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Friday 20 September 2019

Kerry Babies archives to be kept secret until at least 2023

White Strand in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, where Baby John was found. Photo: Mark Condren
White Strand in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, where Baby John was found. Photo: Mark Condren

Ken Foxe

The head of the Department of Justice said a decision to withhold archives from the Kerry Babies case could be "misrepresented", but the department had to do the "right thing" to protect the woman at the centre of the case.

It is keeping the records secret even though they should have gone to the National Archives because 30 years have passed since their creation.

Internal records have shown that the Department of Justice had originally planned handing over transcripts of the Kerry Babies tribunal and other documents so that they could be studied by academics, journalists, and the public.

However, the records describe how Joanne Hayes - the woman wrongly accused of stabbing to death a baby found washed up on a Cahersiveen beach 34 years ago - had strongly objected to their release. Internal emails released under freedom of information show how the Department of Justice was aware that failure to disclose the documents could be seen as them trying to keep them hidden.

A message, sent on January 20 by acting secretary general Oonagh McPhillips to colleagues, said: "I understand the concern about the perception but in this instance we need to continue to do the right thing even if it's misrepresented."

She said it was a "tricky issue" but that there was already a vast amount of material relating to the tribunal in the public domain in books and newspaper archives.

Ms McPhillips was responding to an email from Sarah Kavanagh, a ministerial special adviser, who warned that the State could be criticised if the records were kept hidden.

Ms Kavanagh wrote: "The difficulty is that this is highly likely to be misrepresented in the media as the State seeking to protect itself and therefore may not be sustainable."

In a statement, the Department of Justice said the files were being kept by it until at least 2023 when their potential release to the National Archives will be considered again.

They said: "The question of whether to release or retain the files was considered in detail but it was ultimately decided that their release would cause distress to Ms Hayes and so they were retained."

Irish Independent

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