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'I feel like crying': Abuse survivors plead with committee to drop plans to seal their records

Survivors of institutional abuse spoke candidly about the impact of the bill on them.

The Bill propose to seal the files for 75 years.
The Bill propose to seal the files for 75 years.
Image: Shutterstock/NATALIA61

SURVIVORS OF STATE and church institutional abuse have told a committee that sealing their evidence for 75 years is wrong and is adding to their trauma.

The Education Committee discussed the Retention of Records Bill 2019 earlier this morning.

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 put into the National Archives and 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's] 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 we have to fight for what belongs to us? It’s so wrong.”

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.

Survivors of institutional abuse gathered following the meeting and spoke candidly of the impact they feel the bill and its implications will have for them. 

They say they want the records released immediately so that they can fully understand how they were treated and for their families to have access to them.

“I’m just gutted here. I feel like crying. I’m just gutted at what this Government is trying to do and get away with, and it’s wrong,” one survivor said. 

Another said: “I felt that we were abused as kids and we’re getting abused again by the politicians. To come in and do this feels like abuse all over.”

The government to date has insisted that many of the survivors who came forward during the Ryan Commission, the Residential Institutions Redress Board, and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee, did so on the basis that the files would never be released. 

Carmel McDonnell Byrne, who was held in Dublin’s Goldenbridge Industrial School between 1965 and 1972, told the committee this morning that survivors did not agree to their records being sealed when they participated in the Commission or applied to the RIRB.

“It is from my experience and contact with survivors that the bill is likely to cause practical, emotional and psychological problems for survivors…” she said.

“Further investigations were and are necessary. This Bill will not allow such investigations to take place.”

McDonnell Byrne, who co-founded the Christine Buckley Centre to provide education and support to those who suffered from abuse, also said that survivors deserve a right to copies of their testimony if they want it.

She suggested the records should be kept in a museum alongside items from industrial schools, such as pliers used for making rosary beads and samples of clothing.

With reporting from PA

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