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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 Nov 2005

Vol. 609 No. 4

Ferns Report: Statements.

Before calling on the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, I remind the House that, while the names of many individuals are in the public domain, in keeping with the longstanding rules of the House, Members should show restraint and not make allegations of wrongdoing that are unproven against a person outside the House as he or she is defenceless against accusations made under privilege.

I want to pay tribute to those who came forward to speak to the inquiry outlining the appalling abuse they suffered. These courageous people who spoke about their experiences of abuse have offered the inquiry and the country as a whole a disturbing but crucial insight into the nature and extent of the problem and the lasting trauma it can cause. We need to remember that the events which occurred in Ferns have affected the families of victims and those against whom allegations were made and I hope in this debate that the feelings of these are taken into account. I also pay tribute to Mr. Justice Murphy and his team on the tremendous work they carried out.

The Government and country are appalled, shocked and dismayed at the extent of the allegations of abuse outlined in the Ferns Report. Our duty as a Government and a nation is to ensure that proper child protection practices are in place and operate to the highest achievable standards. This Government has accepted all of the recommendations in the Ferns Report. In view of this, I have taken a number of steps to ensure the recommendations are implemented by all the bodies concerned and by the wider community. I have requested confirmation from the Irish Bishops' Conference that the recommendations of the Ferns Report will be implemented collectively and individually by its members. I have also requested confirmation that the framework guidelines are in place in all dioceses.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is finalising proposals for the establishment of a commission to investigate the handling of complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy operating under the aegis of the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin. 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.

The Health Service Executive has been requested by me to make contact with the individual bishops in the Catholic Church as a matter of urgency to monitor child protection practices and ensure compliance with the recommendations of the Ferns Report.

Does the Minister of State have a script and, if so, will he circulate it?

It is being prepared for circulation.

It is my intention to request the commission to verify compliance with the recommendations of the report after the necessary approaches and discussions have taken place between the HSE and the bishops at local level. I have also requested the HSE to launch a nationwide publicity and awareness campaign on child sexual abuse. The National Children's Office will assist the HSE in ensuring the campaign effectively targets and is relevant to children and young people.

I welcome the statement by the church authorities that they intend to introduce the interagency review group, as well as the current Ferns model in all areas of the country. I have requested the HSE to convene meetings of this group and to record and maintain its records in line with the inquiries' recommendations. The HSE is to report as soon as possible after initial meetings with the bishops have been held and liaison arrangements have been put in place. The Archbishop of Armagh has written to me with an undertaking to co-operate in every possible way with the recommendations of the Ferns Report.

The Government has accepted, in principle, the recommendations of the report, including a crucial recommendation on the powers of the HSE with regard to third party child sex abuse. I am supportive of the proposals contained in the report and have requested my officials to liaise with the Attorney General with a view to preparing an indepth legal study and concrete proposals on foot of the recommendations.

I have already announced a national review of compliance with the Children First guidelines by State bodies and non-governmental organisations which will be driven by the National Children's Office in partnership with all relevant Departments. The Children First guidelines were published in 1999 and, in light of recent events, it is essential the Government can stand over its own procedures for the protection of children.

A number of recommendations contained in the Ferns Report fall within the specific responsibilities of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The report recommends that the legislature should consider the introduction of a new criminal offence with regard 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. The Minister will bring forward appropriate amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill to deal with this recommendation. The report recommends that legal aid, irrespective of means, be available to both complainants and priests against whom allegations are made where the cases are not determined by the criminal courts. The Minister is examining legal aid provisions with a view to giving effect to this recommendation.

The report recommends that certain documents relating to child sexual abuse should be given legal privilege. This recommendation will be examined by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in consultation with the Attorney General's Office.

The report contains a number of recommendations with regard to Garda procedures. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has forwarded a copy of the report to the Garda Commissioner, who will be considering it and taking on board its recommendations.

