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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 Nov 2005

Vol. 609 No. 4

Ferns Report: Statements (Resumed).

I will pick up where I concluded. I welcomed the report and asked that everyone take it seriously. I also made the point that this debate is about fairness, but there are many other issues which must be dealt with and I hope that, in time, the discussion can be broadened.

I noticed a statement during the week by a constituent of mine and former vice president of Fianna Fáil, Mr. Michael Stokes, that in the unusually direct intervention by the State in church matters, the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, told the Dáil that the law of the land applies to all, irrespective of their status. When announcing the decision to hold an inquiry into clerical sex abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin, the Taoiseach described child sexual abuse as abhorrent. I make that point because so far in the debate there has been a little bit of church-bashing. I believe we should remain focused. I made the point this morning that many churchmen throughout the State who are still doing their job deserve our support.

However, I support fully those who have been abused and hurt. It is important to help and seek out people who have not yet sought redress. In that regard, like other colleagues, I received correspondence in recent days from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The document is entitled Another Brick From the Wall, which seeks the introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect in Ireland. It is important for all of us to take account of that document. We should support those who look after children. As I said this morning, the children of the nation deserve our strong support. Many vile acts were unaccounted for over a long period. Much of what we are discussing happened during other decades but it is important to ensure that nothing we would be ashamed of in the future is going on behind closed doors today. I would hate to look back in a number of years and discover the abuse was still taking place.

It is important to have this debate and I welcome the opportunity to contribute to it.

The recent publication of the report of the Ferns Inquiry brought to an end the work of Mr. Justice Francis Murphy, Dr. Helen Buckley and Dr. Laraine Joyce. This inquiry has brought to light a litany of child sexual abuse, failure on the part of the church authorities and inaction from the State.

Reading the report was sickening, disgusting and often horrifying, and that was before one concentrated one's mind on the fact that it happened in this country in relatively recent times and that the victims were disbelieved, afraid to tell what happened because of the power the abuser held over them or just too terrified to speak out. Those who did speak out were clearly often ignored or, in some instances, treated as if it was they who were in the wrong. What happened caused deep rifts and divisions in communities and, sadly, in families.

The Ferns Inquiry has confirmed that the response of the church to incidences of child sexual abuse was appallingly inappropriate. In transferring those responsible for the abuse of children from one role to another within the diocese or outside the diocese, the church prioritised its need to maintain secrecy with regard to what was happening to the child. Simply put, this amounted to an institutional disregard for the needs of children and young people by those in whom the public had placed the utmost trust. This must never be allowed to happen again.

The recently announced establishment of a new inquiry to focus on child sexual abuse in the Dublin diocese will also result in the publication of a shocking and disturbing litany of abuse, neglect and inaction. I welcome this inquiry, coming as it does seven and a half years after Andrew Madden, himself a victim of child sexual abuse, first wrote to the Taoiseach seeking such an inquiry. The response at the time from his private secretary was that it would not be appropriate, that difficulties lay in the impracticality of such a tribunal and that the Catholic Church was not a public body. I am glad to note we are a little more enlightened now and at least willing to look into these issues.

We cannot simply shake our heads, wring our hands and wait for the next damning report on this matter. What we must do, as well as ensuring that the response from the church authorities to incidences of abuse places the needs of the child first, is guarantee that the responsibility of the State to protect all children, young people and the vulnerable of any age is met.

It is clear that the primary responsibility for the protection of children lies with the State. The Ferns Report shows that the State, through its responsible agencies, has failed time and again to meet that responsibility and vindicate child safety. We all know that the child protection procedures are deeply inadequate and the Ferns Report confirms this knowledge in sad and shocking detail. If the report is to mean anything, there must be action and change. The report's recommendations are detailed, thoughtful and, if implemented, would considerably enhance the level of protection afforded to children and young people.

There are a number of key actions the Government should take to ensure that the type of abuse at Ferns can never happen again. The legislation to establish a register of persons considered unsafe to work with children should be prioritised. This has been promised since I entered the House and yet it has languished in section C of the legislative programme with no publication date indicated. This legislation should be published before the end of this Dáil session. All co-operation will be given by Fine Gael and, I am sure, by our colleagues to ensure the legislation is passed without delay.

While the vetting unit is to be expanded after much delay, this will not address the concerns of the Ferns Report unless all members of school boards of management are subject to vetting. The Ferns Report stated clearly that "some priests appear to have abused their position as managers of national schools in order to access children". The same checks should apply to board of management members as do to teachers and other staff at schools, irrespective of who is responsible for making these appointments.

The Minister for Education and Science appears to be equivocating on this issue. That is unacceptable. The Minister is linking boards of management with the voluntary sector and calling it a "wider issue". She appears to be completely unaware that the voluntary sector has been demanding access to vetting arrangements for many years. I met the National Youth Council this morning and it confirmed this. For the Government to suggest that expanding vetting arrangements will damage the voluntary sector, as the Minister for Education and Science did yesterday, is simply misinformed.

I cannot stress too much the importance of having all people working with children, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity, vetted for their suitability. Surely the Government is not suggesting that it is only those in paid employment who are likely to pose a risk to children? Any gap left in our vetting arrangements will be exploited by those seeking access to children for the purpose of abusing them. It is clear from the Ferns Report that priests used their positions on boards of management to access children. This is an issue the report highlighted as needing to be addressed. The proper implementation of the Ferns Report does not allow us the privilege of picking and choosing or implementing only the easy parts. It must be implemented in full.

The gathering of so-called soft information is critical in the fight against those who seek to abuse children. It is notoriously difficult to secure convictions in cases of child sexual abuse, with some agencies estimating that only one in 20 cases results in a prosecution. We must remember that Ian Huntley, the person responsible for the murder of schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, was given a job at a school even though in the late 1990s he was repeatedly questioned on charges relating to sexual activity with minors, indecent assault, burglary and rape. In 1998 and 1999 alone he was questioned in four separate rape investigations. There is no way that such a person should have been able to get work at a school, and the gathering of soft, non-conviction information is vital to ensure that such a case does not arise in Ireland.

The concept of the use of soft information is also highlighted in this report. It quotes examples from Irish case law in this area, when dealing with the limitations of current legislation, particularly as it relates to health boards. Two separate cases in 1997 deal extensively with this point. In MQ v. Robert Gleeson and Others, Mr. Justice Barr effectively allowed soft information to be passed on by the health board to the VEC to prevent a person working in a school. He made an interesting distinction between the role of the health board and the police, as he called them, and the DPP saying that the health boards’ emphasis is on “the protection of vulnerable children” while the latter’s emphasis is on “the detention and conviction of child abusers”. He then said, and it is worth quoting in full:

There are many circumstances which indicate that a particular person is likely to be (or have been) a child abuser, but there is insufficient evidence to establish such abuse in accordance with the standards of proof required in a criminal or civil trial. However, there may be sufficient evidence to create, after reasonable investigation, a significant doubt in the minds of competent experienced Health Board or related professional personnel that there has been abuse by a particular person. If such has been established then it follows that a Health Board cannot stand idly by but has an obligation to take appropriate action[.]

This is very much an implied right and duty to communicate, as the Ferns Report clearly points out, and it is our duty in this Chamber to make this an explicit piece of law. Any delay in doing so is the same as turning our backs yet again on people at risk.

The idea of non-conviction information was again mentioned by Mr. Justice Hamilton in re Article 26 in the Employment Equality Bill where he said that there was nothing in the Bill to require an employer to employ someone who had a criminal conviction for sexual behaviour or, and this is the key point, "anything that was considered on the basis of reliable information that he engages in or has a propensity to engage in unlawful sexual behaviour". He based this firmly on the need to protect children.

Unfortunately, this does not give a clear indication as to what one can rely on as reliable information and again points to our duty to act to ensure this type of information can be used to protect children. The report shows that in 1998 the assistant Garda commissioner had to seek the Attorney General's advice on whether it was the Garda or health boards who should inform employers or family members where rumour or innuendo exists. The response was that the principal avenue should be the health board. However, there is no legislative framework through which this can be done.

Other legislative changes recommended by the working group on vetting must be acted upon. The amendment of the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998 and the Sex Offenders Act 2001 to include the reporting of abuse of vulnerable adults and offer a greater degree of protection to those with physical disabilities respectively should be brought forward now. The legislative changes recommended in the Ferns Report, namely, the creation of an offence of reckless endangerment with regard to the welfare of a child, should be prioritised. An audit of practices in all dioceses around the country should be commenced and concluded without delay.

The stay safe programme should be available in all schools. It is not acceptable that up to one in five primary schools do not offer this subject, which should be mandatory. If some parents wish to remove their children from this subject, so be it, but that must not mean that all other children in the school cannot benefit from the programme. The priority in this programme is the protection of children.

The Minister for Education and Science, in a reply to a question from me on this issue yesterday, said that she would strongly encourage all schools to use the stay safe programme. Unfortunately, it is clear that encouragement in the past has not been sufficient. If it is a priority for her Department, as she claims, surely she should make it mandatory on all schools to implement it. The programme is designed to give children the skills they need to recognise and resist abuse and teaches them how to tell an adult what is happening. Surely this must be available to every child in the country. The Minister needs to revisit this issue and demand its implementation in every school.

Fine Gael has already published detailed proposals on how information can be gathered and how our vetting procedures can be significantly improved. Vetting a prospective employee or volunteer through the system proposed by Fine Gael would show whether the prospective employee or volunteer had a criminal record and, if so, to what crime such a record related, any relevant non-conviction information, and whether a school principal, vice-principal or chairperson of a school board of management had made a recommendation to the central vetting unit that the prospective employee or volunteer should not be employed to work with children or vulnerable adults and the reasons for this recommendation. The same would apply to the HSE CEO, director of service or line manager and the chief executive officer or director of a charity, voluntary, sporting or youth organisation. Utilising this system a complete database of both criminal conviction information and soft information would exist for the most comprehensive vetting possible. We have outlined clear appeal procedures to ensure that natural justice is respected. An examination of the Ferns Report shows in horrifying detail the abuse suffered by so many children in that part of the country. Unfortunately there is no reason to suspect that this abuse was not replicated to a greater or lesser extent in other parts of the country.

If the Ferns Report is to mean anything it must result in immediate action and change. I call on the Minister of State present and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to ensure the report is referred to a combined meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Joint Committee on Education and Science. I would not like to see blame passed from one committee to the other. Joint hearings are imperative on this issue.

The Ferns Report teaches us much. It is essentially a damning chronicle of the appalling abuses of the most depraved kind inflicted on young children by priests who held positions of trust and authority in communities. It chronicles the wholly inadequate and thoroughly reprehensible response by the church to abuses when it was informed of them. It highlights the inner workings of the church and how it felt itself above or separate from the laws of the State. It also points to the collusion on the part of the State authorities that allowed this misapprehension develop; that the church was above reproach.

The State's failure to pursue priests for sex crimes against children over many years is truly shameful. It is evidence of the all too cosy relationship that has existed between the church and the State. I believe this relationship persists to this day, and if we are to act on the lessons from the Ferns Report it is a relationship which must be dismantled thoroughly.

Preservation and protection of the church was the primary concern of the hierarchy when the abuses became apparent. For an association or institution which purports to offer moral and spiritual guidance, the response of the church to the allegations of sexual abuse against members of its community was wholly morally bankrupt. It promoted and transferred paedophile priests, permitting them to continue their vile practice unchecked and it sidelined honourable priests who sought to have the matter addressed. Many honourable members of the church are as appalled as the general public by the tolerance on the part of the hierarchy or the institution of the church of the perpetrators of such evil sex crimes. These are people who are in danger of being isolated further from communities in which they have made a positive contribution because of a tendency of tarring all with the same brush. The hierarchy has let these honourable members down badly by its failure to bring errant members to justice.

Had the same efficiency with which Bishop Comiskey and others sought insurance to indemnify themselves against claims of sexual abuse in 1989 been applied to rooting out the cancer which was left to fester within the clergy, many children would not have suffered the pain and trauma of violation by people whom their parents and community revered. This is what is so reprehensible. Back then children were not believed, given the status of the priest in the community.

The Ferns Report is interesting also on the question of Canon Law versus State civil and criminal law and how the church places itself somewhat outside or above the laws which govern our nation. The early part of the report documents how the hierarchy grappled with the tensions between these sets of rules to which they were bound. The first code of Canon Law dealt with, amongst other things, how priests who abused children were to be treated. The report noted, "a high degree of secrecy was imposed on all church officials involved in such cases. The penalty for breach of this secrecy was automatic excommunication...". This is totally at odds with our criminal code. The conduct of the hierarchy in dealing with sex abuse allegations demonstrates that its loyalty was first and foremost to its own code of Canon Law. The laws of the State came a poor second and the consequence was the appalling abuse of innocent children.

The report, if it were needed, should demonstrate to the Catholic Church or any church or organisation that its own code of conduct is subject to national law and it is by those standards alone that one's conduct will be judged. Only time will tell whether this report represents a crossing the Rubicon. Can we confidently claim that the horror and pain inflicted by priests will never happen again? If we are to make such a bold claim our response to this report will make all the difference. This response will require many changes. Chief among them is the level of influence the church still enjoys in our schools. The Ferns Report notes the easy access depraved priests had to a steady supply of children through schools.

