Thursday, 21 May 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on c9 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes and Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.
Deputy Richard Bruton: On that motion, Fine Gael cannot agree to the proposal until we receive clarity on the arrangements for a debate on the Ryan report published today. This harrowing report demands the urgent attention of the Oireachtas. Any words of apology from us on behalf of the State will ring hollow in the ears of people who were at the mercy of and mistreated by the courts, who were dependent on the Department of Education to provide supervision and protection for them and were let down and, who, when they complained of abuse were not listened to, which is an appalling litany.
The State, charged with supervision, simply turned its eye the other way. It was too appalling to consider that the complaints made were true and needed to be acted upon. Instead, it hid behind the relationships established with institutions, which is unforgivable. Many lives have been broken. To witness people breaking down years after these incidents, still broken and hurt by their experience, shakes us all to the core. We need to not only understand how a system could be operated in this way but how, when we entrusted people to care they were managed in a controlling and abusive system that was completely foreign to the notion of care that should be provided to children. We need to understand how and why that happened and whether the remnants that caused that to happen remain extant. Also, we need to understand why it was that when abusers became known, they were simply moved on to other institutions with evidence of the abuse covered up. What happened is frightening.
We, who were privileged to have had protected childhoods, can only imagine what it would have been like to live in terror, which is what the regime was. Does the Tánaiste agree the failures of the State have been unforgivable? Does she accept the State is still failing children in that recommendation 21 of the commission states that the 1999 guidelines need to be consistently applied? Long since apologies were made publicly, the Government is still presiding over a system full of failures.
We need a proper and substantive debate with a motion so that the House can by resolution decide what it will do now. We need to allocate at least two days of Government time to explore the matter thoroughly and make the decisions that need to be made for the future.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I join Deputy Bruton in making the same request before agreeing to the Order of Business this morning. The report, which has now been made available, is shocking in what it tells us about a very shameful period in Irish history. The report outlines the stories of more than 1,000 victims and how they were sexually abused in many cases, how the sexual abusers were protected and moved from one institution to another by people who knew what they were doing. It outlines the degree of physical abuse that was inflicted on those children, who were flogged, were not properly clothed, were not properly fed, and were emotionally and physically brutalised. It outlines the degree of bullying that took place. In many cases children were abducted from their families and put into these institutions in a way to provide what can only be described as a kind of headage payment for institutions by people who knew that those children were being abused and that the only reason they were in those institutions was that they were from poor families.
It was shameful in the way in which it was covered up and the way in which people in the then Department of Education knew about it, did not do anything about it, colluded in it and destroyed lives. The least that those people deserve is to have the stories they told to the commission and the conclusions it drew from them discussed here in a way that will ensure that this shameful period in Irish history will be put behind us and lessons learnt from it.
I am somewhat surprised at how the Government has responded to the report. This morning I was surprised that the Government had to be shamed into sending a representative onto the “Morning Ireland” programme to discuss it. When will the House have the debate on this report that we need to have? The Government should now state that it will reverse the cut of €2 million that it imposed on the redress board. I cannot imagine what the Government was thinking in applying that cut a few weeks before this eminent report was due to be published.
We also need a mechanism to reopen the indemnity deal that was negotiated and agreed between the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, and the religious orders, which was concluded on the day before a new Government was formed in 2002. It was concluded in circumstances in which no memorandum was brought to Government about the issue. We are told that the then Attorney General was not directly involved in the matter. All of this resulted in capping the contribution of the religious orders at €127 million, but the amount the taxpayer has had to pick up is almost ten times that and is now estimated at €1.2 billion. Yesterday’s report concludes: “The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the Congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools [and in respect of its duty to the children].” The same deferential and submissive attitude was alive and well when Deputy Woods concluded that agreement in 2002.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Yesterday I asked the Taoiseach to schedule at an early opportunity a Dáil debate to address the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The report published yesterday contains what can only be described as a sickening litany of abuse and exploitation. It is an indictment of not only the religious orders, but also the State through successive Governments. The Department of Education failed to have any oversight or inspection that truly acted in the interests and needs of these innocent and vulnerable young children. At the Whips’ meeting, the Whips sought to follow through on what the Taoiseach indicated was a sympathetic position towards the proposition for early address of this report, given that it was the Houses of the Oireachtas that commissioned the report in the first place. That needs to be made patently clear. This was commissioned by the Houses of the Oireachtas and it is imperative that the report is addressed here at the earliest opportunity. However, there was no commitment from the Whips’ meeting to have early address of the detail of the report and all the scandalous situations it exposes.