Responsibility for services for the care and protection of children rests with the Health Service Executive. The services available to children who are victims of sexual assault, and their parents, include professional services such as medical and nursing, social work, child and adolescent psychiatry, clinical psychology and family support services. With regard to adults who, as children, suffered abuse, the national counselling service is now well established throughout the country and is in a position to make every assistance available.

In 1998 a working group to review the child abuse guidelines was established to prepare revised guidelines aimed at improving the identification, investigation and management of child abuse. The membership of this group was wide ranging and included representatives of Departments, the Garda Síochána, the HSE, universities, trade unions, hospitals and non-governmental bodies. The revised guidelines, Children First -National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children, were published in 1999. Approximately €9.5 million has been provided for the implementation of these guidelines. The HSE has used this additional funding to create the infrastructure necessary to support full implementation of the guidelines. This has included the appointment of implementation officers, training officers, information and advice officers as well as additional social work and administrative staff.

The first Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, was appointed by the President in December 2003. She was appointed following an innovative recruitment process involving children and young people in all aspects of the process, from job description to selection. The main functions of the Ombudsman's office are to deal with complaints by and on behalf of children and to promote the rights and welfare of young people. The Ombudsman for Children also has a function, set down in legislation, to advise any Minister on the development and co-ordination of policy relating to children.

A draft White Paper on mandatory reporting of child abuse was prepared in 2000 and was circulated to Departments. There have been significant developments since the preparation of the White Paper, for example, investment in the implementation of the Children First guidelines and child protection services generally by the HSE, appointment of advice officers in the HSE, the introduction of the Children First child protection guidelines in education, sporting and other sectors and so forth. It can be argued the Children First guidelines have, to some extent, addressed the problems which gave rise to the calls for mandatory reporting and that the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998 has allayed fears of people of being sued.

In view of the comments and observations made and the consultations with the Attorney General's Office, it was clear there were very complex legal issues on the subject of mandatory reporting which required further consideration. The commitment by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to introduce a new criminal offence where any person "wantonly or recklessly engages in conduct that creates a substantial risk of 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" is a very positive development. It should help to achieve an increased awareness of the personal responsibility that all people, not only professionals, have to protect children at risk.

The Ferns Report has reopened the debate on mandatory reporting. I would like to see a culture of mandatory reporting being established, but not on a legislative basis. I believe that people are now more readily prepared to report concerns around child abuse to the relevant authorities and to pursue those authorities to ensure the complaint is dealt with effectively and efficiently. I do not see the advantage of criminalising a person for keeping his or her word to an individual who does not want the complaint to be taken any further. Enough damage has already been done to such individuals without them being concerned that the person they have entrusted with this information could be the subject of criminal proceedings.

To enable the expansion of vetting services, additional human resources have been secured for the Garda central vetting unit. Specifically, sanction was obtained last year for an additional 17 staff which will increase total staffing to 30. As part of the Government's decentralisation programme, the Garda central vetting unit has recently been decentralised to Thurles, County Tipperary, from where it will expand its operations from current levels on a phased basis.

The implementation group on Garda vetting continues to progress implementation of the recommendations of the report of the working group on Garda vetting. The provision of additional staff resources will enable the Garda Síochána's vetting services to be extended to all persons working with children and vulnerable adults. This will include teachers, caretakers and others working with children. The implementation group has yet to agree the exact sequence of the phased roll-out of the expanded service but will meet again on 13 December 2005. The report of the working group has been published on the website of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The issue of vetting of people who volunteer in the education sector also has to be considered in this context. The Department of Education and Science's view is that the determining factor in deciding whether such persons should be vetted is the extent to which they have unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults. In consultation with the education partners, this issue will be examined closely as the Garda vetting service expands.

The working group on Garda vetting recommended the introduction of specific legislation to provide for various aspects of vetting, including the release of soft information, indemnification against disclosure, and the maintenance of a national criminal records system by the Garda Síochána. It recommended minor amendments to the Protection of Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, to offer protection for persons reporting the abuse of vulnerable adults and not just the abuse of children and to the Sex Offenders Act 2001, to require a convicted sex offender to inform a prospective employer of a conviction when applying for a position involving unsupervised access to the physically disabled and not just children or the mentally impaired. These proposals are being considered by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Health and Children.

