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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 Mar 2000

Vol. 516 No. 2

Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I commend to the House the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill, 2000, which pro vides for the establishment, on a statutory basis, of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

This Bill will enable the Oireachtas to put in place one of the key measures relating to abuse of children in institutions announced last May by the Taoiseach. Through the Commission individual victims will be given an opportunity to overcome the lasting effects of abuse. The past failures of our society in allowing child abuse in institutions will be acknowledged. The facts of abuse, however unpalatable, will be brought into the open so that we can confront the truth, and the lessons taught by past failures will be well learned to protect the children of the future.

Our desire that the truth of past child abuse be clearly established is a primary motivating factor for this Bill. Nevertheless, we should avoid a witch hunt. Our objective is to establish all of the circumstances, the good and the bad, relating to the operation, management and regulation of institutions which cared for children. The Commission, therefore, will also give an opportunity for the many people who devoted their lives and their energies to the protection and welfare of children in institutions to have their say so that their contribution can be acknowledged and distinguished from the abuse committed by others. It is important that the commission be in a position to reflect this reality of the institutions also in the interests of establishing a full and balanced picture of what occurred.

The scourge of child abuse is an international phenomenon. Of those countries with which we share a common basis for our legal system, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand all have had a similar experience to ours, as have many of our EU partners. If we, as a society differ from other societies, it is in the fact that we appear to have reacted more slowly in addressing the issue of abuse which occurred in the past. The time for action is long overdue.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, chaired by the Hon. Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, was established by the Government on an administrative basis last May. This was part of a range of measures to address the effect of abuse in childhood on the victims. The first objective set for the commission was to consider the broad terms of reference then provided to it, determine if these needed refining and recommend to Government the powers and protections it would need to do its work effectively. The commission reported to the Government in September and October. Its recommendations have been accepted without reservation by the Government and this Bill follows closely the recommendations in the reports.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, now to be established under law, will have three primary functions. First, to listen to victims of childhood abuse who want to recount their experiences to a sympathetic forum; second, to investigate all allegations of abuse made to it, except where the victim does not wish for an investigation and third, to publish a report on its findings to the general public.

A forum where they can recount their experiences has long been a demand of those who were residents of industrial schools, reformatory schools, orphanages and similar places. For many of those who suffered abuse in those institutions and in other places, the need to tell about it and to be listened to in a sympathetic and open minded way is an urgent one and is the beginning for them of recovery. Up to the very recent past, victims of abuse have been largely dismissed or ignored by Irish society, its institutions and its representatives. However, ignoring this issue is not an option the Government is prepared to take and hence the provisions of this Bill. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse to be established under this Bill will, as its core function, provide those who have been silenced for so long with an opportunity to give their account to an experienced and sympathetic forum. This telling and listening function, which can be called the therapeutic function of the commission or the healing forum, is the function to which everything else should be subordinate.

For some people, this therapeutic role will be all they require of the commission. Others will also seek that their allegations be inquired into and perpetrators of abuse, where uncovered, be brought to justice. In this case the therapeutic role will have grafted onto it an investigative role in the interests of establishing the truth and giving persons against whom allegations are made an opportunity to defend themselves. To ensure that the two strands can be accommodated, the Bill provides for two committees, the confidential commttee and the investigation committee. This will ensure, on the one hand, the right to confidentiality for those who want only to access the therapeutic role of the commission and, on the other, rights to natural justice of persons accused of abuse.

Through the confidential committee, the commission will provide a forum for victims of abuse to recount their experience on an entirely confidential basis. The purpose of this commitee is overwhelmingly therapeutic. It is intended that it will meet the needs of those victims who want to speak of their experiences but who do not wish to become involved in an investigative procedure. Because of this limited though vitally important remit, this committee will also be limited in the extent to which it can draw conclusions from the evidence it receives. This committee will provide the commission with a report on its proceedings. This report, however, will confine itself to findings of a general nature on the issues encountered in its work.

The investigation committee will also provide an opportunity for victims to tell of the abuse they suffered as one of its core functions but it will go much further than that. The committee will be specifically mandated to carry out a thorough and comprehensive inquiry into allegations and establish responsibility at the level of the individual abuser, the institution and the manage ment and regulatory authorities. It is the Government's intention that the committee will have available to it the resources and all the legal powers and protections it needs to do this. In particular, the committee will have the kind of powers and protections which a court would have, including privilege for witnesses, compellability of witnesses, discovery of documents, taking evidence on oath and offences for failure to co-operate or for obstruction. This committee will also report to the commission.

Upon completion of the work of the committees the commission will publish a report. The publication of this report containing the findings and recommendations of the commission is an essential part of the service which the commission can render to victims of abuse and society as a whole. The report will be published directly to the public by the commission. This is an important feature of the independence of the commission. The report of the commission will be based on the reports of the committees and any wider evidence heard by or in submissions to the commission. The Bill provides that in its report the commission may identify institutions in which abuse occurred and the people responsible and make findings in regard to the role and responsibility of management and regulatory authorities. The report, following the recommendation of the commission, will not make findings on any individual case as these are likely to be matters which are or will be the subject of civil or criminal proceedings.

The commission in its report will also make recommendations. The Bill provides that these recommendations may relate to measures to alleviate the effects of abuse on victims. There are no preconditions or limitations on the independence of the commission in this regard. The commission in its recommendations will also look to the future care and welfare of children and will be empowered to make recommendations on how children can best be protected and abuse prevented in institutions.

The commission will be entirely independent in performing its functions, a point specifically provided for in the Bill. Neither the Government nor anyone else will be in a position to influence its procedures or the outcomes of its inquiries. Following on the recommendations in the commission's report on its terms of reference, the Bill provides for some key procedural issues. The Bill specifically requires the commission to bear in mind the difficulties posed for people in telling of abuse in childhood and imposes a duty on the commission to ensure proceedings are conducted as informally as possible and that the atmosphere is sympathetic and understanding. These provisions are entirely consistent with the need to give victims a forum to tell of abuse and in so doing they should not be exposed to the sometimes harsh adversarial environment of a court.

Related in part to this desire to avoid undue formality and an adversarial environment in commission meetings are the provisions in the Bill which provide that the hearings of the confidential committee and the investigation committee relating to allegations of abuse be held in private. This approach was recommended by the commission primarily on the grounds of fairness. Any perceived lack of fairness on the part of persons accused would inevitably involve the commission in legal challenges. The making of specific allegations in a public forum would greatly increase the adversarial elements in the process at the expense of the listening therapeutic elements.

The Government is committed to ensuring a wide cross-section of people come forward to the commission to ensure the final report is as comprehensive as possible. In the case of former residents of institutions in particular, many may have difficulty in covering the costs of coming to the commission. On top of the emotional stress which recounting events of the past might cause, this financial burden could be the last straw which would make them decide not to come to the commission. To help alleviate this burden and encourage as many people as possible to come forward to the commission, the Bill provides for the drawing up of a scheme of expenses for witnesses. My Department is in discussions with the Department of Finance with a view to finalising a draft scheme of expenses for publication prior to Committee Stage.

Under the provisions relating to expenses I will also prepare a scheme relating to the issue of legal expenses. In principle the Government accepts the view expressed in the commission's report on its terms of reference that an administrative scheme for legal expenses should be put in place. This scheme, as a matter of constitutional right, must provide for legal representation of people against whom allegations are made and who cannot afford representation. I am aware that some people who want to bring allegations of abuse before the investigation committee may want to have legal support in so doing. It is my intention that they should. In devising the scheme under which legal expenses are to be paid, it will be necessary to strike a balance between that need for legal support, the therapeutic role of the commission and the objective that the commission hearings be held as informally as possible. As with the scheme relating to general expenses, it is my intention to publish a draft scheme for the payment of legal expenses prior to Committee Stage.

In addition to being offered a hearing by the commission and its committees, victims of abuse will be offered counselling by a dedicated counselling service which has been established by the Minister for Health and Children and is to be provided through the health boards. The Government has provided £4 million and arrangements are well advanced for the service. This has involved recruiting qualified and experienced counsellors to organise the service and provide counselling. It is intended that the service will be operational in all health board areas by the time the commission begins its work. Through this counselling service it is hoped to help those victims of abuse who need professional help and who may not yet have sought or received it. The counselling service will also be open to those who have received or are receiving counselling.

In May last year the Taoiseach, in announcing the measures relating to abuse of people in childhood, took as his starting point an apology to the victims of that abuse for the collective failure of society to intervene, detect the pain of victims and come to their rescue. The measures being put in place are not a break with the past but a facing up to it. We cannot consider ourselves to have matured into a self-confident and inclusive society unless we acknowledge and deal with the more uncomfortable elements of our past. The Bill and the commission it proposes to establish provide us with the best possible opportunity to do so but, while society as a whole can benefit from the work of the commission, let us not forget that this is a commission for the victims of abuse. It is a long delayed opportunity for them to receive the kind of respectful and sympathetic hearing which has long been their due.

I commend the Bill to the House.

A recent meeting of the Organisation of Survivors of Child Abuse voted unanimously to veto co-operation with the commission we are considering today. The obstacle to its participation is the Government's refusal to lift its exclusion of childhood victims of physical abuse from claiming civil damages under the new Statute of Limitations Bill. It is cynical for the Government to profess sorrow for the abuse and then deny the opportunity for redress. Confining the extension of time to initiate a civil action for damages to child sexual abuse alone is discriminatory and unworkable. It is surprising that the Minister has made no reference to the problem with the Statute of Limitations Bill even though those for whom this commission is being set up have made it clear in numerous public statements that this is a critical issue for them. The reality is that many trailblazers, who were the ones most determined to have their cases heard and who have been denied a hearing for so long, will not now have an opportunity to seek redress under the civil laws.

On a point of order, may I explain for the information of the House that the commission can and will consider physical abuse. The matter to which the Deputy is referring is a separate matter of civil law.

That is not a point of order.

That is not a point of order.

I just want to make clear the position.

The point is clear. The Minister's Department was not represented at a recent meeting of survivors of child abuse. The key issue on which they voted unanimously was that they would not co-operate with the commission because the Government had not addressed the matter. It is misleading to come into the House and state this is a separate issue.

Physical abuse will be considered.

I do not know who the Minister is trying to cod.

We should hear Deputy Bruton without interruption.

If the Minister had been represented at the meetings of survivors of child abuse, he might understand why this issue is of such concern.

