailed consideration. That is reflected in the measures in the Bill in respect of: the duration of the period of retention and the provisions in respect of the timing of the making of regulations; and the requirement to take into account the impact of release of records on persons alive at the time of the making of the regulations.

Questions have also been raised as to why the existing provisions of the National Archives Act 1986 would not be sufficient. I acknowledge that the National Archives Act 1986 provides for a certification process to limit access to records that could potentially be open for access after 30 years. However, this provision does not give sufficiently robust assurances regarding the treatment of the records. This is especially the case when account is taken of the fact that their retention represents a substantial change of approach relative to the process of destruction that is provided for in the existing legislation governing the bodies. It is precisely for this reason that the lengthy withholding period is being proposed.

I should at this point make it clear to the House that the records which are already extant in my Department in respect of industrial schools and reformatories do not come within the ambit of this Bill. They will be treated under the general provisions of the National Archives Act as they apply to departmental records. In addition, certain personal records of persons who were committed to industrial schools are held by my Department and are accessible under freedom of information. That position remains unchanged under the Bill.

Questions have also been raised as to whether the records might be released on an anonymised basis and consideration has been given to this approach. However, it has a number of deficiencies which are as follows. First, it would rob the records of much of their historical significance. The Ryan report itself already presents an anonymised, or, to be strictly accurate, pseudonymised, account of the residential institutions and the abuse which took place within them. Therefore, relative to that report, anonymising the records would take away much of the additional significance of the records themselves. Second, anonymising the records would not be without risk that personal information could be revealed, either through an administrative error or by inference from the remaining content. Lastly, the anonymisation of the records would represent a massive and costly undertaking, given that there are in excess of 2 million individual records involved. This, of itself, would not be reason enough to rule out this approach, but in light of the other drawbacks I have alluded to, it must also weigh on the considerations.

As I have said, there are arguments on both sides in favour of destruction or retention and on the timing of release of the records. It is unlikely that those arguments will be conclusively resolved given the differences of view which have been expressed on the matter.

The Government is, however, anxious to respond to concerns from survivors that their experiences will be forgotten. That is why, on Committee Stage, I intend to bring forward a proposal to provide for a review of the operation of the Bill after 25 years. While not being prescriptive, I envisage that such a review will provide an opportunity to look at the situation of survivors and at any developments in relation to the history of the various institutions in which abuse took place - a so-called "archipelago of institutions" which, regrettably, extends beyond those comprehended by this Bill.

The Ryan report recommended that a memorial to survivors be erected. Unfortunately the proposals for the erection of such a memorial on a site adjacent to the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square in Dublin failed to receive the requisite planning permission. Memorialisation is a recurring theme for survivors of institutional abuse and while I would like to move forward with memorialisation in relation to the residential institutions for which my Department had responsibility, I see merit in taking a whole-of-government approach to memorialisation, especially given what we now know about the interconnectedness of these institutions.

6:15 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister will have to leave it there because he is out of time but we will be coming back to him, obviously, to conclude.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I am sure there were important points the Minister was to make. If he does not get the chance, it would be important for the Minister's entire script to be on the record.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sure it will be.

6:25 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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Child sexual abuse is one of the most shameful aspects of this country's history. So much has been revealed in the past 25 years or so about child sexual abuse, particularly in the church and institutions, as well as some sporting bodies. It must be stated that while it was revealed in the past 25 years, I have no doubt there was an acceptance in society for some of this. People knew what was going on and turned a blind eye due to inappropriate deference to certain authorities, particularly the church and the State.

We are really discussing the consequences of the Ryan report today. That report showed that a failure on the part of the church and the State led to the systematic institutional abuse of children, with lives destroyed, maligned or ended as a result. It is vital for future generations that the experience of those who suffered at the hands of those in positions of power is not lost. Long after the victims have died, their testimonies will bear witness to a stark period in our country's history. I know there has been some discussion about the merits and demerits of the Bill. However, the fundamental merit of the Bill, and the reason we support it, is that these records will be publicly available. Up to now, that has not been the case. The Bill, therefore, represents a step forward. In some ways, it implements the Dáil motion from 2009 put forward by the Taoiseach of the day and subsequently accepted by all parties. It sought that records would not be destroyed and this Bill allows the preservation of those records, which is important.

We also recognise that the Bill comes about because of learning after the fact. We also accept that the Bill brings challenges and compromises. Having discussed the matter with officials and looked at the record of previous Ministers dealing with the legislation and the pre-legislative scrutiny, there were a number a compromises. The Government is acting in good faith with the Bill. I am not wedded to every aspect of the Bill and every time limit but I accept that the Government gave careful consideration to the matter before coming up with its proposals. I am willing to listen to the debate to see what points can be made before we make a final decision. We will certainly support the Bill on Second Stage and want it to move to Committee Stage.