The working group also recommended that the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children should explore the possibility of the development of non-Garda, employment-related vetting registers to provide information on those previously dismissed, suspended, moved or made redundant from posts for harming children or vulnerable adults in the health and education sectors.

While priority is being given to the extension of the Garda vetting services, discussions on proposals for legislation to establish a non-Garda, employment-related vetting register are ongoing between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children.

The legislation is intended to establish a non-Garda employment-related vetting register for persons considered unsafe to work with children, a framework of liaison between the relevant bodies in the health, justice and education spheres and to facilitate co-operation with the agencies responsible for the maintenance of similar registers in the United Kingdom. The register, similar to the pre-employment consultancy system, PECS, in Northern Ireland, would provide information on those previously dismissed, suspended, moved or made redundant from posts for harming children or vulnerable adults. However, as is clear from the working group's report on Garda vetting, there are complex legal issues involved in this jurisdiction, particularly with regard to the release of so-called softer information, such as allegations and complaints. Legislation which will provide appropriate safeguards to protect the rights of individuals will need to be carefully worked out, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.

The practical recommendations of the Garda working group are being brought forward by an implementation group, chaired by the Garda Síochána and comprising representatives of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Finance, the Office of the Attorney General and Mr. Paul Gilligan, chief executive officer of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Obviously, the Ferns Report has had a major effect on the country as a whole. My job and that of the Government and the Oireachtas is to protect those within our country who cannot protect themselves. This is also the job of our local communities and our entire society. In the past there have been shortcomings in the system. However, with the measures I have announced arising from the Ferns Report and the developments that have occurred under successive Governments over the past 15 years we have gone a long way to protecting our children. Nonetheless, 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. In addition, in the words of the Ferns Inquiry, it is essential that "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". It is the duty of the Government to ensure proper child protection practices are in place and in operation. This is a key element of the objectives that must be met to ensure the shocking and appalling events described in the Ferns Report are addressed fully and, as far as is humanly possible, prevented from happening in the future.

I wish to preface my remarks with a word of support for those priests who have done no wrong. They deserve our support and sympathy at this difficult time. The majority of priests are living out their Christian message in an exemplary fashion and have our support at this time.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this report, produced by Mr. Justice Frank Murphy and his colleagues. It is a landmark document in the context of child sexual abuse — abuse which was compounded in its gravity because the actors were members of one of the most trusted groups in our society. The victims, children of all ages, suffered not only the most awful forms of sexual, physical and psychological abuse at the hands of clergy but also suffered the silence, betrayal and inaction on the part of the church who placed the protection of the most vulnerable below the church's priority of protecting themselves and the church. Child protection came last.

I heard a chilling description of what these abusive clergy did to their victims as the equivalent of eating their souls and destroying their souls. Unlike other forms of ill-treatment, sexual abuse of children by priests, and the subsequent disbelief of their stories if they have the courage to speak out, is uniquely destructive of the individual spirit of a person, that inner place or core. Given the scale and brutality outlined in the report, it is truly remarkable, indeed awesome, to witness the human capacity to heal and even forgive among some victims.

This report, however, is a landmark in another respect. I hope it will change forever the special relationship that has existed for many decades between church and State. This report must be the starting point for the State's response to all contained in it. But this new beginning cannot happen unless the old relationship ends. The unrelenting deference, which constituted the relations between church and State, must end. It was given for many decades and expected for many decades. This special deference and relationship was extremely influential in terms of outcome, and it must end. Only then can the State act as it should, which is objectively.