Mary Raftery, who has done invaluable service to Irish society by her persistence in exposing institutional abuses in Ireland, has raised this issue recently in The Irish Times. She has highlighted that more than 95% of national schools are directly managed by the Catholic Church. Often priests will control the boards of management. Fr. Seán Fortune chaired such a board while he conducted his sex crimes. Can we in all faith continue to leave the care of children in the education system in the hands of an institution which has shown itself to be wholly inadequate in its response to the safety of children when abuse was identified?

Equally, we have seen recent scandalous attempts by the Catholic Church to interfere with clinical trials for cancer patents in the Mater and St. Vincent's hospitals. There is the ongoing objection of CURA volunteers to disseminating the Positive Options leaflet on behalf of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, which is a State agency. In a referendum the people indicated they wanted information on all options to be disseminated. This leaflet documents all options facing a woman with a crisis pregnancy. This objection continues despite an agreement entered into by the bishops on behalf of CURA to do so. The agreement is worth more than €650,000 to CURA. These instances point to an all too powerful influence on our society by the Catholic Church. Such an influence has no place in a republic.

A survey conducted last year by the Department of Education and Science, the most comprehensive survey of the Irish people's views on education matters since 1960, backs up this opinion. The majority agreed with the proposition that schools should not be denominational, although they should provide for some religious instruction. It is time we as politicians for a pluralist republic provided this option for our citizens.

I commend the work Mr. Justice Murphy, Dr. Helen Buckley and Dr. Laraine Joyce have done on our behalf. They operated under particularly difficult circumstances in that it was not a sworn inquiry. Despite its stomach-turning contents it represents something of a catharsis in the State's role and responsibilities and those of the church in finally confronting clerical sexual abuse. I hope the church will get the message clearly that it no longer has an ally in the State if it is seeking to cover up sex crimes.

As a Deputy for Wexford, I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this important debate. No document in my memory has caused more concern anguish and debate in my county than the Ferns Report. Since its publication two weeks ago it has rightly dominated public conversation and public discourse. It has caused the entire community to reflect on itself. It has required each of us in the community to examine how such terrible things could have taken place and how it could have continued for so long.

I do not believe that Wexford is especially evil — I know better than that. I know of the thousands of good, decent and honourable people who live there and of the good and decent priests and religious.

However, awful things did happen in my community, the details of which, unvarnished and brutal, are laid out in the Ferns Report. It shames us all that it happened in our midst and that society went on as normal with such hurt and evil flowing freely beneath the surface.

I listened yesterday to Colm O'Gorman, a voice of calm, sanity and reason from a man who endured much pain. He has played a pivotal role in exposing the truth. His approach is not vengeful, but hopeful and positive. The process of shining light into dark crevices is, and will continue to be, painful, but one lesson above all must be learned. All of us must listen and must believe. We have a great deal more listening to do. Some voices want now to move on, to close the debate as if we have heard enough. This cannot happen.

The first responsibility for all of us is to give space to the victims who at last have had their experiences told and believed. Others will be given strength by their courage and they too must be allowed a voice. It may take time, but we must construct an ongoing system to allow that process to unfold. We must also ensure our child protection systems are robust beyond doubt. I remember well the long debate in this House on the Child Care Act in the early 1990s. After the publication of the Kilkenny incest case, I was able, as the then Minister for Health, to resource that important legislation.

Deputy Twomey, my constituency colleague, mentioned the beginnings of change in the aftermath of the Kilkenny report, when there were resources at ground level to deal with, recognise and accept there were such awful issues as child abuse. They were not only real, but in many cases all too rampant. There are now new and clear recommendations in this report upon which we must act.

In the fog of debate about canon versus State law there must be no doubt that the State has the prime responsibility to protect all its citizens, especially its children. There can be no ambiguity about the responsibility of all citizens, lay or religious, to apply State law and to assist, without reservation, in the investigation of crime. Like most crimes of violence, what is clear from the cases so graphically set out in this report is the abuse of power. The Catholic Church, for so long the most powerful institution in the State, abused its power. While the prime responsibility lies with the perpetrators of these awful criminal acts, what is revealed is a powerful institution incapable or unwilling to deal with the terrible truth.

The response of Bishops Donal Herlihy and Brendan Comiskey is spelled out in detail in the report. While to judge the actions of people up to 40 years ago through the prism of today's state of knowledge and understanding can produce a false result, the failure to act effectively when knowledge was received beggars belief. What emerges is a parallel world where the church, its institutions and its priests exist in a separate world of accountability and responsibility. All of us allowed that parallel universe to exist and that level of power to be exercised. This must end now. There must be one standard applied universally in the Republic, through which all citizens will be afforded the same rights and have identical responsibilities. This is the position now accepted in the diocese of Ferns. It must apply everywhere in the State.

The actions of Bishop Eamonn Walsh, since he became apostolic administrator of the diocese of Ferns in May 2002, are commended by the inquiry team. The inquiry team points out that the procedures adopted by Bishop Walsh should be incorporated into the organisation and management of the diocese. That should apply not just to the diocese of Ferns but to all dioceses. However, I point out again that the State must determine proper procedures to be applied throughout the State by all its citizens.

In the days and weeks ahead, there will be scope to deal with many of the deep issues raised by some of the early speakers in this debate, for example, the position of the church — all churches — in influencing State policy and the role of the church in education. This debate is timely and must come soon. Today, however, we should deal with the report before us and its recommendations.

One recommendation is the institution of a new criminal offence relating to engaging in conduct that creates a substantive risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child, or failing to take reasonable steps to alleviate such a risk. I welcome the Government's commitment to incorporate an amendment into the Criminal Justice Bill currently before the House to act swiftly to make this the law of the land.

We have had much debate on Garda vetting procedures, but they are still woefully inadequate. Many organisations dealing with children are begging for supports to enable them to ensure the children in their care are protected. Whatever resources and systems are required to do this must be provided without delay. New barring orders that will allow the HSE to apply to the courts to protect children from people with a propensity to abuse must be swiftly enacted into law. We must also conclude our debate on mandatory reporting. People have differing views on this, because there is a concern that it may prevent some reporting of awful crime. The position enunciated by the Minister of State in his opening remarks is wholly unsustainable, namely, that he wishes to have mandatory reporting without any law to provide for it. I hope he will act swiftly on all these issues of debate.

Much soul searching has gone on and is going on in County Wexford. It is inevitable that other communities will face the same issues in the future, as further necessary inquiries reveal our painful past. We must ensure it is the past.

For many young people, the Ireland of the 1970s and 1980s is an unknown land. A recent RTE programme examining the progression of social issues through this period reminded us who lived through it of the bitterness of some of the clashes. I remember all too vividly and well Fr. Seán Fortune's campaign on the 1983 constitutional amendment — his doll placed on the altar with red ribbons flowing from it. That era is over. We must ensure as a legislature that it truly is over.

I pay tribute to those who came forward to speak to the Ferns Inquiry to outline the appalling abuse they suffered. I find the Ferns Report deeply disturbing and shocking, not because I am a Minister of State or a Dáil Deputy, but because I am a father of young children. The only times I have been moved to tears during my eight-year political career in this House have been when the victims of institutional abuse have told me their stories. I have been moved by the forgiveness extended by some of those who have suffered this kind of abuse to those who perpetrated such awful acts.

The last speaker rightly said that the abuse by certain people of their powerful positions in society is perhaps the most dangerous and sinister aspect of the contents of the Ferns Report. We need to understand that the era of monopoly power in Irish society, whether it applies in the area of morality, economics or even politics, has definitively come to an end. I hope the people of this country have learnt over the past ten, 20 or 30 years that nobody should be allowed to enjoy monopoly power over individuals or society as a whole. As Ireland matures as a country, its people, including the members of its political class, should say publicly and bravely that they will not allow such events to take place again. We will not allow people to be abused in a vicarious manner, as happened in Ferns, in institutions and, it must be said, in families.

It is often forgotten in the maelstrom of debate and public controversy about institutional abuse that the vast majority of abuse takes place within families. I do not say that to mitigate the cause of the betrayal that occurred in Ferns. We should not forget that appalling abuse can take place between siblings, or can be perpetrated by parents against their children. Not only are all the institutions of State and those who deal with children on a daily basis responsible for ensuring that children are protected, but parents have a responsibility to ensure that their children, as well as other children in their care, are similarly protected.

There is a strong need for people to speak out. We cannot allow monopoly power or monopoly voices to drown out the human rights and dignities of individuals in society who may be the subject of abuse. One of the horrible aspects of what happened in Ferns and other parts of the country, in institutions and in families was that people felt powerless and were afraid to speak out. I send a strong message that people should not be afraid to say what needs to be said. They should be given a chance to speak out. As practising politicians, we should give people such an opportunity. People should not feel inhibited, by dint of what we do in the House or as public representatives, in speaking out and having their stories heard at the highest level or at any other level of their choosing.

The Ferns Report is very sobering reading. I would not recommend to anyone that they read it. A decision on whether to read it is very much a matter of personal choice. The graphic descriptions in the report cut to the core of what we are about as a society. The basis of our society is challenged by the report. Are we prepared to act in ignorance? Are we prepared to ignore? Are we prepared not to listen to the voices of people who have suffered at the hands of abusers of one kind or another? As a society, we must be careful not to become complicit in any kind of institutionalised or systemised practice of abuse ever again. We need to put in place simple reforms to give people an opportunity to speak out about matters of this kind, rather than being drowned out by those who think they possess some moral authority or control over individual lives. I do not say that lightly.

It is important that we do not become over-focused on the church, which continues to have a certain amount of power in Irish society. Most of the people associated with the church have operated in an honest way and have not acted as abusers. The same can be said about the banks, which have been the subject of controversy in this House. I am sure Deputies will accept that most bank workers are honest and decent people who do not perpetrate fraud of any kind. The same can be said of those who are involved with the church. While I do not want make allowances for those who were involved in certain forms of conduct in Ferns, Dublin or elsewhere, it is important to point out that most people associated with the church are not practitioners of abuse.

It is almost a cliché to say in debates of this nature that the character of an institution is defined by how its systems respond to complaints made by people who have chosen to speak up, to highlight certain cases or to make a plea for help. If one reads the Ferns Report, it is clear that the institutions which existed in Wexford utterly failed the victims of abuse. That is a matter of profound sadness for me.

We must build a society that takes responsibility for managing people's expectations. Most people rightly expect that their voices will be heard and their concerns acted on when they speak out about matters of this nature. There is sometimes a tendency, particularly in politics, to empathise with people rather than do something practical or supportive. As a class of people who are gathered in this Parliament to represent the citizens of this country, we need to offer practical support to the people. Practical legislation that will produce practical results is needed if we are to give comfort to parents, people in authority who have jurisdiction over children and people involved in the supervision of children. People need to be reassured that matters of substance such as those in Ferns will be acted on swiftly in a clear, definitive, unbiased and objective manner. We have to make sure there is no covering or shadowing and that nobody makes allowances or fails to proceed with an investigation. We need to replace that culture with a culture of openness about everything. We need to be much more open with ourselves about matters of this nature. This issue is at the heart of how we define ourselves as a people. Are we a Christian and caring people? Are we prepared to listen to the awful things we might hear about the abuse that is taking place?

I would like to comment on a sinister aspect of this issue that has been highlighted internationally. There is evidence to suggest that the perpetrators of child sexual abuse act in a devious and cunning manner. They are not unintelligent people who fit into some Victorian stereotype of the criminal underclass. They cross all our paths in society. Many investigations, including the FBI investigation into people paying with their credit cards to access child pornography on the Internet, have produced evidence that those involved in such crimes are people of high standing in society. Cunning and devious people with responsible positions are often prepared to collude, collaborate and connive with other people to perpetrate various forms of abuse. This is the most sinister aspect of this issue.

We need to be incredibly vigilant in this regard, for example, by arming parents with knowledge and warning them that certain people are prepared to prey on their innocent children. It is not enough for us to say there is a Government response. If this country's political class is in a position of political authority, as it claims to be — it represents the people and elects a Government with the public mandate it achieves — it must dedicate itself to the moral need to educate parents and the public about the existence of certain people and to point out to them that they need to take the first step in terms of bringing cases of abuse to the attention of the authorities. As parents, they need to become aware of the need to protect their own children because there are limits to the role of the State. Those involved in paedophile rings of one kind or another are enormously intelligent, devious and cunning in the lengths to which they go to cover up their activities and to perpetrate further crimes, by procuring and preying on young people. I do not say that lightly. As a parent of young children, I feel we have a responsibility to act quickly and definitively. There should be no showboating on this issue from the political class. It should act with strong moral integrity to tackle this issue in a meaningful way at every level, be it as a constituency Deputy, a Minister or as a citizen. This matter must be coherently addressed.