In 2009, after the then Taoiseach, former Deputy Brian Cowen, met victims, the Government brought forward a motion to the effect that, where possible, the documentation of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse should be preserved. Certainty with respect to these records was not guaranteed at the time due to legal advice. The interviews and other records of these inquiries had been given in total confidence, and we must bear that in mind. They were not initially intended for use in other forums, and that is why the Minister is bringing forward this required legislation. These circumstances mean that we are in a difficult position and that the passing of this legislation will be difficult.

The records held by the State were gathered for a particular purpose, which was to establish the facts in the inquiry, which did a fantastic job in that respect. It brought this horror to our attention. Let us be honest, however, as some of the facts that were in the report were quite well known to people in different communities where some of this abuse was taking place. There is absolutely no doubt that the country turned a blind eye to it in that regard. The records of the commission were originally to be destroyed following the completion of its work, as is standard. However, following the findings in the report, there was broad acceptance that the testimonies and records provided in the creation of these reports were of vital historical significance. The Ryan report is of vital historical significance. I accept the Minister's point that the Ryan report goes into considerable depth and detail in what it describes of the horror and the historical position.

After the Ryan report and following a meeting of the then Taoiseach and the victims, as well as the Dáil motion, there was significant support for the retention of records. Everybody in the House agreed that the records should be retained, and nobody stated that the original position should have obtained. We will change that with the legislation, which is significant, and it should be acknowledged that this part of the Bill is not controversial and should be welcomed. It is a positive decision to retain records, as if we do nothing or the legislation stalls, these records will not become public at any point.

I have mentioned the historical silence and the blind eye that was given to these scandals, so it would run counter to everything we have learned to destroy those documents. It is vital that they be recognised as part of a history that some people may wish to forget; we should never forget it. The question then becomes how we can achieve this while respecting the wishes of those who shared their experiences in total confidence so we could learn the truth. We must put in place measures to ensure records of such importance are preserved, while simultaneously respecting the real stories and deeply personal testimonies of the individuals engaged with redress bodies. I have been informed that the documents contain a number of allegations and that if they were published prematurely, the allegations might not stand the test of court action. This is an avenue into which the Oireachtas should not lead the State. Reopening matters with the accidental release of unredacted or incorrectly redacted information would be a grave disservice to all those who gave their time to this report and investigation. Furthermore, in situations where survivors who participated in these investigations do not wish to disclose their personal experiences, we must respect and protect their wishes.

I see some merit in the suggestion from certain campaigners that the records should be released in anonymised form. I am willing to listen to the arguments for that, although I am also willing to listen to the counterarguments that the Minister might address if he is not willing to agree to that suggestion. If I were making the decision, the first consideration would be the cost. I presume any amendment put down in this respect would be ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle because it would be a substantial cost to the Exchequer. I wonder who would do the job in a confidential way, as it would be an absolutely massive undertaking. Fianna Fáil is willing to listen to the arguments on this but my initial instincts are not supportive. Nevertheless, we can work collaboratively to get the right result in the end, or at least the best possible compromise. Essentially, we are compromising on the legal advice. The more information the Minister can give on that legal advice relating to the 75-year period, the more helpful it would be for the debate. I know that, as a matter of course, the Government does not issue the advice of the Attorney General. However, it would be extremely helpful for the Minister to go into as much detail as possible in that regard, either in his reply or on Committee Stage.

The Department of Education and Skills has apparently raised concerns about the security of information if such a project of anonymisation was implemented and I share such concerns. I also accept the point that the Ryan report goes a considerable distance in covering this matter, although it is not by itself the full record of the evidence taken in the process. The Department has also raised concerns about the scale of the project and mistakes that could be made in the 2 million sealed records. This is very understandable but, again, I am perfectly willing to listen to counterarguments, particularly on Committee Stage.

The Minister has explained to us that the proposed 75-year limit is aimed at achieving the retention of these records and the protection of those who gave testimony, essentially ensuring that those involved will have passed away when the information is released. The length of time in this legislation in no way diminishes the findings or the work of the commission, the residential institutions redress board and the review committee. I pay tribute to those involved in that difficult work. I will approach the legislation by understanding that this is an issue of compromise and everybody in this House wants to do right by the victims. I would certainly be extremely cognisant of any legal advice that the Government has described in good faith for the 75-year period. I know from various interactions that there are different views on this. Some people representing victims can see the point while others totally disagree with it.

We have already started the debate. We will have a much more detailed debate on Committee Stage. I look forward to that. We will engage in the process in as constructive a fashion as is possible, with the needs of victims and history in our mind. History has an awful habit of repeating itself. We may all be horrified by child sexual abuse in this country but more people seem to pay no regard to what happened in Nazi Germany, for example. Those lessons of history about that particular evil should be remembered and the lessons of history in this country about child sexual abuse should always be remembered.

There are so many competing reasons for the debate that will take place in respect of this Bill but first and foremost, it must be about the victims of this terrible abuse and ensuring it never happens again.

6:35 pm

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. When debating it this evening, we need to be mindful that what we are discussing are the records of people's lives. They are the records of hurt, abuse, violence, marginalisation and fear. We need to be very careful about making decisions without adequate outreach to the survivors of abuse, their families and the advocacy groups that speak on their behalf.

