Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
notes the publication of the report by the Commission of Investigation into the handling by Church and State authorities of allegations and suspicions of child sexual abuse against clerics of the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne;
expresses its dismay at the disturbing findings of the report and at the inadequate and inappropriate response, particularly of the Church authorities in Cloyne, to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse;
welcomes the publication of the Children First National Guidance 2011, the full and consistent implementation of which will be given priority, and welcomes the approval by Government for the preparation of legislation to require statutory compliance with the Children First National Guidance;
welcomes the publication of the provisions concerning the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill 2011 and welcomes the announcement made that the heads of the National Vetting Bureau Bill 2011 will be published by the end of July 2011 and furnished to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for a consultative process; and
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Last Wednesday I published the Cloyne report and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and I set out the Government’s response. On that occasion I said it was difficult to read the report and avoid despair. My feelings have been strengthened by the reactions of victims and their families in the week since the report was published. Sadly, some of the victims are no longer with us, but their families have spoken. We owe a debt of gratitude to the victims for their courage in telling the commission of investigation about their experiences of abuse and what happened afterwards when they came in contact with those in authority who were in a position to take action which would have made a difference to their plight and that of others. I share the commission’s hope the report’s publication may to some degree alleviate the hurt and anger they rightly and naturally feel. We should also pay tribute to the work of all those individuals and organisations that have supported them.
I acknowledge the contribution of Judge Yvonne Murphy and her colleagues on the commission of investigation. They have delivered a report of clarity and carried out their difficult task sensitively and meticulously. The victims had to relive painful memories and the commission members had to help them to relive these memories in the least distressing way possible, while at the same maintaining a professional approach. They succeeded admirably in doing this.
The report’s findings are unambiguous. It is severely critical of the diocese of Cloyne. The response of the diocese to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse in the period from 1996 to 2008 was totally inadequate and inappropriate. Specifically, church guidelines were not fully or consistently implemented in the diocese. Primary responsibility for this lies with the bishop who the report describes as ineffective and the vicar general charged with investigating complaints against priests of child sexual abuse who did not approve of the procedures set out in the church guidelines, in particular, the requirement to report to the civil authorities. The diocese failed to report all complaints to the Garda. Out of 15 complaints in the period that should have been reported, nine were not. In two of these the subject of the complaint was a minor at the time the complaint was made. After reporting complaints against one priest in 1996, the diocese did not report any complaints to the health authorities again until 2008. Furthermore, it did not put a proper support system in place, as mandated by church guidelines, nor did it operate an advisory panel which was independent. The panel’s documentation was inadequate and the diocese did not properly record and maintain information on complaints of child sexual abuse up to 2008.
The report describes as quite extraordinary the failure to read and take heed of the 2004 McCoy report on the diocese’s procedures and processes which showed that the diocese was not implementing required procedures. The diocese did not carry out proper canonical investigations, nor did it comply with the 1999 child care guidelines. It is appalling that those who presented a public face of concern had a private agenda of concealment and evasion.
The commission found that in 2008 the diocese had started to follow the procedures set out in the church documents and it is satisfied that the diocese now has an independent advisory panel. It commends the diocese for its efforts in training both church personnel and the laity in the area of child protection and for recruiting risk assessment specialists in 2009.
Particularly disturbing is the commission’s finding that the Vatican’s response to the church guidelines was entirely unhelpful, describing them as “merely a study document”. This gave comfort and support to those who dissented from the guidelines. The Vatican’s intervention and the letter sent by the papal nuncio undermined not only the obligation of dioceses to comply with the church’s own framework document but also the application of the State’s child care guidelines. Rightly, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has pursued this matter with the papal nuncio. We await the Vatican’s official response.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and I are taking a twofold approach. We are responding to the immediate problems identified in the report and, importantly, introducing measures which will help to establish the system of child protection children need and deserve. We cannot depend on the undertakings of others to correct failings and introduce robust and effective structures of protection. The Cloyne report irrefutably confirms that some who in the past gave such undertakings acted in bad faith. It is important to remember that the people primarily responsible for the abuse at the centre of the report were the abusers themselves.
The Garda Commissioner has appointed Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne to examine the report and determine whether further action can be taken against the abusers referred to in it. The Garda has set up a special telephone line which victims of clerical abuse or anyone who has information on abuse can contact. Following the publication of the report on the Dublin archdiocese, Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney was appointed to examine it specifically in relation to how complaints had been handled and investigated by the church and State authorities to determine whether there had been criminal behaviour. A number of files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the examination will now be extended to the Cloyne report.
After the publication of the Dublin archdiocese report, the Garda Inspectorate was requested to carry out a comprehensive review of Garda arrangements for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. I have agreed with the chief inspector, Kathy O’Toole, that in the weeks prior to the publication of its report, it will be given a chance to review its findings in the light of the Cloyne report.
Most regrettably, the commission was very concerned about the approach adopted by gardaí in a small number of cases. Following consultations with the Garda Commissioner, I have sent the report to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to examine it as a matter of urgency and see whether further action is warranted. That examination is taking place. I repeat to the House the apology I gave last week on behalf of the State for the Garda’s failure in three cases detailed in the report. These failures should not have occurred. It is important to note that the commission’s overall conclusion was that the Garda response to the cases covered by the report had been generally adequate and appropriate. A number of complainants were highly complimentary about the way in which gardaí had dealt with their complaints.
I am also determined to deal with the deeper gaps which underlie the report. Last week I published detailed legislative proposals for a criminal justice (withholding information on crimes against children and vulnerable adults) Bill. Deputy Calleary proposed that my proposals be considered by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and I have no difficulty with this proposal. What I am proposing will make it an offence punishable by up to five years imprisonment for a person who has information that could help in the arrest, prosecution or conviction of an offender of a serious offence committed against a child or vulnerable adult not to pass that information on to the Garda where he or she knows that information could help. We have already done substantial work on this in consultation with the Attorney General and her office and I intend that it will be a Government legislative priority to have it enacted in the autumn. Its enactment will enable the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate and prosecute those who conceal and fail to report to the Garda sexual offences against children. The legal position will be clear.
We have to ensure in so far as possible those who come into contact with children do not present a danger. There is widespread agreement that we need to make it possible to disclose what is called soft information where this is necessary to protect children. The need for legislation in this area was most recently highlighted in the report published by the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children which in September 2008 called for the necessary legislation to be published by the then Government by the following December. Unfortunately, the Government failed to meet that commitment and the legislation was not published during its lifetime. I am working to bring proposals to the Government next week setting out the heads of a national vetting bureau Bill to place the vetting of persons working with children and vulnerable adults on a statutory basis. The vetting of persons for certain employment positions is available on a non-statutory basis. The Bill will provide a legislative basis for existing arrangements in line with the recommendations of the joint committee and the disclosure of soft information for the purposes of child protection. Following Government approval the heads of the Bill will be furnished to the Attorney General’s office with a view also to its publication in final form and enactment in the next Dáil session. As part of the Government’s new approach to legislation, the Oireachtas justice committee will have the opportunity to consider its content and to propose in September any constructive amendments or additions, and to contribute to the Bill’s developmental process.