The systemic failure outlined in the report means nothing less is acceptable. If the church leadership, the hierarchy, was a cabinet, it would resign en masse or be thrown out of office. However, the church is neither democratic nor accountable. In many ways it is a secret organisation, with its own diplomatic service, civil service, laws and self-regulatory codes, which have all failed the public. Because the church in Ireland was the main interface with God, the Irish people and the State have shown deference personally and collectively over many decades. This veil of deference is the root cause of society’s failure to stop the church’s systemic maladministration and dereliction of duty to protect children as outlined in the report. Because what happened in one diocese is just a microcosm of the situation in all diocese, the findings are damning in their import. The fact is there have been hundreds of crimes of clerical abuse against children which went unpunished. Priests were transferred instead of being exposed. Priests with a propensity to offend were ordained, appointed to curacies, and bishops colluded and covered up these matters.

The mighty church has fallen from grace because of its failure to protect children. The first response of the State must be to state unequivocally that the special relationship is no more and to take steps to demonstrate that disconnect between State and church. From now on, with that veil of deference removed, the State can deal with the church authorities in the same way as it would with any other voluntary or State agency that provides services for children and families. This means no longer accepting the bona fides or the good offices of an admittedly remorseful hierarchy after the event. The track record is such that we cannot accept that the church will be truthful or capable of self-regulation. The late disclosure of files by the church authorities to Ferns shows that the instinct for self-preservation and denial is still rife.

This "no more Mr. Nice Guy" approach by the State means no longer countenancing the unhealthy enmeshing of the church in the secular layers of our society. It means no more consultation between church and State on IVF, abortion services, stem cell research, Ireland's support for family planning in the Third World, contraception or supports for single mothers, adoption, homosexuality and civil marriage. In a democracy, all views can be articulated but the special relationship must be over. The deference must be over. The cosy phone calls from All Hallows to Government Buildings must end.

This also means, like it or not, looking at the church's almost universal control of education in this country. Our national school system was established 170 years ago and while it was originally meant to be, to use today's terminology, mixed religion or multi-denominational, in practice this did not happen and, as a result, virtually all national schools are under the management of one church, the Catholic Church. Despite the State paying the bulk of the building and running costs, the relevant church authorities privately own and control the vast majority of national schools. The bishops are patrons of 95% of national schools. The same institution that has been so found wanting effectively decides who is suitable or not to work in our children's schools. If our stated commitment to taking all necessary steps to protect children is to be more than just rhetoric, it is imperative that we radically address this issue. Indeed, the investigation into the archdiocese of Dublin should deal with transfers of lay teachers for allegations of child abuse without due regard to child protection.

I would like to turn to the money trail. The question of finances is perhaps a neuralgic issue. Again, in light of the terrible wrongs done to the victims, discussing finances might be seen as unseemly, but I believe money has been the motivating factor in the actions and inaction of the church authorities in this whole affair. Central to the church's self-serving response over the years has been private financial settlements, without liability, as well as confidentiality deals. If the State is carrying out audits in every diocese, investigations that could uncover scores of previously undiscovered abuse cases, we must also audit the church's wealth. Given the nature and extent of the wrongdoing of this institution against citizens, the church should be obliged to open up its books. Discovery orders could be made to gain some understanding of the money trail. Such an audit of church assets and wealth is long overdue and, in fact, should have been in place prior to the indemnity deal given to the religious orders.

Hear, hear.

I note that, true to form, the church has the temerity to claim €100,000 for its legal costs for dealing with the Ferns Inquiry. It is estimated that the church now faces a compensation bill of up to €250 million for clerical sex abuse resulting from existing claims and new claims set to emerge following publication of the Ferns Report. On top of this is the €128 million already paid to victims of abuse in children's homes run by religious orders.

Going back to the need for separation and objectivity between church and State, sadly, it is difficult to argue that this was the paradigm within which the negotiations on the indemnity deal struck by the Government with the religious orders took place. The cost to the orders was approximately €128 million, while the cost to the State would be a blank cheque, the State covering every lawsuit brought against the congregations for child abuse in reformatories and industrial schools. This is not to understate the share of responsibility the State has for some of the horrors that unfolded in these terrible places. The uncomfortable fact is that, in several cases taken in the courts recently by victims outside the redress scheme, the liability of the State has not been proven. Therefore, the blanket indemnity was over-generous on behalf of the State. Why? All roads lead to the deference of the special relationship. The result was a bad deal for the State and a good deal for the religious orders. Initial estimates of the potential liability were in the region of €250 million. Three or four times that amount may prove closer to reality in terms of liability to the taxpayer.