We obviously have concerns that without new legislation, the records will be disposed of with the dissolution of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee. However, at the same time, to seal and withhold these records from public access for a period of 75 years raises question marks. It seems an unreasonable period of time preventing any access. I also worry about the reference in the Bill deeming the records to be the records or possession of the Department of Education and Skills and the proposal to transfer those records to the National Archives. These records are the horrific lived experiences of the residents in all these institutions who suffered at the hands of this State. They belong to the survivors and families and nobody else. We must never forget what went on in these institutions or white wash them from our memory or that of future generations. It is part of the past and we must acknowledge and face that. We must remember that generation after generation will remember the pain and suffering caused at the hands of church and State. Are we not doing this by locking these testimonies away for 75 years? Are we nearly repeating the negative history all these people suffered? We have had redress and the various schemes and apologies. Are we now saying to these people that these records will be sealed for 75 years? I know nobody wants the records to be destroyed. That is fairly obvious but there must be some happy medium or way of meeting in the middle. I know the Minister said there are mixed views or stories but I would say that the majority of survivors or certainly those from whom we have heard are very concerned about this and concerned that they are being failed again at the hands of the State. They were obviously failed in the worst way possible but here we are in the same boat. Some common sense must be applied here. We need consultation with the survivors' groups and families and to look at whether there is some way of meeting in the middle. A period of 75 years seems extremely excessive. We do not want to cause even more hurt and add even more insult to injury to people who have already suffered so horrifically. We will have more discussion on Committee Stage. I welcome that but we need to look seriously at this to see if there is some way that we can avoid leaving it for a full 75 years.

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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I want to express my very serious concern over this proposal to seal the records from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse for 75 years. The Ryan report very clearly called for this valuable information to be preserved and not destroyed and that is correct. On the back of that, there should have been widespread consultation with survivors and their families to reach some sort of consensus as to the future of these files. As far as I can see, that did not happen and instead we are told that the Government is going to seal this material in the National Archives until almost 2095 thereby making it inaccessible for future generations.

There is clearly an option that would involve either redacting or anonymising these files so that no individual can be identified. How did the Government explore this? I do not buy the excuse we saw reported recently in the media where the Department of Education and Skills claimed that anonymising these files would rob them of their historical significance. The files would not be permanently altered. Anonymised versions can be released and the full files released at a later date. I do not see how releasing anonymised versions of the files could in any way undermine the right to privacy and confidentiality of those who engaged with the commission or the redress board. I saw one survivor quoted in the media as describing the sealing of these files as another cover-up. This person says she is aware of some survivors who want their files released after their deaths so that their families know what they went through. She also notes that some survivors may have a very different view but they should at least have been asked.

I agree with the Minister when he says it is essential to ensure that we never forget the abuse that was perpetrated against innocent children and that future generations can be made aware of and understand what took place but I fail to see how completely sealing these documents for the rest of the century and even after that and only making them available for scrutiny under very strict conditions in any way achieves that. I appeal to the Minister to talk to survivors and their families and to have consultations about this.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I did not intend speaking on this but following communication from survivors, I wanted to put my own view on record. The Minister acknowledged that 75 years is a lengthy period of time. It is a long time. We have collectively acknowledged that those records should not be destroyed. There is agreement on that. I note the previous suggestion of colleagues that we should try to move towards some form of consensus because I think that might be possible. In the period between now and Committee Stage, the wise thing to do might be to engage with survivors' groups because the survivors are concerned that this is an attempt by the State to cover up. We should bear in mind that these people bear the scars of repeated cover-ups by the State and those who ran the institutions in which these people lived. These people lack trust and for good reason. This is nothing to do with any individual in this House. History shows these people that where it is possible to cover up, a cover-up can and will happen. We must remember that what is contained in these records are deeply personal stories of hurt, abuse and people who were treated horrendously at the hands of the men and women running these institutions. While they may not be able to talk to their families about it while they are alive, they want their stories be available so that their families can understand what they went through. There is a value in us having those stories to refer to. It is really important that we never forget what happened and that those records would be available in a format that is sensitive to the needs to the survivors, be it in an anonymised or redacted format however that can be achieved.

The Sinn Féin position is clear. We will not oppose this legislation going on to Committee Stage but it is our intention to table amendments and to engage on Committee Stage. I urge the Minister to engage with the survivors' groups in the intervening period between now and Committee Stage. I understand the Department does this in any event. I also urge the Minister to examine what can be done. He has heard the concerns of the people here this evening. I ask him to examine what can be done for the survivors. Some of them have taken to the media but the vast majority could never do this. They are at home, they are worried and they believe they will be white washed out of history again. That is a genuine concern so I urge the Minister to use the time between now and Committee Stage to engage with survivors and look proactively at what options can be explored in terms of making this information available and ensuring people's stories are not hidden or covered up, which neither the Minister nor anyone here wants to do.

