The Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin shows clearly that a systemic, calculated perversion of power and trust was visited on helpless and innocent children in the Archdiocese over a 30 year period.
The perpetrators must continue to be brought to justice, and the people of Ireland must know that this can never happen again.
We all owe a profound debt to the victims of this injustice for their brave cooperation with the Commission in its work. The remarkable selflessness they have shown, in the face of great adversity, is a beacon of light in a harrowing catalogue of the abuse of power.
The Government expresses its appreciation too to the Chairperson and members of the Commission for the extremely valuable work which they have carried out. The findings of the Commission speak for themselves. The report leaves us in no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was tolerated and covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities. The focus of those authorities was on the avoidance of scandal for the Church and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution, rather than on the welfare of children. The findings are shocking and raise the most fundamental questions for the Church authorities.
While much of the report paints a damning picture of the handling by the Church of allegations of abuse, it rightly deals also with failings of agencies of the State. While the Government notes the Commission's acknowledgement of the contribution which the Archdiocese of Dublin and the many religious orders based there have made to the lives of the citizens of Ireland, it believes it will be a matter of profound regret to Irish people that the deference which so many people traditionally showed to their Church was, insofar as the area of child abuse was concerned, entirely misplaced and had the effect of further abusing the victims.
Whatever the historical and societal reasons for this, the Government, on behalf of the State, apologises, without reservation or equivocation, for failures by the agencies of the State in dealing with this issue.
It is not now - nor has it ever been - acceptable that institutions behave or are treated as being above the law of the state.
No Hiding Place
Whatever the failings of the past, the Government is determined that there will be no hiding place for those who break the law - whatever their status. The people who committed these abominable crimes should pay for them. A number have already been brought to justice, proceedings are pending against some others and a number of investigations are ongoing. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Dermot Ahern TD made available a copy of the report to the Garda Commissioner and the Director of Public Prosecutions as soon as he received it in July. The Commissioner has assured the Minister that pursuing the perpetrators, whenever the abuse occurred, is an absolute priority for the Force. The Commissioner will also be announcing details of special contact arrangements for people who have information about abuse.
The Commission is impressed with current Garda arrangements for dealing with such cases. It is a matter of regret, however, that the Report finds that, although many Gardaí performed their duty without fear or favour, in some cases in the past An Garda Síochána did not properly pursue the perpetrators of abuse in some cases. The Garda Commissioner will be making a statement about this.
The Minister and Commissioner accept that, notwithstanding the positive findings of the Commission in relation to current Garda practices, it is necessary to continuously review approaches to ensure that the highest standards and best international practice continue to be maintained. Against that background, the Minister, having consulted the Garda Commissioner, is requesting the Garda Inspectorate, as part of its work programme, to carry out a review of arrangements for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of children.
The Government welcomes the fact that the report contains some positive findings about current arrangements for dealing with such cases in the Archdiocese. For its part, the Government has a clear duty to do all it can to ensure that such abuse does not happen in the future and, where it does, that it is responded to appropriately. Many positive developments in the area of child protection have taken place in recent years. While it was not within the remit of the Commission to make recommendations, they do express views on certain issues and these will fully inform the measures being taken by the Government to make sure that our children are safe.
While the Ryan report dealt specifically with abuse of children within residential institutions, the abuse dealt with in the present report took place when children were living in the community. Nevertheless there are clearly many issues common to both and, in the circumstances, the Government has asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Barry Andrews TD to consider this report with a view to establishing what actions are necessary in addition to the 99 action points contained in the Ryan report Implementation Plan.
Audit of Diocese
In addition, the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs facilitated renewed consultation with the HSE and the Church authorities, aimed at ensuring that the HSE is fully aware of all cases of clerical child sexual abuse known to the Church, including the whereabouts of alleged perpetrators. A detailed questionnaire issued to each diocese in July 2009, and completed replies have been received by the HSE from the head of each diocese. Child care managers within the HSE are meeting individual bishops to clarify issues arising from the completion of the questionnaires. A full report in respect of the dioceses is expected next month, setting out the national findings. A similar audit process was also initiated with religious orders and the HSE is to furnish a report to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs setting out the findings. The audit of the Catholic Church's child protection policies, practice and procedures is one of a number of actions taken following the publication of the Ferns report. The Government earlier this year requested the Commission of Investigation to extend its work to deal with the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne because of concerns which had arisen in relation to that diocese. The Government believes that the work of the Commission in relation to the Archdiocese of Dublin and its forthcoming report on the Diocese of Cloyne will serve the primary purpose of establishing what happened so lessons can be learned.
Other measures being taken by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs relevant to the Commission's findings include the preparation of legislation dealing with the use of 'soft information' (information which may be available to the authorities but which may not necessarily have led to prosecution), further consultation with the Attorney General in the light of the report in relation to the powers of the HSE when dealing with child sexual abuse which is extra-familial, the publication of a revised edition of Children First guidelines before the end of the year, and placing a statutory obligation on agencies in receipt of Exchequer funding to have a duty to comply with the Children First guidelines.
The report of the Commission deserves to be widely debated. While some consolation can be taken from the fact that it recognises the many improvements which have been made, there are absolutely no grounds for complacency.
It is a fundamental feature of our democracy that no Government can seek to prescribe how Churches are run. But Government can and must ensure that all institutions are subject to the laws of the State. Central to those laws must be the protection of children. It may be cold comfort to the victims of abuse in the past, but as a Government we pledge, on behalf of the Irish people, that we will do whatever is necessary to make sure that the dark days of sexual abuse of children, compounded by cover up and complicity, are over for good.
26 November 2009