The special relationship has not served Ireland or its citizens well. It did not serve the victims of abuse well. For example, the implication in the Ferns Report is that complaints of sexual abuse made against priests to the gardaí were not handled appropriately. Some of the complaints were not even recorded in any Garda file. They were not investigated in an appropriate manner due, perhaps, to reluctance by members of the Garda to investigate allegations against members of the Catholic clergy. Again, the deference descended. Undoubtedly progress has been made in terms of the independence of the Garda now vis-à-vis the church and that must continue.

I welcome the Government's commitment to introduce new legislation as outlined by the Minister. However, legislation alone will not suffice. The law must operate and apply in a context of objectivity and cool detachment. Victims, family members, friends, Ministers, politicians, gardaí, judges and all of us must not be deterred or reluctant to speak out and to act robustly on these matters. I welcome the fact the Government will move to allow for barring orders against persons, including priests, who are a risk to children in order to restrain them from occupying any employment that exposes them to children, and provide for a new criminal offence of failing to protect children from injury, sexual abuse or reckless endangerment.

Whatever about the failure to protect I turn to the failure to prosecute cases of child abuse. For many years I have been baffled, in Opposition and in Government, by the non-prosecution of child abuse cases, even when validated by the health boards. As Opposition spokesperson for justice between 1992 and 1997 I tabled dozens of parliamentary questions to the Taoiseach for the DPP asking why the statistics were so skewed. Because of my interest over many years I became a contact point for many families exasperated because of such non-prosecutions. The DPP does not give reasons, leaving victims and their families distraught. In some cases it was due to delay. Frequently the accused would take civil action seeking to stop the prosecution on the grounds that delay in prosecution prejudiced the defendant's right to a fair trial. This device was successfully used by the notorious child rapist, George Gibney, who escaped prosecution and is now living abroad. Many abusers have availed of this device and it is the Judiciary, not the State, that has developed, to some extent, the law in this regard. We must change the law to state that delay alone cannot be used by the defendant in child abuse cases to stop a prosecution. The passage of time and thus delay is part and parcel of the crime of child abuse. Many victims will only disclose when they are safe or adult.

It is time for straight talking and respectful disengagement by the State from the Irish Catholic Church across all sectors. The enmeshed relationship has been characteristic of Irish life since the foundation of the State. One recalls de Valera's drafts of Bunreacht na hÉireann being edited page by page by the hierarchy and my party's unhappy but courageous suggestion of disengagement, known as taking God out of the Constitution.

One recalls also the many battles, mostly lost, between State and church, the pregnant women isolated and condemned from pulpits, dismissed from school, banished to Magdalen laundries, all the acts of a non-loving church; the unrelenting deference expected and given at State functions and in terms of diplomatic protocol in Ireland with the Papal Nuncio as numero uno in our diplomatic corps; the sweetheart deals for residential abuse; the non-extradition of Brendan Smyth; the related intrigue in the then Attorney-General’s Office and the inactions of official A, issues never really resolved as to any church involvement; the millions of euro paid in private financial settlements by the archdiocese of Dublin and, perhaps, others; the abortion referenda and the wording negotiated with the bishops in advance and with the pro-life movement; the tip-toeing around the State ceremony marking the elevation of Desmond Connell to Cardinal in Dublin Castle, known as the Larkin affair; my own mauling when as a Minister of State I criticised the church authorities in 2001 for doing what this report has now found, transferring paedophile priests rather than exposing them to prosecution, that many priests so transferred went on to play leading roles in the child abuse scandals in the United States; the secrecy about money and possible movement offshore thereof; the hiring of the best lawyers by the church, the hardball played by them on behalf of the church that still goes on; and the deafening and unbelievable immoral silence of the Vatican on the Ferns Report. It is overwhelming and compelling — there is no other way to say it and the special relationship must end between the State and the Catholic Church. As a faith organisation it must look to rebuild, if it can, its relationship with its flock. As one who has irreconcilable differences with the institution of the church, as is probably obvious, unless it allows the laity in, including women, it is in terminal decline. To follow my logic, those are religious matters, not matters for the State.

