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 Header Item Retention of Records Bill 2019: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Retention of Records Bill 2019: Referral to Select Committee
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 981 No. 3

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  7 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh] The Government of the day may decide to look at this in a different way. That review at 25 years is being built in as a response to the 75 years in the legislation and it does exactly what it says on the tin. It not only feels like a long time, it is a long time and does give the appearance - the optics - that there is something to hide here. There is nothing to hide. We, as a country, over the past 15 or 20 years have started to open our dark past and we must continue to talk about and articulate that. We must ensure the next generation knows about our dark past.

It is regrettable that child abuse may occur in a variety of situations and, notwithstanding the demise of the industrial schools and reformatories, it is vital that we have a strong and robust child protection system in place. Deputy Burton made the point that we cannot sit back on our laurels and think it is okay today, it was bad in the past and it will be okay tomorrow. That is not the case. There are 3,700 children in emergency accommodation. We still grapple with these issues today in a way that leaders grappled with issues in the past through their different constraints.

The child protection guidelines which were first introduced in 1991-92 have been progressively strengthened, specifically in relation to child protection arrangements in schools. The Department of Education and Skills issued guidelines to schools in three phases - 1991-92, 2001-04 and again in 2011. The Department's procedures for responding to child protection concerns that are brought to the attention of staff employed by the Department were updated in February 2016, having been first issued in 1995 and revised in 2007. Garda vetting is now on a statutory basis with the commencement of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 and the application for the new vetting procedures in the educational sector has been expressly provided for in the Teaching Council Acts. The Children First Act 2015 was signed into law on 19 November 2015. All remaining provisions of the Children First Act commenced on 11 December 2017.

As part of my Department's ongoing work to improve child protection measures across the education sector, the inspectorate introduced child protection and safeguarding inspections in February 2019 as a new form of specialised child protection inspection. The child protection and safeguarding inspections enable the inspectorate to promote best practice in the implementation of child protection arrangements in schools, monitor the implementation of the child protection procedures for primary and post-primary schools 2017 in a sample of primary and post-primary schools annually and publish written reports on the implementation of child protection procedures for primary and post-primary schools 2017 in the sample of schools inspected.

The story of our residential institutions and the abuse which took place within them is a vitally important part of the history of our nation. This story has been captured in the Ryan report which will stand as a testament to that abuse and the suffering that children endured. I re-emphasise that Mr. Justice Sean Ryan did not call for the records to be released. It is critical that as much of that history as possible is preserved intact. In line with the spirit of the previous motion of Dáil Éireann, this requires that the records of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board and its confidential committee be retained and not destroyed, as originally envisaged. At the same time, it is incumbent on us to have due regard to the highly sensitive and personal nature of these records and the consequent risks and impacts which would be incurred and felt if they were released in the short term. As I have said, the Retention of Records Bill strikes a carefully considered balance between these competing imperatives and I commend it to the House.

The House must get this right. It does a further injustice if it does not. If there is something that I or the officials are missing, we are open to it. Deputy Thomas Byrne set the tone tonight by saying that if there are things we can do here to do justice to the people who were served a grave injustice, we must be big, brave and open enough to do that. I am willing to do work that needs to be done between now and Committee Stage if there is something we can do. However, the competing parts here are very difficult. The built-in 25-year review takes away from the length of the 75 years and the optics that something might be hidden here. Nothing is being hidden. We need to fully embrace our past. People on all sides of this House, for example, are talking about reviewing history. This is part of our history and it is why it is so important to have this information and topic on the desks of our students for the next generation because I will not allow this to be swept under the carpet.

  Question put and agreed to.

Retention of Records Bill 2019: Referral to Select Committee

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I move:

  That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Education and Skills pursuant to Standing Orders 84A(3)(a) and 149(1).

  Question put and agreed to.

Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Select Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2019: Vote 29.

  Sitting suspended at 7.10 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.

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