There must be a way to handle this sensitively. Not everyone will want his or her story to be available and I know there are challenges in anonymisation because even with an anonymous account it might still be possible to identify the person. There are mixed views, as the Minister himself said, but 75 years is a very long time for this to take.

As I said, Sinn Féin will not oppose the legislation proceeding to Committee Stage, but we are hopeful that when it gets to Committee Stage the Minister will have had an opportunity to engage with the survivors and to come back with proposals that sensitively and respectfully acknowledge what the survivors themselves want because they must be central to this process.

6:45 pm

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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In addressing Second Stage of the Bill, I wish to recall two women in particular who were to a large degree key people responsible for exposing what happened in Irish institutions. I am talking about Christine Buckley, who was in the Goldenbridge orphanage along with many other girls. Anyone who knows the history of Goldenbridge knows that the children there were treated horrifically. There was an ordinary day school beside it, and it is still there. It is a very good school and is beside St. Michael's Estate in Goldenbridge. In fact, one of the founders of Fine Gael is buried in the graveyard adjacent. The second person I wish to mention is Mary Raftery, a very fine RTÉ journalist who died far too young, as Christine Buckley did, and who played a key role in the production of the RTÉ documentary series "States of Fear". A number of other people wrote books about this.

In Dublin, when I was a small child and until about 20 or 30 years ago, if a little girl was bold she was warned she could end up in Goldenbridge, and if a boy misbehaved he was told he might go to Artane. I think there are other Deputies here who know about this. I recall that when I was first elected to the Dáil some years afterwards, the question of what had been happening in these institutions became a public affair. In the case of boys, the stories about Artane and the boys' band started to tumble out. Of course, people took great pride in the band every all-Ireland final day. There was the question of what happened in places such as Daingean and in Letterfrack. All these institutions and many others besides were bywords for appalling savagery to children. The children were beaten and starved. Then, to add to all that, the revelations of sexual abuse gradually came out. This is the background to the Bill.

When I was in government, I recall advising the then Taoiseach that in no circumstances should the records be destroyed, that they are the lived history of all the people who lived in the institutions. I therefore welcome the Bill. At that point, however, the key was to ensure that the records were saved because, frankly, many people, for reasons of defence of the institutions involved in the abuse, wanted the records of what had happened and the evidence that had been given destroyed. I therefore welcome the fact that the Minister and his Government have agreed to hold onto the records, but 75 years is too long. It is so important that the stories and the information we know are passed on to our children and grandchildren in order that never again as a country will we live through this abuse and never in any of our names will it happen again. I remember being amazed when all this information came out in the Dáil that so many Members had simply never heard of the institutions. They did not know. I suppose they came from nice middle-class families. The only institution middle-class people might have been put into was a psychiatric hospital. Enough people were put into those as well. We as a State institutionalised people. The records are incredibly important as a testimony of the things that went wrong in Ireland as well as the many wonderful things and wonderful people.

I really hope the religious orders are not acting as some kind of mental block on this information being revealed because, of course, not all the nuns and priests were abusers. Many of them actually helped and looked after children and probably saved their lives. However, there were many who beat, starved, disrespected and abused the children. There are two sides of this story and we need to remember that. It is not pleasant going back into it. Many of the people who were personally affected are now much older and passing on, but from one and all I have heard, "Please ensure that the records are not destroyed."

I remember when the commission was set up. It was a horrendous experience for many of the people who went to it in its first few years, particularly many of the men because they genuinely had never told anyone. I think the women may have shared their experiences in the institutions a little more than the men did. Of course, many of the boys who were in institutions, particularly if they were musical, found careers in the Army. Many of the people who have served with such distinction in our Defence Forces got into the Defence Forces having left one of the institutions. This is therefore a very complex history.

Part of this opened up when children came back from America as young adults in the 1990s looking for their information because they had been adopted from Ireland and taken to America, and we now know an awful lot more about that. They came to the Department of Foreign Affairs. I was Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development at the time and Dick Spring was both Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Essentially, with the help particularly of the civil servants in the Department, but also of the people in the National Archives such as Ms Catriona Crowe, those records were saved. They could have been put in a skip and just lost. Those people in many cases therefore got access to their records. We know from the story of Philomena and her son how difficult a process this was.

We are living in a different era now, and the Minister is right to be cautious because these are people's very personal data. I honestly put it to the Minister, however, that the period of 75 years is excessive and uncalled for. The National Archives provide for a period of 30 years. Personally, I would go for a period of 25 years. I also believe that an anonymised project could be done. I heard Deputy Thomas Byrne, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, say he was very worried about the potential cost of this. Fianna Fáil - Bertie Ahern and Michael Woods - did a deal with the religious orders. How much did that cost us and how does that cost compare with the cost of looking at the records and making them anonymous but making the stories available?

The Minister referred to that matter and it is mentioned in summaries of the Bill. In the early years of the previous Government there was a proposal to have a memorial to people who lived this experience and to the survivors. That recommendation was not accepted. Other recommendations, however, have come from all over the country suggesting there should be memorials and a museum. People could go there to grasp the experience, just as they can go to a museum to experience what it was like living in a Dublin tenement or, indeed, being Jewish in Berlin.