I welcome the Ferns Report. It sets out in black and white what many of us have known for a long time is happening in Irish society. It is a pity this report cannot be more widely available to people. Even I was shocked by the physical descriptions of some of the abuse when put down in black and white. We suspected many of the cases were taking place right across the country but I am shocked to see it written in a Government report.

There are many reasons people look away, and continue to look away, when faced with the appalling issue of child abuse. The Ferns Report has focused on clerical sexual abuse in one diocese and has found 100 cases. I believe there are many more that have not been reported for a number of reasons, even within the diocese of Ferns. If County Wexford which makes up most of the diocese of Ferns contains 3% of the population, and assuming the rest of the country is exactly the same, then a nationwide report would unearth up to 3,000 cases of clerical sexual abuse, a huge figure by any estimation.

We are told clerical sex abuse cases only make up 5% of the total amount of child sexual abuse cases in the country. If we were to use that figure, it means more than 60,000 Irish children have been abused during the past few decades. This is an appalling vista that begs the question why so many people continued to look away, especially those who were in positions of power and who must have known so much about what was going on. Why did they all look away?

There is no doubt that many, clergy included, were never aware of issues such as child sexual abuse. I made inquiries in Wexford from people who attended St. Peter's College in Wexford around that time. Most of those were aware there were priests who had to be watched out for but were not aware of the extent of the abuse taking place. There were many others who would have known many of the priests named in the report and would never have suspected there was anything untoward about them or that they would have been involved in anything so criminal. Genuinely, people did not know what was going on. There were others, clergy and lay people alike, who said they were aware that inappropriate behaviour was taking place but for a number of reasons said nothing about it. We should try to tease out why nothing was said about it. Sometimes it has to do with the sort of society we had at the time. To make allegations against a priest would have brought more trouble to the person making the allegation than it would have brought to the abuser of young children. There was the risk of being sued if one made allegations that one could not substantiate. Two points have borne that out: legislation from 1998 giving protection to people who make these allegations and, as stated by Deputy O'Donnell, the fact that so many of the prosecutions fail. People were very slow, certainly in the 1980s when I was growing up, to make these allegations. For many of the victims and their families the shame of what happened often drove them to try to cover it up. They did not want to report it and did not want it out in the public domain. It was not so much about prosecutions, they simply did not want people to know that a member of their family had been abused in such a way. Regrettably, it was an issue that was covered up by all parts of society.

However, there were those who knew what was going on and its extent and did nothing about it. They may well have known that crimes had been committed that warranted serious criminal charges and they still did nothing about it. A serious point that has not been teased out in the report is why many in authority were aware of extremely serious crimes being committed against children and did nothing about it. It is not good enough for them to say things were different in those days. They were the people in charge and the people who could have done something about it. All my life, like many in the House, I have had close associations with the Catholic Church when growing up. I went to Mass and served as an altar boy and would have been in close contact with a number of priests. As a teenager I attended a religious boarding school and would have been in regular contact with members of the clergy. Of all the members of the clergy I came across as a child and as a teenager I am aware of only one priest whom we had been warned by other students to stay away from. After six or seven months in the boarding school and following allegations of certain behaviour the priest was moved to another parish and was subsequently prosecuted for the crime of child sexual abuse when he was working as a priest in a parish. Is this practice still continuing? If so, what is being done about it? It is quite possible that priests are still being moved around when they are causing problems in a parish or allegations are being made against them. We need to know whether this practice has been stopped and what the bishops, as the people in charge, are doing about it.

