Bessborough survivor: Government trying to seal our testimonies until we die

Bessborough survivor: Government trying to seal our testimonies until we die
Catherine Coffey at the back of Bessborough.Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A BILL being pushed the through by the Government will “throw a blanket” over records until former residents of State and religious institutions die, a Bessborough mother-and-baby home survivor has said.

The Retention of Records Bill 2019 will put a seal on records transferred to the National Archives of Ireland by the Ryan Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Redress Review Committee until at least 2094.

This will include the testimonies of survivors of mother-and-baby homes.

If the Bill becomes law, Bessborough survivor Catherine Coffey believes generations of families will be denied access to records pertaining to loved ones and many women will die without being able to access their own files.

Ms Coffey spent 10 years as a child in industrial schools and time as a young pregnant woman in Bessborough before she ran away.

“This won’t just affect survivors of these institutions, it will affect future generations. By redacting any kind of public record means there will be no regulation and people won’t be able to get justice because the information won’t be available to prove what happened,” Ms Coffey told The Echo.

“If you can’t get proof you have no justice.

Catherine Coffey at the entrance at Bessborough Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Catherine Coffey at the entrance at Bessborough Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“We want this part of history taught in colleges and in second-level and we want an archive.

“It’s a censorship and a dilution of democracy. It’s unprecedented across Europe. We are the only country that treats records like this.

“We speak about democracy and equality and having a choice but look at what is happening to generations of women that went through Bessborough of the Good Shepherd or Tuam or any of the other institutions.

“This is our inherited history. Those files could be archived and we as a society could become a role model for other countries on how not to treat women. The Government is denying until we die. I am not vengeful. All I want is that, through academia and through our social conscious, we archive all of this,” Ms Coffey added.

The Bill is due to go ahead next week after amendments were made by the Oireachtas Education Committee.

The Bill synopsis states: “This Bill provides for the retention, sealing and withholding from public inspection of certain records for a period of no less than 75 years and for the confidential disposal of any records not transferring to the National Archives. On the expiry of that 75 year period, access will be granted to the records only in accordance with regulation then made by the Minister for Education and Skills.”

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