I wish to share time with Deputies Crowe and Cuffe.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Ferns Report and the announcement of a similar inquiry into the Dublin diocese. It is vital that we understand what occurred and implement fully the recommendations of this report. A number of things struck me about the report but due to the limited time available to me I will just focus on two of them. The first thing is that the individual allegations were shockingly explicit. It was clear that the abuse was possible because those carrying out the abuse were people who had access to children by way of their position within the community. They were trusted implicitly. When allegations were made, as they were over and over again, they were not believed. Not being believed compounded the abuse that robbed those victims of the innocence of childhood. We must pay attention to those conditions if we are to learn from the bravery of those who have come forward to tell of their abuse and protect our children in the future. We must not fall into the trap of blaming all for the sins of a few because that offers no protection.

The second thing that was obvious to me was the power of the media. Clearly the programme broadcast in March 2002, "Suing the Pope", forced the setting up of the inquiry in the first place. The report acknowledges that. In that context I wish to refer to the refusal of the Department of Education and Science to hand over documents in the National Archives on special schools, reformatories and orphanages. These documents show the relationship between the institutions run by the church and the State. They are vital to our understanding of what took place. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, referred to openness. Documents over 30 years old generally go to the National Archives and under the National Archives Act 1986 there is a get-out clause to the effect that if documents are in regular use or if it would interfere with the running of a Department their transfer does not always take place. The documents are being used and the Department is complying with the legislation on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board. I am told the transfer of these documents to the National Archive would interfere with this inquiry. However, 1986 is a long time ago and digital equipment would allow copies of those documents to be made available in the National Archives for people who want to inspect them.

The last thing I wish to do is hinder the redress board in its work but it is possible to provide wider access to the documents. Many people are entering into this process, as they are invited to do in newspaper advertisements every week, and the last thing we want is for their wounds to be re-opened when on the conclusion of that work in 2008 they discover that a whole raft of additional information is put into the public arena. For that reason the documents should be put into the National Archives without delay.

Prior to the setting up of the redress board a most restrictive approach was taken to inquiries about these documents. People were told there was a shortage of space in which to view these documents. Freedom of information requests by the media have received the same kind of reply to that which I received, that it would interfere with the running of the Department. Let us end the silence on this matter. Silence was part of the problem that caused this abuse in the past. The openness to which the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, referred is something to which the State must pay attention.

I agree with what Deputy O'Donnell said about the inappropriate relationship that existed between the church and State. The several churches and the State should exist as separate entities. The Ferns Report has brought admissions by clerics of an inadequate understanding of human sexuality yet there was no shortage of guidance from that same body throughout the history of the State. That guidance is now seen as inappropriate. It is a pity so many lives have been destroyed before we could get these kind of admissions. I agree with Deputy O'Donnell that this issue should be acted upon.

The Ferns Report is one of a series of inquiries into child sexual abuse which demonstrate the failures of those with responsibility to protect children from harm. I am truly humbled by the strength and courage of all survivors of child abuse, those named by this inquiry and all those who remain anonymous.

A certainty stemming from this emotive inquiry, as it did from the previous inquiries in the 1990s for example, into the swimming association, is that lessons must be learned and commitments made, if children are to be protected now and in the future. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Ireland in 1992, enshrines the rights of children to protection from violence, abuse and exploitation. States are obliged to implement its contents. In 1999 the Department of Health and Children published, Children First: national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children. The guidelines were republished last year and they constitute an overview of the State's working procedures for the protection of children from abuse. Children First represents a good model for the protection of children by the State but only if it is fully resourced and implemented. Due to under-resourcing and staffing shortages, it is not being implemented in all Health Service Executive areas at present.

Implementation failures have been identified by a number of child protection officers, CPOs. The introduction of the post of CPO in the youth work sector resulted from the recommendations of Children First, which included a role description. It is the responsibility of these CPOs to ensure child protection concerns in their organisations are reported to the relevant authorities, so they are uniquely placed to identify deficiencies in the implementation of the guidelines by the key State bodies. The issues identified by CPOs and relayed to Sinn Féin include: inability to make contact with the designated persons in the Health Service Executive and the frequent failure of the designated persons to return calls; misinformation from social work department staff; lack of follow-through despite explicit provisions for same; great pressure and onus being placed on CPOs by social workers and the need for consistent boundaries between the two to be observed; a lack of consistency in terms of responses between individual social workers and across HSE areas, and difficulties assisting children and their families to access practical supports.

These issues are resulting in a failure to protect children which constitutes ongoing neglect of children by the State. On behalf of Sinn Féin I stress that this inexcusable failure on the part of the Government to implement its own guidelines is not the fault of social workers, rather it is due to the decision at Government level to under-resource and overstretch these hard working and caring individuals beyond their limits.

On foot of the Ferns Report, past inquiries and media revelations as to the prevalence of child abuse, Sinn Féin demands that the Government makes a commitment to fully resource and implement Children First.

It is time to look again at the relationship between the church and State. The Preamble to the Constitution states: "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ..."

Article 44 states: "It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion". This has to change. In particular, that reference in Article 44 must change to move with the times. I do not say that those of us who profess religion should not show respect to a deity but we are sending out the wrong message to the Muslim, the Hindu, the Sikh, the agnostic and to those who do not believe in a God. Painful though it may be, we must separate the church from the State. It is an important issue and it must be tackled. The special place of the Catholic Church and the reference to Jesus Christ in the Preamble to our Constitution must change.

We must also change the right of church representatives to chair school boards of management. We must provide more funding to multidenominational schools. Educate Together makes a strong plea for increased funding and we must honour that plea. We must provide a strong vetting system for those working with children. The gardaí simply do not have the resources needed to deal with this issue.

The gardaí have the resources.

They do not. If one is running a crèche and wants to vet staff, one calls the gardaí who will say they do not have the resources to vet people. The gardaí have the resources to vet those going to work for the health boards or particular organisations such as Barnardos. I would like the Minister of State to acknowledge that in his reply.

I certainly will not acknowledge that because the Deputy obviously did not read what I said earlier on this subject.

The lyrics of the Christy Moore song All I Remember read:

The priest in confession condemns my obsession

With thoughts that I do not invite

It is time the Catholic Church looked carefully at itself yet again in order to address these problems which go to the heart of it.

I regret the need for such a report but having read it, it is clear there is such a need. I support the suggestion made by Deputy Enright some time ago that perhaps the appropriate forum in which to debate the report and to go through the recommendations is a committee of the Joint Committees on Health and Children and Education and Science. As Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, I would welcome that.

I do not want to throw out the old cliche which has been thrown out but it is worth mentioning that many people, who gave their lives voluntarily over the years to work within the clergy and who have acted properly, unfortunately feel condemned. It is our duty to follow the recommendations in the report but it is important to recognise at every opportunity the huge input of clergy over the years. I was in a boarding school run by clergy for five years and saw at first-hand the commitment of the Patrician Brothers in Ballyfin and throughout the State. While it might be taking away from the time allocated to me to speak on the report, it is, nevertheless, important to say that.

The report highlights the need for us to change drastically, and I refer specifically to school management, management boards and the input of clergy to those boards. I believe the debate will now widen. Times of yore have long passed and the issues raised by this report must be addressed immediately not only to restore confidence in the system for those who have been abused but for wider public as well.

I pay tribute to Bishop Walsh on the way he handled this report and the fact he went to Ferns not armed with anything extra but was able to come to terms and to deal with the issues and to be seen as an open and transparent representative of the church. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on the way he presented the report. He has acted properly at all times.

The issue of Canon Law versus State law has come to the fore. There has been much confusion and doubt about the importance of Canon Law. It is now recognised that State law comes first and that Canon Law can never impede it or act as a cover for those who claim such cover.

As we progress through the issues, it is important we focus on the role of the State and the church in education. We must recognise the great hurt caused to those who suffered, to those who tried to make it public and to those who tried to change the system so such hurt would not continue and people would be brought to buck but who were, unfortunately, dismissed over the years. I pay tribute to the courage, strength and integrity of each person who suffered the worst forms of abuse and who subsequently came forward and gave evidence to the Ferns Inquiry. Even though the hurt has been proven it has, nevertheless, taken years for the authorities and for us to believe such hurt could be caused. Unfortunately, the torture inflicted on these people may not ease with time and will continue to haunt them. As a parent, one can only begin to imagine the pain visited on the victims of abuse and the families who suffered as a result by those who were unfortunately, in many cases, put on a pedestal by society.

Reading the report is, to say the least, startling. Each of the 260 odd pages of the report is more horrific than the preceding one. Over a 40-year period, 21 priests operating in the diocese of Ferns faced over 100 allegations of child sex abuse. I have learned from the first-hand experience of Members from the Wexford constituency. Only a few minutes ago, Deputy Howlin referred to the involvement of Fr. Seán Fortune in the 1983 referendum. That focuses our attention on how people put on a pedestal or in authority can abuse it and cause considerable hurt. It is only now we have come to realise that.

The church's response to allegations of clerical sexual abuse was wholly inadequate. The guardians of morality in our society failed to live up to the high standards they often put forward for the rest of society. Children are surely the most vulnerable in society and rather than shield them from the possibility of abuse, the church, in many instances, merely shifted the problem to some other parish. This was certainly a case of hear no evil, see no evil. Where serious allegations of abuse were made, the hierarchy chose to bury their heads in the sand in the hope the problem would simply go away. The Ferns Report showed that when problems arose, they did not go away. Simply transferring a priest did not resolve the problem. If the Ferns Report is a forerunner of reports to come, we must act immediately. In that regard, I congratulate the Government on accepting all the recommendations in the Ferns Report. Confirmation has now been sought from the Bishops' Conference that the recommendations in the report will be implemented collectively and individually, which I welcome.

What has shocked most members of the public is the distance the hierarchy managed to put between itself and its congregations. Protection has been the name of the game and that must be resolved. It was a case of admitting to nothing and praying the issue would blow over. In times of grief and distress, we all want to call on a priest but in the case of clerical abuse, the hierarchy chose to ignore these calls. Unfortunately, whether unable or unwilling, the evidence suggests that successive Bishops of Ferns fumbled when dealing with this most sensitive issue.

We must move on to being judged by those who have been abused. We must show our commitment as legislators that we are taking the recommendations seriously. It is important not only to say we are taking them seriously but to act on those recommendations immediately and put in place procedures. We must create a culture of belief when people are courageous enough to come forward rather than dismiss it as an attack on some other authority. We must gain public confidence that this State has learned from what has emerged from the Ferns Report and is making a steadfast commitment to ensure issues raised in the report are dealt with.

The power of the church must be examined because for decades the church failed to act. It is guilty of letting its congregation down. The church failed the overwhelming majority of nuns and priests who gave their lives to their vocation and their communities. Priests who have given their lives in service of their parishes have been jeered and called paedophiles, child abusers and so on. However, in the rush to condemn, difficulties have been visited on hundreds of priests who have been accused of similar behaviour. Most of those who take up a vocation forego lucrative incomes in the private sector. Many of them attend third level for the same number of years as students who qualify in the fields of law and medicine. We should recognise they chose the religious life and the vast majority of them are not guilty of child abuse.

Society as a whole, however, also shares the blame for the years of silence regarding child abuse. It is not good enough to say the State agencies were powerless to act such was the power of the church. Garda notes are missing in a number of cases and, for example, the Southern Health Board failed to act when notified of abuse. All citizens are equal in the eyes of the law and for too long one's position in society earned one a right to protection from the law. This should never be allowed to happen again.

I pay tribute to Mr. Justice Francis Murphy and the other members of the inquiry team. They gave more than their professional time to the inquiry. Following much turmoil and personal angst, they have delivered a comprehensive and devastating report into clerical sex abuse in the diocese of Ferns. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Brian Lenihan, deserve great credit for the way they have handled this matter. The Minister and the Cabinet displayed great courage by establishing this inquiry more than two and a half years ago. The Minister of State has exercised a safe pair of hands in dealing with matters in recent months and he has been open and proper in all his dealings.

I also pay tribute to Bishop Walsh who has ensured, since taking over as apostolic administrator in 2002, that steps have been taken to protect children effectively. It is regrettable that there was a necessity for such an inquiry and report but clearly the need was there and it is up to us to prove our commitment to those who were abused by acting immediately on all the recommendations.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this sad and tragic report. Terrible hurt and pain was inflicted on many people at a vulnerable age. I am a practising Catholic and, like most of us, I am probably an á la carte Catholic. However, my faith and my church is important and, while I cannot compare anything with the hurt of the children who were abused, those of us to whom faith is important have also been deeply hurt by this exposé. Those who perpetrated and covered up the abuse should understand the hurt of people whose church is important to them. I have never felt the Catholic Church is the be all and end all of everything. Other churches have a similar role. I did not have a choice, but if I had, I would probably have become a Methodist because I have enormous regard for Methodists in my area. There is also a large Church of Ireland congregation in my area and one of the most moving events I ever attended at home was a 9/11 memorial service involving the Methodist, Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic congregations in the local Roman Catholic Church led by the Methodist minister.

Those who perpetrated and covered up the terrible acts against children represented Christ on earth. I would like to remind them of what Christ said about children and how they should be dealt with. I refer to St. Matthew's gospel, which states:

At the time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child whom he put among them and said: "Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes you. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.

"Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks. Occasions for stumbling are bound to come but woe to the one by whom stumbling blocks come. If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire. Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

What do you think?"

If the people who perpetrated these crimes read the words of their own master, they would see how wrong they were and if those who covered up their crimes read them, how could they ever justify covering up such deeds?

I refer to the effect of sexual abuse on children. When child abuse occurs, a victim can develop a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviours. No child is psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation. Even a two year old who cannot know sexual activity is wrong will develop problems resulting from the inability to cope with over-stimulation. A child of five or older who knows and cares for the abuser becomes trapped between affection or loyalty for the person and the sense that sexual activities are terribly wrong. If the child tries to break away from the sexual relationship, the abuser may threaten the child with violence and loss of love. A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults and can become suicidal.

Children who have been sexually abused have difficulty relating to others, except on sexual terms, and some become child abusers or prostitutes, or experience other serious problems when they reach adulthood. Often there are no obvious physical signs of child sexual abuse. A number of signs can be detected through physical examination by a doctor. Sexually abused children may develop an unusual interest in or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature. They experience sleep problems and they often have nightmares. They suffer depression and can withdraw from friends or family. They may make statements that their bodies are dirty or damaged or fear there is something wrong with them in the genital area. They may refuse to go to school or they may become delinquent and have behavioural problems. They often become secretive and they sometimes display aspects of their sexual molestation in their drawings, games and fantasies. They may be unusually aggressive and may present with suicidal behaviour and ideation. Child sexual abusers can make the child extremely fearful of telling someone and the child can only talk freely when a special effort has helped the child feel safe. If a child says he or she has been molested a parent should try to remain calm and reassure the child that what happened was not the child's fault. Parents should seek a medical examination and a psychiatric consultation.

The initial and short-term effects of abuse usually occur within two years of the termination of the abuse. These effects vary, depending on the circumstances of the abuse and the child's stage of development. The effects may include regressive behaviour such as a return to thumb sucking and bed wetting, sleep disturbance, eating problems, behaviour and-or performance problems in school, and non-participation in school and social activities.

The negative effects of child abuse can affect the victim for many years and into adulthood. Adults sexually abused as children commonly experience depression and high levels of anxiety in these adults can result in self-destructive behaviour such as alcoholism and drug abuse, anxiety attacks, situation specific anxiety disorders and insomnia. Many victims encounter problems in their adult relationships and adult sexual functioning. Re-victimisation is a common phenomenon in people abused as children. Research has shown that child sexual abuse victims are more likely to be victims of rape or be involved in physically abusive relationships as adults.

The ill effects of child abuse are wide-ranging and there is no one set of symptoms or outcomes. Some children report little or no psychological distress from the abuse but these children may be afraid to express their emotions or may be denying feelings as a coping mechanism. Other children may have sleeper effects, experiencing no harm in the short term but suffering serious problems in later life.

Can a child recover from sexual abuse? In an attempt to better understand the ill-effects of child abuse, psychologists have studied the factors that may lessen the impact of abuse. Factors that affect the amount of harm done to the victim include the age of the child, the duration, frequency and intrusiveness of the abuse, the degree of force used and the relationship with the abuser. Children's interpretation of the abuse, whether they disclose the abuse and how quickly they report it also affects the short and long-term consequences. It is very easy to abhor child sexual abuse but it is important to understand the effects and the destructive outcome for children.

I wish to share time with Deputy Hoctor.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important issue. The catalogue of depravity revealed in the Ferns Report makes for sorry reading. We owe a debt of gratitude to the authors of the report, particularly Mr. Justice Murphy, for producing a clear and concise report in the timescale allocated. In the limited time available I do not propose to examine in detail the scale of child sex abuse by priests attached to the diocese of Ferns. The scale and awfulness of the abuse is well documented in the report. I reiterate the suggestion of the Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, that this committee along with the Committee on Education and Science would be a suitable vehicle to examine the contents of the report in more depth.

Chapter 4, where repeated allegations and complaints are detailed, makes for harrowing reading. Child sex abuse is a terrifying ordeal for the unfortunate child involved. Everyone is particularly revolted when a person of authority in the eyes of the child, such as a parent, teacher, doctor or priest, is involved. That does not imply abuse is any less serious if carried out by an adult not in a position of authority. The catalogue of abuse detailed in pages 70 to 123 is horrific and the psychological scarring for the victims is immense. Their courage in the face of extreme adversity is to be commended and it is imperative lessons are learned and the correct procedures put in place to ensure such a litany of disasters does not occur again.

What can legislators do? The value of this report is that it brings to light a matter that has been hidden from public scrutiny for a long time. Paedophilia is present in our society and we must recognise this or our children will continue to suffer. Paedophilia has been present since time immemorial. At times, recognition of its intrinsic evil has been highlighted and steps taken to counteract it. With increasing research, some degree of understanding has developed. We do not know what turns certain individuals into paedophiles but we know treatment is long and difficult and not always successful. We also know prevention is infinitely better than cure, an aspect to which I wish to refer.

A paedophile cannot commit paedophilia without access to children. Emphasis must be placed on protecting children as much as possible. Scrutiny of all adults with access to children must be of the highest standard. A strong case exists for the presence of two adults at all times while children are involved in an activity. Such a policy will be difficult to implement, particularly in the sporting and voluntary sector where it is increasingly difficult to recruit coaches and volunteers. The presence of another adult lessens the danger that a child may be abused as well as acting as protection for the adults.

Mandatory reporting is an issue about which there is some conflict but I am persuaded it should be put in place, with clear guidelines, so that complaints or suspicions put forward for the wrong reasons are dealt with. I urge the Minister of State to examine how this important component of dealing with child sex abuse may be implemented.

I welcome the decision to set up an investigation into child abuse in the diocese of Dublin. Questions have been asked of the other dioceses in Ireland. I understand the Minister of State has the authority to examine any other diocese if he feels it is warranted and I would be grateful if he could confirm this.

Constituents have brought to my attention the role played by members of religious orders who engaged in child sex abuse while on secondment to a diocese for parochial duties. Are the activities of these priests under the jurisdiction of the bishop or the religious superior? I note that members of religious congregations were not covered in the Ferns Report. Are procedures in place so that child sex abuse by members of religious congregations can be exposed in the same manner this report exposed the paedophilia of certain priests in the Ferns diocese? The Ferns Report is an important step in the right direction and it is up to us to play our part in the protection of children.

Having read the Ferns Report, I also share the horror and deep sadness that others have expressed. I must declare that I knew two of the priests who are named in the report. It is difficult to understand the behaviour outlined in the report of those who perpetrated those crimes, in addition to those who permitted the silence that followed and enabled that behaviour to recommence elsewhere. It is quite incomprehensible and cannot be condoned. One can but try to grasp why this happened and understand how it occurred in the way it did. We must learn from the revelations that were given so courageously by those who suffered and who carried that pain within them for so many years before having the opportunity to tell their stories.

Having listened to many of my colleagues, we must try to be as clear headed as possible in trying to understand the terrible sadness involved.

We are still learning about the phenomenon of paedophilia. Deputy Devins said it has been in existence since time began. No doubt it has been, but it is only now that we are able to put a name on it. Many years ago, it would have been seen as a dirty habit or strange behaviour and, to some extent, that may explain why it was not dealt with properly at the time. Nevertheless, that attitude does not condone the silence that shrouded this criminal behaviour and enabled it to continue. Young people were hurt and had to carry the pain into adulthood. As elected representatives, we must now enable them to deal with that situation and move on in life, although they can never leave it behind since it has left such an indelible mark.

Members of the Oireachtas are in a responsible position to address this matter in the best way possible. Expert psychologists claim that people with paedophilic tendencies gravitated towards the respectable role of the priesthood where they had access to children. Unfortunately, the vocation of the priesthood, for which I have deep respect, was greatly abused in that way. It should be made clear that paedophiles became priests and not vice versa. It is also important to make clear that homosexuality is not co-related to paedophilia. There is a danger that some reporting may suggest that is the case, although we know it is not so.

The past few weeks have been devastating for those of us learning about this matter for the first time through the report. I welcome the accumulation of data in the report as well as the work that is being undertaken to put together stringent strategies in all dioceses throughout the country. The Children First programme has been implemented in many voluntary organisations, but not all. Everyone involved in volunteerism with access to children must engage in the programme. This is as much for the children's protection as for that of the volunteers.

Given my political interests, I welcome the fact the Garda central vetting unit will be located in Thurles. Quite apart from the proposed location with which I am delighted, the work of the unit is vital. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, for his work in this area, which I have discussed with him privately. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has also been involved in this work. I urge those involved to continue the work on drafting mandatory reporting legislation without delay. A similar effort is required with regard to legislation governing the logging and vetting of people who will work with children and vulnerable adults.

Before the criminal records bureau was established in the United Kingdom, agencies had all worked in isolation from one another. When the work of the Garda central vetting unit begins in Thurles, I urge the Minister to set up a multi-agency, public protection panel. The HSE, local authority housing sections, the Garda Síochána, the probation service and social services should work in partnership to provide a full picture of such offenders. By providing information on an inter-agency basis, such people can be fully monitored.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I support the proposal that the Committee on Health and Children and the Committee on Education and Science should have the opportunity to study this extremely good report jointly. They should examine its recommendations in detail. The report not only relates what occurred but also provides a useful examination of the structural aspects of the bodies concerned. In the circumstances, the aforementioned committees are the appropriate fora to undertake a study of the report. I hope that specific recommendations will be made that can be agreed upon and implemented.

Earlier today, Deputy O'Donnell spoke in the slot ordered for the spokesperson of the Progressive Democrats Party. I must assume, therefore, that since that was by an order of the House, she was speaking on behalf of her party in everything she said. If so, I expect that her party will be making proposals to Government concerning the issues she raised. I wonder if Deputy O'Donnell was speaking on behalf of Deputies Sexton, Tim O'Malley, Grealish and Parlon because she was occupying the official slot of the Progressive Democrats Party. None of us should throw out statements in the House on this issue without giving thought and consideration to them within our party structures.

One of the points raised by Deputy O'Donnell concerned the indemnity deal with the religious institutions. I wonder if there will now be a proposal for a fairer balance both in terms of financial and legal responsibility with regard to cases — not just in the redress board, but also legal cases that may arise, which were also covered under that indemnity deal. Members of the House have a responsibility not only for what they say but also for what they do as a result of their remarks.

In an earlier contribution, my colleague, Deputy McManus, referred to gaps that exist in this context. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse deals with institutional abuse, and in addition we have the Ferns Report, the Dublin report and the audit for other dioceses. However, there is no way of investigating religious who were not priests of a diocese but who may have abused their positions of responsibility in schools. This morning, I listened to Mr. Timothy O'Rourke who has long campaigned on behalf of day-pupils in schools. There is a broader issue to be addressed, therefore, and gaps remain. We must learn the lessons of this report and other investigations that have taken place or will occur in future.

The message from this report and the experience of child abuse generally is that there was a terrible imbalance of power in our country in the past and, to some extent, there may still be. Young children were powerless and people in institutions, in this case the Catholic Church, had enormous power and wielded it to abuse children.

I acknowledge that there were very many priests who did not abuse that power, but the structures allowed some priests to do so. We owe it to everybody to ensure a rebalance of power takes place. The State as a democratic entity must play its role in the education system. In the past it did not play an appropriate role but allowed the Catholic Church use its power, and in the cases instanced here, abuse that power.

The report states that in some cases abusing priests availed of their roles in the school system. On page 187 it refers to Canon Clancy who it appears used his position as manager of the local national school to access children as young as nine years of age. On page 164 it states that Father Fortune as curate of Ballymurn was appointed chairman of the board of management of Ballymurn national school. He also gave religious instruction in Bridgetown VEC. These are just two examples in which the priest's role as manager of a school was used to abuse children.

I recently heard a principal of a school in the Ferns diocese on the radio saying he had to make up excuses not to send children to the priest's house because he suspected the priest was abusing children. He did not have the power to face the priest and refuse to send the children to his house. We must address those power structures.

The first way to do so is to give children power by ensuring that the Stay Safe programme runs in all schools. I raised this issue yesterday with the Minister for Education and Science. I do not accept that her Department will not exert its authority to ensure that every child has the protection of the abilities and skills the programme provides for children, parents, teachers and the community.

While I acknowledge that the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science with special responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has worked hard on the vetting procedure, this applies only to those in a few categories in the education system. That needs to be introduced immediately. I agree with Deputy Enright that it should be introduced for volunteers who have power in schools, whether on boards of management or other situations or organisations which have access to young children.

We also need stronger anti-bullying programmes in schools because these matters are related. There is an element of bullying in abuse and if children learn how to stand up to bullies they will have more power to stand up to abuse. We need to examine specific areas with regard to legislation because for example, the churches are largely excluded from the equality legislation. Aspects of the Education Act deal with the ethos of schools. Parents can choose to send their children to schools with a certain ethos, or schools should be allowed to maintain that ethos but parents who choose to send their children to multi-denominational schools also have rights and choices and I echo calls for support for Educate Together.

