Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 1 — Department of Education

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Part 9 Missing files


In 1999 Dr Gerard Cronin undertook to complete a report on the Reformatory and Industrial Schools’ Archives in Athlone. In his ‘Initial Report on the Reformatory & Industrial Schools’ Archives Athlone’ Dr Cronin stated: ...every so often I have come across items (sometimes misfiled) which directly or indirectly throw unfavourable or critical light on the conditions which the young offenders had to endure at the Daingean School.


In 2004 Mr Noel Dempsey TD, the Minister for Education and Science, appointed Mr Matthias Kelly QC to conduct an independent review and report on the provision of discovery by the Department of Education and Science to the Commission. There was a particular background to this decision, which is explained at para 6 of Mr Kelly’s report: There has been criticism of the way in which the Department of Education and Science has handled the process of discovery of documents to the Commission. In the Third Interim Report, Ms Justice Laffoy recorded that the Commission were not satisfied that the department had complied fully with an order for discovery. There were concerns that the process of discovery was experiencing problems. It was against this background that I was asked to undertake this review.


His main objectives were: (1)to review the processes and procedures operated by the Department of Education and Science in main discovery to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse; and (2)to make such recommendations as are appropriate in relation to discovery by the Department of Education and Science.


Although the Department had disclosed its historic archive to the Commission voluntarily, this archive did not contain the total number of files relevant to the work of the Commission. Files not included and identified by Mr Kelly QC were: 27,000 pupil files; incomplete and early discharge papers; the working papers of the Kennedy working party; material separately held in safe storage within the Department; incident books; precedent books; miscellaneous files one would expect to find. (1) 27,000 missing pupil files


The 3rd Interim Report by CICA describes how the Department of Education sent to the Commission a ‘Database of Former Residents of Reformatory and Industrial School’, containing approximately 42,000 entries of pupils who were committed by the courts to Reformatories and Industrial Schools during the allotted timeframe relevant to the Commission; however the database does not contain records of pupils placed in Industrial Schools by local authorities under the Public Assistance Acts or the Health Acts or voluntary placements. The Department should be in possession of 41,000 pupil files. However files exist relating to only 14,000 pupils, therefore 27,000 pupil files are missing. Of these 27,000 files, 18,000 relate to children who were admitted to institutions from 1936 onwards. From 1960 onwards the Department is in possession of virtually 100 percent of pupil records. Matthias Kelly concluded that these files were thrown out in the Department’s ‘general clear out’.


Early discharge papers relate to applications made by parents to the Department to have their children released from institutional care. Some of the discharge papers are missing and in other cases the record in relation to the individual is incomplete and some of these applications may have been placed on the individual child’s pupil file. The Department has a register of applications for early discharge dated 1951-60 only. Matthias Kelly stated within his report the importance of these records for former Industrial School pupils, emphasising the need for these people to know that their parents tried to ensure their release from the schools. Mr Kelly concluded that the papers were lost as a result of the ‘general clear out’.


The report of Matthias Kelly concluded that the 10 working papers of the Kennedy Commission were missing. Subsequently, in May 2004, seven of the working papers were given to CICA, and an eighth was handed over in 2007. Mr Kelly in his report stated ‘In my view those working papers are or may be relevant to the work of the Commission.’ However his report concluded that the Department had done all within its capabilities to locate the two papers. (


In his evidence before the Commission Mr Liam Kilroy, when asked about the process of storing files, suggested it was a practice within the Department to store documents in a separate filing cabinet if the official was personally involved or the file was deemed unsuitable for general filing. He explained: ‘If it was an issue with which I was personally involved ..., then I would retain the papers in my room, in my office.’


Furthermore in his evidence before CICA on 4th March 2003 Mr Paddy Matthews referred to the use of a safe to hold sensitive and confidential files. Mr Matthews claimed that Mr Luttrel, Head of Document Registry Unit, kept confidential files in a little safe in the document registry in Tyrone House. When asked what type of documents were kept in this safe, Mr Matthews replied: ‘I am only going on what I heard now, but that any offences with a suggestion of a sexual offence in them were kept there.’ Although the Kelly Report stated that all reasonable steps had been taken regarding the issue of safe storage, Mr Matthews later went on to state that he too had a safe in his office, which contained documents of a ‘sexual nature’. He said he had no log of the documents contained therein. In further evidence before CICA, Mr Matthews claimed that he had only ever heard of one complaint of a sexual nature (relating to Clonmel) He added: ’I cannot remember any other complaint now, to tell you the truth. I think if there was, I would have heard it.’


The report prepared by Mathias Kelly QC was critical of the way the Department had kept sensitive papers on the Clonmel sexual abuse allegations in a temporary folder.


The file known as TN030, short for Temporary Number 030, was kept in Liam Kilroy’s private office. Liam Kilroy went on to affirm knowledge of two other files in his office relating to abuse – Lisnagary in Limerick, Daughters of Charity (Q 20) and Finglas Children’s Centre.


Mr Kelly concluded, however, that the case of TN030 was an isolated one and that in any large organisation there will be the occasional instance of documents being wrongly filed and individual idiosyncratic filing. He concluded, ‘I cannot, therefore, attach any weight to the suggestion that “sensitive” documents were stored separately.’


Incident books, sometimes called ‘log books’, were kept by the various schools to record significant incidents or events within the schools or institutions. Matthias Kelly concluded: The Secretary General has assured me that the Department does not generally hold incident books at all. The point is made, that if such books do exist, and I would expect that such books do exist, they will be held by the various institutions themselves.


The precedent book was a record of decisions made relating to the certified schools system, catalogued in one place to allow for administrative ease. Mr Matthews, a former Assistant Secretary within the Department of Education, made reference to the existence of such a book in his evidence before the Commission. He stated that: the precedent book should still be there. No, there is no reason why it shouldn’t, because all the sections in the place, it was an essential feature of Government business, to know what the precedents were, just the same as in law.


However Mr Kelly concluded: ‘In my view there is no hard or reliable evidence that the book, as described, ever existed.’