The Retention of Records Bill 2015 will provide for the strict and confidential sealing of documents from the Commission into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Review Committee.
Tom Cronin of Irish Survivors of Institutional Abuse International said abuse survivors were “shocked and horrified” that the records would be sealed for so long.
“I can understand that these documents are sensitive and that they might need to be sealed for a period of years.
“But why seal them for 75 years? Why not seal them for five or 10 years? By the time they can be accessed again, everyone associated with this most shameful period of Irish history will be long dead. The whole thing won’t be anything more than a footnote in history by 2090,” he said.
Mr Cronin also expressed concern that, by sealing the documents, the Government may unwittingly frustrate any potential future legal action by abuse survivors.
“Who knows what new evidence or material might arise in the future? That new evidence might prove worthless because the vital supporting documentation will be locked away in a vault for 75 years.”
Ms O’Sullivan has defended the Government’s position, saying the records are “highly sensitive and contain the personal stories of victims of institutional child abuse”.
“I believe that it is important that these records are not destroyed, both to ensure that future generations will understand what happened and out of respect to the victims who came forward,” she said.
“By sealing the records for 75 years and ensuring appropriate safeguards on the release of the records thereafter, we are in a position to preserve these sensitive records.”
Maeve Lewis, director of charity One In Four, said the bill represented a difficult compromise between those who wanted the records kept as a vital part of Irish history and those who demanded all documentation be destroyed on confidentiality grounds.
“It is a compromise. Our position was that these records had to be preserved as a vital part of Irish history. In fact, we felt that the destruction of these documents would be a crime,” she said.
The Government plan is for all documents from the various abuse probes to be lodged with the National Archives.
COMMISSION INTO CHILD ABUSE
Sometimes known as the Ryan Report or the Laffoy Commission after the judges who headed the lengthy probe, the investigation ran for 10 years, from 1999 to 2009. It inquired into the abuse of children in a range of different Irish institutions.
It examined all forms of abuse dating from 1936 and amongst its most shocking findings was the treatment meted out to children in industrial schools operated by Church bodies with the support of the State.
These ranged from rapes, beatings and the starvation of children, to youngsters being hired out as cheap labour. The abuse was described as “endemic” and was said to be “the most shameful episode in the history of the Irish State”.
The Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) was set up in 2002 to compensate those who were abused as children in various State and Church institutions since 1936.
By the end of 2013, the RIRB had dealt with 16,620 applications for compensation. The total awards made amounted to €944.1m. The average award was €62,530.