I am determined to ensure that the church and State do what is necessary to protect our children from those who sexually prey on them or physically abuse them. I am determined that those who work with children and those who recruit others to do so, in either the public or private sector, in commercial or voluntary organisations, behave with awareness and responsibility and in the best interests of children. I am determined to ensure that those who know a child has been assaulted or abused will be required to report such offence to the Garda and that there will be consequences for their failing to do so. I am determined that children will not be put in the way of harm to be preyed on by those already known to have harmed a child. We cannot correct past wrongs perpetrated on our children but we can take action to prevent, in so far as is possible, the wrongs of the past being perpetrated on our children in the future. Let us on all sides in this House join together in clearly stating that in addressing and bringing to justice those who perpetrate child sexual abuse, the era of “mental reservation” is over and the laws of this land will prevail and be applied.
Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Shock, revulsion, dismay and sadness — the full lexicon of condemnation has been used in response to the report of the Murphy commission into the Diocese of Cloyne. I share those sentiments while realising that no words of mine can do justice to the horrors that were inflicted on those who suffered child abuse. It is the survivors that should be foremost in our thoughts when dealing with this subject. The hurt they feel must only be surpassed by the bravery of those who came forward to give evidence to the commission of investigation. I only hope that the publication of the report will give them some comfort that, at last, their dreadful experiences are being believed and acknowledged. We must bear in mind the many other survivors whose experience of abuse is known to themselves alone and who continue to feel unable to articulate what they went through. The State owes a significant debt of gratitude to those survivors who gave evidence to the commission and to the members of the commission itself — Ms Ita Mangan, Mr. Hugh O’Neill and its chairperson, Judge Yvonne Murphy.
The most shocking aspect of this report is that the failures it describes are not ancient history. All of the complaints, allegations, concerns and suspicions of child sexual abuse referred to in the report occurred between January 1996 and February 2009. The year 1996 is the crucial dividing line in the handling of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland as it was the year in which the Catholic Church in Ireland put in place detailed procedures for dealing with child sexual abuse. The mishandling of complaints of child sexual abuse by members of the Catholic hierarchy can never be excused no matter when it occurred, and the fact that the Cloyne diocese simply ignored the guidelines and procedures put in place by the hierarchy is utterly unforgivable. It placed children in greater danger and compounded the suffering and feeling of betrayal of survivors even further.
That the authorities in the Diocese of Cloyne, in particular Bishop John Magee and Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan, failed in their duty until so recently gives the lie to the oft repeated mantra that the response to abuse reported in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was a product of its time, when bishops and others had little understanding of the nature and scale of abuse. This was never a defence and has been rubbished even more by the revelation that the church’s own guidelines were not being followed in Cloyne until 2008. In addition, the attitude of the Vatican towards the Irish church’s guidelines and to the commission of investigation was nothing short of deplorable. It is not the behaviour that we expect from a sovereign state with whom we have friendly relations, and it certainly lacked the moral courage and integrity that one would expect from an entity that preaches such values.
When the Cloyne report is added to what we have learned from the Murphy commission’s report into the Dublin archdiocese, the Ryan report and the many other aspects of the scandal of clerical abuse, one conclusion is very clear — self regulation is not enough, and it must be backed up by a robust legislative framework. In that regard, I welcome the proposals put forward by the Ministers, Deputies Shatter and Fitzgerald, and I look forward to debating the detail of them in the House. I hope that will occur as a matter of urgency when we return in the autumn.
I particularly welcome the commitment that persons in certain professions, including clergy, will be obliged to report suspicions of abuse or face criminal penalty. This is an important step but it must be backed up by the appropriate resources. The experience in other jurisdictions, where a mandatory reporting requirement has been put in place, is that the volume of reports of abuse increases massively. For example, the number of reports made increased six-fold when mandatory reporting was introduced in New South Wales in Australia. It is vital that the number of social workers is increased to cope with this. If this does not happen, the mandatory reporting requirement may actually end up doing more harm than good, with social workers sitting at their desks assessing the urgency of cases rather than getting out of the office and fulfilling their role of supporting families and protecting children. I urge the Minister to assess carefully over the summer the resource requirements involved in mandatory reporting before coming back to the House with legislation in the autumn.
The other main policy issue which arises here is whether to extend the remit of the commission of investigation to the remaining dioceses. Fianna Fáil’s position is that at the very least all survivors should have the opportunity to have their experiences acknowledged in a formal setting. It would be unfair to survivors of abuse in the 23 remaining dioceses that they would not have the chance to give testimony to what they endured. I appreciate that many do not wish to revisit this painful chapter in their lives. However, many survivors were met with scepticism or denial when they first came forward with their stories and so desire to have it acknowledged that they were telling the truth. Fianna Fáil has an open mind on whether this needs to be done through a full blown commission of investigation and we hope that we can have a discussion on it in the coming months.
It is sensible that the relevant Ministers, Deputies Shatter and Fitzgerald, should wait for the completion of the HSE and the Catholic Church’s national board for safeguarding children audits to be completed before making a final decision on this. I know some doubt has been cast — not unreasonably — on the usefulness of these audits given that they rely on voluntary information from the church authorities. We should wait to see Mr. Ian Elliot’s assessment of the audits and what level of compliance there is from bishops in publishing the audits. It is our belief that nothing short of full publication by all bishops would be acceptable. I note that the stance being taken by the Government now differs from that expressed by the Fine Gael spokesperson on children a few months ago, who called for the Murphy commission to be extended to all dioceses. We should continue to consider the matter.
There is also a cross-Border dimension to the question of extending the commission’s work. Six dioceses fall into this category, and we believe it is important that the two Ministers consult their colleagues in the Northern Executive regarding co-operation to ensure that the audits and any possible extension of the Murphy commission can take place effectively. Perhaps they could update the House on their contacts in that regard when responding to this debate.
The systematic and endemic abuse of children by clergy that has been revealed in report after report shames our State and our nation. Church and State failed far too many children by exposing them to predatory abusers and then compounded their suffering by failing to act in an effective manner when the abuse was brought to light.
For the sake of some of the survivors, I hope prosecutions will follow from the publication of the Cloyne report. More importantly, perhaps, the outcome of the work of the Murphy commission should be total dedication on the part of official Ireland to ensuring all children are protected to the greatest extent possible. That is the priority of my party, as I am sure it is of all Members of the House. I am sure we will disagree on nuances, but Ministers can be assured that they will find willing allies on this side of the House in all their efforts to protect children. I hope we can work towards that objective on a cross-party basis. In that spirit, I commend the motion to the House.
Deputy Dan Neville: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and would like to deal with one aspect of the issue. Just as it is right that we abhor child abuse, it is important for us to understand its effects and destructive outcomes for children. When child abuse occurs, the victim can develop a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviours. No child is psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation. Even a two year old who cannot know sexual activity is wrong will develop problems as a result of his or her inability to cope with over-stimulation. A child of five years or older who knows and cares for the abuser will become trapped between affection or loyalty for the person and the sense that sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love. A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness and abnormal or distorted views on sex. The child may become withdrawn or mistrustful of adults. He or she can become suicidal. Children who have been sexually abused have difficulty relating to others other than on sexual terms. Some become child abusers or prostitutes, or experience other serious problems, when they reach adulthood.