The Deputy should not mislead.

The Minister will have an opportunity to reply to the debate and he should reserve his remarks until he avails of that opportunity at the end of the debate.

But the message goes out.

Deputy Bruton should address his remarks through the Chair.

I want to address the Chair, a Cheann Comhairle. This is a highly sensitive issue and I want to be quite clear that no false information is given out here—

The Minister will have his opportunity.

—and corrected much later in the day, which is too late.

According to the order of debate—

Under the Bill the commission will consider physical abuse. Let us be clear about that. They are separate matters.

—the Minister should resume his seat because we cannot conduct an orderly debate if the Minister or any Member intervenes every time he wants to contest something a Member is saying. That is not the proper way to conduct a debate. Under the orders governing debates, the Minister, in moving the motion, has the right of reply.

I emphasise that the Bill provides no vehicle whereby the commission can extend the Statute of Limitations to allow victims of physical abuse to seek redress. The Government has decided to extend such an opportunity to victims of sexual abuse but has denied it to the victims of physical abuse. The group, which represents the survivors for whom we are setting up these hearings, voted unanimously not to co-operate with the commission at a recent meeting, where the Minister was not represented. I believe and hope they will co-operate with the commission but I do not accept for one moment that the Government has handled its responsibilities fairly in continuing to deny the extension of the Statute of Limitations in the Seanad.

That relates to another Bill.

It is one and the same thing.

It is not. It is just troublemaking

Order, please.

Ms Justice Laffoy is to be commended on the tremendous work she has done in developing a model for investigating the horrendous history of child abuse in a sensitive and fair manner. However, the Government has departed in important respects from her recommendations. She specifically proposed that legal representation would be provided by the State for those who could not afford it through the offices of the Attorney General. This does not figure in the Bill. Today the Minister suggested a somewhat mealy-mouthed commitment in the House that he may provide legal support to victims. My understanding of the legal support the Minister has in mind is not the continuous legal representation of victims as a group so they can be present throughout hearings where evidence is being taken, but rather that individuals would have access to a lawyer during the hearing and any rebuttal of questioning that occurred. This is not the sort of legal representation which victims of abuse should receive from the State. We will need much greater clarity and a clear commitment from Government before Committee Stage is completed.

Ms Justice Laffoy also clearly envisaged comprehensive support to survivors as they go through this process. The Minister suggested there will be a £4 million counselling scheme but it is unclear how this will be linked to the work of the commission. A person providing evidence will need not only legal support but also psychological and other counselling support through this process. I am disappointed the Bill is silent on this also. This is left to the accident of what will develop. I know the survivors are disappointed with what is happening.

The Bill envisages the use of staff seconded from the Department of Education and Science to act as the administration for this inquiry. This is the Department which had responsibility for funding and regulating many of the institutions which will come under scrutiny in the inquiry. Surely this is insensitive at the very least and may also raise the issue of a conflict of interest.

It is impossible to understand why the terms of reference of the commission have made no explicit reference to inquiring into the role of the State in the abuse that occurred. It is the State which is responsible for the legal frameworks which snatched children from their families and for the systems of regulation and inspection. It is the State which must answer as to whether this abuse could have been discovered at an earlier stage, or as to whether complaints were acted upon.

In recent years we have, to some extent, had our sensitivity dulled to the cases of child abuse and the horrors of the crime which has occurred for years, but the personal stories which were revealed in the RTE programme "States of Fear" certainly reawakened even the most jaded conscience. Here we saw systematic abuse meted out to children in most need by those trusted with their care. These were children who had nowhere else to turn, no home to which to retreat and no ear to hear their story. This is what makes their betrayal all the more painful. The age old parable was once again acted out in real life. Children setting out on a lonely journey were set upon savagely and scarred for life and one by one those with authority walked by on the other side averting their eyes. No doubt each one could have offered explanations why he or she was not the one to take heed of the cries of anguish, but how hollow do these explanations ring beside the real life tales of a childhood brutalised, tales of an adolescence consumed in anger and frustration, tales of a spirit twisted and broken. There are no heroes in this story except those who have endured so much. There is their pain and grief, their tenacity and survival. Even now they are willing to tell their stories so that others may not suffer their fate. As their story has started to seep out, how often have they been belittled, denied or branded as deranged. To be a victim is bad enough, but to be denied is devastating.

The Taoiseach has offered a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse for our collective failure to intervene, detect their pain and come to their rescue. However, we must remember that an apology is only the start of making amends. We must learn from what has happened. The apology must be accompanied by sustained action long after the memories of these vivid stories have faded from the public mind.

The record of the Department of Education and Science, documented in Suffer the Little Children, makes stark reading. There was no action on reports of criminal negligence where a child died from exposure to boiling water in a bath. Records were apparently destroyed and there was repeated insistence by the Department on institutionalisation so that the Minister might not be embroiled in inquiries if boarding out went badly. There was no regular inspection and there was rejection of the proposed visiting committees as a “grave nuisance”. The reality of what occurred for so many years is astonishing. There were more than 1,000 children committed to industrial schools or institutions of different sorts each year. They were not orphans or offenders. That book shows that less than 5% were orphans and less than 5% were offenders. The book describes how the majority were taken from their families by the cruelty man and put into these institutions, supposedly for their own benefit, but the reality was very different. This was a highly interventionist State policy that went badly wrong. Apologies are necessary and I hope they are met with the same commitment to reform for the future.

Institutionalisation was the easy option for the State. There was not any need for reports or regular inspections. There was no hassle and little cost. Individuals who perpetrated abuse cannot shoulder the whole responsibility for what happened. Some measure of responsibility must be taken by those who did not act on complaints, did not put safeguards in place, turned a blind eye and did not provide sufficient funding for children entrusted to the care of the State. As a State we must face up to past wrongs and make proper redress.

It is surprising that the Minister does not refer to compensation. I know in my constituency that at a location no further than 200 yards from the Artane industrial school the tragedy of Stardust was quickly matched by a compensation tribunal that, ironically, sat in the same grounds as the school. It is surprising that we expect people to go the route of civil action. I cannot understand why the Government is not addressing this issue and seeing the merits of the compensation approach.

We must act to ensure that children now in our care do not come to harm. It is wrong that the Laffoy commission has not been asked to make recommendations on the necessary changes to current policies, legislation and practices. We need provisions to reduce the detention of children, ensure professional resources are available to children who need them, appropriate settings are available particularly for those who are disturbed, provide visitors' programmes, complaints mechanisms and have statutory regulatory supervision applied equally to all institutions. None of this is in place. There are still many flaws in our legal framework.

Commissions of inquiry in other countries have sought the views of children now in care to assess their risk of abuse. These commissions have found such risks to be present and real with few systematic programmes to reduce the risk. They found risks can seldom be identified in the flying visits of an inspector. Are we so confident that the position is different in Ireland that we do not ask for these issues to be directly addressed? If the Government decided no such review of the present provisions are to be undertaken by Ms Justice Laffoy and her commission, the onus is on the Minister to present, along with the Bill, the provisions he intends to introduce to ensure this cannot happen again. We need to put on a statutory basis a children's ombudsman, whistle blowing procedures, a duty to report abuse, an obligation for suitable training for those providing care, and have common systems of regulation and inspection applied universally. We need a child complaints procedure and an advocacy service for young people in residential care. It is not enough to pack Ms Justice Laffoy off to do her work and comfortably sit on our hands while this goes on. There are many flaws in what we are doing.

We will not learn if this process just leads to finger-pointing people and practices from the past. Many people seem to have been trapped where loyalty, fear of scandal or legal convention blinded them to their responsibility. The environment of not wanting to ask has not gone. Industrial schools may be closed but this can happen again wherever a child is in the custodial care of a person who has complete authority over him. This is not about raking over the past for its own sake. For the victims the past is still with them. The legacy can be overcome only if the whole community listens with an open heart and starts the process of healing. For the future, we must ensure there is someone whose job is to listen to those cries of anguish, who asks the awkward question and does not let known offenders slip quietly into the woodwork to reappear elsewhere. We must put in place a more robust legal framework to deal with children who are at risk of being neglected or abused.

In any approach to redress, a guiding principle must be to do no further harm. This was the basis of Ms Justice Laffoy's proposal to divide the work of the commission between an investigation committee and a confidential committee. The Bill proposes that the commission shall not contain findings on particular instances of alleged abuse of children. Instead it will confine itself to findings of fact on general allegations that abuse was prevalent in a particular institution and with consequential findings ascribing responsibility to persons in the institution or in bodies charged with the duty of regulating the institution. Presumably this approach is designed to reduce the hostile testing by counsel for those accused, of the credibility of witnesses and the accuracy of their testimony through vigorous cross-examination. However, the Bill is far from clear on this point.

Ms Justice Laffoy's report indicates that even where findings in individual cases are not being made, individuals to whom responsibility is likely to be ascribed must be afforded constitutional rights that include, as a minimum, being furnished with a statement of every allegation, being allowed to cross-examine the person making the allegation, give rebuttal evidence and make submissions in their own defence. However, the Bill is silent on the position of the accused in these regards. This is a crucial point. It is important that we know in advance how the rights of the accused and the rights of the survivors of child abuse are to be balanced.

We have seen in rape cases how the experience of cross-examination can be like a further violation. Where are the provisions that will prevent this? Ms Justice Laffoy clearly envisaged that there would be Chinese walls between the evidence presented to the confidential committee and the work of the investigation committee but it is not clear that this has been adequately covered in the Bill. Without this clarity could we find that the basis of the work of the investigation committee will be open to legal challenge? Ms Justice Laffoy was at pains to insist that the Bill should, from the date of its publication, make guilty of an offence, any person who destroyed documents. It is not clear this is being provided in section 30 where it would appear that it is only from the date of the enactment of the Bill that it will be an offence to destroy documents.

I welcome this Bill. It is an opportunity for victims to have their cases heard and for the State to face up to its responsibilities. Ms Justice Laffoy is the right person to do this job. She has already shown her commitment. There must be continuous legal representation for the survivors of abuse so that, over the extent of the commission's work, they can have a continuous input and ask the questions they believe should be asked. This is important. I know the Minister wants to reduce the formality and not turn this into a tribunal such as those we have seen. It is crucial that survivors of child abuse have a key input into the way this work is approached. I am disappointed that the discussions between the Department of Education and Science and the survivors of child abuse appear to have gone off the rails at many points. There does not seem to be consensus on both sides that we have the formula to do this correctly. The worst of all is in regard to the statute of limitations where the Government continues to hold an untenable position with the kind of apologies it is offering. We must be confident that the survivors of child abuse understand and support the way the commission will work. The Minister must make great efforts to get it right. The Bill will require amendment on Committee Stage and clear commitments on how matters such as expenses are to be dealt with, particularly continuous representation. The Minister's intention will not meet the needs of survivors. He must face up to and change that position.

