NUI Galway Conference on the Archives and Human Rights of Institutional Records

Nov 17 2021 Posted: 08:11 GMT

NUI Galway will host a free one-day webinar conference, Archives and Human Rights: Memory, Truth-Telling and Institutional Records, on Thursday, 18 November from 9.30am to 6pm.

The conference will examine current issues regarding the ethical, legal and professional management of records and archives relating to institutionalisation and family separation in Ireland. It has particular relevance in light of the Government’s announcement yesterday that it will establish a National Memorial and Records Centre: an initiative that will be progressed by a Group chaired by the Secretary General to the Government.

The conference aims to facilitate greater public awareness of:

  • The relevance of records access and preservation to truth-telling and transitional justice.
  • The existing gaps in legislation, policy and practice.
  • Human rights-based approaches to records management and archiving that might be drawn upon by civil society, records holders and policy-makers.

Organised by Dr Maeve O’Rourke from the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway and Dr Barry Houlihan, Archivist, NUI Galway Library Archives, the conference brings together an international field of leading scholars, academics, archivists, survivors, activists, artists, and human rights experts.

The conference will consider the management of institutional 'care' and family separation records and archives from international, human rights-based and lived perspectives.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Dagmar Hovestädt, head of the department for communication and research of the Stasi Records Archive in the Federal Archives, Germany. The Stasi Records Archive has become a best practice example of how a country and society have opened up sensitive records in the process of transitional justice where people can request and access files relating to them and what information was covertly collected about them by the Stasi and others.
  • Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, University of Oxford, will talk about his research and his recent multi award-winning book, Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack, and will discuss how societies suffer when records and archives have been altered and destroyed by Governments, or by war and conflict.

Dr Maeve O’Rourke, of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway, said: “Recent events have continued to highlight the need for sustained and critical evaluation of how “truth-telling” investigations operate in Ireland. Save to a very limited extent the archives of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, McAleese Committee, and Mother and Baby Homes Commission remain inaccessible to survivors and to the public.

“Access to information is the first thing that any reparative process should provide; yet secrecy is still the default mode in Ireland. This conference offers an important opportunity to learn from international and human rights-based best practice, and to listen to the views of people still searching for the basic truth about their experiences of abuse.”

Dr Barry Houlihan, Archivist at NUI Galway, said: "This conference will bring together a range of Irish and international perspectives, from survivors to academics and archivists, on shared matters relating to archives and records of institutions, state care, and family separation.

“The discussions will help share international experience and practice and inform future needed work, policy, and legislation here in Ireland so that Survivors and those directly affected may be listened to, acknowledged, and be able to access their own records and identity within a process of open and transparent truth-telling."

A number of survivors and activists will also participate and provide perspectives on their own personal experiences. They will comment on the current status of access to personal records and archives and the issues around current and proposed legislation governing access to records.

They include; Rosemary Adaser, founder of Mixed Race Ireland; Mary Harney, an Activist and PhD student at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway; activist and writer, Noelle Brown; and Elizabeth Coppin, a survivor of three Magdalene Laundries whose case against Ireland is currently proceeding before the UN Committee Against Torture.

The conference also draws together an international body of experts from around the world, including Catriona Crowe, former Head of Special Projects, National Archives of Ireland; Professor James Smith, Boston College; Raymond Frogner, Head of Archives, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, University of Manitoba, Canada; and Dr Cate O’Neill and Kirsten Wright of the Find and Connect project, an Australian government funded project providing online access to information on Australian orphanges, residential schools and institutions.

Register for the conference at:


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