There are often no obvious physical signs of child sexual abuse. A number of signs can be detected through physical examination by a doctor. Sexually abused children may develop an unusual interest in, or avoidance of, things of a sexual nature. They can experience sleep problems and often have nightmares. They can suffer depression and become withdrawn from friends or family. They may make statements about their bodies being “dirty” or “damaged”. They might think there is something wrong with them in the genitals area. They may refuse to go to school, or become delinquent and have behavioural problems. They often become secretive. They sometimes display aspects of their sexual molestation in their drawings, games or fantasies. They may be unusually aggressive. The child may be extremely fearful of telling someone, although he or she might talk freely when a special effort has been made to help him or her to feel safe. If a child says he or she has been molested, parents should try to remain calm and reassure him or her that what happened was not his or her fault. They should seek a medical examination and a psychiatric consultation.
The initial and short-term effects of abuse usually occur within two years of the termination of the abuse. These effects vary depending on the circumstances of the abuse and the child’s stage of development. They may include regressive behaviour such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, sleep disturbance, eating problems, behavioural or performance problems in school and non-participation in school and social activities. The negative effects of child abuse can affect victims for many years and into adulthood. Adults who were sexually abused as children commonly experience depression. High levels of anxiety in these adults can result in self-destructive behaviours such as alcoholism, drug abuse, anxiety attacks, situation specific anxiety disorders and insomnia. Many victims encounter problems in their adult relationships and adult sexual functioning. Revictimisation is a common phenomenon in people who were abused as children. Research has shown that child sexual abuse victims are more likely to be victims of rape or be involved in physically abusive relationships as adults.
The ill-effects of child abuse are wide-ranging. There is no one set of symptoms or outcomes. Some children report little or no psychological distress from the abuse. These children may be afraid to express their emotions and may be denying their feelings as a coping mechanism. Other children may have sleeper effects — experiencing no harm in the short term but suffering serious problems in later life. In an attempt to assess whether a child can recover from sexual abuse and to better understand the ill-effects of child abuse, psychologists have studied the factors that seem to lessen the impact of such abuse. The factors that affect the amount of harm done to the victim include the age of the child, the duration, frequency and intrusiveness of the abuse, the degree of force used and the relationship with the abuser. Issues such as the child’s interpretation of the abuse, whether he or she discloses the abuse and how quickly he or she reports it also affect the short-term and long-term consequences of the abuse. As I said, it is very easy and important to abhor child abuse. It is just as important to understand its effects and destructive outcomes for children.
Deputy Michelle Mulherin: I welcome the motion. I am pleased that the proposed mandatory reporting of knowledge of abuse of children and vulnerable adults, as envisaged in the Children First national guidance document and recommended in the Ryan report, will be set in stone through legislation of this Parliament. I commend the Taoiseach, the Ministers, Deputies Shatter and Fitzgerald, and all Members who are grasping the nettle. The institution of the Catholic Church failed to act correctly to protect the innocence of the country’s children. Those involved did not live up to their responsibilities as representatives of God’s kingdom on Earth.
Many of us who were raised as Christians in the Catholic tradition are absolutely dismayed by the failure of the institution in these matters to honour and stand by Christian principles that transcend Canon Law. The separation of church and State is an imperative. It is in keeping with the worldly authority given to us as Christians. If it were not the case that the rule of the Earth was given to men and women, surely the perpetrators of these most heinous crimes, including some priests, would be struck down by God. We know this has not happened. Therefore, it is a matter for us as human beings to correct these wrongs politically and by means of the law. In this case, we can do so by introducing appropriate legislation. This domain is our God-given responsibility.
The comments of Fr. Vincent Twomey, professor emeritus in theology in Maynooth, demand a response. He spoke about the sanctity of the seal of the confessional, as set out in Canon Law. He said, in effect, any interference by the civil law would offend God in some way. He also said he was “incandescent with rage” when he learned of the contents of the Cloyne report. He is unrepentant about the shocking truth of how the systems of the Catholic Church served to protect abusers and sacrifice innocents in the process — not just in years gone by but also today in modern Ireland. This attitude created a climate favourable to abuse in the first place and will allow it to continue. We will not address the problem by calling for the heads of a few bishops to roll towards atonement.
It is nothing short of idolatry to regard the institution as a sacred cow. Idolatry is forbidden in the first and second commandments because it creates a substitute God. Evil acts like child abuse are carried out by individuals who are individually accountable to God who gladly pardons repentant sinners. It is not written anywhere that God’s forgiveness and divine law will protect, or be used to protect, someone who has committed a crime from the full rigours of our criminal justice system. No institution is sacred but for the God they worship. When an institution’s members accept acts contrary to God’s will, God rejects and judges the institution. No institution is infallible. Every institution is a human construct, even if it has a divine mandate. The Old Testament is full of examples of this.
Our Lord — Jesus Christ — said that if anyone harmed one of “these little ones”, it would be better for that person “to be drowned”. He never spoke more seriously, other than when he said it would have been better if His traitor had never been born. Members of the Catholic Church who truly love God should be glad that this evil which was perpetrated by false shepherds has been exposed in order that they can be rid of it. It is because I care very much about the Catholic Church and want to see it at its best that I say this.
Again, I congratulate the Government on taking this step which is long overdue and for which we as a nation have been crying out for decades. If we do not protect our children, who will? I am proud to be part of this Government which is taking this action.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: I wish to share time with Deputy McLellan. As was previously stated this morning by my colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, while my party welcomes the motion, we certainly would have liked to have seen more robust wording in some areas. Yesterday’s draft motion was more definitive.
As someone who is a devout Catholic and who puts great stock in his faith, I must say reading the Cloyne report was very disturbing. Not only has the action or, depending on how one looks at it, inaction of the church caused untold suffering on victims, it has betrayed the many people like myself who placed faith in the teachings of the church. The church authorities have failed to live up to the expectations of those who believe in its teachings, and who are still committed to the teachings, by failing to get their house in order and putting their own self-interest above the protection of children. They have done themselves a disservice.
No doubt this is a depressing and painful chapter in Irish history, with each new revelation even more shocking than the one that preceded it. The Catholic Church, the State, society and all of us as individuals must ensure there is real change in this issue. We could not afford the failings of the past and we certainly cannot afford to leave our children exposed in the future. There is no easy solution to end the vile crime of child sexual abuse but we must ensure all the necessary protections available to us as a society are in place. The safety of our children is paramount. There is no room for political points scoring or ambiguity. Society demands action and our children deserve action.
We failed to learn from the lessons of the past. We have seen the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports, and now we have Cloyne. While the Cloyne report did not investigate the abuse, but rather how the church did or did not deal with the allegations, it was still very sickening to read. The various infractions contained in this report have been detailed in the House, in the media and in homes throughout this State. The unacceptable lack of recording surrounding child sexual abuse allegations and the failure to report nine out of 15 complaints made against members of the clergy is a shocking indictment on the church as an entity. Abuse allegations that the report states very clearly should have been reported to the relevant authorities and were not tell their own story.