I look forward to Committee Stage where we will be able to go through in greater detail how the commission will work in practice. It is important that we strike the right balance in terms of the needs of survivors and that we do not expose them to hostile examination that would repeat the violation they have suffered. We must also be confident that the findings have the necessary legal robustness to stand up.

I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this important debate on the establishment of a commission to inquire into child abuse. Without exception we were all horrified by the revelations in the televisions series "States of Fear" and we unanimously welcomed the response of the Government, namely, the apology offered to victims and the proposals which the Government put forward to tackle the problem.

I am concerned that there is an element of knee-jerk reaction to the television series, and that all of us, particularly the Government which has responsibility, is inclined to view these horrific abuses as only being associated with the past, that we now have a much more enlightened attitude to children and that we apologise for what happened in the past. I think this is a dangerous mistake to make. I have no doubt that in ten years time there will be further television programmes examining child abuse in 1999 and 2000. We may no longer have the institutions, but we still have a considerable problem of abuse which is not being tackled at an official level. While the excuse of lack of funding, which is weak enough, might have been used in the past – the country was certainly very poor in the 1940s and 1950s – it cannot be used as an excuse for abuse in 2000. I remind the Minister that in spite of our huge economic prosperity, we have an average of 500 children waiting to be referred to a social worker because of allegations of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. What is the excuse for this? Equally, our cultural attitude to children has not changed much since the 1940s. We still see children as the objects of charity if they are lucky. In spite of signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, we have not incorporated the provisions of the convention into our Constitution. Neither have we changed our attitude to see children as full citizens who should have full rights. The culture will only change when we start viewing children as full citizens with their own rights.

It is also important to remind ourselves that we have a number of children incarcerated in a number of State institutions for such things as non-school attendance, which is termed a crime. It is an absolute scandal that a number of children are currently serving sentences up to two years for non-school attendance, a situation which continues because of the Government's failure to give adequate political attention to children's issues.

Children have to compete for attention in a range of different Departments, principally the Department of Education and Science, but also the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Social, Community and Family Affairs. Each Department has nominal responsibility for children, but children have to compete with adults for attention and so far children have lost out. Children have always been a second thought, especially in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. For that reason my party is very much in favour of the proposal to have a Minister for Children who would sit at Cabinet and with whom the buck would stop in relation to children. Unfortunately, the widespread buck passing is continuing among Departments which have responsibility for children. Therefore, let us not just think of these scandals as a thing of the past. There are many scandals continuing to the present day, something of which we should be aware.

The harrowing revelations of the abuse of children need and demand a response. Over the past five or six years in particular individual instances of appalling abuse suffered in silence by the most vulnerable children have shocked the country. We need a comprehensive inquiry into the instances, circumstances and extent of this abuse. An inquiry is necessary so that at long last the victims of abuse can have their voices heard, so that the people and institutions responsible for abuse can be held to account, and so that another generation of children can be protected from the gross abuse and negligence which occurred all too frequently in the past and which sadly continue in some cases.

I and the Labour Party welcome the Bill. Devising a strategy to ensure the full truth emerges is a difficult task and I believe the structure proposed in the Bill, with the inclusion of a number of amendments, has the capacity to achieve what everybody in the House and elsewhere wants to see.

I wish to comment on two aspects of the Bill which give rise to serious concern and which I hope the Minister will address in detail in his reply. My first concern relates to the definition of abuse as outlined in section 1. Section 1(a) defines abuse as: “the wilful, reckless or negligent infliction of physical injury on, or failure to prevent such injury to, the child”. I welcome this broad definition of abuse. However, how can the Government propose this rational and historically accurate definition of abuse while at the same time the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform fought tooth and nail only a couple of weeks ago in the House to prevent a similarly accurate and rational definition of child abuse being included in the Statue of Limitations (Amendment) Act? This is an important point which the Minister does not seem to accept given his earlier exchanges with Deputy Bruton.

I have met with many organisations which represent the survivors of appalling abuse in a number of institutions throughout the State. They see the establishment of the commission as being inextricably linked with the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act. However, it seems the Government is intent on maintaining the myth that different definitions of child abuse can be contained in different legislative measures debated within weeks of each other. Of course, the real reason for this legal double think is to reduce the State's liability and the potential cost to the Exchequer of cases taken by survivors of abuse under the Statute Of Limitations (Amendment) Act. This mean minded attitude of the Government during the debate on the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act casts a very dark cloud over the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill. Surely the fact that abuse was inflicted on a child is an issue which cannot be dismissed due to fears of litigation. However, this is exactly what the Government has done. It proposes a broad definition of abuse in this Bill yet refuses to accept this definition of abuse when it comes to the humane and essential change to the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act. The contrast between both legislative measures is glaring.

I again urge the Government to introduce amending legislation to ensure the victims of child physical abuse can seek redress through the courts. This is not a matter which can rest interminably with the Law Reform Commission. If we are really about to face up to the crimes of the past, such legislation must be introduced without delay. I ask the Minister to please respond in full to this point in his reply. It is an entirely inaccurate distinction to make between sexual and physical abuse as many of the victims of abuse in State institutions will testify. There is a very fine line between sexual and physical abuse and many victims have outlined how much physical abuse was inflicted on them for the purpose of sexual gratification. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. Equally, one cannot distinguish between the devastating effects of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. People are scarred for the rest of their lives. One only has to speak to the victims of such abuse to realise that physical and emotional abuse are just as harrowing and damaging as sexual abuse.

Another question that is pressing in regard to the statute of limitations in the minds of victims is the fact that people who came forward in good faith and reported abuse to their legal representatives or the Garda and were told that they were statute barred from pursuing their cases, are again excluded because of the failure of the new legislation to exempt those who had previously reported such abuse. Significant numbers of people are excluded because of the failure to address this issue in the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 1999.

The second issue I wish to raise with the Minister is the responsibility and possible culpability of the State in crimes against children. The definition of "institution" contained in the Bill includes a school, an industrial school, a reformatory school, an orphanage, a hospital or a children's home. This is a comprehensive definition, which I welcome. However, a similar clear definition is not afforded to the investigation of the role the State, through various Departments, has played in the history of abuse which has damaged and destroyed thousands of young lives. The State's responsibility and political responsibility urgently require examination. The failure of a number of Departments to institute proper and rigorous inspection and reporting procedures at institutions, such as industrial schools or orphanages, must be investigated.

My former party colleague, Pat Gallagher, undertook an extensive investigation into the activities of a certain school teacher in the midlands over a number of years. The level of official denial that pertained in regard to this individual was quite shocking and facilitated his activities over a lengthy period. I hope the Minister is aware of this case and the role his Department may have played in failing to protect children from this abuser and the failure to report instances of abuse to the relevant authorities so that a prosecution could be considered.

It is easy for the State to point the finger at institutions and religious orders. They acted in loco parentis and on behalf of the State in regard to children whom the State deemed to be in danger of neglect, for example, where the mother was a lone parent or was poverty stricken. The State deemed the parent to be incapable of providing adequate care for the child and, on its behalf, the institutions took large numbers of children into care. The same thinking is evident in the fact that issues relating to children and their protection do not deserve political priority, as the primary legislation governing children is still the Children Act, 1908, and has resulted in us debating the need for modern legislation to cover children and juvenile crime for 30 years, yet new legislation has not been passed. It should be borne in mind that this political culture operates on the basis that people do not count until they are 18 years, especially those from marginalised families. It is not a political issue and any legislation that is required is kept way down the list of priorities and much more important issues relating to adults will always take precedence over children's issues.

The State is absolutely culpable for the neglect of children and its failure to provide the services which vulnerable and marginalised children needed. It was only too happy over many years to allow the religious orders, in particular, to take responsibility for the welfare and care of children. It cannot now avoid its responsibility and should not attempt to do so in this legislation. The State has a clear role in providing for the care, welfare and protection of children, a responsibility that was overlooked in the past.

However, equally, complaints were made about the role of the State when abuse was reported to State agencies. The State had access to records and information and was seen as the authority to arbitrate in cases involving allegations of abuse, yet it failed to respond to such allegations. Officials did not reply to or lost letters, did not return telephone calls or told direct lies about their involvement in particular cases. All this activity needs to be addressed by the commission. A number of people were culpable in terms of neglect in the past and some may even still be in the State's employ.

The State's failure to act and provide the resources needed to protect children is a historic reality and, sad to relate, a reality that continues to this day. One has only to examine the series of judgments handed down by Mr. Justice Patrick Kelly over a number of years to realise that the basic infrastructure to protect vulnerable children is not in place. In many instances, the courts were required to send a young child to a place of detention, not because he or she had committed a crime but because there was no suitable place available in the State to provide him or her, who had a range of problems, with the necessary support.

We should not fall into the trap of believing that the State's failure to protect children relates only to a period in the past. Its failure to vindicate and protect the rights of children continues to this day and I passionately hope that the conclusions and recommendations of the commission will force the political and administrative establishment to recognise this fact and ensure that a sea change takes place in how the State treats children.

The twin track approach devised in the Bill, whereby a confidential committee and an investigative committee will be established, has created some concern among groups which represent the victims of abuse. The confidential nature of part of this inquiry will facilitate the exposure of the extent of abuse that has occurred in institutions since the 1940s and, indeed, before that time. There is considerable merit in accepting that there is a therapeutic value in establishing a confidential committee for victims who do not want to pursue legal channels but want to talk about the abuse they suffered and tell their stories. However, there is also an inherent danger in that approach because where there is confidentiality, there is also an opportunity for a cover up and secrecy and this is a mistake. We need to have some kind of account of what has transpired in the confidential committee. It is possible to do that with the omission of names, dates or the names of institutions, but it is essential that there is an ongoing narrative which tells the story of the history of abuse in this State over many years. For that reason, I ask the Minister to consider requesting a report from the confidential committee with the usual protections.