We need somewhere like that. There are already a number of locations in Ireland and in Dublin. I refer to former laundries in the centre of the city which could be utilised to tell the story of what happened to people. I support the Bill, as do others. On Committee Stage, however, I will move to have the period these records are sealed reduced. I understand others will do the same. The Minister should be guided on this by the people who are alive and who lived in these institutions. He should also be guided by the many people who wrote about their experience in the institutions. All the people I have met want the story told so we as a people will never be tempted to be involved in something similar again.

We do of course have our own dilemmas regarding children, not least homelessness. We are not stating this generation is fantastic. We are struggling to get things right and we can acknowledge people then may have struggled as well. What happened to people, however, was dreadful. It left long shadows and deep scars. The commission eventually began to work in a much better and more respectful way in dealing with the people who gave evidence. Later commissions of inquiry have shown much more respect to people recounting what happened to them.

I welcome this Bill and the Labour Party will support it. We will, however, also seek to have the period the records are sealed reduced. We will do that in a spirit of listening to the survivors and what they want. They want the records kept and we all agree with that. It is good that is secured. The survivors also want a memorial to what happened and we can discuss further how that might be done properly. In addition, they want this material made available in an appropriate and much shorter timeframe. They do not want it made available in 75 years. Catriona Crowe has suggested the material could be made available on an anonymised basis. I would be perfectly happy with that.

I do not think the cost can be anything close to that of the redress scheme. I refer to the deal struck by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the late Minister and Deputy, Dr. Michael Woods, of Fianna Fáil in the dying days of one Government and the start of another. We could move to have proper respectful remembrance and memorials similar to those commemorating dreadful events in other parts of the world. Children and visitors could learn and hear the story of what happened. We have since heard more stories, such as those from Tuam and the homes in Cork and Roscrea. I refer also to what has been happening more recently with St. Patrick's Guild, which involved tens of thousands of children being adopted. This Government, unfortunately, has still not been able to provide adopted people with access to their records. That is another issue that needs to be addressed. I am glad this Bill has been published. We will support it but we would like the Minister seriously to consider changes.

6:55 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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The preservation of the records of the three inquiries would be welcomed by everybody. It is probably overdue in many ways. The fact that positive act, and the legislation being proposed to do that, would also contain within it one of the more regressive, unhelpful and draconian elements of legislation is appalling. It strikes a chilling tone. This is being enforced in respect of citizens who have already been violated by this State. I find that utterly shocking. I realise this legislation is being pushed because of the lack of other legislation before the House due to uncertainty with Brexit. It is completely unhelpful that this is being rushed because of that vacuum.

The first thing to state is that the sealing of records or archives for 75 years is unprecedented, unnecessary and extreme. I will oppose this tooth and nail. I am shocked by it. The Minister needs to clarify what records we are talking about and why. We have heard allusion to sensitivity regarding survivors etc. Many administrative records are also included, however. They are not testimony but they will help us understand how the commission operated. If those records are buried, that will fulfil the worst expectations people have regarding a cover-up.

The National Archive Act 1986 provides for officers of Government Departments, with the consent of the Department of the Taoiseach, to certify that the release of departmental records which are more than 30 years old in some circumstances:

(a) would be contrary to the public interest, or

(b) would or might constitute a breach of statutory duty, or a breach of good faith on the ground that they contain information supplied in confidence, or

(c) would or might cause distress or danger to living persons...

That clause already exists and it is adequate to protect any information or any person in need of protecting. The excuse, therefore, of why we need this gagging order inserted does not hold water. The sensitivity and interests of the people who might be damaged regarding information they gave in confidence is already protected under the legislation to which I referred. Why, therefore, are we doing this? What is being gagged? We do not know the wishes of the people who gave the testimonies. We know some are deeply distraught at even the mention of this legislation. Can the Minister state what percentage of the people who gave evidence before the commissions wanted the records sealed for 75 years? Were the survivors consulted about this proposal? Were alternatives considered and given? How many people were asked or given options about how to preserve their records? Do they have a copy of their own testimonies?

We know people who gave testimony to the mother and baby homes commission have not been given a copy of their own testimony. I do not think that is adequate or fair. The former head of the National Archives, Catriona Crowe, has already been quoted here. That is appropriate and not an accident. I am going to quote her again because she is the foremost authority on archives in this State. Archives are the public's information and part of our history. Ms Crowe recently stated there was no clear reason why people should be denied access to copies of their own information. Such access would be entirely in keeping with modern data requests.

Ms Crowe gave the example of the Military Pensions Act 1924, and related Acts, that required applicants to submit detailed information on military actions in which they were involved from 1916 to 1923. A copy was given to the applicant in every single one of those cases. Why are the survivors of abuse not given the same respect? The survivors themselves have asked that question. The files created under the Military Pensions Act dealt with serious conflicts, including the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Those conflicts involved many sensitive issues but they were not subject to a gagging clause. There was no problem with them at all.