The Commission also tells of how the papal nuncio said that he was unable to assist in this matter when requested for information. The personal statement yesterday of Fr. Lombardi just does not cut it. What we need, and demand, is an official response from the Vatican.
The State must also face up to its failings. Concerns regarding the approach of Garda investigations in two cases and a dispute between the Commission and the Garda on whether an investigation actually occurred in a third case are worrying revelations. This level of State incompetence is particularly worrying in the context of the recent reports on the Ferry-Donegal school abuse controversy.
One lesson we must learn from this report relates to guidelines and rules. It is now clear that guidelines are meaningless unless there is a legal requirement placed on those tasked with implementing them or the guidelines themselves are put on a statutory footing. That is why I welcome the comments from the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and their strong, unequivocal response in the wake of this report. I assure both Ministers that Sinn Féin will not be found wanting in supporting promised legislation by the Government that can ensure increased protections for children. We have long advocated the use of soft information on persons who have had allegations of child sexual abuse made against them. It is a vital tool in protecting children in the future and we look forward to the publication of the promised national vetting bureau Bill.
There is no room for knee-jerk legislation in this area. We should not do something for the sake of being seen to do it. We need good, well thought-out and comprehensive legislation on the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. The proposed legislation on withholding information on crimes against children and vulnerable adults is urgently needed and we welcome the commitment of the Government to move swiftly on this. Then, and only then, can we bring about a situation where the children of this State have adequate protections.
Regrettably, we have all been down this road before. We have seen the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports and now this particular report on the diocese of Cloyne — more cases of the abuse of children by priests and a church reluctant, at the very best, to live up to its responsibilities to protect its flock. Unfortunately, it is no longer shocking that the Catholic Church failed our children. We have been over similar ground previously.
Far too often we have investigated the unhealthy relationship between church and State and the horrors that have been perpetrated on children by both over a long period. My party believes the motion before the House today should have acknowledged the failure of this State to protect children in law and in reality.
What astonishes most people about this report is that it related to a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland had put in place detailed procedures for dealing with child sexual abuse, and during a period of constant revelations about child abuse by priests. Best practice, as contained in guidelines and rules, does not matter one iota if there is not implementation.
There was abject failure on behalf of the church and to a lesser degree the State. This report details a litany of concealment and evasion by the Catholic Church, including Bishop Magee’s incomplete account of how he was handling allegations; the diocese failure to report nine out of 15 complaints made against priests which clearly should have been reported; the failure to report the two cases in which the alleged victims were minors at the time the complaint was made; the placing by the diocese of far too much emphasis on the concerns of the alleged offenders; Monsignor O’Callaghan withholding the identity of an alleged perpetrator from authorities and attempting to have a particular Garda carry out the investigation; the commission statement that it cannot understand how the monsignor concluded no sexual abuse had occurred in a situation where clearly and unequivocally it had — the mind boggles; bad policing practices by the Garda in three cases; an allegation made against Bishop Magee in 2008 which called into question his judgment; and one complaint in 1996 and another in 2008 being all that was reported to the health authorities. I cannot imagine the pain, hurt and suffering caused by this abuse. I extend my deepest sympathies to all the victims. In the case of Cloyne, they are my friends and neighbours.
I am glad that the Government has taken issue with the disgraceful lack of engagement by the papal nuncio with the commission and the outrageous interference of the Vatican in matters of child protection in this State. While we still await an official Vatican response, the comments today from the papal nuncio do not go nearly far enough.
I welcome the Government’s stated priority of bringing abusers to justice, in particular, the appointment of the assistant commissioner to examine the possibility of doing this. In addition, I make a personal call on all abuse victims to go straight to the Garda as the body best able to deal with allegations of abuse.
Sinn Féin will not be found wanting in supporting promised legislation by the Government if it can be proven to improve child protection. Like my colleagues, I call for well worked-out, good legislation and the resources to ensure the outcomes we desire. Sinn Féin is heartened by the Children First child protection guidelines being placed on a statutory footing. The Government has made firm commitments on these following the Cloyne report. We are determined to ensure these commitments are delivered upon. We support the motion before the House today with the caveat that we would have preferred some areas to be stronger. This has been a long and painful chapter in Irish history and the reports and investigations are set to continue. The Legislature must ensure that from this day forth no child is ever subjected to the horrors visited upon the victims detailed in the reports to date. This must end immediately.
Deputy Regina Doherty: I am pleased to speak on the motion but I am distressed and saddened that we are discussing the matter in Parliament today. I wish to focus on something one of the victims said last week. She said, “I smell freedom”. The phrase has been going around and around in my head. In many ways I am pleased for that lady because people who have been sexually abused or those close to people who have been sexually abused explain that there is no escape or freedom. I am glad that lady feels that she is nearing the place of escape from what she has been through. There is a great deal of suppression by victims but there is no escape because one can never be prepared for the trigger that set off the roller-coaster of pain, the vivid memories, the re-living, the “if onlys” and the “what ifs”. The life of victims is one of constantly rehashing something over which they have no control. For many victims the only escape is to suppress the myriad emotions which sexual abuse causes and not to deal with them. It gives me great hope that at least one victim has stated that she smells freedom and I pray for a good deal more of it.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has let down the children of Ireland very badly. According to Rome, the church is infallible in its definitions on faith and morals. Plainly, this infallibility only takes regard to the principles rather than the application. The rules of conduct differ so widely when one considers the Vatican’s direct intervention in Ireland undermined our child protection framework and directly contributed to the vast number of victims of the clerical sexual abuse. The church’s ideals around the Canon Law versus State law argument clearly demonstrate how out of touch the church is. Clerics assumed and continue to assume the high moral ground using the cloak of Canon Law, while contributing directly to the abuse of children and then to covering it up. This is heartbreaking for any Catholic or Christian in this country and it causes its own set of internal faith dilemmas.
I am encouraged that we are putting on a statutory basis the measures necessary to ensure every child is protected here. There is no more doubt. No longer will we leave it to chance or to an internal moral code which, we now know, does not exist among some members of our infallible church. The church as an institution has a great deal for which to atone. It must reflect on this moral dilemma and leave law-making to the legislators.
I take great solace in my faith, my spirituality and in God. The gospel of Mark states, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God”. It gives me solace that the gospel goes on to state that “those whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea”. I believe in heaven and an afterlife and I believe that someday we must all stand before God Almighty and be judged. It gives me solace that all of those who perpetrated these crimes against children and young adults in the past must stand before their maker at some stage one day. It gives me comfort that our State will enact legislation at this time to take care of people who have failed children by directly involving themselves in the abuse of children or thereafter covering up alleged abuse by members of their organisations or members that were known to them. I commend the motion to the House.
Deputy Derek Keating: Like all Members, I am appalled at the findings of the commission of investigation report into the handling by the church authorities of the abuse of children in the Catholic dioceses of Cloyne. It makes distressing reading. I stand beside and in support of those who have been abused in the diocese of Cloyne.