That our society purposely ignored the plight of thousands of children in institutional care for decades is one of the major factors in preventing victims from coming to terms with and recovering to some degree from the abuse they suffered. There are obvious concerns about the lack of clarity in relation to legal representation. While the Bill refers to expenses to be paid for persons who are called as witnesses, the question of independent legal representation for the victims is critical, and I ask the Minister to address his attention to that.

In relation to reporting, the Bill suggests that reports will be brought to Government within two years or within whatever period the Government so decides. My guess is that this commission is likely to sit for much longer than two years and it would be wrong to leave it until the end of the proceedings for a report to be issued. The legislation provides for interim reports and I ask the Minister to amend the Bill to provide for regular reports – I suggest six monthly reports – so that this issue can be kept to the fore and to allow us create public awareness of the issue. The greatest protection we can afford to children in the future is the creation of an ongoing awareness of the possibility of abuse. There is a danger that this issue will be hidden and will go out of the public mind if it is left for two, three or four years. I ask the Minister to provide specifically for regular reports.

The issue of compensation cannot be avoided. There have been a number of incidences where people have received compensation, the most topical of which is members of the Army who received compensation from the State for hearing loss of varying degrees. If the State is prepared to pay compensation to soldiers whose hearing may have been marginally affected in some cases, the very least that should be done is to pay compensation to those people whose childhood were robbed from them due to State neglect. We cannot possibly get away from this issue. Equally, the Government's approach to the Statute of Limitations issue, the fact that people are statute barred and that physical abuse is not included, makes the need for a proper compensation tribunal or mechanism all the more urgent.

The concerns that have been expressed to the Minister about the composition of the commission, and about one member of the commission, need to be urgently addressed. Certain allegations have been made that there may be a conflict of interest between the past employment of one of the commission members and the role he is being asked to undertake in the commission. This commission will only succeed if there is full confidence in its operation and in its members. For that reason I ask the Minister to address this complaint as a matter of urgency, I hope before this legislation is passed, because it is essential that there is full confidence in each of the members.

I support the points made by Deputy Bruton in relation to access to records. The creation of an offence, the obstruction of access to records, should be backdated. That kind of activity is unacceptable at any stage and it should be specifically designated as a criminal offence from a far earlier date because I have no doubt that there are records in the Department of Education and Science which are currently not being made available. We do not have any guarantee that those records will not be damaged before this legislation passes through all Stages. That is an essential requirement of the commission and of the State. If we are to address this issue in an honest and wholehearted way we must ensure that all records are available.

The question of funding for various organisations working with victims needs to be addressed. There should not be any question of funding from the Department of Education and Science, given the central role that Department has had in the institutional care of vulnerable children through the years, but recommendations should be made that other Departments would provide the kind of support funding for these organisations to do the work they are attempting to do. It is particularly striking for any of us who have met various organisations and groups of victims of child abuse to see how terribly broken those people are as adults of 40, 50 and 60 years of age. One only has to meet them for a short while to realise that they are extremely damaged people. They have great difficulty in coming forward. They need our commendation for their courage in coming forward and helping us to face up to our past and to face up to their past which has been extraordinarily painful for them. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. We also owe Mary Raftery a debt of gratitude for facilitating those victims to come forward and exposing the abuse that has taken place in the name of the State over many years. Many other people are keen to participate in this commission and it is essential that basic financial support be provided for them so that they can provide counselling for their own members, organise themselves in a reasonably professional manner and provide the kind of encouragement and moral support to their own members in facing a very difficult task over the coming years. In coming before the commission and opening up their extraordinarily hurtful past, these people will be helping the State to face that past and will ensure that they get justice through the commission, and that their experience is adequately reflected. I appeal to the Minister to request one of his colleagues in some other Government Department to ensure that financial resources are provided to these organisations.

I will make a number of other points, specifically in relation to provisions in the Bill, and I will be happy to go through those one by one on Committee Stage. This is a huge task that has been undertaken by Ms Justice Laffoy. It might be very successful. We just do not know at this point. It could end up being a lengthy talking shop or a major fudge of a number of issues. We have to wait and see, but a number of steps can be taken at this stage to ensure that everybody gets justice in this process. The most important of those is probably in terms of the Statute of Limitations and I stress to the Minister that this is the major obstacle. The current provisions in the Statute of Limitations Act is the major obstacle facing the many hundreds of thousands of people who have been abused at the hands of State-funded organisations. It is the major obstacle preventing those people receiving justice and fairness, and I ask the Minister to appeal to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to amend that legislation. It seriously undermines the intentions the Taoiseach outlined in the statement he made in May of last year. The restrictions on the Statute of Limitations legislation is entirely incompatible with having an open and a rights-based approach to issues affecting people who were in State care. I look forward to Committee Stage and discussing this in further detail.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation which establishes a commission to inquire into child abuse in State institutions. I strongly support the earlier remarks of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, and applaud his initiative in ensuring this legislation was brought forward so quickly.

The Minister spoke of the apology last May by the Taoiseach on behalf of the State to victims of abuse in childhood. This marked a significant step for our society in accepting that failures had occurred and also that the State had to undertake some responsibility in addressing the needs of victims. The making of an apology does not end the State's obligations to victims of these failures. It only strengthens the duty on the State to take appropriate and meaningful action to address those failures.

Our society is based on a certain view of the State as the organ to regulate society, to provide essential services but, above all, to support the inalienable rights of our citizens. Our Constitution enunciates those rights clearly. The courts have and continue to enforce the State's obligation to provide for these rights. The establishment of this commission is a central feature of the State's continuing response to the Taoiseach's statement last May. There is a duty on the State to engage with victims of abuse, to listen to and, where appropriate, to investigate their story. The commission is acting on behalf of the State to provide, in a real and meaningful way, for this engagement.

The rationale for the establishment of a commission is based on the needs of victims. Victims have continually expressed the view that a major part of any process of investigating abuse must be the need for an understanding and an acceptance of the failures of the past and a recognition of the wrong that was done to the victims. These issues are deep and fundamental. Victims want an opportunity to tell their story just for its own sake. Above all, they want people to listen to and accept their stories.

It is also crucial that we consider the needs of victims in telling their story. The telling of a story of abuse will be a difficult, harrowing and intense experience for many victims. We want to ensure these victims have an appropriate forum to tell such stories. A commission is an appropriate forum to meet these needs. The Bill, therefore, provides that the commission must, in all its work, have regard to these particular needs of victims and must seek to provide as sympathetic and appropriate a forum as possible for victims to tell their story.

From the State's perspective, it is imperative that we seek to address the root causes of the failures of the past and to investigate why so many systems on the part of so many organis ations appear to have failed in order to prevent this ever recurring. It is in this context, that is, the needs of the victims to be accepted and to tell their story and the need of the State and society as a whole to consider the past failures to prevent the abuse of the victims, that we have drafted this legislation.

As the Minister already outlined, the commission will have three functions. First, it will have a listening role. The commission will listen to victims of abuse in a sympathetic manner. For some time, victims of abuse have been trying to get people to listen to their stories of the abuse they suffered in an open minded and sympathetic way. They have in certain situations in the past and, in my view, all too often, been ignored or dismissed. The commission will address this issue comprehensively.

The legislation provides for the establishment of a confidential committee made up of dedicated members of the commission. The function of the committee will be to listen in a completely confidential manner to the stories of the victims. From these stories, the committee will be able to build up a report for the commission. In one sense, it might seem that this committee will have a relatively small role. It will not investigate cases of abuse but will simply listen to victims recount their stories. It will not call witnesses to give evidence nor will it provide for any examination of the testimony of witnesses. In fact, the confidential committee will have a huge role in the operation of the commission.

We must remember the therapeutic role of the commission. The needs of victims must be catered for. I am aware that many victims of abuse simply wish to be able to recount their experiences without becoming involved in an investigative process. The process of investigation may be stressful and time consuming. Many victims may not wish to become involved in such a process. At the same time, there is an immense therapeutic value for these victims to simply tell their story to a sympathetic audience. The confidential committee will provide these victims with a forum to meet these needs.

Second, the commission will have an investigation role. Victims are not a homogeneous group. While some will be satisfied to deal with the confidential committee other victims may wish to take this process further. Some will want to see their allegations fully investigated and hence the investigative committee will fill this role. This committee again composed of dedicated members of the commission will, as with the confidential committee, be open to any and all victims to come forward and tell their story but it will go much further than that.

The committee is, under the legislation, specifically mandated to carry out a thorough and comprehensive inquiry into allegations and establish responsibility at the level of the individual abuse, the institution and the management and regulatory authorities. It is the Government's intention that the committee will have available to it the resources and all the legal powers and protections it needs to do that.

To provide for this the investigative committee will have the type of powers and protections a court would have. This includes such provisions as privilege for witnesses which ensures that witnesses will have the necessary freedom to make full and frank statements to the committee regarding their experiences. The committee will also be able to require that individuals produce any documents which it feels are necessary to allow it to have a full insight into the matters it is investigating. Finally, the committee will be able to hear evidence on oath. The legislation also provides that where individuals do not comply with orders of the committee or where a person gives false evidence to the committee, that person should be criminally guilty of an offence. Deputies will appreciate the significance of the role of the investigative committee. The committee will have as a duty to investigate, consider and report on the allegations of abuse brought to it by victims. The legislation provides for an appropriate range of powers for the committee to carry out its work and, where necessary, for the imposition of penalties on those who do not co-operate fully.

The third major function of the commission is the preparation of a report for publication on the basis of the work of its committees. As the confidential committee will not seek to investigate the claims of individuals, the report will stress that any findings drawn from the work of the confidential committee have not been investigated. Obviously, this restriction will not apply to the work of the investigative committee. The exact nature of the report will be determined by the commission which, as I have noted, will be independent in the course of its work.

However, the legislation requires the commissioners to have regard for the following principles in the preparation of their report. The commission should give consideration to recommendations to alleviate or otherwise address the effects of the abuse suffered by victims. The commission should consider what action should be taken to reduce and prevent abuse in institutions and to protect children from such abuse. It is very important that the legislation should deal with those issues. The commission will, through its interaction with victims of abuse, be ideally placed to consider how the effects of this abuse might be addressed. Similarly, the commission will also be in a unique position to note the past failures to protect children in care and to make recommendations as to how this can be avoided in the future.

