Conall Ó Fáthara -  Irish Examiner

The Government must push the Catholic Church and religious orders to open their records to abuse survivors and academics.

Catriona Crowe, former head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland, said that it “should not be a matter of grace and favour” that survivors are granted full access to records, but a matter of right.

She said Ireland had seen unprecedented disclosures relating to treatment of vulnerable women and children across a unique archipelago of institutions — mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, industrial schools, and reformatories. She said the only way to achieve a complete picture of what happened is to have full access to their archives.

She said these institutions were run largely with the blessing of the State and, as a result, the State should now intervene.

“There should be very high-level talks between the Catholic Church and the State and the outcome of that should be that the Catholic Church would agree to put its records into an independent repository, including their parish records.”

Ms Crowe said some religious records were regarded as “a private fiefdom” by the Catholic Church, the dioceses, and religious orders.

“I have a proposal to make to the religious orders and the diocesan authorities that in lieu of part of their unpaid redress payment to the State, which still remains derelict in terms of what they should have paid, could they consider doing something that everyone would appreciate greatly, which is to bring their records together with the help of the State with proper and qualified people so that they can be accessed by survivors, scholars, and genealogists,” she said.

Regarding material relating to mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and industrial schools that is held by the State, she said while privacy issues were important, there should be no reason the administrative records cannot be opened to scholars and journalists.

“The way around this is to catalogue the records, digitise the stuff that relates to individuals if they want, anonymise the database, and open up all the rest of it to journalists and scholars and anyone who wants to see it.”

Ms Crowe said it was “utterly frustrating and completely wrong” that administrative records are restricted or refused under freedom of information due to data protection or privacy concerns.

“It’s a very handy thing to use if you want to keep records closed this is the way to do it. Good archivists and people who believe in access will find ways around if they can but that shouldn’t be the situation. It should not be there as a way to prevent material being made available.”

Regarding adoption records held by Tusla, Ms Crowe said this material needed to be digitised and centralised as a matter of urgency.