The diocese of Cloyne is more than 800 years old, it has 46 parishes and a population of more than 160,000 people. There are 12 religious communities working in the dioceses with approximately 140 priests. I make this point because I wish to highlight to the House the power that one person, one bishop, has over a dioceses and how that one person in Canon Law and in practise is all-powerful. I emphasise the point because page 33 of the report states that “as long as he operates within the canon law the bishop is free to organise the day to day running of his diocese as he sees fit”. The commission of investigation is aware that some 40 people may have been affected by clerical sexual abuse in the diocese of Cloyne. It is unacceptable and appalling that the diocese of Cloyne never attempted to ascertain if there were other complaints involving the 19 clerics within its remit, of which 12 had a single complaint made against them. I was also shocked to discover from the report that only one priest has been convicted of child sexual abuse.
Perhaps the most distressing and shocking aspect of the report, other than the abuse against children, is the fact that the then Bishop of Cloyne, Bishop Magee, lied, concealed and frustrated investigations into the abuse of children. Effectively, this gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures agreed nationally by the Irish church. It allowed Monsignor O’Callaghan to dissent from the stated official church policy on protecting children. Here, the conflict between Canon Law and civil law clashes. No individual, organisation or group can act autonomously under the law here. Yet we have seen that through Canon Law the Bishop of a diocese may decide to ignore civil law with the protection of the Holy See.
I refer to the issue of mandatory reporting and why we must have it in this jurisdiction. Mandatory reporting requires citizens to report all suspicions of serious crime, including child abuse. Mandatory reporting of child abuse requires all citizens or designated professionals to report child abuse if they are aware of or suspect that child abuse exists and that a child is at risk. However, mandatory reporting of child abuse, suspected child abuse or wilful neglect in the European Union falls into four categories. Of the 27 member states, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom do not have mandatory reporting as of yet. I was pleased to hear the Minister, Deputy Shatter, announce last week as part of the Government’s response to the report on Cloyne a new programme to protect children.
It is interesting to note that the majority of member states have a form of mandatory reporting of child abuse and wilful neglect. For example, Minister Paula Bennett of the New Zealand Government is currently presenting a Green Paper on child protection which will include mandatory reporting. It is expected to be finalised in the autumn of this year. In Ireland, some 90% of school principals have supported mandatory reporting of child abuse and wilful neglect. More recently, Cardinal Seán Brady has called on the Government to introduce mandatory reporting in its fullest form. The State has seen numerous reports including, the Kilkenny incest case, the Kelly Fitzgerald case, the Roscommon investigation case, the Ferns report and the Murphy report on the Dublin dioceses. All have called for the introduction of mandatory reporting.
A basic civil right for children is that they should be treated the same if not better than adults, especially if a crime is committed or suspected to have been committed against them.  They should have the full support of the State and its professionals if there is a question of abuse or wilful neglect. Child welfare issues should not be used by social workers and other professionals to highlight the problem of child protection. The wrong message is being sent to victims when we have one law for adults and another for children. It is unacceptable that this is so, which is why I endorse wholeheartedly the Government’s approach to dealing with this problem in society.
In the last few days I have received a number of items of correspondence, some from members of the clergy, and telephone calls about the discussion on mandatory reporting. I will not be put off my responsibility to this House and the people who sent me here. The Government has sent a very clear statement, expressed today, deploring the Vatican’s intervention which contributed to the undermining of the child protection framework and guidelines in the State. I commend the motion to the House.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important debate on the Cloyne report. I thank and commend Judge Yvonne Murphy, Ms Ita Mangan and Mr. Hugh O’Neill for their excellent work. I support the all-party motion on the report and the issue of child abuse generally.
In the debate it is important to sympathise with and support all of the victims and remind ourselves of the trauma they have gone through. Sympathy is not enough, however, and words are very hollow, unless action is taken to deal with the issue of child abuse and put in place practical supports. In the overall context of the wider debate, let us put the blame where it lies. The leaders of the church, the State and people failed the victims. We should never forget this. We can have all the legislation and all of the reports we like, but they are no good if people do not act in the interests of the child and the victim. There can be no running away from this reality and we all have a responsibility to ensure it happens.
I dedicate my contribution to the protestor at the gate of Leinster House, Mr. Peter Preston, who himself was a victim of a miscarriage of justice in regard to his family. He spends every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday protesting on the issue of child abuse and neglect, as well as the drugs issue. I commend him for his magnificent work in carrying on his protest.
I express my dismay at the disturbing findings of the report and the inadequate and inappropriate response, particularly of the church authorities in Cloyne, to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse. I deplore the Vatican’s intervention which contributed to the undermining of the child protection frameworks and guidelines of the State and the Irish bishops. When I read this 421 page report and see the evidence, I wonder what is going on in this country after all the talk on child abuse and the so-called protections introduced. The church, the State and the people did not take the necessary measures to protect children — that is the reality and it must change.
My other major concern on the issue of child sexual abuse concerns the fact that there is another core group who have not been discussed in great detail, namely, children with an intellectual disability who were abused and who often have no voice. They have been and are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. We will always have paedophiles in society who will look at new ways to access children and children with disabilities are a soft, open target. Many have suffered already and my concern is that because they are forgotten, they will suffer again.  I appeal to all front-line caring staff to be vigilant and keep a close eye on all children and adults, particularly those with an intellectual disability. I do not want to read about another Roscommon or Galway case. Those involved in front-line services must be extra careful in this regard.
That conclusion is the bottom line in this debate. We have had enough talk. We have had professional, objective and sensitive reports. What the victims want is real action. They deserve compassion, support and justice. The church, the State and the people must face up to that reality and, once and for all, try to end child abuse for all children.
Deputy Clare Daly: If this was the first report on clerical child sex abuse, it would be tragic. The fact that it is one of many indicates the scale of the horror our society has allowed to continue for far too long. I do not believe it is something that would be tolerated or would have happened in any other country. It is a legacy of the privileged position of the Catholic Church and the manner in which it has been intertwined with the development of the State from the framing of the Constitution to its primary role in schools, hospitals and so on, as well as in the horrors in residential institutions as discussed last week. That special or privileged relationship with the church is graphically shown by the all-party motion before the House. On the one hand, it shows how far we have come, but, on the other, it shows that we have not really moved at all. The fact that the original wording was changed from “condemns the actions of the Vatican” to “deplores the actions of the Vatican” sums up the situation in which we find ourselves. I do not just deplore what happened. In the dictionary the meaning of “deplore” is to regret deeply. The feelings of people in this country go way beyond regretting deeply. They are absolutely outraged at what has been allowed to happen. If these actions had been taken in any other country, there is no question but that it would have been deemed to be a hostile act. If the Libyan ambassador behaved in the same way as the papal nuncio, there would almost be calls for the Army to assemble at the Libyan border. The reality is that, between the Murphy and Cloyne reports, the Vatican was a party to a criminal conspiracy to prevent the Irish authorities from being informed in a timely fashion of reported cases of abuse. The refusal of the Papal Nuncio to respond to questions is an affront to victims and Irish society at large. As other Deputies have said, at a very minimum, he should have been expelled. One wonders what it would take to have some people here condemn the actions of the church if the revelations in the Cloyne report are not enough for them to do so.