However, the report of the commission will go much further than these recommendations on general principles. The commission, where it is satisfied that specific abuses occurred in a particular institution, will be able to name that institution and the persons who committed the abuse and make findings in relation to the general man agement, administration and operation of the institutions concerned. Deputies will appreciate that these are wide ranging and serious powers. The ability to name individuals whom the commission is satisfied have abused children in a report which will be published is not to be treated lightly.

We must, however, place that within the context of the scale and nature of the abuse which the commission will investigate. In these circumstances, it is both reasonable and fair that the commission should have the powers which we have conferred on it in the legislation.

The commission's report will not in any circumstances identify victims or specific instances of abuse against victims. This is necessary to protect the rights of victims to privacy and is consistent with other similar measures scattered throughout the Bill.

The legislation provides that the report of the commission must be published within two years of the commencement of its work. This is a rigorous and imposing deadline. While there is potential for this timeframe to be extended in the event of unforeseen circumstances, I feel strongly that it is important that the work of the commission should proceed with all urgency. The issues with which it deals are real and urgent and deserve to be treated as a priority.

The commission will be independent in its operation. This is crucially important to allow it to work in a fair and effective manner and to ensure its report is seen to be of the highest possible standard. For that reason we have taken extra care to ensure the commission will be independent in the performance of its functions in terms of establishing it on a statutory basis, including provisions in the Bill which specifically protect its independence and through carefully selecting its membership.

As part of ensuring that the commission is fully independent in its functions, it is important that the necessary resources and support should be available to it to enable it to do its work. The provision in section 24 that the commission may appoint advisers to assist it in any or all of its functions will meet this important need. This power is of particular value in assisting the commission in the formulation of its report and allowing it to draw on national and international research and practice to inform its recommendations.

This Bill is an important measure to deal with a specific and shameful episode in our history. Neither this Bill nor any measure can fully address the sufferings of victims of abuse in our industrial schools. However, we can listen to the needs and requests of victims and seek to ensure they are met in so far as that is possible.

We must also ensure this abuse can never recur. Accordingly, this Bill has three aims. The first is to meet the needs of victims to recount their story in a sympathetic and open environment, the second is to investigate, where appropriate, the experiences of those victims and the third is to report to Government on the specific findings and more generally on recommendations for future policy in terms of the needs of victims and the protection of further generations. I support the Bill and commend it to the House.

I welcome this important Bill which is long overdue. It is important to know what happened to those who were physically and sexually abused under the supervision of the State; their story must be heard. While the Taoiseach apologised to those who suffered during that awful period, apologies are not enough. We must make restitution to those who suffered so inhumanely under the guise of protection, education and surrogate parenting. We must also learn from what happened and ensure it does not happen again.

Deputy Richard Bruton referred to the fact that psychological and counselling support is not included in the Bill. The provision of counselling for those who will give evidence to the commission and for those who suffered is a vital part of their rehabilitation to enable them to come to grips with what happened, to deal with the past and to be able to move on. Many will never get over the difficulties they experienced. That need should be addressed. If the Minister is indicating he will address it, I accept that.

Such a service will be provided in parallel. It is being set up, so it will be ready.

It will be provided on an ad hoc basis.

It will be provided on an ad hoc basis, but we would like to have had details on how it will operate, the type of support that will be given and the resources that will be provided for it. I ask the Minister to outline in detail that important area of support for the victims who suffered so much during that period.

The State has a case to answer for the neglect and abuse that occurred during that time. Abuse was meted out to the most vulnerable, those who did not have the advantage of normal parenting and normal homes. Many of those abused were orphans or those whose mothers or fathers had died, and their only crime was being poor. It is a disgrace that those children who were so vulnerable were treated in such a way. We must learn from and address the difficulties they experienced. The level of sexual abuse visited on many of those vulnerable children was horrific.

Most sexually abused children suffer long-term traumatic disorders. Such children usually have a range of mental health problems. They often inflict self-harm either directly through deliberate self-injury or self-mutilation or indirectly through eating disorders and drug abuse. Once children have become victims of abuse, they tend to suffer further abuse in their later lives at the hands of the same persons or other perpetrators. Children who are abused in a family situation are often more vulnerable to the advances of paedophiles when they reach school age and adolescence. The paedophile identifies these people and targets them by offering them some form of comfort and attention. Paedophiles played on the vulnerability of children in industrial schools. They were attracted to such schools because of the vulnerability of the children and the opportunity that presented for them to act out their abuse and their vile desecration of the person.

Victims of child abuse are likely to suffer deep and extremely traumatic effects as teenagers and as adults. They may suffer from multiple personalities, bouts of alcohol consumption to the point of feeling suicidal, depression and elation, having a nervous breakdown, long periods of life spent alone in self-imposed isolation from human beings due to mistrust and disbelief in humanity, discarding friendships like a spoilt child throws away sweet papers and an inability to recognise the difference between reality and fantasy. They live most of their lives in a state of fear. That is the effect sexual abuse has on most people who are visited with such abuse in childhood.

We must congratulate RTE for its exposure in "States of Fear" of the brutal and sadistic cruelty which was visited on the most vulnerable children in our society, those under the supervision of State institutions. I welcome that the State acknowledges its role in the severe damage caused to many children and the apology made by the Taoiseach on behalf of the State. To make a full apology, the full facts surrounding the matter and the level of abuse must be known and culpability for the abuse must be established. This must be the key role of the commission which is being established legislatively today.

Why should children who fell on hard times be battered, brutalised, dehumanised and made victims of sexual abuse? Their only crime was that they were poor. These people will now have their stories heard and their suffering will be understood. They must receive a compassionate response from the State. We must make sure that what happened will not recur, but it can and does happen. I refer to the case of a 15 year old which was raised in the courts this week. The girl was abused and involved in prostitution. At 15 years of age she was out of control and the State had no way of dealing with her. Mr. Justice Kelly said the very distressing case highlighted once again the State's failure to provide appropriate places for such children in crisis.

Such abuse can recur, but we must ensure that this generation of legislators is not found culpable of failure to act. Child abuse continues. The level of abuse is increasing, yet there is a high level of legislative neglect. Consistently we hear of incidents that are reported to the Garda Síochána where suspicious approaches have been made to children, yet the Government has not introduced a child sex offenders' register. Fine Gael has been seeking this since May 1998 when the party introduced the Child Sex Register Bill.

While the Government has published a Bill in this area in recent times, there seems not to be any urgency to bring the legislation before the House. While it is not a panacea for getting over all the problems of paedophilia and other forms of child abuse, it is an important tool in the hands of the State in controlling the situation.

We urgently need a children's ombudsman office established on a statutory basis to promote and protect children's rights. Children have a right to feel safe and not to be brutalised or dehumanised. They have a right not to suffer sexual abuse. They have a right to be treated with the same respect for their person and dignity as every human being. A children's ombudsman would ensure that these rights are upheld as far as possible and that a situation similar to the one we are discussing today would not develop in future.

On 21 September 1992, Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, without reservation and accepted its international obligation towards children. The convention states that:

All those who signed shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights accordingly.

Having ratified the convention, the Government is obliged to take steps to ensure compliance with the provision to protect and promote children's rights. A children's ombudsman is a priority. The Government has announced that it will introduce such a body, but we do not yet have the details. We do not know if it will be on a statutory or non-statutory basis, or whether it will be under the Department of Health and Children. A children's ombudsman without a statutory footing and one that is not obliged to report to the Oireachtas would not be of any assistance.

There are a significant number of children in situations of considerable disadvantage in the time of the Celtic tiger. These include children in care or in legal custody, children who are subject to abuse and neglect, homeless children and those with disabilities. The Government should establish a children's ombudsman as an overall mechanism for the promotion of the rights of children. While we cannot undo the past, we can recognise and apologise for what happened and have the facts examined, as we are proposing today. We must also ensure, however, that what happened in those tragic years will not recur in any guise or form, institutionalised or otherwise. We have a duty as legislators to ensure that this is the case.

At its first general meeting in March 1995, the children's rights alliance decided that one of its main concerns would be the establishment of an office of ombudsman for children, which it felt would play a significant role in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in ensuring that children's rights were respected.

Following its examination of the first national report on the implementation of the convention, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about Ireland's lack of an independent monitoring mechanism, such as an ombudsman or a children's rights commissioner, accessible to children for dealing with complaints or violation of their rights and to provide remedies for such violations.

The committee recommended that the Government should positively consider the establishment of an office of ombudsman for children to further the implementation of the convention in Ireland.

Public discourse with children has been minimalist in nature, as was shown by the notable exception of children among the principal education players in the 1994 National Education Convention. There was nobody to speak for children at that convention – the most important educational forum of its time – even though students are the customers of the education system.

The Constitutional Review Group, CARI, the Kilkenny incest team investigation, and the report of the 1995 Kelly inquiry have all stated that the Constitution's strong emphasis on the rights of the family may consciously or unconsciously be interpreted as giving a higher value to the rights of parents than to those of children.

The constitutional clarification of children's rights would assist in the creation of a positive environment for a newly created statutory office of ombudsman for children. Consequently, specific and overt declarations should be inserted into the Constitution on the rights of children. This would involve the amendment of Articles 41 and 42.

An ombudsman for children should be allowed to sit and monitor child protection standards, promote examples of good practice and inquire into serious failures of practice. It is essential, in this context, that the ombudsman enjoys locus standi to take legal action in the event of a public body acting in serious breach of its obligations to children. The ombudsman for children, however, should not become involved in legal proceedings until internal complaints or appeals procedures have been exhausted.

In establishing the ombudsman for children, the Government would give recognition to children's fundamental political, social, economic and civil rights not yet enshrined in legislation. The ombudsman would be an investigator or neutral fact finder of children's legitimate problems and complaints. With all the freedom, autonomy and authority of the office, the ombudsman for children should tell it like it is and as it ought to be, and provide a responsive forum to voice children's particular and general grievances. The ombudsman should ensure that children are perceived as autonomous persons with their own special needs and rights.

By establishing a children's ombudsman's office the State would provide a significant State institutional medium through which children and young people can be heard and a conflict free environment through their formative years, from birth to voting age. The children's ombudsman should speak for children in the context of Government services and non-services, facilitating and accommodating remedies for wrongs and omissions inflicted on children and would lead the way to ensuring that what was experienced by the brutalised and dehumanised children as outlined in the television programme "States of Fear" would not happen again. The principal themes of an ombudsman should be the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children and young persons in difficulty and young persons' rights of participation. The UN convention should be an important ideological instrument for asserting children's perspectives in different respects. The ombudsman should systematically review legislation affecting children and propose amendments to have Irish law respond to the principles of the convention.