Within that framework, however, the Department of Education and Science has further responsibilities. Although an ethos should be maintained, the Department cannot give total governance of schools to religious or other bodies. We must examine the structure of boards of management and how we appoint and train teachers, particularly in the primary sector which is denominational.

The bishops choose the chairperson and formally appoint the other members of the boards of management and set up the panels to interview teachers. The State as a democratic entity needs to ensure that it balances the power of the hierarchical structures of the Catholic Church, which do business in a different way. Pages 25 and 26 of the report deal with those structures and the power of individual bishops, some of whom make good choices and decisions, particularly the present Bishop of Ferns and the Archbishop of Dublin. It is not mandatory, however, for bishops to adopt the framework they have agreed.

The strong individual powers within a hierarchical structure are very different from those within a democratic structure. We as legislators, and the Government, must ensure that the democratic structures have a better balance of power within the running of schools than they have now. The joint committees that will deal with the issues raised in this report must consider this in depth.

These matters are also raised on pages 37 and 38 in respect of Canon Law and the constitutional rights of churches. We need to examine the constitutional rights under Article 44.2.5° of churches to order their own affairs. How does this cross over with their role in schools? Are schools parts of church institutions or are they State institutions? Where do these constitutional rights intersect? The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has some knowledge of these matters but it is not clear. We need to know that the State has ultimate control over what happens in schools but we have not reached that point.

There is much more to be said. We need clear structures, protocols and arrangements for conveying information, including "soft information", about people who might abuse children. We need to ensure that information is passed from one place to another where relevant, so that schools and churches are not islands unto themselves, and our democratic responsibility to all the children of the nation is properly followed through. We need to tease out further the important lessons in this document and implement the necessary changes.

I wish to share time with my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Browne.

While I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to such an important debate, like my colleagues I regret the situation that has given rise to this debate. Like Deputy Neville, I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church and describe myself as an á la carte Catholic. I also had an uncle, now deceased, who as a member of the clergy had a role in the Canon Law procedures concerning clerical abuse in the Dublin diocese.

The term "abuse" is facile and inappropriate in this context. We speak of the abuse of power, position, influence, and of children. It is not right to place the subject in respect of children in the same category as the other forms of abuse. The bodies, minds and integrity of these children were violated. We should refer to the perpetrators of that act not as abusers but as violators, a stronger, better word with a unique meaning eminently appropriate in these unfortunate circumstances.

There has been much criticism of church and State in recent weeks, much of it justified. The twin pillars of Irish society for so many years are on shifting sands. Both have been very slow to react and have earned themselves no credit. The State has been guilty of not listening. If it listened, it certainly paid no heed. Yet again we have the Irish phenomenon of missing files. What is it with us and missing files? We have them in the planning inquiries, in cases of Garda corruption and now in paedophilia. To me, missing files represent a complete exploitation of the presumption of innocence, one of the cornerstones of our democracy. As legislators we must bite the bullet and increase the onus on those charged with the custody of files, to ensure the information continued in them is available. There should be no lack of opportunity now to maintain an alternative or back-up file but I hope this is the last instance we have of worthwhile and vital investigations such as this being impeded and inhibited because of the excuse of missing files. I do not accept it for a minute, nor does anyone. "Missing" is not an appropriate word. Other words are much more appropriate and should be used.

Deputy O'Sullivan referred to Deputy O'Donnell's contribution. Deputy O'Donnell spoke of the necessity for ending the special relationship between church and State. I agree with her. That relationship has been evolving over the past number of years for the benefit of church and State. It was an unhealthy relationship for both institutions. The days of Canon Law having primacy over civil and State law are gone, and the sooner that becomes hard reality, the better.

The Catholic Church has been let down, first by a small proportion of its clergy, and also by Rome, which had the potential to deliver an objectivity to the decision-making process of the diocese, untouched by the human relations which obviously arise and which plagued this particular controversy. Rome let the diocese down. The diocese was also let down by its own structures. We know, as does everyone in this country, that the vast majority of priests are pillars of our society and essential elements of it.

I am conscious the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, has some relevant remarks to make. I conclude by congratulating Bishop Eamonn Walsh, who has dealt with this issue in an exemplary manner. I also wish our colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, all the best in the important and difficult task he has before him. I have no doubt he will pursue his task with the utter integrity needed. If the integrity of this investigation falls short of 100%, a particular disservice will be done to the State in general and in particular to the victims of this unfortunate set of circumstances, of whom there are all too many.

I thank Deputy Glennon for sharing time. We are all shocked and dismayed at the extent of the allegations of abuse detailed in the Ferns Report. It makes sorry reading for all of us and especially for people like myself, born and raised in County Wexford. While rumour and innuendo were about for a number of years, people in Wexford remain shell-shocked at the catalogue of abuse which the Ferns Report contains. We share the concern and heartache of many people as a result of the harrowing experience suffered by the victims, in some cases for years. They have shown great courage in coming forward to tell their stories to the Murphy inquiry. That was clearly not easy for them or their families.

As Deputy Glennon and others said in this House, there are some excellent priests, and those of us who are practising Catholics recognise some of the great work being carried out by priests in County Wexford and across the country. However, what happened in Wexford probably happened throughout the country. One would expect that the Dublin report and other reports throughout the country will be carried out as quickly as possible.

With the Catholic Church perceived throughout the world as a great institution, it is quite amazing that there seem to be no guidelines or rules in existence, or available to bishops, on how to deal with allegations against priests of child sex abuse. Reading the Ferns Report, it seems the bishops tried to deal with abuse allegations in their own ways, switching priests around, turning a blind eye and hiding behind Canon Law, but never taking decisive action to deal with the allegations.

Some people have expressed serious concern about priests being chairmen of school boards of management. Having talked to many priests throughout my county, I know that many of them would like to be relieved of those duties. The time has probably come for this to happen.

I too pay tribute to Bishop Eamonn Walsh. He has taken very decisive action with regard to Ferns and quite properly has dealt appropriately with all the allegations against priests from the time he was appointed administrator of the Ferns diocese and for all the time he has been there. It is generally recognised that no cover-up was involved and that every action possible was taken by Bishop Eamonn Walsh. He is to be complimented on that. I also compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, for taking decisive action in dealing with the issues.

The Ferns Report has been referred to the DPP. People in my county, and all of us, would like to see prosecutions of the perpetrators of such acts of violence against young people. I know the DPP is independent, but going by the evidence to be put before him, there is a hope in Wexford that decisive action will be taken and that we will see prosecutions of the persons involved.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an tuairisc seo. Crith talún atá i gceist maidir le héigniú agus brúidiúlacht a rinneadh ar pháistí i gceantar Ferns, Loch Garman. Tá súil agam, cé nach gcreidim go bhfuil an ceart agam, nach mbeidh na tuairiscí atá le teacht chomh dona céanna is atá an ceann seo. Beidh orainn ar fad díriú isteach ar na ceisteanna móra agus na freagraí ar ghá dúinne a thabhairt. D'ardaigh an tuairisc seo a lán ceisteanna faoi mhí-úsáid chumhachta agus mí-úsáid an tseasaimh a bhí agus atá ag daoine áirithe in eagrais laistigh agus lasmuigh den eaglais. D'ardaigh sé ceisteanna móra maidir le teip an Stáit iad siúd atá i mbaol a chosaint. Tá sé ríthábhachtach go bhfoghlaimeoimid na ceachtanna a thagann ón tuairisc seo agus go ndéanfaimid beart dá réir. Ní fiú na ceachtanna a fhoghlaim muna bhfuil muid sásta beart a dhéanamh dá réir.

I join my colleagues in paying tribute to the courage and strength of the many victims of child abuse on this island and, in particular, to those who helped Mr. Justice Murphy ensure that the truth emerged in the Ferns Report. I hope that other victims will have the same courage when they receive opportunities, whether in Dublin or elsewhere in Ireland, to expose the systematic abuse of young children perpetrated over a number of decades within the church and other institutions.

Both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Child Care Act 1991 enshrine the principle that the welfare of the child must be the paramount consideration in all decisions and interventions. If the Government is to deliver on this moral duty and legal obligation, a number of issues must be addressed. My colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, identified a number of measures and Deputy Crowe made the case for providing resources for Children First. Funding should also be made available directly to the youth work sector to enable it to deliver appropriate child protection training specific to the needs identified by that sector. This might be rolled out under the aegis of the child protection unit of the National Youth Council of Ireland and would encourage sectors which work directly with children to take on extra responsibilities. However, if they do so, we will have to fund them.

The upholding by the State of its special responsibility to protect children must be underpinned by prevention and response. As Sinn Féin spokesperson for justice, equality and human rights, I will elaborate further on recommendations made by Deputy Ó Caoláin on Garda vetting and training.

For every employee working with children in this State, there are at least 20 volunteers. In September 2004, the Minister of State with special responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, announced that the Garda Síochána's vetting services would be extended to cover volunteers who work with children, a declaration which was widely welcomed. More than one year later, there is still no sign of this being delivered. Yesterday, in the wake of the Ferns Report, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, indicated that volunteers will not be vetted in order, she claimed, to protect volunteerism. This notion is at stark odds with the reality that the main source of demand for the vetting of volunteers is the voluntary sector itself. The Government's ongoing failure to deliver this essential element in the prevention of child abuse is unacceptable.

The Garda Síochána is the only agency in the State with statutory responsibility for the investigation of child abuse. As such, it is imperative that every garda receives comprehensive child protection training to a level adequate to equip him or her to address child protection issues. Only a select few gardaí have received such training. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure this training is made compulsory for all new and existing gardaí. It should be developed, resourced and rolled out as a matter of urgency.

It is scandalous that we must address a report such as this, that these events occurred in the first instance and that the complete facts of the matter took so long to come before this House. Those involved in the Murphy inquiry did tremendous work in bringing forward these findings and should not be slighted. However, these events were covered up for many years.

Other Deputies referred to files that went missing. Every inquiry this House initiates seems to involve missing files. That in itself is a scandal and I expect that charges will be laid by the Director of Public Prosecutions against those who were involved in cover-ups, interfering with the work of the inquiry or the destruction of files. Every Member of this House would welcome charges which send the message that the State will do its utmost to ensure events such as these will never be repeated and that anybody who contributes to cover-ups involving the abuse of children will face the full rigours of the law.

A number of the priests who abused children in Ferns also committed similar deeds in other dioceses. Further reports on these matters will reveal the full extent of this horrific scandal, the consequences of which this society will have to address. Members of this House must give their full backing to measures that will ensure such a scandal will never happen again.

The definition of physical abuse, as outlined by Children First, includes injuries resulting from neglectful failure to protect a child. The Government, Garda and those who hold positions of power and respect have the duty to protect children with whom they come in contact or who may be put in danger. I put it to the Government that the demands made by Sinn Féin and others must be met if the next generation of children is to be protected from abuse. Abuse should not be inflicted on a child by the Catholic Church, State institutions, schools, sporting organisations or in any situation where children are in the care of adults.

We must put in place the best possible protections and preventative measures and, should abuse occur, we should not wait decades but respond as quickly as possible. This is not a party political issue but a societal one. Child abusers should be dealt with effectively. I hope the DPP will bring charges against those who violated the trust of children and society.

I read the Ferns Report on two occasions and join others in praising the courage of those victims of child sexual abuse who have come forward voluntarily to give evidence. These acts of courage were borne out by the judgment of Mr. Justice Murphy. The process was obviously distressing and hurtful and impacted on the private lives of the victims and their families, but their decisions to come forward with evidence have been helpful. A learning process for this society must be at the core of this report. I disagree somewhat with the previous speaker in that this matter is not about prosecuting people per se but is about examining a sorry chapter in the history of the diocese of Ferns and the terrible wrongs perpetrated on a large number of young people.

I also pay tribute to the team who delivered this report, in particular retired judge, Mr. Justice Frank Murphy, formerly of the Supreme Court, Dr. Helen Buckley and Dr. Laraine Joyce. I have read numerous reports over the years but this one is a model of clarity and succinctness. I particularly like the fact that, in one chapter, all of the allegations of abuse are set out, item by item and then, in a later chapter, again on an itemised basis, one can see and easily follow the nature and extent, if any, of the State agency response to that abuse. It is easy to follow and comprehensive.

We should remember that this was not a typical judicial inquiry, in that it was entirely voluntary in nature. In that context, I wish to refer to a section from Chapter 8, Conclusions and Recommendations, which states:

The persons against whom the allegations were made were not given an opportunity to confront or cross-examine the complainants in the course of this Inquiry. The Terms of Reference of the Inquiry require it to identify the allegations of child sexual abuse as reported and to consider the response to those allegations by the appropriate authorities. Such response could not be predicated on proving the truth or otherwise of such allegations. The Inquiry does not express, and was not required to express any view as to the truth or otherwise of any allegation.