It is clear that words are inadequate to describe the harm inflicted on children abused by the clergy. I express my own and my party’s solidarity with the victims and commend them for their bravery in stepping forward and telling their stories to the commission. The fact that these crimes were perpetrated after 1996, by which time the church was supposed to have child protection measures in place in the aftermath of the Brendan Smyth case, goes to the heart of the matter and demonstrates that the public repentance of the church hierarchy cannot be trusted.
This is the most serious incident to date and the lack of prosecutions post the Murphy report means many do not have huge confidence that justice will be meted out to the perpetrators mentioned in the Cloyne report either. This is an issue for which the Minister must account. Much funding has been expended on these reports but very few have been brought to justice.  We need to see action in this regard. Obviously, the State is also hugely culpable and while it is very convenient to allow the church to take the blame, it must step up to the mark also. Unless there is full separation of church and State, these issues will never be adequately addressed.
Deputy Stephen Donnelly: I would like to step back in time a little to the Ireland of the 1970s. A young man enters a seminary; the priestly vocation is a challenging one and, accordingly, in 1978 the young man goes for a psychological assessment which does not go well. There is an indication of deep sexual repression and he scores very high on the psychosis scale. However, no obstacles are put in his path. He is ordained and joins a parish in north Cork in the mid-1980s. We will call him Fr. Calder which is not his real name.
People became worried almost immediately. In 1988, a young man alleged a sexual assault but did not make a formal complaint. There were reports that Fr. Calder had been giving alcohol to young adults and spiking their drinks. Another report of sexual abuse was made but again no formal complaint followed. Fr. Calder then moved to another parish in Cork where another “soft” complaint of sexual abuse was made. In July 1997, the diocese announced that Fr. Calder was to move to a new parish in north Cork beside the one in which he started his career. However, the locals there did not want him near their children and they mounted a campaign. The diocese made some inquiries, asked Fr. Calder about the allegations, which he denied, and the transfer went ahead.
Almost immediately, Fr. Calder was appointed chairman of the board of management of the local national school. The principal was concerned for the safety of the children in her school but was unable to do anything or bring it to the attention of the board of management because Fr. Calder was its chairman. There had previously been a custom in the school of letting boys leave school during the day to serve as altar boys for daily mass. The principal had stopped this practice some time previously but her new chairman, Fr. Calder, now asked her to start letting the boys out again and moreover, he asked that they come to him for altar boy training during school time. The principal, out of concern for their safety, refused. Was Fr. Calder embarrassed, uncomfortable or ashamed? No, he threatened her and stated that effectively, he could withhold her salary unless she did what he asked. Finally, the diocese launched an investigation into Fr. Calder. In October 1997, he was sent for assessment to the Granada Institute, where he was unco-operative.
Deputy Stephen Donnelly: What happened? He was neither defrocked nor stripped of his right to practice as a priest. Instead, he returned to ministry, albeit this time to an old folks’ home, and further reports then ensued.
This story is at the heart of the Cloyne report. A possibly abusive priest was placed in a position with access to children and with authority over the school principal. When the church finally took note of the concerns about the priest, it apparently launched an inquiry but the Cloyne report implies the documents may be deliberately inaccurate. The priest was moved but not supervised and Bishop Magee made no attempt to monitor his progress. A report was made to the Vatican but nothing has been heard of it since. This organisation controls 93% of primary schools in Ireland. This organisation actively discriminates against children who do not belong to it from joining the State schools it controls. There is a problem in this regard. It is not simply about secularisation or multiculturalism but is about care for our children. I believe in the value of faith formation. However, the Catholic Church has proved it is absolutely unfit and absolutely not competent to run our schools. It is time for it to remove itself or be removed.
Deputy Michael McCarthy: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. What has happened in the context of Cloyne is appalling. It is immoral, illegal and disgusting and during this week, more of this spin, this language and these questions have emanated from people who are at the centre of the report. I refer in particular to Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan, who is a former chairman of County Cork VEC. He served on boards of management and was involved in an authority that educates young children in County Cork. There was zero accountability from that man this week and when it was put to him by a reporter that he had failed the victims of this abuse, he had the temerity and cheek to ask in what way. That is damned brazen, to say the least. Moreover, no account has been given of Bishop John Magee’s whereabouts. Allegedly, he could be in Rome or in America. Is one honestly expected to believe that people involved in that organisation do not know where he is?
I find it equally appalling that the Vatican would meddle in affairs of the Irish State. Deputy Clare Daly was quite correct to state that had it been any other ambassador, he or she would have been expelled. This is an option the Government should consider. One should note that although guidelines were established in the wake of the horrific abuse perpetrated by Fr. Brendan Smyth, people like Monsignor O’Callaghan did not believe in them. Moreover, he openly admits to not having any faith in the aforementioned guidelines and did not consider it necessary to pass on details of abuse to members of An Garda Síochána. It is critical that Members bear in mind the timeframe in this regard. These are not atrocities one can consign to the 1950s, 1960s or the 1970s as the period under investigation extends from 1996 to 2008.
One should note that the church authorities in the present era are still fumbling when it comes to this issue, to put it mildly, and that this is the fourth major clerical abuse inquiry to take place in Ireland. An absolutely disturbing aspect of this report is that it is patently clear that church authorities appear to have learned nothing from previous reports. On foot of the Murphy report, the papal nuncio stated that the Vatican was ashamed of its findings and that he would undertake to assist in the forthcoming report into the diocese of Cloyne. He and the Vatican did so by doing their level best to obstruct it. Judge Yvonne Murphy has proved the nuncio’s statement to be absolutely and utterly redundant. She has accused the Holy See of being “entirely unhelpful” in its reaction to inquiries from the commission. As Judge Murphy has concluded the Vatican was unhelpful despite a commitment given by the papal nuncio to the effect that it would assist in the investigation into abuse, I believe it is a resigning matter for him.
It is important to stress that the report was not an investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse but rather a report into how allegations made in Cloyne were handled after January 1996. In that vein, the report has singled out Bishop John Magee, who was a personal secretary to three Popes, for misleading inquiries into the mishandling of abuse claims. The report concluded that Rome effectively gave Bishop Magee carte blanche to ignore guidelines and offer comfort and support to senior clerics such as Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan who defied official policy on paedophile priests and did not believe they should be reported to the authorities.
One aspect of this abhorrent case is that Monsignor O’Callaghan refers to survivors of this abuse as “accusers”, almost as though their claims were spurious and without foundation. That man, who was the delegate of Bishop John Magee, has contributed singularly to the hurt and pain of the survivors of this abuse. Moreover, this man contributes to the ongoing pain and hurt of those who have been victimised and abused by paedophile priests. I echo the sentiments expressed by the Taoiseach, who eloquently spoke in this Chamber this afternoon about this ugly and disgusting saga of Irish history. I also agree with the Tánaiste’s comment that what has happened was totally inappropriate and unjustified and constituted an unacceptable intervention.