In tandem with other voices, I again ask that we be afforded an opportunity on the floor of Dáil Chamber to address the report and its recommendations in the coming week given that at the end of next week the Dáil is proposing to rise for the following week in advance of the impending local and European Parliament elections. On our return in the week after those elections of 5 June, there will be a limited number of weeks before we arrive at the summer recess. This report is of great importance and probably addresses the most profound issues ever inquired into by the institutions of the State carried out by Ms Justice Laffoy and by Mr. Justice Ryan in the period since her departure. It is imperative that this request is accommodated and I join the other voices in demanding that be done.
We must recognise that within the recommendations there is a need to couple recommendations from other recently published reports, including that into the events at Monageer, because child abuse is not confined to decades past and in institutions overseen by religious orders. Child abuse continues today in this society and we have a bounden responsibility to face up to that fact and take the appropriate measures, including the recommendations from the Monageer report for an out of hours social work service. It was the very first recommendation of that report and unfortunately has been rejected by the Minister. No other approach will suffice to ensure the necessary supports are available at the critical times in the evenings and at weekends when instances can and all too sadly do present.
The Tánaiste: The report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse describes one of the darkest chapters in our history. On this occasion it is appropriate to reiterate the words of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, on 11 May 1999, when he said, “On behalf of the State and of all citizens of the State, the Government wishes to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse for our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue”. The first recommendation of yesterday’s report is to confirm, consolidate and enshrine the terms of this apology.
This report poses issues for the State on how it discharged its responsibilities, as well as for religious orders and wider society. We should carefully reflect on its contents. I agree that a considered and informed debate should be held in this House and I would appreciate if Members could come to an agreement on its format and timing. Our offer is the week after next in order to allow people to inform themselves. The Government will be holding a special meeting to consider the report. As I do not wish to have any disagreement on the floor of the House, we agree in principle to the debate and perhaps we could arrange its timing among ourselves.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: In response to the Tánaiste’s comments, the Labour Party is willing to discuss with Government, Fine Gael and other Members the arrangements for a debate. We would like that debate to be held at the earliest opportunity.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I ask the Tánaiste about the Government’s programme of legislation for the protection of children. The programme for Government makes several commitments in this regard, including a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of children, legislation which would make it possible for those who take sexual advantage of children to claim a defence of mistake regarding the age of their victims and on the carefully regulated exchange of information about child abusers. Thus far we have seen none of these commitments. The Tánaiste adverted to the legislation on exchange of information as being in the spring schedule but it does not even appear to have been drafted. I would like her to indicate whether she has a clear schedule of legislation in respect of the defence of honest mistake, which deals with the striking down by the courts of the law on statutory rape, the new amendment on children’s rights and the exchange of information. Can we be given firm dates regarding their introduction to the House for debate?
The Tánaiste: The legislation is fairly complex and, as the Deputy will be aware, it took us from 1908 to 1998 to introduce an amendment to the child care legislation, in which both of us participated. The complexities of child care legislation are enormous.