Therefore, judicially, all of these allegations are actually unproven. They may have been given under oath and so on but they are not proven in the sense that evidence was properly taken either in a court of law or before a judicial inquiry. That is as it should have been because the key point is for the State to look at itself and see whether the response of its agencies — the Department of Health and Children, the health boards and, in particular, the Garda Síochána — was adequate. All Members of the House who read the report can see that the response varied from case to case.

I wish to focus on the response of the Garda authorities. They are criticised quite strongly, particularly in terms of keeping inadequate records. There also seems to have been a reluctance to investigate in certain cases, particularly those dating from before 1960. In fairness, however, if one reads the chapter where all the responses of the Garda authorities are detailed, the inquiry finds that most of the responses were quite good or quite adequate. In fact, the word "adequate" is used a great deal. Therefore, other than the unacceptable failure to keep records and the pre-1960 reluctance to investigate, it seems that Garda investigations were fairly adequate.

Unfortunately, not enough people were prosecuted for abuse at the time. Formal complaints were made in respect of ten priests and seven investigations were conducted. No prosecution arose in one case, the remaining six were prosecuted, with only three criminal convictions secured. As part of the lessons for the State, we must acknowledge that the number of convictions was very small.

I welcome the setting up of the commission of investigation, under Ms Justice Yvonne Hardiman, into the Dublin diocese in the period 1975 to 2004. I read the comprehensive speech delivered by the Minister of State, Mr. Brian Lenihan, and accept his statement that:

It is proposed that the commission may investigate the situation in any Catholic diocese in the State following a notification from my office that the diocese may not be implementing church guidelines on child sexual abuse by a priest or religious or a notification that a diocese may not be implementing satisfactorily the recommendations of the Ferns Report.

I was not totally happy with that paragraph, however, because it appears to be putting the onus back on the church authorities to police themselves.

More importantly, perhaps, I wish to repeat a question posed in The Irish Times today. Why is there only an investigation into the Dublin diocese? I do not know the answer to that question. It is possible that clerical child abuse may have been a widespread practice in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Therefore, is there not a case for a more general investigation? This is not a question, as the Minister of State also argued, of a grand inquisition into the Catholic Church. Rather, we need to look at ourselves, as a regulatory body and as a State, to see how we responded to allegations of child sexual abuse in every diocese. I understand that the new commission of investigation will only examine the period between 1975 and 2004. I hope the Minister can indicate why earlier periods are excluded. Why are the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s not included in the investigation?

In general terms, I agree with what the Minister of State said. I too am appalled, shocked and dismayed by what I read. The report is a document of the utmost seriousness. By and large, the State and the monitoring agencies did not put adequate or timely monitoring procedures in place to stop the abuse. I do not believe we can ever completely stop it. However, all organisations, within their own cultures, must want to prevent a situation where this kind of thing can happen.

It is sad that it was the State, and not the church, that brought forward this document. The church has learned and has moved on. However, it is healthy for us to have this debate and I hope we will learn more and improve the situation for the benefit of the children of this country in the future.

I commend Mr. Justice Frank Murphy and the team who carried out the inquiry and compiled the report. On reading the report, it is obvious that much hard work, sweat, discussion, interviewing and reporting went into it and it is a very fine piece of work. I also commend the victims who came forward and had the courage to tell their stories because the stories they told are harrowing and saddening, both for them and their families.

It saddens me to speak on this subject. I come from the diocese of Ferns and I know, or know of, many of the victims. I also know some of those who carried out the abuse and this is very upsetting for their families too.

The Ferns Report outlines exactly what happened. The truth is in this report. As we have seen, there was a culture of secrecy that protected the abusers in the diocese of Ferns for many years. I have no doubt that secrecy about many other abusers exists in many other dioceses, not just within the church but also outside it. No child should feel unable to report anything that has happened to them. It is difficult for a child to come forward and report any type of abuse.

One story in the report relates to Vincent who decided to travel to Rosslare in Wexford at the age of 17 or 18 to find summer work. He arrived in Wexford by bus on Friday evening in the late 1980s and was looking for directions to a youth hostel. He noticed a priest, who turned out to be Fr. Seán Fortune, standing on the pavement. He trusted Fr. Fortune like he would a garda or any citizen because the priest was an upstanding man in the community. People should read about how Vincent was treated over that weekend, after which he was given money for his return bus fare. However, it was only when he saw the programme "Suing the Pope" that he told his story. This is one of many stories of young people and people in their late teens trusting an upstanding man in the community. On seeing the programme, it took courage for this man to report the incident. Any child or teenager who has been abused and who may now be in their 20s or 30s should come forward and report any incident because without their courage and strength, we would not be debating this report this evening.

While there are many fine organisations working in the field of child abuse, there is huge confusion at present in regard to reporting of abuse. For example, there are currently in the region of 17 organisations offering services to victims of abuse. The Government set up the commission to inquire into child abuse, which I welcome. There is also the Residential Institutions Redress Board, the National Office for Victims of Abuse, Comhar, the national counselling service operated by the Health Service Executive and many voluntary groups, such as the Samaritans, One in Four and so on. These organisations are doing excellent work in trying to help victims of child sexual abuse. However, we could improve the situation for them if there was one central organisation, which was funded by the Government, instead of one group looking for funding of €70,000 and another looking for funding of €100,000 just to remain in existence.

A central organisation should be set up which would have a helpline number like the ambulance service or the Garda. There should be a helpline number such as 999 or 111 and when a child rings up, he or she should be treated with the utmost respect, urgency, integrity and professionalism. I am not saying that the existing organisations are not dealing with child sexual abuse issues in a professional manner, they are doing so. However, as we have seen from the Ferns Report, people were afraid to report incidents. Some people did not even know where to go to report an incident. I call on the Minister to investigate the matter and come to some conclusions because he has the back-up to do so. This service should be funded and advertised in schools, on billboards, etc., so that every child is aware of how to report these incidents. If one asked children in primary school the number for the fire brigade, ambulance service or Garda, they would all know that it is 999. They should also be aware of a number to call if they are being abused.

Other countries such as the UK have many fine organisations. I refer here to Childline. These services can be very successful if they are provided with a helpline. I have no doubt that if such a service is well advertised, children and victims will know where to go. Mr. Justice Murphy made a similar recommendation in his report. He also noted the reluctance of some of the victims to report incidents to the authorities. People think that if they go to the Garda, the health service or wherever, everyone will know what has happened. The service will work if it is operated in a professional manner. The report also notes the efforts being made to reduce this reluctance by enhancing public confidence in the reporting and investigative system. I believe the public will have confidence in such a service. People will have the confidence to pick up the phone and speak to someone.

I ask the Minister to take note of what has been said. I compliment Bishop Eamonn Walsh, the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Ferns, who has done excellent work in the diocese. I have no doubt he will ensure that the Ferns Report and the church's recommendations will be implemented fully. He has done great work in child protection in County Wexford in setting up a group within the church, for which he must be complimented.

The people of Wexford want to move on from here. They will continue to give the excellent church leaders, including priests and those who carry out pastoral duties, 100% support. I call on the people of Wexford to continue that support for the priests of the diocese because there are some excellent priests in the diocese. Again, I empathise and sympathise with the victims referred to in the report. We would not have this report if they had not come forward.

Like many of my colleagues, I also begin by paying tribute to all those who came forward to speak to the inquiry and outline the appalling abuse they suffered over a number of years. As the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said, these courageous people have offered the inquiry, and Irish society as a whole, a crucial, though harrowing insight into the nature and extent of this problem and the lasting trauma that undoubtedly it can cause.

The witnesses who came forward have shown the strength of character and courage which has also been evident to all of us who met with survivors of abuse over the years. I wish to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to them because, without their statements, the report would not have been compiled.

As others have done, I pay tribute to Mr. Justice Murphy and his team. As well as increasing public awareness and understanding of the horror of child sex abuse the report he and his team has produced provides practical and far-reaching recommendations to strengthen child protection measures. Their extremely beneficial work must be recognised. I pay tribute also to a former Member, George Birmingham, an eminent senior counsel who did a preliminary inquiry which laid the foundation for this inquiry. He deserves a great deal of thanks from all of us.

I preface my remarks by offering a word of support to those priests who have done no wrong. They too deserve our support and sympathy at this difficult time. They have been badly let down by a small number of their colleagues in a most evil fashion. I too welcome the statement by the church authorities that they intend to introduce the inter-agency review as well as the current Ferns model in all areas. I was heartened to hear two members of the Catholic hierarchy, Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, this morning putting to rest any lingering doubts we might have about the earnestness of the Roman Catholic hierarchy's wish to co-operate with all the inquiries. If there was any lingering doubt about the primacy of State law over Canon Law, I hope it has been laid to rest. I think there was some concern in certain quarters that the tenets of Canon Law may, in certain circumstances, take primacy over State law.

The Ferns Report makes for some extremely disturbing reading. The stark reality of the abuse suffered by children and young people and the lack of support and assistance provided to these people at their time of greatest need was in a culture of secrecy, bullying, dominance and over-bearance by the clergy involved in this horrific abuse. The victims, children of all ages, suffered the most awful forms of sexual, physical and psychological abuse at the hands of these clergy. Furthermore, they suffered in silence. Betrayal and inaction on the part of the church meant the church placed the protection of the most vulnerable below their concerns to protect themselves and the church. Were it not for the courage of people such as Colm O'Gorman we would probably still be in the area of guesswork.

The report has had a major effect on the country as a whole. People are appalled, shocked and dismayed at the extent of the abuse outlined and the lack of response by those in charge. Its content has struck at the very core of our society, particularly given that those who carried out the abuse were figures who held responsible positions in society and who commanded trust and respect from all of us. It is clear from the report of the Ferns Inquiry that there was a general failure to recognise the terrible hurt and damage child sexual abuse can and does cause to victims and their families. Deputy Keogh cited one example but one can read other accounts whether families were broken and children were no longer trusted and loved by their parents in some cases. It is clear that prompt and effective action was not taken to protect vulnerable children over a period of many years. It is clear that child protection was way down the list of priorities.

As a society we must learn from the mistakes of the past and never allow what happened then to happen again. Our job in Government and as Members is to protect those within our country who cannot protect themselves. There have been shortcomings in the past. However, the abuse that has come to light in recent years and is so starkly outlined in the Ferns Report dictates that it simply cannot continue.

Developments have occurred under successive Governments during the past 15 years which have gone a considerable distance towards protecting our children. Educating our children on this type of abuse has been a priority of Government and the Department of Education and Science, in particular, in ensuring a high level of awareness and the necessary skill to address child protection issues is maintained in all schools. The Department has introduced child protection guidelines for primary and post-primary schools and has clearly defined procedures for reporting allegations or suspicions of child abuse. We have also sought to raise awareness of the issue in the school curriculum through the very good social, personal and health education and Stay Safe programme. It is a matter of concern that there are some schools that are not in a position to implement the Stay Safe programme. Whatever reticence there is should be addressed and clear positions should be adopted for the implementation of the programme.

The programme aims to reduce the vulnerability to child abuse through the provision of excellent in-service training for teachers, parent education and personal safety education for children at primary level. The programme aims to provide children with the skills necessary to enable them to recognise and resist abuse and teaches them always to speak out about any situation they find unsafe, threatening or abusive. It is a personal safety and skills programme which can be used with school children from senior infants to sixth class. It seeks to enhance children's self-protective skills by participating in lessons on safe and unsafe situations, bullying, touches, secrets, telling and strangers. Deputy O'Sullivan raised the issue of bullying. That is one area that is not sufficiently addressed in the Stay Safe programme and may have emerged as a bigger issue since the Stay Safe programme was first drawn up. Notwithstanding these developments we cannot be complacent and must continually strive to put in place better safeguards to ensure the levels of abuse outlined in the Ferns Report can never happen again.

The youth work sector, the non-formal education sector, has led the way. I pay tribute to the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, who has overseen the introduction of first-class training programmes for youth workers, both full-time and volunteers. Organisations such as Catholic Youth Care in Dublin, the National Youth Council, the National Youth Federation and others, including the scouting organisations, have introduced programmes. If nothing else, such programmes can reassure participants, young children and young adults and especially parents that children are not at risk when they participate in out of school education. The practical guidelines have been touched on by a number of speakers. Nonetheless it is important to address them over and again.

On the issue of vetting procedures by the Garda, whatever resources, training or overarching mechanisms are required should be given to the Garda to ensure, in respect of those who work with young people, whether in a residential or community setting, that under no circumstances can a situation be allowed to develop where, because of trying to spare a few euro under a particular budget, somebody will suffer the satanic type of abuse outlined in the Ferns Report.

The fundamental imperative of all our actions must be the protection of the child. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that child protection practices are in place, stay in place and are continually monitored. Our duty as a Government and as a nation is to ensure these protection practices operate to the highest possible standard. If such horrific actions are to be prevented in future we must all work together to ensure every possible area is covered and that all recommendations are enforced.

Three years ago, an inquiry was established under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Frank Murphy with simple and straightforward terms of reference, unlike those for the inquiry into the Dublin archdiocese that has recently been established. The first of these terms was:

To identify what complaints or allegations have been made against clergy operating under the aegis of the Diocese of Ferns in relation to alleged events that transpired prior to 10 April 2002 and to report on the nature of the response to the identified complaints or allegations on the part of the Church authorities and any public authorities to which complaints or allegations were reported.

