The 2020 Irish general election took place on Saturday 8 February, to elect the 33rd Dáil Éireann, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament. LLM researchers in the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway emailed all the elected candidates to ask if they would support the establishment of a National Archive of Historical Institutional and Care-Related Records. Prior to the election, all candidates were sent a similar message.
Elected candidates recieved the following email on March 3, 2020:
Congratulations on your success in the election.
We are members of the Human Rights Law Clinic at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway. We are conducting research and activism regarding Ireland’s history of institutional abuse, and the continuing human rights violations caused by the State and Church’s refusal to provide all available information to those affected.
You may have received a similar email to this sent before the election.
We are writing to you once more, following your successful election, to ask:
Will you support the establishment of a National Archive of Historical Institutional and Care-Related Records if you are elected?
We will be publishing candidates’ responses to this question online as we receive them, using the hashtag #Stand4Truth.
In the statement issued this past January by a coalition of 72 survivors, academics and practitioners, you will see the many reasons why this national archive is urgent and essential.
The archive could provide at a minimum:
- Access to full personal files by institutional abuse survivors and those affected by adoption, including women whose children were unlawfully taken from them;
- Access by family members of those who died while in custody or care to information about their relative’s fate and whereabouts;
- An opportunity for survivors and others to deposit testimony and other information for public access now or in the future;
- Public access to the administrative records of the systems of institutionalisation and adoption in 20th century Ireland, whether currently held by private or State bodies; and
- The extra staffing, training and records management infrastructure (physical and digital) required at the National Archives or appointed body in order to achieve the above.
You may have read recently in the news that Dublin City Council has agreed a new plan for the Sean McDermott Street site, to include education, housing and a substantial memorial to all those who have experienced institutional abuse in Ireland.
We believe that a National Archive as outlined above could form an extremely valuable part of a living memorial, being a place which helps survivors and others affected to obtain information about their own lives, and also a place which ensures the public is educated so as to prevent similar abuses in future. We do not propose that survivors should be forced to contribute information to this archive; rather they should be invited, if they wish, to contribute their testimony or records to the national historical record.
Please let us know at your earliest convenience whether you will work to ensure that a National Archive of Historical Institutional and Care-related Records is established. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.
Rebecca Naous, Cecile Harrault, Kelly Ledoux, Sarah Alerr
NUI Galway – Irish Centre for Human Rights
LLM Candidates International Human Rights Law
Thus far, sixteen of the elected candidates have responded in support of this effort:
|Elected Candidate:||Party Affiliation:||District:||Response:|
|Cathal Crowe||Fianna Fáil||Clare||“I would be happy to fight for this if elected to Dáil Éireann.”|
|Darren O’Rourke||Sinn Féin||Meath East||“Well done on your efforts. I will be very happy to support you in any way I can if I am elected.”|
|Malcolm Noonan||Green Party||Carlow-Kilkenny||“Yes the Green Party will support the National Archive; we believe it to be vital towards achieving justice and establishing the truth in these matters.”|
|Pearse Doherty||Sinn Féin||Donegal||” Sinn Féín supports this.”|
|Gerald Nash||Labour Party||Louth||“Firstly, can I commend yourself and your colleagues on this excellent initiative. I would be more than happy to support this proposal.|
If elected, can I ask that you contact my office again so that we can discuss how myself and my colleagues can further this matter.”
|Joe O’Brien||Green Party||Dublin Fingal||“Thank you very much for getting in touch about this. I’m very much in favour of the proposal to have National Archive of Historical Institutional and Care-Related Records, and I agree that it is of the utmost importance that survivors of institutional abuse should have access to their files.|
My colleague Deputy Catherine Martin, as a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Education, was present at the committee session which discussed the issues relating to the Retention of Records Bill, and was very moved by testimony of the survivors who presented to the committee. It was clear from that discussed that the legislation as it stood had issues that very much needed to be addressed before it could progress. I hope that the 33rd Dáil will be able to push for legislation that will strike the necessary balance to ensure that access to these records are made available to those who need them. I would be very happy to engage with Dr O’Rourke and the IHRC to achieve this.”
|Matt Carthy||Sinn Féin||Cavan-Monaghan||“Many thanks for your email in relation to the establishment of a National Archive of Historical Institutional and Care-Related Records.|
I fully support this endeavor and Sinn Féin will work to ensure its establishment.”
|Patrick Costello||Green Party||Dublin South Central||“The Green Party supports this pledge.”|
|Imelda Munster||Sinn Féin||Louth||“My party and I remain fully supportive of the establishment of a National Archive of Historical Institutional and Care-Related Records, and would be happy to support such an initiative in any way we can.”|
|Catherine Martin||Green Party||Dublin Rathdown||“Many thanks for your e-mail on this important issue.|
Catherine and the Green Party are happy to support the establishment of a National Archive of Historical, Institutional and Care-Related Records, on the Seán McDermott Street site.”
|Cian O’Callaghan||Social Democrat||Dublin Bay North||“Yes – I absolutely support this.”|
|Mary Lou McDonald||Sinn Féin||Dublin Central||“I thank you for contacting me about this very important issue. |
As you have stated, this legislation has been seen as somewhat controversial from when it was first mooted.
We do believe that the 75 years proposed was disproportionate and unnecessary, and would suppress information that was in the public interest for an extraordinary period of time.
As you may be aware the Bill was due to come before the Education Committee before Christmas but it was deferred with experts in the area presenting to the Committee instead.
This legislation will not pass in its current form, and there is a growing belief that it may not be required at all, so these documents would be subject to the legislation that it was initially attempting to bypass.
Sinn Féin believe that further discussion needs to be had and we will be opposing the progression of this bill until we feel that both experts and survivors are satisfied with how the government is proceeding.”
|Louise O’Reilly||Sinn Féin||Dublin Fingal||“Sinn Féin is opposed to the government’s Retention of Records (2019) Bill. |
The National Archives advised the government that the two redress agencies could be added to the schedule to the National Archives Act 1986 (Commissions of Inquiry are already covered by the act), making all of these records subject to the provisions of the act.
The National Archives Act has served our democracy well since it was enacted. Under resourcing of the National Archives has been a constant since the 1986 Act yet despite this the organisation has overseen an impressive system of modernisation.
We support the establishment of a National Archive of Historical Institutional and Care-Related Records, however, it is important to acknowledge that the National Archive has over three decades of experience so therefore should be the body with the statutory responsibility to preserve and manage these records.
We support the spirit of the provisions you have set out below, however, we would like the language to reflect the assurances survivors would require that their records, whilst personally available to them, will not be publicly available if they have given this instruction.
We look forward to future engagements with you on this important matter.”
|Holly Cairns||Social Democrat||Cork South West||“Thank you for the email and highlighting the issue. Once things return to a more normal footing, it would be great to explore how to make this possible.”|
|Gary Gannon||Social Democrat||Dublin Central|
Support by Party:
|Party:||Fianna Fáil||Sinn Féin||Fine Gael||Independent||Green Party||Labour Party||Social Democrats||Solidarity-People Before Profit||Total:|