I welcome the plans proposed by the Minister for Justice and Equality to jail for up to five years any priest who fails to disclose information on serious offences against a child. I also welcome confirmation from Garda assistant commissioner Derek Byrne that the Children First guidelines will be incorporated into Garda training. While the findings of the Cloyne report are abhorrent, it singles out the individuals who were responsible and who continue to contribute to the hurt and suffering experienced by victims. It goes against the teachings of the Gospel and of Jesus Christ and these people are nothing short of being outright criminals.
Deputy Eamonn Maloney: I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality for the prompt manner in which he has published this unfortunate report. I am sure that any new Minister in that portfolio would have gained some relief during the early months of his or her tenure from not being obliged to deal with this subject matter. However, it is part of our history and thanks to the report by the commission, is now public knowledge. I also wish to mention the commission’s members, namely, Judge Yvonne Murphy, Ms Ita Mangan and Mr. Hugh O’Neill for the valuable work they have done. More importantly, I wish to single out those mentioned in the report who have been hurt the most, that is, the victims who have suffered in isolation. I pay homage to them and to their bravery in coming forward to co-operate with this commission as it has not been an easy decision for them.
Human beings have inflicted different types of cruelty on children. Cruelty can take different forms such as the denial of food, bullying or lack of adequate clothing. These are examples of the neglect of children by adults. However, there is no more horrible crime against children than sexual abuse and this is what some members of the clerical orders of the Roman Catholic Church engaged in over a long period of time in this country. Other speakers referred to other various reports in this regard. It is part and parcel of the hidden Ireland and, as the previous speaker said, has been happening in more recent times. The church has many questions to answer. People are angry with the church and rightly so. Those who committed the crimes and those in the church who knew but who said nothing are all guilty.
Previous speakers have referred to the church and the State. I seldom use the word “state” because of what was happening during the period since our independence. The church failed these children and so did politicians. The Roman Catholic Church had a special position in this State and it used it. A very few in this House questioned the authority and the rule of the Roman Catholic Church but they paid a great price and one or two notable people spoke out to their cost.
I refer to an interesting example of an individual speaking out on a “Late Late Show” 44 years ago in 1967. An unknown person who was a member of a movement called Reform was invited onto the guest panel. His name was Frank Crummey — he is still alive, in his 70s and I am honoured to say he is my neighbour and a good friend. During the panel discussion Frank stated that as the panel members were sitting in the studio, children in institutions in Ireland were being abused. He paid a big price for his statement. Apart from the fact that he was heckled and could not continue, he was almost physically attacked during the break in the programme. It did not end there. His children were ostracised at school on the following days and he was spat upon in public. Frank Crummey was the first man to state publicly that abuse of children was taking place and that politicians and the church should deal with it. Let us hope this is the end of this and that this report is the last report.
Deputy Barry Cowen: I join with other speakers in supporting the motion and I commend all parties for agreeing the motion. Like others, I deplore the Vatican’s intervention which contributed to the undermining of the child protection frameworks and guidelines of the Irish State and of Irish bishops. I further concur with the condemnation of the inadequate and inappropriate response of, in particular, the church authorities in Cloyne, to complaints and allegations of child sex abuse. I understand the frustration and anger of many people with regard to these matters. I can empathise with the call for the expulsion of the papal nuncio. However, it is this line of communication which must be continued to be used and which must be continued in our efforts to demand answers from the Vatican. I also compliment Judge Murphy and her colleagues on the commission for their sterling work in this regard. I compliment the victims for their courage and fortitude, for the initial telling of their abuse and their subsequent dealings with those in authority.
I refer to a statement in a newspaper today from Derek Mulligan who is connected to the case in Donegal. I note the eloquent manner in which he described his feelings and the consternation caused in his life before he came forward with details of his own abuse:
This is a snapshot of the hurt and pain and the feelings of many young people throughout the country and specifically of those we talk about today and we commend them for their part in bringing forward this report and in bringing forward what will be a new direction for the State in imposing the will of the people and the will of this House as to how these matters are dealt with in the future.
I commend the initial response of the Government and I commend the programme for dealing with this issue. I commend the movement from voluntary reporting to that of mandatory reporting. However, I ask what measures will be put in place to augment this policy. Examples from other jurisdictions show that the move from voluntary to mandatory reporting results in a significant increase in the number of reports. I refer to the example of New South Wales in Australia which in 1998 adopted a policy of mandatory reporting instead of voluntary reporting. Thirty thousand cases were reported in 1998 and in 2008 the figure was 180,000 cases reported. There had been a sixfold increase in a ten-year period. The number of social workers was doubled from 1,000 to 2,000 on the day mandatory reporting was introduced.
In Ireland today, between 5% and 10% of children in the care of the State do not have an assigned social worker. There is already pressure on our system and this is before putting in place the correct facilities, implementation plan, funding and personnel. We should take lessons from the Ryan report which was issued two years’ ago. It dealt with abuse in residential institutions. The subsequent implementation plan was accompanied by funding of €24 million. The plan provided for the provision of 270 new social workers. A total of 200 have been employed but 70 are still required in that area. In addition to the percentage of children who do not have an assigned social worker or care assistant, there is a deficit of 70 social workers for those affected by the Ryan report. These are further strains and further pressures.
What assessments have been carried out by the relevant Departments of the move from voluntary to mandatory reporting? What provisions are consequent to that assessment? What funding or personnel can be provided in order to ensure the success of the plan? Will the Government publish any assessments which have been carried out? Can we scrutinise them and ensure adequate resources are being provided? If it has not been carried out can the Government commit to carrying it out forthwith? Can it commit to augmenting it with the relevant funds and personnel to assure our people that these children can be assured of the sort of care that is required further to the publication and further to the distress heaped upon them?
I commend the strength, depth and quality of debate that has been forthcoming from all sides of the House today. I commend the Government on its initial reaction and for its goodwill, good faith and commitment to introduce the sorts of measures that will prevent issues such as this from arising again. However, in the recent Donegal case there was reporting and the HSE and Garda were informed and yet it still persisted. We are at a major juncture in the history of the State in this regard. The Members of this House can have a significant impact on how we deal with these issues in the future and we must deal with them correctly. Every effort should be made to ensure that the provisions and steps being discussed are followed through, not only by means of words and reporting, but we also need the support system in place to coincide with that report. I refer to a support system in the area of funding and in personnel and then we will be able to address all the issues that have arisen in Dublin, Cloyne and Donegal. Despite the drip-feed of this terrible saga in the past 20 years, the Cloyne report refers to 2008 and the Donegal case refers to the present day. Reporting is not enough without the relevant funding and personnel in place to augment and support it. I commend the motion to the House.
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): It is important that we together declare our determination in one voice, clear and unequivocal, to stand with the nation in seeking to safeguard our children. We have done that today by the adoption of an all-party motion in this House. I welcome that and I express my appreciation for the all-party support in the range of contributions here today. For our part and on behalf of the Government, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, and I are acting with an urgency and absolute determination to bring forward a programme of firm actions to strengthen our nation’s child protection framework.