The children's perspective must be made a natural ingredient of all relevant new legislation. Consultation procedures on new legislation must be created and the ombudsman's office should make recommendations to govern bodies and should also be involved in drafting legislation itself. The ombudsman should also have the task of disseminating information and knowledge on the UN convention to the general public, professionals working with children and decision makers. The convention is something which has to be lived. This means adults behaving towards children in such a way as to respect and sustain their full human dignity. It also means shaping society in such a way that children and young persons receive the protection and support they need in order for childhood and adolescence to have an intrinsic value.

The ombudsman should also be involved in trying to implement the convention at local government level. He or she should also devote special attention to questions of children at risk, victimisation and sexual abuse, all these should be matters of prime concern to the ombudsman. The ombudsman should act as a spokesman for children and young persons and one of his or her tasks should be to represent children and young persons and to assert their interest in the community. He or she should represent young people by trying to secure for them the opportunity of speaking for themselves and gaining respect for their opinions.

We have to deal with the past and to some extent this is happening. We must respond to those in crisis and ensure that they come through their difficulties. However, we must also set up structures to ensure that the victimisation and abuse that is happening is dealt with. Situations such as that of a 15 year old girl being lured into prostitution by evil people – charging people £80 for sex and giving half of that to a woman involved in the operation – should not happen. An ombudsman would deal with many of these issues.

I congratulate the Minister on introducing this legislation and I hope it is passed quickly. Last May the Taoiseach announced measures dealing with abuse and issued an apology on behalf of the Government to the victims of abuse for the collective failure of Irish society to detect, intervene and rescue those victims. This legislation is very welcome, as it is important to have a forum wherein people can tell of the abuse involved and which can investigate allegations of abuse and the extent to which institutions, management and regulatory authorities had responsibility for that abuse.

The Minister mentioned publishing a report for the public, which I welcome. I understand the commission may identify institutions in which abuse occurred and those who committed it. It may also make findings as to the responsibility of the authorities involved in respect of abuse and may identify persons who failed to carry out their functions. The Minister said we should avoid a witch hunt and I agree, though I do not think that will happen. The objective is to establish all the circumstances, both good and bad, relating to the operation, management and regulation of institutions which cared for children. The definitions section of the Bill is very welcome, particularly the broad definition of abuse as the failure to care for a child where this seriously affects a child's health, development, behaviour, welfare or any other act or failure to act which results in serious damage to the health, development, behaviour or welfare of a child. That is a very good definition.

The Bill should include a reference to bullying, which has resulted in serious damage to the health, development, behaviour or welfare of children. Unfortunately it is still an issue in many institutions today. When looking at those who manage institutions we should also look at the people involved in bullying in these institutions.

An institution is described by the Minister as a school, an industrial school, a reformatory school, an orphanage, a hospital or a children's home. Again, that is a very broad definition. The Minister has taken a period from 1940 to 1999 and it would be welcome if he looked at the period before 1940 and allowed the timeframe to continue to the present. I have heard stories from older generations about the tough regimes in boarding schools prior to the 1940s; these people should be allowed to tell their stories. When comparing the accommodation and sustenance available in the 1930s and 1940s with what is available now one is not comparing like with like, but if people want to come to the commission they should be given the opportunity to do so.

I went to a boarding school and enjoyed my time there. However, many of my classmates have said that if one was not involved in sport, whether it was gaelic football, hurling – those were the days before the Ban was lifted – handball, swimming or athletics, there was very little to do. It is sad to think that there was not enough time for art, drama or music but there was a concentration on getting honours to go on to third level education if one was able. Our school had more facilities than others, but boarding schools probably got a bad press. Many allegations have been made about industrial schools and reformatories and I congratulate RTE on their investigation of this issue.

The definition section provides that references to abuse in institutions include abuse which occurred outside an institution to a child who was at the time resident there and which was assisted or contributed to in any way by a person connected with the institution. I welcome the fact that the Minister has included this provision in the Bill because it is something which could be forgotten about. The commission will publish a report within two years of its establishment setting out the results of its inquiries and findings, which I welcome. I also welcome the fact that interim reports may be published if necessary. I would like the Minister to refer to this matter in his reply.

Section 10 refers to the fact that two committees will be established – a confidential committee and an investigation committee. The confidential committee will be largely therapeutic in terms of the abuse suffered by people in these institutions who do not wish to have that abuse inquired into. The investigation committee is more relevant to what is being discussed here today. There have been many difficulties in the past in relation to reporting of child abuse. I was a member of the Western Health Board for one term when there were many debates about mandatory reporting. I was amazed to hear the professionals involved stating how difficult this is because of a lack of resources. The Minister of State at the time, Deputy Fahey, spoke on many occasions of his concern about an overly legalistic approach which would be counter-productive and drive the problem underground so that less abuse would be reported. The commissions which are being set up will give people an opportunity to come forward and tell their story. I look forward to the day when there will be sufficient resources to put a proper reporting procedure in place.

There was reference to the importance of counselling. I was pleased to hear the Minister mention a figure of £4 million, which I welcome, and I hope a counselling service will soon be available. The psychological service is also very important. This issue needs serious attention because many students who are preparing for examinations in a few months time need this type of help. This has not been available to date and it needs to be considered in the context of the whole education system, beginning at first level. It is not sufficient to say there will be counselling when a crisis arises, it must be an ongoing service. I hope the Minister will make provision for this service.

When the Bill is enacted, it will be important to have recommendations on how children can best be protected and how abuse can be prevented in future. Given the funding provided by the Minister, children should not now be exposed to an adversarial courtroom environment. I welcome the fact that he has removed any financial burden in relation to general expenses. I believe people would not come forward with complaints if an expenses procedure was not in place. The Minister has also prepared a scheme to deal with the issue of legal expenses which I hope will be put in place as quickly as possible.

I support Deputy Neville's call for a children's ombudsman. This is an important issue about which I have spoken to the Department of Health and Children and the health board on various occasions. Many of the submissions I received from the Combat Poverty Agency referred to a serious problem with child poverty. At the end of last year, the agency, together with other organisations such as Barnardos, the Children's Rights Alliance, the National Youth Council of Ireland and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, published the most recent figures available to them. They stated that child poverty is so serious an issue in Ireland that between one-quarter and one-third of children are at risk of living in poverty. They also stated that child poverty is a denial of the basic rights of the child, those who grew up in poverty are likely to do less well in school, have fewer recreational, social and cultural opportunities and be more at risk of becoming involved in crime and anti-social behaviour. They also state that children today are powerfully influenced by what happened to them as a result of poverty and that this damages their health and development.

I support Deputy Neville's call because what has been stated in the report in relation to specific groups at risk is worth investigating. One of the groups mentioned in the report is Traveller children and young people. The report states that there should be particular focus on the adequate resourcing of appropriate and quality pre-school services and provision of extra supports to enable Traveller children to access primary and post primary education. It also refers to children and young people with disabilities and children out of home.

I welcome what the Minister had to say because these issues are difficult and uncomfortable to talk about. However, I am pleased the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Science have faced up to these issues so that those who have been abused in the past will receive a respectful and sympathetic hearing when they come before the commission. This is long overdue.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill. I pay tribute to the previous Minister, Deputy Martin, who did much of the work on the Bill.

We live in a climate of greater accountability, openness and transparency. Sometimes that is a very uncomfortable climate for professional politicians such as ourselves. However, investigative journalism has shone its torch light on the whole area of child sexual abuse and what happened in the early years of the State. We should be grateful for this because, while it might sometimes be uncomfortable in this era of tribunals and so on, it has delivered a considerable number of positive results. Were it not for that type of investigative journalism, we may not have unearthed the scale of this problem which needs to be investigated further.

It is important to construct the best possible framework so that the commission can investigate the problem and come up with realistic solutions. The purpose of the Bill is to establish a commission to inquire into child abuse. It has three functions: a therapeutic function in so far as it will provide for people who suffered child abuse in institutions, a forum in which they can speak of that abuse; an investigative function to inquire into allegations of abuse to determine its nature, the circumstances in which it occurred and to establish the extent to which institutions, management and regulatory authorities had responsibility for the abuse; and a reporting function, i.e. to publish a report.

In its report the commission may identify institutions in which abuse occurred and the persons who committed it. It may also make findings as to the responsibility in respect of abuse of the management, supervisory and regulatory authorities and may identify persons who carried out or failed to carry out their functions. The report may also contain recommendations relating to the measures necessary to address the continuing effect of abuse on people who suffered, and recommendations relating to the prevention of child abuse in institutions.

At a cursory glance it would appear to be an all-embracing commission and one that should resolve the problem. I have some reservations in so far as it differentiates between victims of child sexual abuse – those in institutions run by the State and other victims of child sexual abuse. One might say the State cannot be held responsible or accountable in respect of abuse that occurs in a family setting. I have had a meeting with a individual in my constituency who is the victim of abuse within a family circumstance. A group of victims of abuse within the home, with whom he is in contact, are of the view that implicit in the commission is a two-tier recognition of victim status and that they are a poor second. The report on the terms of reference refers to this when it states:

While the Commission appreciates that it might seem to be invidious to exclude one class of victim from this inquiry, nonetheless, the Commission considers that to be the appropriate course. The Commission believes that its work would be immeasurably increased if abuse within a family setting was covered by its Terms of Reference.

So what if its work is immeasurably increased? I find it difficult to accept that statement. The report continues:

This is a minor consideration. The major consideration is that different issues arise in relation to institutional abuse on the one hand, and abuse within a familial setting, on the other hand, and, if the Commission were to attempt to deal with the totality of the issues, there is a risk of disaffection among victims of institutional abuse and that the therapeutic benefit of the Commission's function for those victims could be detrimentally affected.

The victims of abuse within a family setting are equally in need of someone to listen to their story. It is hardly good enough to say that because it would increase the workload of the commission we should allow it to be continued outside its remit. Even if we take it that, under the Constitution, the primary unit of responsibility for children is the family I fail to see the reason for differentiating between the family and victims of abuse within a State setting. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that issue in his reply. I am of the view that will create a two-tier approach to the issue. It is unknown the number who would come forward if the commission was open to hear from victims of abuse within a family setting. Equally, they are victims. They have suffered and many want to tell their story. There is a therapeutic benefit in telling their story. The Bill, while welcome, is flawed in that respect.

