I thank Ms Justice Laffoy and the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse for the completion of its detailed third interim report. I welcome the report and I am pleased that it provides at least some closure and confirmation of their experiences for the former pupils of the Baltimore Fisheries School. I remind everyone that the valuable work the commission has completed in respect of Baltimore was one of the main purposes for which the commission was established, that is, to inquire into the abuse that occurred in these institutions and to report on it. This was the Government's intention at the time the commission was being established and continues to inform the manner in which the Government is dealing with this issue today.
The report also refers to the manner in which my Department dealt with the commission, both as a sponsor and a respondent, and I will deal with each of these issues in turn. Since the commission's inception, my Department has responded to its requests for resources as quickly as possible. As with all other Departments, this Department must and did submit each request for resources to the Department of Finance and-or the Government for consideration. The Department has been and will continue to be committed to supporting the commission.
The resourcing delays which the commission referred to in its report primarily relate to the period from June 2002 onwards when the commission sought a doubling of its resources, particularly its personnel. I previously explained that it was necessary that this request be considered by the Government, following which it was decided that a review of the operation of the investigation committee was necessary. This review has been justified and I am confident that the legislation which will emanate from this review will assist the commission in completing its remit in a timely fashion. Furthermore, Judge Ryan in his report on the working of the commission, which was undertaken prior to his being appointed chairperson of the commission, recommended that an ad hoc group of senior officials be identified who could deal with resourcing issues as quickly as possible. The Government has accepted this suggestion. I am confident that this process will ensure that all future requests for resources are dealt with effectively and in a timely manner.
In its role as respondent, my Department at all stages made every effort to co-operate with and assist the work of the investigation committee of the commission. In this regard, the Department voluntarily handed over to the commission more than 500,000 pages of documentation between 2000 and 2002. Furthermore, by June 2003 it had provided the commission with approximately 1,900 statements relating to cases before the investigation committee. In addition, it responded to 16 discovery directions that were issued to it.
I have already accepted that there were some difficulties encountered, especially in complying with a small number of the discovery directions. However, in this regard, the commission's third interim report acknowledges, "some of the difficulties were caused, or contributed to by the Committee in that for example there was not sufficient clarity in the direction as to what was sought, or insufficient time was being allowed for compliance."
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
To ensure that the Department's processes are above reproach, last December I ordered an independent review of the process and procedures for the making of discovery by the Department to the commission. I appointed the former chairperson of the Bar Council of England and Wales, Mr. Matthias Kelly QC, to conduct this review. In addition to being completely independent of my Department, Mr. Kelly has considerable experience of sexual abuse litigation and is co-author of an article entitled "Child Abuse in Residential Homes" in the New Law Journal.
Mr. Kelly conducted his review over a two-week period that commenced on 5 January 2004. In the course of conducting his review Mr. Kelly met officials in the Department involved in the discovery process and the legal team representing the Department. He also had access to all of the Department's records. I understand that Mr. Kelly also met representatives of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.
The process of meeting with and interviewing persons relevant to his review has concluded and Mr. Kelly has very recently provided me with an interim report of his review. He has stated that he had originally expected that his report could be completed within a matter of weeks but that given the sheer volume of documentation, it is not possible and he will report in full as soon as possible. I would add however that, in his interim report, Mr. Kelly has reached the provisional conclusion that, "the difficulties over discovery were not due to obstruction or concealment but rather due to poor historic record storage systems and misunderstandings as to what in fact was required." Mr. Kelly also outlines a number of interim measures, which I will be happy to implement pending receipt of his full report.