Even after the controversy around the Boston tapes, nobody mentioned imposing a 75-year rule. In those examples nobody saw fit to have a 75-year rule, yet there is to be a different set of criteria for the victims of industrial abuse. This is the story of those people's lives. They have been treated differently and disrespected all of their lives and the same will apply to their records after their deaths. It is the final insult for so many people.

Catriona Crowe raises very important questions about the legality, or lack of legality, of the proposals because the legislation will, in effect, disable parts of the National Archives Act 1986 and place records beyond the Freedom of Information Act 2014. This is a step which will weaken citizens' rights to access vital information about themselves and which, in the era of the GDPR, is potentially illegal. As other Deputies have said, this clause will obviously have an incredibly negative effect on public discourse and will reinforce a culture of silence and shame with regard to issues of child and sexual abuse. It cuts across educational and cultural awareness of these issues. In that sense, it is incredibly regressive and unbelievably disproportionate. I cannot see any logic in it whatever.

It is ironic that this Bill is being dealt with shortly after the UN special rapporteur on child and sexual abuse made statements in which she singled out the damage that can be caused by the culture of silence. We are perpetuating this culture in this Bill because one of our last dirty little secrets will be locked up for 75 years.

Let us consider the reasons we keep archives and why they are so important. In the first instance, we keep archives to ensure that our knowledge of the past and of human social life in all its varieties - good and bad - remains available for the future. It is very important that records are preserved and we welcome that part of the Bill. However, withholding them for 75 years instead of the standard period is not justified given that, as other Deputies noted, records can be anonymised and sensitive material redacted. Furthermore, the legislation also provides a safety valve, as I mentioned.

The 30-year rule is now considered too stringent. The United Kingdom has passed legislation to transition to a 20-year rule by 2022. It is absolutely inevitable, with or without Brexit, that Ireland will follow suit with regard to that clause. We have to do so in the interests of academia and scholarly access to information. Ireland will follow and have a 20-year rule because researchers and students need to have archival access at the same time. Otherwise, there will be an imbalance and a bias in historical research that will not be helpful for humanity across Europe. It is inevitable that the 30-year period will change. Despite the move towards a 20-year rule, we are adopting a 75-year rule for this special situation. We should not engage in limiting our understanding of history or our research options. We should be trying to manage our archival resources in a thoughtful manner on a par with our European neighbours, rather than resorting to excessive gagging legislation which will hinder future research.

To hold back particular records for a much longer period than is the norm sets a very worrying precedent and arouses justifiable suspicion. Many of the survivor groups already feel there has been an incredibly inappropriate delay in dealing with the conditions their members experienced and addressing the criminal activity that took place in the institutions. Those conditions and that activity were ignored and covered up and these people had no recourse to the justice system for most of their lives.

In the UK, an escape clause is used to block the release of archives after 30 years. Where do these exceptions normally apply? In Britain, they are applied to files relating to matters such as the Westland affair, the Gibraltar killings and the Falklands War. In other words, they are applied to files relating to incredibly controversial events. Most of us believe that these files are being gagged beyond 30 years because the British State has something to hide in respect of these matters. That is the reason. Does the same reason apply in this case? Is that why we are doing this? It looks very much like that is the case because there is no other logical explanation for this approach. Survivors see it as a cover-up. The only precedent relates to extremely controversial international events in respect of which the State has something to hide. There in no other precedent. Unless the Minister can give me a good reason not to do so, I will strenuously oppose the Bill. This is not just important for the victims but also for history and future generations.

The Cambridge historian, Richard J. Evans, who is coincidentally speaking in Trinity College this evening, was a key expert witness against the racist anti-Semite and falsifier of history, David Irving, in an historic trial in April 2000. Irving falsified the history of the Second World War in many of his books in order to deny the Holocaust. Evans testified against him as an expert and his expert witness testimony systemically traced the false footnotes and misleading references cited by Irving to their archival sources. Through that process, he was able to discredit Irving's false history of the Second World War. It was an incredibly important case and a lesson for all of us. If those resources and archives had been gagged or buried, it would have allowed charlatans or racists like David Irving to present their warped view of history unchallenged. Historical scholarship has to have the ability to reach reasoned conclusions on the basis of careful examination of written evidence. That is all we are asking for. We cannot engage in obstruction of the historical record, which is what this looks like. We need to have the capacity to know what happened to all of these people when they are no longer around to tell us themselves. That is absolutely vital. To impose any special clause on that is to do them, their families and their testimonies an enormous disservice. I am very unhappy about this.

There is a certain irony in discussing this legislation in the era of fake news and the rise of the far right. Accuracy and truth are hugely important. Burying the truth causes major problems. It is something that we, as a society, cannot afford to do. As we have done here many times before, I salute the efforts of the victims and those who had the courage to speak up, speak out and come forward to testify against the perpetrators of violence and sexual abuse. Many of those perpetrators remain unaccountable for the heinous crimes they committed. To call for an exceptional seal on those records for 75 years creates the impression that something is being hidden. It is a case of shame and stigma all over again and it is not helpful for healing. Critically, it has no basis in Irish archival law.