The recent statement of apology by the Taoiseach on behalf of the State was an important acknowledgment of the failings of the State, in terms of its regulatory responsibility. Equally important was the statement yesterday, Ash Wednesday, by the Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell, who made an implicit reference to this issue. Both statements give half the picture since nobody knows the extent of the problem. However, there are a number of people to whom nobody has apologised. While the other victims are unable to get redress from the State because they were not in State run institutions, they need the therapeutic effect of relating their story to somebody.

I agree with Deputy Kitt on the matter of bullying at school. I am not sure if the issue is appropriate to the commission.

It would be covered.

It is a serious issue and causes major trauma for victims though it may not be comparable with sexual abuse. I take the Minister's assurance that it is covered within the terms of reference of the Bill. To close the door on those who suffered abuse within a family setting because it might be an open-ended approach is not sufficient reason not to acknowledge that problem is there and that these are real victims also. The commission should not refuse to listen to that problem on the basis that the amount of work it might open up is unquantifiable. Even if it necessitated the commission sitting for a long period it would do very good work if it were to listen to those people. Those are just a few preliminary observations on the Bill which I support and welcome.

I avail of this opportunity to lend my support to the commission being set up on a statutory basis by the Government. As one who has spent many years teaching I also had the pleasure of serving on a board of management of one of the State's schools where young people were detained at the State's pleasure. Like other speakers I am glad the Taoiseach, on behalf of all of us, acknowledged the extent of abuse which has occurred and apologised for it. That the commission which had been set up on an administrative basis is being set up on a statutory basis is welcome. As a result of the broadcasting of programmes such as "States of Fear" Irish society is opening up and is prepared to confront the blemishes which have existed for years. We may now have achieved a sufficient level of maturity to confront those blemishes, acknowledge the hurts, investigate the perpetration of abuse on vulnerable young people and provide therapeutic opportunities for these people to tell the commission what they have suffered.

However unpalatable, the facts of abuse need to be brought into the open and the commission is an eminently suitable vehicle for this. It is important that the commission will be available in a confidential manner to listen to the stories of victims of abuse. The commission's three key functions of listening, investigating and reporting are crucial. The horrendous stories of victims must be listened to with great care and sensitivity and at great length. No limit should be put on the time the commission will spend listening to these stories. We have no idea how many people will wish to avail of the services of the confidential committee simply to get a huge burden off their shoulders and to tell their stories to sympathetic listeners who will be in a position to do something about them. Others will wish to avail of the investigative function of the commission and to seek redress in court. That too is important.

I am impressed by the fact that the report will be published directly by the commission itself, along with recommendations. I hope the recommendations will be listened to and acted upon as speedily as possible. We do not have a good record of implementing child care reports, certainly not as speedily as we should. If the recommendations of some previous reports had been put into effect we might not have needed this commission.

Many of the very damaged people who are victims of child abuse emigrated, perhaps to Britain where they have lived in very poor circumstances. Some are long-term unemployed or have become part of the homeless population in that country. These people will wish their stories to be heard but it is unlikely that many of them will wish to come back to Ireland for that purpose. For that reason, I recommend that the commission be given the right and the resources to travel to major population centres in Britain and even to centres in the United States and elsewhere where people may have gone to get away from the trauma they suffered. I ask the Minister to examine the possibility of enabling the committee to take evidence abroad. This would not compromise the functions of the committee.

I am pleased that £4 million will be made available to the Department of Health and Children for counselling. I suspect that much more will be required but the £4 million will be an important first step. The establishment of the commission is a very significant development. The Minister, his predecessor Deputy Martin, and the Government are to be commended for their determination and courage in setting it up.

In many of the centres which will be investigated, a difficult job was done extremely well in adverse circumstances. In some centres there were people who perpetrated horrendous damage on young people in their care. At the same time we should not lose sight of the fact than many people did a great deal of good work and this must be acknowledged.

I am pleased to support the setting up of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

It is our duty to look after all the children of the State but we have an even greater responsibility when those children are in the care of State institutions. Last year it was necessary for the Taoiseach to make a public apology on behalf of the State to people who had been the victims of abuse in industrial schools or when otherwise in the care of the State. That apology was one step towards redressing some of the wrongs which had been perpetrated against young people, and the establishment of a commission to inquire into child abuse is another step along that road.

The commission was established last year on an administrative basis. The fact that it is now formally established on a statutory basis will give it the legislative power to listen and investigate, but more particularly, to report and make recommendations, and will enable us to ensure that such actions never happen again.

I commend Ms Justice Mary Laffoy for taking on the role of the commission last year, knowing that it could be a very lengthy process and one which required sensitivity and understanding. With Dr. Imelda Ryan and Mr. Bob Lewis she has led us to the formulation of the Bill to establish the commission on a statutory basis. Their aim of allowing victims of abuse to tell their story in a sympathetic, experienced and confidential forum, knowing that their evidence will be the basis of future reports, is important. It is important that legislators form an accurate picture of the causes, nature and extent of physical and sexual abuse of children in institutions and other places since 1940. It is not enough to rely on television and radio programmes. It is twice as important to hear directly from victims to get that overall picture on which the report will be based. It will not be a secret or quiet report which will be lodged on the back dusty shelves but one which will be made public. All the findings of the commission will be made public. Its recommendations can then be worked on in order to safeguard children.

It is welcome that in preparing the Bill the Minister consulted not just the commission which worked hard on the Bill but also victims and victims' groups to ensure the commission, when placed on a statutory basis, responds to their needs. I look forward to the commission commencing its work quickly as soon as the Bill is enacted.

I recognise the difficulties of victims in reviving their memories, reliving their experiences and the trauma they experienced in their childhood years. It is particularly important, therefore, that the counselling service established by the Department of Health and Children is ready to go into action immediately. The £2 million provided at the end of last year and the £4 million to be provided this year will ensure there will be qualified and experienced counsellors who will organise the service and provide counselling.

The aim is that the service will be free, community based and confidential. It will be available locally, no matter where one lives in the country, and there will be no differentiation in its value as between one area and another. It will help victims to tell their story and move towards a reconciliation with their lost childhood. It will help those who need professional assistance, those who have received or are receiving it. I hope many will come to the conclusion that they can benefit from it.

What I particularly like about the Bill is that it provides for a confidential listening as well as investigative role. There are many victims who just want their story to be told to ensure it will never happen again. Many victims faced a situation where there was an unwillingness at many levels to listen to their story and account of the abuse they suffered. The ability to recount an experience of abuse in a sympathetic environment is an essential element to enable victims come to terms with the abuse they have suffered. The need for such an opportunity has been identified by victims and is a crucial element of the structure being created. I hope the commission will meet this need, largely through the establishment of the confidential committee. This will ensure, although the process will be slow and sympathetic, that those victims who do not wish to take their case further but will gain some relief from telling their stories need not do so. They may be of the view that the process of investigation will prove very stressful or too time consuming for them and that they are not in a position, emotionally, to participate in it. The confidential committee has been designed with their needs in mind.

It is very important also that those victims who want to initiate an investigation process should be in a position to do so to consider in more detail the stories of their abuse. They want to know how and why. The investigative committee has been designed with a specific role in mind. It will have specific powers and duties to investigate the issues that arise as victims recount their stories. The Bill places a duty on it to conduct a thorough and comprehensive inquiry into allegations and establish the responsibility of individuals, institutions, management and regulatory authorities. These are hugely important and wide-ranging functions.

The commission is being instructed to provide the investigative committee with the powers and protections of the High Court. What this means is that the commission will be able to undertake its role in a very thorough and full manner by allowing witnesses privilege and the necessary freedom to make full and frank statements to the committee regarding their experiences and by allowing the committee the power to require the production of relevant documentation for inspection. Work has begun in the Department of Health and Children in assembling all the relevant documentation. The Department is co-operating in full with the commission. I am confident that the health boards will not only fulfil their legal obligation but also their moral duty to co-operate in full with the commission. The Bill allows for the imposition of penalties on individuals who do not comply with the orders of or give false evidence to the committee. I hope there will never be a need to enforce these penalties as there is a legal as well as a moral duty to co-operate with the commission.

In giving all these powers to the committee we are showing that we are serious about child abuse. It is imperative, therefore, that the committee has all reasonable assistance to allow it fulfil its function as effectively as possible. Without these powers it would be severely hampered in its ability to consider issues at the appropriate level. Our ability to understand and assess the issues involved in cases of abuse would be correspondingly reduced. This would remove at least half of the value of the commission by removing our ability to know and, more particularly, to learn.

None of us will look forward to the report of the commission, except in the context of learning from its recommendations to ensure such events are never repeated. The report will be absolutely crucial as it will facilitate our understanding and response. It is welcome that it must be made available to the wider public to enable it understand the issues involved in all these cases.

The fact that the commission is being asked to make recommendations to ensure the abuse of children in institutions is prevented will help us in formulating our policies. As Minister of State with specific responsibility for the welfare of children, especially those in residential care, I am particularly conscious of this and looking forward to receiving the commission's recommendations.

The social services inspectorate is already undertaking inspections of child care facilities and residential homes under the Child Care Act, 1991, and has commenced its reports. It is this type of inspection that can give the public an assurance that the highest of standards are being maintained and that the welfare of children in the care of the State is paramount.

The commission will devote specific consideration to addressing the damage done to victims of abuse. It is vital that this is considered as individuals have suffered a great trauma. Their history is always with them, no matter where they live or work. From its constant interaction and discussions with victims of abuse, the commission will be best placed to make recommendations on this issue. Its recommendations on how damage to victims can best be assessed and, more particularly, how they can be helped will be made public. In addition, it will be able to name individuals who committed abuse. This is a very far-reaching power. The ability to name an individual in a report being made available to the public is something the commission must consider carefully. Obviously the commission, involving such notable people as our Members, must weigh up all of the evidence before making this decision, but where it is satisfied that it has sufficient evidence it is right to name individuals. We must always remember that the context of the Bill, namely to inquire into the abuse of children, means that many questions will be asked and it is important that the commission and the report should answer many of those questions. This is a serious issue for society and we should aim to take fundamental action in facing it. The provisions of the Bill are designed to do this.

The true test of any society is how it treats its children. An enlightened society is one which values children in their own right, treats them with care and dignity, ensures their safety and nurtures their full potential. We all want this for every child. It was not always the way in the past but we all must always ensure it happens in the future.