The Tánaiste: On the second report, the matters arising have not yet been considered by the Government. I understand it was only made available two weeks ago. In regard to the amendment to the Constitution, the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, under Deputy O’Rourke as its Chairman, is considering this matter and its deliberations will be brought to finality this autumn.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: There is nothing particularly unusual about that because they are rarely present for the Order of Business. I ask the Tánaiste whether they are attending the launch of the Green Party’s election manifesto, which was scheduled for 10.15 a.m. this morning. If that is the case, it brings the Green Party Ministers’ disregard for this House to a new level of contempt.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: If that is the case, it is unfair on members of the press who are expected to cover this House. Some of them are the sole representatives of their respective organs and are forced to decide between attending the House and the Green Party event.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: Notwithstanding the proposal to hold a full debate on the Ryan report at the earliest opportunity, I ask the Tánaiste, as acting Head of Government, and the Ceann Comhairle, as guardian of Deputies’ rights, to ensure that the debate allows Ministers, and in particular the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Micheál Martin, to apologise to the House for misleading it on certain matters pertaining to the report.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I will not refer to an individual but to the same substantive matter. I propose that the debate on the report be structured to take account of related reports, including the examinations of the prison system into which many of the victims went. I was a member of the MacBride commission, which interviewed some of these casualties. They were afraid to come forward at that time. The debate should wide and structured.
Deputy James Reilly: I support the point made by the previous speaker. Can the Tánaiste indicate when the civil union Bill will come before the House? It appears to have been lost somewhere along the line.
In regard to intercountry adoption, the Adoption Bill 2009 is being debated in the Seanad. Various ethical and legal issues appear to have arisen in regard to intercountry adoption. Will the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children outline these issues for the sake of people who are in emotional turmoil as they wait to adopt children and find the current situation untenable? They are totally confused because are not getting the clarity of information they need. If there is a specific problem, can it be addressed through legislation? Will the Minister of State do the people the service of telling them what is the problem?
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: On the same issue, I obtained a copy of the Adoption Bill 2009, as agreed in the Seanad, this morning. When will the Bill be introduced in the House? As the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, is present, will the Tánaiste update the House on the negotiations with Russia and Vietnam regarding agreements?
The Tánaiste: The civil partnership legislation will be published this session. As Deputy O’Sullivan correctly stated, the Adoption Bill has been passed by the Seanad and we will try to facilitate discussion on it as quickly as possible.
Deputy James Bannon: Our tourism industry has been on its knees for the past two or three years and the number of tourists visiting the country is at an all-time low. When can we expect the publication of the arts, sport and tourism heritage fund (amendment) Bill, which will allocate funding to protect our heritage, etc.? It is an important Bill to support the tourism industry and our tourism infrastructure.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Apropos of the issue raised by Deputy Gilmore regarding the invisibility of certain Ministers this morning, this also affected a Minister last night when two Government backbenchers correctly raised the issue of the Government’s response to eel fishing conservation and the relevant Minister did not see fit to come to the House to reply to them. He showed utter contempt for the House.
I refer to another issue close to the hearts of many Members. When the Government gave the undertaking relating to banking and financial services last September, the understanding was that as a result of the confidence accruing therefrom, latitude would be given to the business sector. However, the position now is that the sector is being strangled slowly.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: This relates to promised legislation. The business sector is being strangled slowly and if this continues for the next six months, business will come to a complete halt. Small businesses are being refused overdrafts and face constant refusals to renew or review overdrafts and they are being restricted.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Four of five Bills are promised; the Tánaiste might concentrate for a moment. We have heard of horrific instances over the past few weeks of the business sector being slowly ground to a halt.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Will the Tánaiste in the course of the legislation promised deal with the issues that have arisen, with a view to ensuring the banks, in return for the safeguards they have been given, facilitate the business sector accordingly?
The Tánaiste: We are not in a position to advise on the financial services regulation Bill. The draft of the financial services (miscellaneous provisions) Bill is near completion and it will be published in 2009. I can go and on but I need to have a question.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Given the ridiculous position in which some people find themselves whereby they cannot sell their home because property management companies no longer exist, when will we have sight of the property management Bill?
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