I indicated earlier that in her report to the Human Rights Council last month, the UN special rapporteur heavily criticised Ireland for what she described as a culture of silence around issues of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation. She had not even seen this legislation. Wait until she does because she will add to her report. She also highlighted the reason she singled this issue out as a cause for concern. She said that historical precedents impact on the situation today. That is absolutely the case. If we do not learn lessons from the past, we cannot move forward into the future. We know the State's response to the legacy of sexual abuse, incarceration, forced adoption and mother and baby homes has been a disappointment to the survivors. Instead of support, redress, and access to justice, the State has engaged in denial, delay, gagging survivors and limiting the scope of investigations. It has left people behind in respect of Bethany Home and the Magdalen laundries and has given indemnity to many perpetrators, including St. Patrick's Guild and the like. It has let religious orders off the hook for the financial bill and traumatised many of the victims all over again through the establishment and mismanagement of Caranua. This is part of that process.

It did not have to be this way. That is what really sickens me. Other countries in which similar abuses took place, including Canada, the UK and Australia, did not deal with the issue in the way in which we are dealing with it - or not dealing with it as the case may be. They moved faster and were more compassionate. They issued apologies and dealt with redress. They accepted the state's role in the abuses, held their hands up and allowed people to move on. In this country, the permanent government has decided to dig in, protect the State at all costs and, I suspect, protect some of the religious orders as well. This Bill is another part of that process.

The sealing of records has already taken place in terms of, for example, adoption records. It helps no one and causes a lifetime of grief. We cannot have that.

The Government is being disingenuous about the sensitivity of the files. I do not mean the Minister personally, but that is the only conclusion I can draw from the legislation before us and the fact that the State has never acted in the interests of survivors of abuse or their families. We have seen that time and again in the form of the Magdalen redress scheme, Caranua, Bethany Home, illegal adoptions and so on. The State's approach in the first instance is to protect itself, not the survivors. That is the hallmark of every option it takes. It should be the victims who make the call to draw a line under something, not the State.

Catriona Crowe has done a great deal to highlight some of the institutional abuses that took place. Her curiosity was raised when she found files that originated in another jurisdiction. That led to her taking a closer look and discovering 1,500 documents relating to the illegal adoption of children to the United States. Apart from the heartbreak of the families involved, the startling aspect of her uncovering of those historical records was the fact that the State, through officials in the then Department of External Affairs, had facilitated the illegal export of children. It is no wonder that people are suspicious of the Government's intentions in sealing records, but the truth will out no matter how great the attempt to bury it, which is what this Bill is doing.

I will quote Catriona Crowe's remarks on this legislation in the Irish Examinerlast week:

The existing provisions of the National Archives Act are more than adequate to cover access to these records ...

These records are vital for an understanding of the policies and operations of the commission, and there is no reason at all why they should be closed for 75 years.

We should all remember that survivors should be the primary consideration with regard to these records.

They were brave enough to give testimonies about their shocking treatment to the commission, and the emphasis now should be on establishing what they want, and as far as practicably possible, meeting their wishes.

I have not met a survivor of these institutions who wants this legislation. Survivors want the truth to come out, justice, a full acknowledgement, an apology and redress. They do not want a continuation of the culture of silence that led to them being incarcerated in these institutions for so long and to so many people not being called to account for what happened. I hope that we will see sense and, while preserving these documents, ensure that they are subject to the normal protections that exist as opposed to this special gagging clause.

7:15 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I appreciate their tone as well. We are all very aware of the sensitivity around this matter. I am also conscious of the legal responsibilities. I have listened to individual contributions tonight, as I want to get this right for the people who have suffered and endured lives that, in many cases, are difficult to imagine. Collectively, the House has that responsibility and duty.

I will reiterate the competing imperatives in this legislation. There is a legal onus, a legal interpretation and issues of confidentiality. Many of the witnesses' contributions were given in confidence. This is one of the competing imperatives for me. The records contain findings of fault against individuals. Due to the assurances of confidentiality, those allegations were not tested in the way they would have been in a court of law. This is why there are serious concerns about the right to privacy, the right to a good name and legitimate expectations of confidentiality. As a result, the legal advice is that early release of the records could be open to legal challenge from survivors and alleged perpetrators of abuse. That is one argument. Other arguments have been put relating to, for example, the period of time being too long, but there are competing parts. For example, people have given information and testimony. There are parents who have not informed their children about what happened but who, due to the structure of confidentiality, were comfortable and prepared to give this information. I am very conscious of that aspect. The lengthy period is to minimise the possibility of traumatising individuals who might be traumatised by the release of their records, for example, parents who never told their children about their experiences and people who had to go into detail about the abuse they suffered.

I re-emphasise the importance of the Ryan report and memorialisation, matters that were raised by a number of Deputies. The report is a very revealing history of institutional abuse and contains many stories of abuse - not just sexual abuse, but abuse in its many forms. We must ensure that there is a continued awareness of the report, its contents and its findings. I am anxious to consider further how best to achieve the memorialisation of the entire institutional experience.