I commend the bravery of all those individuals who came forward and told the commission of their experiences. Without their crucial input we would not have a report of such detail and quality. I appreciate that events of this nature can cause painful memories to resurface. For any person affected by the report’s content I wish to repeat that help is available and join the Minister, Deputy Shatter, in expressing our sincere apologies for any failings of the State.
For all of us last week is one that we would love to forget, but must always remember. This is not the first investigation into the handling of allegations of child abuse by church authorities, but is one of many. However, unlike previous reports, the Cloyne report showed us that child abuse and endangerment is not something that happened back in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s. The report showed us that child abuse and endangerment can happen and is still happening today.
Chapter 27 of the report goes into some detail about the experiences of the victims of clerical abuse. It is the last chapter and has a simple and almost bureaucratic title: “The Complainants”. It contains the evidence of what happens to little children when child protection guidelines are declared by the Vatican to be nothing more than “study documents”. While the study continued, so did the abuse. Chapter 27 quotes the adults those little children become. The Complainants is a chapter largely made up of their words, which I wish to put on the record of the House. One comment was: “my mother reared five children, how did she get one so different. I am like a shadow.” Another comment was: “Separate instances. They all mulch into one, one long brain turning, nauseating role of events.” Yet another comment was: “what was so awful about all of this all of my life is I felt that I was the one who did something dreadful, that I was the one so isolated in shame until I knew better, you know, and that is exactly what he wanted.”
Over the past few days we have heard additional commentary from individuals affected by clerical child abuse in the Cloyne diocese and their families. It is heartbreaking to hear of normal lives being thrown so far off course that some of those affected have never experienced the stability we all yearn for in our lives. Modest goals such as relationships, family and employment eluded people who just could not cope. Some individuals have taken many years to rebuild their lives. Some, tragically, never recovered.
The publication last week of the Cloyne report has generated significant public anger and concern as was reflected in the contributions here today. However, reports since then of cases in Galway and Donegal have further heightened that anger and concern — and rightly so. We owe it to our children to ensure that whether in the family home, at school, in church or in engaging in any other activities, formally or informally, they are protected.
The Government must be assured that all legal and practical measures are being taken to guarantee this. On behalf of the Government and in conjunction with my colleague the Minister, Deputy Shatter, we are engaged in a series of measures designed to achieve this. As the Minister outlined to the House, he has published the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes against Children and Intellectually Disabled Persons) Bill 2011. Last week I published the Children First National Guidance 2011. It provides a robust code for the protection and welfare of children offering clear direction to individuals, organisations and agencies on what they need to do to keep children safe. I urge people and organisations to familiarise themselves with it.
In recognition of the importance of Children First, the HSE will publish an associated child protection and welfare practice handbook, which will be very helpful for front-line professionals. These two publications will provide clearer direction and support to front-line staff and organisations working with children. They will also set out the respective roles of the statutory agencies responsible for child protection.
Last week I received Government agreement to introduce legislation to require, for the first time, statutory compliance with Children First. This will include a statutory requirement on individuals to report to the relevant authorities where, in good faith, they have reasonable concerns over the abuse or neglect of a child. However, the scope of Children First extends beyond the narrow focus of reporting on its own. We do not want to create simply a reporting culture and nothing else because protecting children involves more than making a once-off report. Instead, through requiring statutory compliance with Children First, I propose a much broader-based and comprehensive approach to child protection laying down the broader responsibilities of organisations that are in contact with or providing services to children. This will include a requirement regarding the sharing of information, which is so important if we are to protect children. The need for such requirement was proven again this week on foot of reports of the Donegal case.
Last week, we learned of the shocking inadequate and inappropriate response by the diocese of Cloyne, to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse in the period from between 1996 and 2008. The diocese did not comply with the church guidelines, nor did it comply with Children First. It is therefore vital that guidance translates into implementation on the ground. We must have compliance without exception or exemptions. Never again should someone be allowed to place the protection of the institution or organisation above the protection of children. As I stated last week, the days of voluntary compliance are over when it comes to child protection. The new legislation I will introduce will provide for a strong system of inspection and oversight. On the need to provide demonstrable evidence that the guidance is being implemented correctly across all sectors, we will also have what is called an assurance framework, an assurance setting out the responsibilities of each Department and sector working with children and it will be implemented. I will chair an interdepartmental committee in this regard.
We need capacity in our child protection services, but it is equally important that we focus on appropriate management, consistency of response and the creation of a world class model of child protection, as stated by Mr. Gordon Jeyes, the new director of the HSE’s child and family services section.
Yesterday, I laid before the Houses the second progress report on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Ryan report implementation plan. Putting Children First on a statutory footing was a key recommendation of the Ryan report. As to those Deputies who raised doubts in this regard, this is the policy of the Government and every political party in the House. Although it was promised by the previous Government in 1999, it is being done only now. The proposed recruitment of 270 additional social workers will go ahead. These posts are exempt from the public service recruitment embargo and 260 of them will have been filled by the end of this year.
The report’s principal findings cast cold light over the practices of church authorities in the diocese of Cloyne. It is particularly disappointing that the diocese did not as a matter of course report and notify allegations and concerns to the statutory authorities. This would have been in keeping with State guidelines and the reporting procedures adopted by the church.
For those who reported painful and horrific episodes in their lives in the expectation that some positive action would be taken by the diocese, I cannot imagine the sense of disappointment and anger at what can be only seen as the inaction of the church authorities in Cloyne. The initial surprise response yesterday from a Vatican spokesman, whether in a personal capacity or not, has not helped.
The church in particular must fully engage with the outcome of and responses to the Cloyne report. Last week, I called for a decisive shift to a culture of transparency and public accountability. In particular, I called for the publication by the National Board for Safeguarding Children of the audit of each diocese it undertakes and for acceleration in its conduct of all such audits. I note and welcome that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has joined in my call to publish the diocesan reviews by the board.
I will soon be in receipt of the long awaited report of the HSE audit of child protection in Roman Catholic dioceses, which should indicate whether all allegations known to church authorities are being properly reported to the State authorities, namely, the Garda and the HSE. In the meantime, I have asked the HSE’s national director for children and family services, Mr. Jeyes, to engage directly with the National Board for Safeguarding Children on a programme of action designed to ensure that the Catholic church is responding properly and comprehensively to all child protection concerns. Mr. Jeyes has already made contact with the board in this regard and will report to me on the progress achieved.
I commend all those who already work so hard to ensure every child with whom they interact is cared for, supported and protected. These are the practitioners in the professional and voluntary sectors, medical professionals, gardaí, youth workers, teachers and coaches all over Ireland who already passionately employ best practice in child protection. They understand their duties and do not need legislation to keep children safe. As the reports recount, though, there are those who do not make child protection their prime objective, whether by omission or commission, out of ignorance or malice. We are introducing new laws to use the State’s powers of prosecution to protect our children.
Although we will introduce laws, it takes a community to protect a child, as evidenced by recent cases. The measures proposed by the Government will, with Opposition input and support, cumulatively leave a lasting legacy when it comes to child protection by putting in place laws, practices and mechanisms to ensure the evils highlighted in cases such as Cloyne and other cases are never again allowed to take root in any setting.
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