We have much to learn from history. In 1985 a document entitled Building on Reality was published. This was a Government policy document covering the years 1985 to 1989 and gave rise to the Child Care Act. It is strange that no mention was made of child sexual abuse in many of those policy documents, even though in 1987 the Department of Health issued child abuse guidelines clarifying procedural issues and giving responsibility to the health boards. A 1989 report of cases investigated by health boards stated that 34% were classified as sexual abuse; 8% were classified as emotional abuse; 11% were classified as physical abuse; and 47% were classified as neglect of children. Throughout the 1980s the Government was aware what was going on, given that the Department of Health was issuing guidelines and the health boards were publishing reports on the issue. A charge of "See no evil, hear no evil" might have been made against legislators and those with a role in political life. I am surprised that the matter was left out of policy documents between 1985 and 1989.

While the public representatives might not have been on the ball regarding what they should have been doing, it was scandalous that between 1987 and 1989, as detailed in the report, most of the dioceses took out insurance to protect themselves from being sued by victims of abuse. The bishops have hard questions to answer in this regard. Why did they take this course of action without at the same time introducing child protection guidelines to protect children with whom they had extremely close contact at the time? The same is true of vulnerable adults for the care of whom many of the religious institutions had responsibility. The Ferns Report states that very few files were available in the diocese of Ferns prior to 1990. Why was the diocese taking out insurance if it did not have any files available?

I believe the report stated that all the files fitted into a shoebox.

Money was the reason thedioceses needed insurance.

We need to discover the terms of that insurance agreement. How much information did the diocese disclose to the insurance company? The real Ferns Report may now lie in what was disclosed to the insurance company. This is an important point which the Minister should pursue.

The issue of child sexual abuse in Ireland moved from one spoken of behind closed doors out into the open in the 1990s, which coincided with the time when the power of the church was weakening. I am sure Deputy Howlin will agree that 15 years later many people find it very difficult to face up to the issue of child sexual abuse, which is our experience on the ground in County Wexford even today. People still do not want to talk about the issues exposed in this report. We need to look back to the 1990s to consider what brought the issue into the open and to learn from that period.

While it had nothing to do with clerics, the Kilkenny incest case sticks out in my mind as a pivotal point when we exposed the horrors of child sexual abuse in our society. The McColgan case in the north west came to light in 1995. The horrors of the Goldenbridge orphanage were exposed in the 1990s. We had the cases of Fr. Brendan Smyth and Fr. Payne which gave undeniable proof, if it were needed, that child sexual abuse was present in our society and that we were doing little about it.

I often wonder why more than 100 cases have come to light in the diocese of Ferns warranting a separate report. The archdiocese of Dublin will be subject to the same kind of review. However, we need to look at what happened throughout the country. I do not believe that County Wexford and the archdiocese of Dublin were the only two hotspots for this kind of terrible abuse. We should try to explore why this came to light in Ferns. Perhaps it had something to do with the Kilkenny incest case, following which a report was issued and recommendations made, which were clearly followed up by the South Eastern Health Board at the time. The recommendations covered the following: how to report child abuse; holding case conferences; interagency co-operation between the Garda and schools; recording of information; prevention and family liaison supports; and counselling for victims of abuse. Things changed in the south east in the 1990s. While the Kilkenny incest case was not the only factor, it was important.

There was the hard work of brave individuals who came out and spoke, including many who had been victims of abuse. It was highly significant that some of the victims came forward and made themselves known. They put their names in the media and broke the stigma. Many of these people have led terrible lives because they carried a stigma and feel they continue to be the victims. In some respects they may feel they were wrong. We need to give great credit to people like Colm O'Gorman who came forward and exposed what was going on. If those people had not come forward we might never have had the Ferns Report.

When discussing this matter we should be careful not to engage in a witch-hunt. Nobody wants a repeat of what happened in Cleveland in Britain in the 1980s, which was a disaster for the families involved. Two doctors made allegations that children were being abused and many children were taken from their parents and placed in care. The parents had to fight for many years to have their children returned from care and it was eventually proved that no abuse had been carried out. The over-zealousness of the two doctors resulted in children wrongfully being taken from their parents. However, we also need to face up to child sexual abuse in our society and challenge it in a serious way. In 20 years' time a report into what we do now may be published, just as people look back to what we should have done between 1985 and 1990 and what happened in the 1990s.