I pay tribute to all the victims who suffered and then courageously came forward and spoke up, thereby making the inquiry so successful.

The inquiry carried out its works effectively and comprehensively. It identified approximately 100 complaints against 21 priests and detailed many of the horrific sexual assaults committed on young boys and girls in the Ferns diocese over long periods. Some 66 serious allegations of intimidation, sexual assault, rape and buggery were made against the notorious Fr. Seán Fortune. He was not removed from his ministry by either Bishop Herlihy or Bishop Comiskey but was moved from parish to parish. To compound the matter, he was not removed from the chair of the board of management of Ballymurn national school. He was even allowed to open youth clubs and build reconciliation rooms for young people in the basement of his house. Similarly, Canon Clancy was allowed to assault and rape young girls aged from nine to 15 for a period of almost 30 years from 1965 to 1992. He was also allowed remain on in ministry and, as manager of the local national school, he used his position to gain access to young girls.

One of the disturbing findings by the inquiry was that "at various points in time during that period, members of the Garda, the teaching profession, the medical profession and the Church were aware of rumours and suspicious concerning Canon Clancy but no action was ever taken against him". I could give a number of other examples but the ones I have given are sufficient to highlight the abuse.

The report addresses a number of the recommendations to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The astonishing aspect of the current state of the criminal law is that the superiors, who connived or were negligent in the cover-up of crimes committed by religious against children, appear to have committed no criminal offence. I do not believe that any of us appreciated that when we passed the Criminal Law Act 1997, abolishing what seemed to many to be the arcane offence of misprision of felony, we eliminated the possibility of a criminal offence having been committed in this area.

The report recommends consideration of a new criminal offence of "reckless endangerment". This would be modelled on a 2002 amendment to the Massachusetts criminal code, which provides that:

Whoever wantonly or recklessly engages in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child or wantonly or recklessly fails to take reasonable steps to alleviate such risk where there is a duty to act shall be punished by imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years.

This seems to be the basis of the Minister's proposal.

The Labour Party wholeheartedly supports this recommendation, which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has promised to insert as an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004. However, the Government needs to consider whether this is adequate. The creation of an offence along these lines will punish the individual who recklessly creates a situation of risk for children or who fails to alleviate the risk where there is a duty to act. However, it does not, of itself, create the duty to act and so the Government needs to consider on whom such a duty to act should be imposed. Related to this is the vexed question of mandatory reporting of crimes against children. Even with a new offence of reckless endangerment and even when we succeed in identifying those on whom there should be imposed a duty to act, it will remain the case that one could eliminate the risk of the future endangerment of a child while covering up that a child has already fallen victim to an act of sexual abuse committed by a known individual.

Mr. Justice Murphy says he did not consider the question of mandatory reporting since his terms of reference confined him to examining the practices of the Roman Catholic Church and such a practice had already been adopted on a voluntary basis by the church in 1996. In the absence of the benefit of recommendations from Mr. Justice Murphy we must work out an approach to this issue. Doing so has divided the Government parties in the past. In this regard, I oppose any blanket proposal that would compromise the ability of health professionals to provide therapeutic and other services to their patients. However, where a person is in a position of authority over another person, whether that authority is spiritual or temporal, and has information about crimes of abuse involving children committed by that other person, then the person in authority should be under a legal obligation to report those crimes. A failure or refusal to report such crimes, without reasonable excuse, should be an offence. While a reasonable excuse for not reporting might be that the victim is now an adult and will take no part in an investigation or prosecution, the general rule should be that those in authority should be obliged to disclose.

The State agencies in the Ferns diocese did not exactly cover themselves in glory. The inquiry found that the response of the South Eastern Health Board was inconsistent and inadequate in terms of support for the victims. The response of the Garda Síochána was also inconsistent and inadequate up to 1990 and many critical Garda files have completely disappeared. The response of the DPP was minimalist and "a prosecution was initiated by the DPP only where there were multiple alleged victims of an accused or in one case, where there was one victim and the incident was witnessed by family members". It was not until 1991 that the Child Care Act put children first and stated that the State must "regard the welfare of children as the first and paramount consideration".

The SAVI report of 2002 indicated that despite the extent of clerical child sexual abuse that prevailed in the Ferns diocese, 96% of child sexual abuse in Ireland is not clerical abuse. I compliment Colm O'Gorman and his team for the excellent and professional work that the One in Four group does. The 2004 report of that group stated that 27% of Irish women and men have experienced sexual violence as children and that adults who have experienced childhood sexual abuse are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who did not.

It is time to grasp the nettle and declare this issue a national priority. It is time to initiate a national campaign to inform parents and professionals dealing with children. It is time to make children aware of their rights vis-à-vis adults in a position of trust and authority over them and to introduce supervisory procedures pertinent to the role of those who work regularly with children. It is time to establish a full Cabinet post of Minister for children’s affairs.

We should further progress the Ferns Report by referring it to a joint Oireachtas sub-committee, representing the areas of justice, health and education, which would hold a series of hearings, inviting representatives of the victims of child sexual abuse and their respective organisations to tell their stories as we did on release of the Barron report. The sub-committee should also hear from the perpetrators and the relevant State and church agencies.

I welcome the decision to establish a commission of investigation into the archdiocese of Dublin and I also welcome the statement by the Archbishop of Dublin that he will co-operate fully with it. However, I have severe reservations that the commission can carry out its work in the 18 months allocated to it, considering that the non-statutory inquiry into Ferns, a much smaller diocese, took three years. Much preliminary work must also be undertaken before the main investigation can begin and the commission must also be on standby to investigate other dioceses that will require investigation as clear, prima facie evidence of widespread child sexual abuse in certain other dioceses already exists. We will argue these points in more detail when the terms of reference of the commission of investigation are put before the House. From now on, let us put children first.

The Ferns Report made for some very disturbing reading. It details the stark reality of the abuse suffered by young people and the lack of support and assistance at their time of greatest need. I pay tribute to the courageous people who gave evidence of their experience of abuse to the inquiry and express my thanks and appreciation to them. Without their witness, the report could not have reached its findings. I also thank Mr. Justice Frank Murphy and his team for the considerable work undertaken by them in producing this report.

It is clear from the report that there was a general failure to recognise the terrible hurt and damage that child sex abuse causes to the victims and their families and that prompt and effective action was not taken to protect vulnerable children over a period of many years. As a society, we must learn from the mistakes of the past and never allow what happened to happen again.

In addition to increasing public awareness and understanding of the horror of child sex abuse, the Ferns Report provides practical and far-reaching recommendations to strengthen child protection measures in organisations working with children and to ensure a speedy and effective response to allegations of abuse. The Government has accepted the report's recommendations in principle and is committed to their implementation by Departments and relevant agencies. My Department will participate fully in the implementation process which is being driven by the National Children's Office under the leadership of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan.

The fundamental imperative is the protection of the child. Ensuring this requires the full engagement of the Government, the church and the community. Our educational institutions and policies have a key role to play. It is fair to say there has been a major change over the past 15 years in our approach to child abuse. Nonetheless, every effort must be made to preserve and strengthen the more open environment of reporting abuse which has recently developed. While there is a much greater understanding of the horrific nature of child abuse and a much more enlightened approach to treating the problem, it is reasonable to ask, in light of the Ferns Report, whether we are doing enough and whether we can do more to protect children and ensure they grow up in a safe and secure environment.

It is vital that we have effective child protection measures in our various educational settings. In recent years we introduced new child protection guidelines for primary and post-primary schools and clearly defined procedures for reporting allegations or suspicions of child abuse. We have also sought to raise awareness of the issue in the curriculum through social, personal and health education, SPHE, the Stay Safe programme and other initiatives.

Measures have been in place since 1991 to address child protection and child abuse prevention in schools. The 1991 guidelines were replaced by new child protection guidelines for primary schools which issued in 2001 and child protection guidelines for post-primary schools which issued in 2004. The publications were circulated to all schools, together with a copy of Children First, published by the Department of Health and Children. Each school is obliged to follow the guidelines. They emphasise that the safety and well-being of the child is paramount and that there is an obligation on schools to seek to provide pupils with the highest standard of care in order to promote their well-being and protect them from harm.

The Department's guidelines set out the steps to be taken by school personnel should they suspect a child is being abused or are aware of allegations that a child is being abused. They also include guidance for boards of management with regard to dealing with allegations or suspicions of child abuse made about a school employee and for dealing with peer reviews and bullying by young people. A central facet of the guidelines is the requirement for each board of management to designate a senior member of staff as the designated liaison person for the school. That person acts as a liaison with outside agencies such as health boards and as a resource person for any staff member with child protection concerns.

While dealing with investigations relating to allegations made about a school employee are a matter for the school authorities in the first instance, the Department's position on this is very clear. The person being investigated should not have access to children while the investigation is ongoing. In general, the person is suspended, put on administrative leave or in some cases may go on sick leave. The child must be protected.

Yesterday, I referred in the House to the intention to introduce Garda vetting for all employees who have unsupervised access to children in our schools. Currently, Garda vetting conducted in the formal educational sector is in respect of special needs assistants, bus escorts and children detention schools. Some 17 additional staff, three gardaí and 14 clerical officers are being made available to the unit, bringing the total staff complement to 30. This will enable the unit to handle a greater volume of requests from employers. It will commence the augmentation of the vetting arrangements as soon as it takes up its new offices in Thurles.

The provision of the additional staff resources will enable the Garda vetting services to be extended to all persons working with children and vulnerable adults. This will include teachers, caretakers, bus drivers and others working with children. In looking at the position of those with substantial unsupervised access to children and-or vulnerable adults, the issue of how to deal with volunteers and other non-employees with access to children is also being examined.

It goes without saying that our teachers must be given the appropriate support and training to deal professionally and sensitively with child protection issues. In the past few years training has been provided to primary and post-primary principals and teachers on the implementation of the Department's child protection guidelines and the role of the designated liaison person. Pre-service training is also provided by the colleges of education to ensure new teachers coming on stream are familiar with issues of child protection.

We also need to provide support and training for members of boards of management of schools. Over recent years funding has been made available to the various school management bodies for the board of management training. My Department has been developing new funding procedures covering all management bodies according to set criteria, which will include awareness of child protection issues. Support will be provided directly to management bodies to deliver their own training in line with the criteria and to the agreed standards.

Children nowadays are more confident and aware. Even among them, there is a greater awareness of child abuse as a potential threat. Much of this is due to the more open society in which we live. The curriculum has also moved on and has helped to raise awareness of the issue. Social, personal and health education is one of the seven curriculum areas in the revised primary school curriculum introduced in 1999. It has been implemented in all schools since September 2003 and is taught to pupils from junior infants class up to sixth class. From the beginning of their primary schooling children learn in an age appropriate way how they develop, the importance of caring for oneself and others with dignity and respect and how to identify people, places and situations that may threaten personal safety. For example, the curriculum for third and fourth classes provides for the child being enabled to identify situations where he or she is being touched inappropriately, being asked to keep a difficult secret that is worrying or that makes him or her feel uncomfortable.

We also have the Stay Safe programme in primary schools which aims to prevent child abuse. This programme aims to reduce vulnerability to child abuse and bullying through the provision of inservice training for teachers, parent education and personal safety education for children at primary school level. This programme is on offer in the majority of our schools. I encourage those schools that do not offer it to offer it now. It gives children the skills necessary to enable them to recognise and resist abuse and victimisation. It teaches them that they should always tell of any situation they find unsafe, upsetting, threatening, dangerous or abusive. The programme has also been modified for use with children in special education. It can be of real value to children in all our schools.

I and my Department are very conscious of the fact that every child in the country attends our schools, from the age of four or five to 18. These children need our protection. We have strict guidelines, rules and procedures. We will continue to keep these under review because the protection of the child is paramount.

I will share time with Deputy Timmins.

In the litany of statements today we have heard expressions of sadness, disappointment and, wholly justified in the circumstances, anger. The debate may to some extent have helped to obscure rather than illuminate the issues we are here to discuss. I do not doubt we are talking about a pre-eminent religious organisation in this State. We must not lose sight of the role of the State in delegating and abrogating its authority in respect of the interests of its citizens, whose tragic circumstances are described in the Ferns Report. This House must take its share of the collective responsibility for the problems.

In 1972, the people of the State voted to remove the Roman Catholic Church's special position in the Constitution. That change to the Constitution was not followed through with further legislation. The Ferns Report makes clear that the level of deference that was shown to that church by the agencies of the State remained unaltered, unfortunately. Some 25 years after that referendum, State institutions like the Garda Síochána and the health boards acted in a deferential and reverent manner in their dealings with that church, rather than taking the action that should have been taken. It is a source of huge disappointment to me that Irish society did not progress in the manner it should have after 1972. I see signs in today's debate of continuing residues of deference towards the Roman Catholic Church. For example, most Deputies have spoken about "the church", obviously referring to the largest religious organisation in this country. When one considers that its membership includes the vast majority of the Members of the Oireachtas and the citizens of this country, regardless of whether they practise their religious beliefs, it is obvious the Roman Catholic Church is this country's predominant and pre-eminent religious organisation.

