A dangerous and unnecessary precedent
This is how Caitriona Crowe, former head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland greeted a new government bill, the Retention of Records Bill 2019, which will bury the records relating to the recent commission into child abuse and neglect at various religious run institutions for seventy-five years.
There are millions of records and the National Archives have advised the department that there is no need for special legislation to allow them to be archived under the 1986 National Archives Act. The department has gone ahead anyway.
And the question has to be why?
The big difference between bringing the documents into the state archives under the 1986 legislation and that of the proposed bill is in the number of years that the public must wait to view them. Without the new bill, these records can be viewed after thirty years.
We believe even thirty years is too long to wait for scrutiny of the evidence gathered by the Commission, the Redress Board and the Review Committee.
The state’s defence, as articulated by Aongus Ó hAonghusa, a senior civil servant, is that sealing the records for seventy-five years would avoid the risk of legal challenge. In response, Councillor John Lyons said:
Instead of running scared of legal action by the church, we should tell them, “bring it on”. Instead of hiding details in the shadows for seventy-five or even thirty years, we should allow the public access to these documents.
Any legal case arising from this material will only serve to highlight just how awful was the practice of these institutions.