Dr. Upton

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Nobody could have imagined the level of hurt, abuse and terror which was inflicted on so many of the nation's children during this century in industrial schools and other institutions. It is also true that the revelations, which were largely brought to light be the RTE programme "States of Fear", are not new. Many people were quietly aware of what was happening in these institutions but nobody wanted to talk about it. It was a case of hear no evil, speak no evil.

The time has now arrived for the State to come to terms with the horrific abuses which were inflicted on children through no fault of their own, but because of unfortunate circumstances, perhaps illness, family bereavement or a disability, they were forced to live in an institution. The time has come for the people to state collec tively that we do not stand over those actions which have ruined the lives of these victims. While the State did not have a direct role in the day to day operations of the industrial schools and institutions, it was nevertheless the official financier and inspector and, therefore, it did have a responsibility for these children.

Some of those interviewed on the programme "States of Fear" had the ability to communicate, either in voice or through sign language, but I fear there are many people with severe disabilities who attended these institutions who are unable to communicate the hurt and pain they endured. We now have a responsibility to ensure those people who are not able to speak out for themselves will also be looked after in the Bill. Until we carry out a case by case investigation into each file on record, we will never really appreciate the extent of the suffering of people with many of these disabilities. The scars of the abuse which have been brought to light by the brave victims who have spoken out will never fade. We can only hope that they and those who are unable to come forward are given all the support they require to allow them to try to live a full and wholesome life.

I hope the Bill will ensure above all else that the truth will be established without any further trauma or hurt to those who it is intended to support. The Bill must, above all, ensure compassion, understanding and justice for those who have been victims. No matter what the outcome of the work of the commission, it will never serve to fully compensate those who have been so badly hurt. I hope it will go some way, however, towards offering an expression of regret.

I welcome the fact that £4 million has been set aside for counselling and I hope the provision of this professional service will help to reduce some of the pain and stress which was endured. It will not restore a lost childhood; it might, however, lift some of the pain. I hope the Bill will establish the truth with compassion.

I thank the Deputies who have spoken on this Bill today. It is important legislation. There are many different issues involved which can be discussed in detail on Committee Stage. Some Deputies have concerns and reservations about individual aspects of the Bill, but I assure them that, as many of them recognised, the terms of reference are broadly drawn. On that basis they are capable of use in many different circumstances. That arose in the course of the debate, when Deputy Michael Kitt was concerned about bullying and other Deputies were also concerned that this might be included. It would fit under the terms of reference, but of course the major issues are well known and will be catered for under the legislation.

Deputies raised the issue of compensation for victims. This is of course a major issue which must and will be addressed. It has been suggested that the Government is trying to avoid the issue through the establishment of a commission. The commission is necessary to provide the forum for the investigations on the one hand and the forum for the healing and listening on the other. This method of approach which the Government is using is based on the recommendations of the non-statutory commission, which has given detailed consideration to how to deal with this problem. We could look elsewhere to see what people did in other places and we could try to find the best way to set up a commission and how it should be handled. However, the Government has had that done for it by experts under Ms Justice Laffoy, who has given considerable time and attention to the issue. The Government said it accepted Ms Justice Laffoy's report in full and devised legislation based on that report and that commission's recommendations.

On the issue of compensation, it is important to state clearly that section 5(2)(a) provides that the commission's report must consider measures to alleviate the effects of abuse suffered by victims. I have already said there will be no preconditions on the commission in this area or elsewhere. The commission will be wholly independent and will report independently.

It is also important to examine what victims have been saying. There is both a demand and a need for a therapeutic role for victims. As I have said, this is the prime role for the commission in dealing with victims. Effective therapy is not simply a matter of monetary compensation. This is not of course to downplay the compensation area, which must also be dealt with, but the Department has received many inquiries from people – this is carried through in the report of the commission – who want to be heard and listened to. They want the healing forum, and that is provided for at the same time.

Questions were raised about the Statute of Limitations, which is being pursued separately in separate legislation. I note the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform undertook in the Dáil to consider the views of Opposition Deputies which were expressed strongly. In particular, he is to consider if provision can be made for victims of abuse who came forward to gardaí and were instrumental in having abusers convicted. Such cases were also raised in this debate. These people would not benefit from a change in the law because, by virtue of giving evidence against the abusers, they could not claim they were unaware of the abuse or its effects. These views are being considered by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and will be further considered by Government.

They are in the Seanad.

Is the Minister bringing an amendment forward?

I am saying what the Minister said. What he will do is a matter for that legislation and those discussions. He made it clear this is a matter he will consider. How he does so remains to be seen.

Deputy Bruton raised the independence of the commission and asked that the role of the State be fully examined. That is what it is all about. All the documentation is being prepared for the commission. There are two archivists working on it. They are not hiding or destroying it. I know everyone is entitled to be suspicious but we must be careful that comments are not offensive to the civil servants handling the matter at present. To my knowledge it is being done in an open and transparent way. They are going through all the documentation and there are huge numbers of general cases, not that there will be problems with all of them, to investigate, for example, any reports, letters or notes made over the period that were ignored, that is, examining what the State did or did not do. The information will be made available to the commission and to individuals who seek it. If inspectors' reports indicating there were serious problems were ignored, that information will be available to the commission.

The question was raised whether the commission could go back further than 1940. It can and that is provided for in this legislation. Essentially we are talking about the period between 1940 and 1999 but the commission can decide to go outside either date. That will be clear on Committee Stage when we deal with the nuts and bolts of the Bill. The commission will be independent in the performance of its functions and that has been provided for.

The commission's report will be an independent report to the people, based solely on its findings and arising from the work it has done. The Government will receive its copy. There is provision for interim reports and someone suggested having a six monthly report. However, I would rather leave it to the commission to decide when it would have material for an interim report. I do not want to put fixed requirements of that kind on the commission but it is something we can discuss on Committee Stage.

As regards expenses, section 20 is specifically designed on the commission's recommendation. We will have details of a scheme available in time for Committee Stage. The purpose is to have a sensible scheme that will meet all the needs.

Reference was made to one member of the commission. I do not know who made the point but it was carried in The Sunday Times that, because the person concerned had acted in an institution in Britain, the person would not be suitable. The Department looked at this. The person concerned came with strong recommendations as a person with wide experience in the area. The person had experience as a teacher in a college of education, was deputy head of an approved school, assistant divisional director in a residential and day care facility and an assistant director and director of social services in another borough council. The person concerned has wide experience and has acted in other capacities as honorary secretary to the Association of Directors of Social Services from 1988 to 1992 and was president from 1996 to 1997. The individual has had the highest awards in the UK. It is very easy to target people who worked in the service. We need people who know what goes on and how things work. The commission is headed by Justice Laffoy who is very experienced and has handled all these matters exceptionally well. I have no doubt she will serve the public and the State well with this statutory commission.

Various questions were raised that may perhaps be better dealt with on Committee Stage. Deputy Bruton spoke about the need for a review of what is happening at present. We hope to progress the work being done. There is much change and development in the area.

The Children Bill was published six months ago and we have not seen it since.

Work is in progress.

Snail's progress.

Deputy Shortall said the definition is very good and broad. Her main concern was the statute of limitations and the culpability of the State. However, I reassure Deputies that this is addressed in the provisions of the Bill and anything that arises will be put on the table.

The arrangements for legal representation and expenses are provided for, and I referred to them in my speech at the outset. Deputy Neville welcomed the broad definitions and felt they provided a great deal of scope. He was concerned about counselling and felt it should be mentioned directly in the Bill. The counselling arrangements are already in train and money has already been allocated by the Government. People have been trained specifically for this counselling, and that process is under way. This counselling will serve the commission. People asked whether counselling will be adequate. The commission will have to be satisfied that counselling is adequate and I think that decision is in good hands.

Deputy Michael Kitt also spoke about the broad definitions in the Bill. He was concerned about boarding schools and said he would like them to be included: they are included. Deputy Creed raised the issue of the family home. In simple terms, every situation other than the family home is included, including boarding schools in so far as allegations or problems will arise. The issue of bullying was also raised and can be included.

Deputy Creed said some people would like to have abuse in the family home dealt with, but the commission has clearly stated that it wants to be focused and do a good job on the major issues which arose. It does not want to become too diffuse and spend forever without getting to the heart of some of the key issues which directly relate to the State and the alleged negligence of the State about which Deputies and everybody else are rightly concerned. We accepted the recommendations of the non-statutory advisory group and are following them in full.

Deputy Carey raised the issue of travel arrangements. Generally, people think of travel arrangements for those coming from the country to the location of the commission. However, travel arrangements can cover people carrying out inquiries elsewhere, away from the central location. The inquiry officers will be supplied with resources to go wherever is necessary.

Deputy Upton welcomed the provision of £4 million and the broad terms of reference. I assure the Deputy that counselling is considered to be of vital importance because so many people have sought counselling in one way or another. People currently in counselling will be able to avail of that facility and service. This will have to be done to the satisfaction of the commission. Here again one can see the independence of the commission.

As this opening debate on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill comes to a close, a number of things have become clear. Firstly, there is a clear commitment among Members that former residents of places charged with the care of children, especially victims of abuse in those places, should be given a full and open hearing. There is also a commitment that allegations of abuse will be fully investigated and that those responsible for abuse, either indirectly or directly, whether individuals, organisations or State bodies, will be held accountable. Finally, there is a determination that we do everything possible to try to protect the most vulnerable children and young people from the evil of child abuse, and that we do this in a sensitive and balanced way. The commission recommended the approach which is provided for in the Bill.

It is fair to say that up to the recent past, debate about conditions in places where children were cared for, and the attitude of many in society towards children, was either non-existent or characterised by a refusal to come to terms with very harsh realities. The commission, which the Bill establishes, will take us on a journey at the end of which all of us will be better informed and those who suffered any kind of abuse will finally be given acknowledgement that they have been wronged. The commission is an important part of the process of healing and reconciliation for victims, for those who committed abuse, for those who failed in their duties, statutory or moral and for Irish society.

I thank Deputies who have contributed so constructively to the debate and look forward to hearing further views as we continue the debate on Committee Stage. We have noted the contributions and for Committee Stage will be looking very closely at the Bill. In the course of the debate it was suggested that we might look at the question of a tribunal, something I have noted and will consider.

Question put and agreed to.