The Ferns Report is a damning indictment of the State's failure to put in place a clear distinction between its role and that of the religious organisations. As it tries to prevent further actions which might lead to the publication of future reports like the Ferns Report, the House should be clear about how that distinction needs to be made. The circumstances in which the Roman Catholic Church continues to provide health, education and social services which the State is unwilling to provide must be open to question. In providing many such services and advocating positions of social justice, the Roman Catholic Church articulates positions of real social justice of which the Government has lost sight. That church can be over-concerned about matters of sexual propriety, however. The contents of reports like the Ferns Report have demonstrated to us that the Roman Catholic Church no longer has any moral justification for using its influential position in Irish society to make such arguments.

When we discuss the Roman Catholic Church, we are not talking about "the church" but about "a church". I am concerned about the State's role and relations with that church. I question that church's future role in the educational system. I would like to ask the Minister for Education and Science, who has left the Chamber, why it continues to be the case, 33 years after the constitutional referendum to which I referred, that the patronage of the vast bulk of our national schools is automatically vested in this particular church. Why should we not have a debate on how we can make our educational system more democratic?

We had such a debate in 1998.

The reality is that the patron system is still in place in the vast majority of schools.

I would like to use the short time available to me to speak about the role of the State, particularly in respect of mandatory reporting. Members of the House have received copies of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children's most recent report, which mentions that mandatory reporting has been advocated in no less than five reports over the last 15 years. It was recommended in the Law Reform Commission's report on child sexual abuse in 1990, the report of the Kilkenny incest inquiry in 1993, the Kelly Fitzgerald report in 1996, the report of the Madonna House inquiry in 1996 and the Ferns Report in 2005. We have seen 15 years of inaction on foot of the reports, however, as no legislation has been presented to the House. No steps have been taken at political level by any of the Governments which have been in office during that time, to provide for mandatory reporting. The failure of successive Administrations to take action in this regard is a terrible indictment of our political system.

There are just four and a half minutes remaining in this time slot.

I did not start to speak until6.40 p.m.

According to my clock, which is counting down the time, there are four minutes and seven seconds remaining in the slot.

I have not been speaking for five minutes.

I am tired of listening to "I stand by the Republic" speeches, made by people who have been in Government over the last 15 years, during which time nothing has been done in legislative terms to tackle the problem of child sexual abuse. We need to be honest in this House, but many Members have not been honest today, unfortunately.

I thank Deputy Boyle for sharing time. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, well with the grave and serious task he faces. If, over the next year or so, he addresses the issues which have been raised in the Ferns Report, he will certainly "have done the State some service". I caution him not to restrict himself to the narrow but necessary confines of the Ferns Report and its recommendations, which comprise the tip of the iceberg in respect of this serious situation. I will not defend the case of the church because I accept that what happened was absolutely appalling. We should remember, however, that the exact same thing happened in many other organisations, such as the boy scouts and many sporting groups. I ask the Minister of State not to put all his energies into an examination of the church. He should look outside the box. When he introduces new legislative measures, he should ensure that they apply to every organisation.

During a debate about the Kilkenny incest case in the Seanad in July 1993, the then Minister for Health said "at that time the procedures which are now in place for the detection and investigation of sexual abuse had not been developed". Ten years on, we are discussing the abuse of many young people in the Ferns diocese. Many of the people in question were abused when they were teenagers, rather than when they were kids. They reported the abuse in the early part of this decade after Bishop Walsh established the Ferns Inquiry. Many of us who are speaking as part of this debate are in a comfort zone because a report has been published and recommendations have been made. When we have finished expressing our horror at the contents of the report and saying that it must not happen again, we can close the book in the knowledge that someone else is looking after the matter and we can move on to the next project.

I was very angry after I received a copy of the Ferns Report. I read the first 20 pages of it, skipped through the rest of it and read its recommendations this evening. I was not angry because of the contents of the report, but because I believe child abuse, which is the subject of the report, is still happening in this country this evening. I am sure that as I speak, some young child is being abused. He or she does not know what is happening to him or her. That abuse is being facilitated by our society's shortcomings, such as its failure to recognise and deal with this issue. The Seanad was told in 1993 that proper procedures were "in place", but it is obvious that was not the case.

I would like to refer to some aspects of the Ferns Report, such as its reference to the "powerlessness" of children. We all went to secondary school. I knew St. Peter's College in Wexford well — I played football against that school — and it always struck me as a normal school. It is troubling to think that students in the school, who were then aged 14, 15 or 16, were terrified because things were happening to them and they could not report it. The Ferns Report states that child sexual abuse may be committed by people of apparent charm, intelligence and high repute. It is obvious that paedophiles are not normal, but they are manipulative. People who abuse children are not those whom one might suspect as being engaged in such behaviour. It is possible for a paedophile to pass as an outstanding and righteous member of society. The report mentions that people who have a propensity to sexually abuse children are attracted to careers which give them easy access to children.

The Deputy should conclude.

It is terrible that I have to conclude after such a short time because I have a few more important points to make to the Minister of State, to whom I do not attach any blame. I received one of the most traumatic telephone calls of my life from a person in my constituency last week. The person did not know where he could go or to whom he could turn. A publicity campaign is needed to publicise the number of a telephone line that victims of clerical and institutional abuse can ring. A few months ago, I spotted an individual, whose photograph appeared in newspapers in the last few weeks, in a public place where children were present. I knew at that time that the man in question was a child abuser who had been given a jail sentence. I am not saying the man in question was doing anything wrong, but it sent a shiver down my spine.

Mechanisms must be put in place whereby people who hold positions of authority, be they in business or in charge of child facilities, know who these people are when they are out in the community. This is very important. I regret that I must finish. We must put mechanisms in place so people can report child abuse. We have a difficulty in this country with the concept of informing but a person who reports on harm to children is a true patriot. We must also educate our children.

The Ferns Report is a contemporary Pandora's box, containing as it does, distressing accounts and narratives of innocence destroyed, vulnerability exploited and power abused. However, it also carries hope for the future. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, well in the important work that lies before him. The report states:

The members of the Inquiry would express the hope that should the type of abuse chronicled in this Report ever occur again, there will be mechanisms and procedures in place which will enable victims promptly to report the abuse in the confidence that they would be believed and the certainty that appropriate action would be taken to terminate the wrongdoing.

That really sums up what this is all about. The Ferns Report is a distressing document, relying as it does on the simplest of print formats to present its harrowing and disturbing account of, on the one hand, a hidden Ireland, and on the other, an Ireland where attempts to uncover wrongdoing went unheeded and often not believed.

It is impossible to talk about the Ferns Report without referring in some meaningful way to the accounts relating to victims and alleged victims of clerical abuse. In fact, not to do so would be to do a disservice to those who have shown such bravery in coming forward and telling their stories. What is painfully clear from the Ferns Report and from evidence generally is that not all victims of sexual abuse lived to survive their ordeal. Some were so badly scarred that, sadly, they took their own lives. What a truly horrendous price to pay — loss of innocence and loss of life. One of the most disturbing aspects of the Ferns Report is the many accounts of how children had brought their abuse to the attention of elders, respected elders and people in positions of authority, but were not believed or were discredited.

One example of this is Stephen, whose abuser, the now deceased Fr. Seán Fortune, continually abused him from the age of 13, culminating in violent rape. Stephen courageously reported the abuse to the principal of St Peter's College who "reacted angrily to him and refused to believe him". What is a child to do in these circumstances? What avenue is left open to people who, when they report such abuse it is simply brushed aside? Stephen made his complaint under the threat from Fr. Fortune that he would be expelled from the college, a fate that according to the devious Fr. Fortune, would "cause great hurt to his parents". This, among many other incidents outlined in the report, indicates abusers who knew very well, all too well, the power and influence they held over those in their care, for long or short periods of time. Fr. Fortune and others abused their position of responsibility within the community and abused their roles as pastors, their relationship with their parishioners and above all, abused innocent boys whose only failing was to trust those in positions of authority, in whom society had placed its trust.

This report provides us with a vividly distressing account of how abuse took place, where it took place and how it was perpetrated in its many manifestations. The Ferns Report tells us fundamentally about innocence abused and trust and respect misplaced. It tells us also of the overriding priority that the protection of the institution took over the protection of children. Like others, I acknowledge and appreciate the work of Mr. Justice Murphy, Dr. Buckley and Dr. Joyce. I also commend Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Bishop Eamonn Walsh for their leadership roles in this sad episode. I also avail of this opportunity to commend and offer words of support and encouragement to the many clergy who have toiled so courageously and selflessly over generations and whose reputations have been collectively tarnished by association.

I wish to reply briefly to comments made by Deputy O'Donnell who said earlier that the special relationship with the Catholic Church must end. The Catholic Church does not have a special relationship with the State based on its creed. It is true that in its role as a provider of services in education and health it has a partnership role like other religious organisations. The days are thankfully long gone when an archbishop would have a quiet word in the ear of a Minister before the Government would introduce legislation. In Ireland of 2005 we do not prioritise the Catholic Church over any other church and I could not see myself being part of any Government that would do so.

I make these comments at a time when the State is undertaking an important process of church-State dialogue, an institutional dialogue not just with the Christian churches, Catholic, Protestant and eastern Orthodox churches, but also the Islamic community, Buddhists and the Humanist Association of Ireland among others. This dialogue which is being established by the Taoiseach's Department will take place between the State on the one hand and church and faith based communities and non-confessional organisations on the other. This is a healthy, progressive and even historic development, reflecting the Ireland of today which, as we all know, is a multi-ethnic and multicultural society.

I have no doubt that these organisations, churches and individuals with their wealth of experience and knowledge will assist us greatly in developing our policies into the future. We already engage successfully and productively with the social partners and many non-governmental organisations in the formulation of Government policy. This new form of dialogue will be in all our interests. I make these comments to clarify as far as I am concerned the true relationship between the Catholic Church and the State. This dialogue is taking place in the spirit of article 52 of the proposed European constitutional treaty. We are the first member state of the European Union to take this step. Structured dialogue with the churches offers the opportunity to listen anew in an open and transparent way to the inner voice in the Irish and European tradition. The constitutional reference to the Catholic Church is long gone.

The Ferns Inquiry exposes failures on many fronts, by the church, the State, the Garda and our health and educational systems. A collective effort is required to ensure we do not fail in future. In my opening remarks I referred to the hope expressed in the Ferns Report that should such sexual abuse as chronicled in this report ever occur again, adequate and appropriate procedures and mechanisms would be in place that would enable victims to promptly report the abuse in the confidence that they would be believed. I am convinced the Government has taken the correct approach. The announcements made yesterday by my colleagues, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, will put procedures in place to deal as comprehensively as possible with this important matter and will provide the highest possible level of protection for our children. This will require a collective effort by us all.

In the short time left I thank Deputies for the high level of interest shown in this debate and for their constructive contributions. In particular, I record my thanks to the many Deputies who wished me well in the task to be performed by my Department, the Health Service Executive and other statutory agencies in the implementation of the report.

The Government intends to implement all of the recommendations of the Ferns Report. I was delighted to hear this commands universal support and encouragement from within this House. Naturally, questions were asked about certain matters. I am very short on time but I wish to make the point that the key recommendation in the Ferns Inquiry is the establishment of the inter-agency approach at diocesan level. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has often discussed and elucidated the culture of confidentiality and secrecy to which some aspects of Canon Law have led. It is clear that the establishment of the inter-agency group at diocesan level will ensure a culture of openness, the assessment of information and co-operation with the civil authority will take place once that machinery is put in place. That is why I attach enormous importance to that recommendation.

Deputies were naturally concerned that we do not have universal vetting in terms of negative criminal clearance of all persons who have unsupervised access to children. The position is that we only started having vetting in 2001. We have made considerable progress since then in extending it to the entire health sector. I am pleased to say that I secured the necessary staff last year to extend the service. Premises have been identified in Thurles and the office is due to open next week. I understand the service will be rolled out on a phased basis to all the other sectors. My colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, outlined her plans in regard to the education sector. The voluntary sector is also very important in this context. I thank Mr. Paul Gilligan, the chief executive officer of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children who is working on the implementation group on the vetting proposals.

Naturally the debate was considerably wider than the Ferns Report, which is welcome. It would not have been open to me as Minister of State to go into some of those wider questions, as my focus must necessarily be on the recommendations in the report, but given the unanimous support the recommendations commanded it is no surprise that Deputies availed of the opportunity to canvass wider questions about the relationship between the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church and the State.

Before going into that question I wish to deal with a matter raised by Deputy Mulcahy that was not specifically in regard to the Ferns Report but related to the commission of inquiry announced for the Dublin archdiocese. The difficulty is that some line must be drawn in regard to inquiries. We have all had a particular experience in this House in regard to inquiries into planning matters and how the setting of certain terms of reference can lead to an inquiry that appears to go in many directions. Both the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I are anxious to ensure the focus of this inquiry is clearcut.