Regarding anonymisation, these records are fundamentally personal ones and, as such, the removal of all personal information would rob them of their true meaning. The possibility of error is real and the accidental release of information could cause real trauma again.

Issues with the consultation were raised. Copies of the Bill were sent to groups. At all times, officials and I were available to engage. Officials are happy to meet survivors of abuse at any time, even between now and Committee Stage. I take on board Deputy O'Reilly's comments about achieving consensus. We have to try to work hard on achieving consensus. These people have had to endure such suffering down the years and I do not want to add to that trauma through the words that we use in this House. I am conscious of my own words.

The Bill has been flagged for a number of years. There was pre-legislative scrutiny of it in 2015. Survivors provided their comments to the committee. It was a mixed response.

In many respects, Ireland is further advanced in terms of investigating child abuse and related redress schemes. Therefore, there is limited international experience on which to draw. Deputy Clare Daly stated that the period was "unprecedented". She referred to Australia. Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recently completed its work. It appears that its records will in due course be transferred into the custody of the National Archives of Australia and will not be open for access for 99 years. Regarding the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, a restriction order was made prohibiting access to the inquiry's records for a period of 100 years, with some limited exceptions. I sat down with my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. She had difficulty with the period of 75 years as a continuum. As such, she suggested a review after 25 years. I will be happy on Committee Stage to build that review period into the legislation. Whoever is in government in 25 years' time will have a decision to make.

The Government of the day may decide to look at this in a different way. That review at 25 years is being built in as a response to the 75 years in the legislation and it does exactly what it says on the tin. It not only feels like a long time, it is a long time and does give the appearance - the optics - that there is something to hide here. There is nothing to hide. We, as a country, over the past 15 or 20 years have started to open our dark past and we must continue to talk about and articulate that. We must ensure the next generation knows about our dark past.

It is regrettable that child abuse may occur in a variety of situations and, notwithstanding the demise of the industrial schools and reformatories, it is vital that we have a strong and robust child protection system in place. Deputy Burton made the point that we cannot sit back on our laurels and think it is okay today, it was bad in the past and it will be okay tomorrow. That is not the case. There are 3,700 children in emergency accommodation. We still grapple with these issues today in a way that leaders grappled with issues in the past through their different constraints.

The child protection guidelines which were first introduced in 1991-92 have been progressively strengthened, specifically in relation to child protection arrangements in schools. The Department of Education and Skills issued guidelines to schools in three phases - 1991-92, 2001-04 and again in 2011. The Department's procedures for responding to child protection concerns that are brought to the attention of staff employed by the Department were updated in February 2016, having been first issued in 1995 and revised in 2007. Garda vetting is now on a statutory basis with the commencement of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 and the application for the new vetting procedures in the educational sector has been expressly provided for in the Teaching Council Acts. The Children First Act 2015 was signed into law on 19 November 2015. All remaining provisions of the Children First Act commenced on 11 December 2017.

As part of my Department's ongoing work to improve child protection measures across the education sector, the inspectorate introduced child protection and safeguarding inspections in February 2019 as a new form of specialised child protection inspection. The child protection and safeguarding inspections enable the inspectorate to promote best practice in the implementation of child protection arrangements in schools, monitor the implementation of the child protection procedures for primary and post-primary schools 2017 in a sample of primary and post-primary schools annually and publish written reports on the implementation of child protection procedures for primary and post-primary schools 2017 in the sample of schools inspected.

The story of our residential institutions and the abuse which took place within them is a vitally important part of the history of our nation. This story has been captured in the Ryan report which will stand as a testament to that abuse and the suffering that children endured. I re-emphasise that Mr. Justice Sean Ryan did not call for the records to be released. It is critical that as much of that history as possible is preserved intact. In line with the spirit of the previous motion of Dáil Éireann, this requires that the records of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board and its confidential committee be retained and not destroyed, as originally envisaged. At the same time, it is incumbent on us to have due regard to the highly sensitive and personal nature of these records and the consequent risks and impacts which would be incurred and felt if they were released in the short term. As I have said, the Retention of Records Bill strikes a carefully considered balance between these competing imperatives and I commend it to the House.

The House must get this right. It does a further injustice if it does not. If there is something that I or the officials are missing, we are open to it. Deputy Thomas Byrne set the tone tonight by saying that if there are things we can do here to do justice to the people who were served a grave injustice, we must be big, brave and open enough to do that. I am willing to do work that needs to be done between now and Committee Stage if there is something we can do. However, the competing parts here are very difficult. The built-in 25-year review takes away from the length of the 75 years and the optics that something might be hidden here. Nothing is being hidden. We need to fully embrace our past. People on all sides of this House, for example, are talking about reviewing history: this is part of our history and it is why it is so important to have this information and topic on the desks of our students for the next generation because I will not allow this to be swept under the carpet.

Question put and agreed to.