Some good things have happened, including protection for those who report child abuse to protect them from being sued by the abusers, who can be very manipulative and well able to get their own way. I welcome the report's recommendation that the non-reporting of a crime become a crime in itself, which might change behaviour. If we cannot do so in a nice way we should use the iron fist of the law to change the behaviour of those with responsibility, including bishops and school principals. We need to invest more in child protection. The Minister of State referred to the Garda vetting unit. We must not forget those doing fantastic work for voluntary groups, both within the church and outside it. They must not be forgotten. I hope that my colleague, Deputy Enright, will speak more about a policy she published a year ago on the matter of vetting and protecting children in our society.

I listened with interest to the speech of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and I wish him well. I am sorry Deputy O'Donnell is not here because I listened with some surprise to what she had to say. Her speech was lacking in honesty and I believe it was an attempt to rewrite history. The Progressive Democrats has been in government for the past eight years and bears equal responsibility for the decisions of Government, including the infamous indemnity deal with the religious orders that in effect let them off the hook. The Progressive Democrats must take responsibility for that with Fianna Fáil. They must also take responsibility for trying to have a referendum on abortion passed which would have created a threat to the lives of young desperate pregnant women. That is equally the record of the Progressive Democrats and nothing said this morning can negate that fact. At least Fianna Fáil takes responsibility for what it does, even when it is wrong.

The Ferns Inquiry report is one of the most disturbing documents ever to come into the public domain. The report recites a litany of depravity and pain, cowardice and courage, shameful evasion of duty and quite remarkable dignity and resilience. It paints a picture of how latter day scribes and Pharisees protected their institutional interests and how children suffered grievously and struggled as adults to cope with what had been done to them. In the words of Colm O'Gorman of One in Four:

The Ferns Report speaks of the sexual abuse and rape of children by priests in the Diocese of Ferns spanning a period of forty years. Those children as adults spoke out, many turned to their Bishop, and they were not responded to. In many cases they spoke to others and often their cases came directly or indirectly to the attention of the Garda or the Health Board. The gross failure of the Catholic Church to respond to their complaints and the failure of state agencies to effectively investigate and prevent the abuse of those victims and countless other victims is detailed with forensic insight in the Ferns Report.

With such a report, one looks at the recommendations and whether they will be implemented. However, all of us have a duty to ask the deeper question the report raises. How could this have possibly happened? Much of the answer rests in the existence and exercise of unaccountable power. For too many years, too much of our society was controlled by an institution which exerted too much influence and which saw itself as wholly unaccountable.

We live in different times, but we must not lose sight of the lesson. Where there is power without democratic accountability, that power will be abused. Where there is authority without transparency, that authority becomes oppressive. When we lose sight of the basic principle of equality, human rights will be trampled.

Those who raped and abused the children of Ferns were figures who held responsible positions in society, including in a number of cases the position of school manager. They are people who demanded and received the respect of others. Therefore, the abuse of trust involved here, of parents and their children, is all the more shocking.

Mr. Justice Murphy and his colleagues are entitled to our appreciation and thanks. They in turn have recorded their debt of gratitude to the people who spoke about their experiences of abuse, and so should we. We should also recognise that there is still a hidden reservoir of pain being plumbed. In one week, since publication of this report, the agency One in Four has received 250 new approaches from victims of abuse. During the period from May to September the total number of approaches was 380. Ministers and Catholic bishops have called on abuse victims to come forward, but unless the resources are provided to meet their needs these so far unheard voices will be speaking into the wilderness.

The report is quite clear in stating where the priorities of the Church authorities lay: "By failing to properly identify the problem of child abuse even to colleagues and professionals, Bishops placed the interests of the Church ahead of children whose protection and safety should at all times have been a priority". The Catholic Church may well believe that as an institution it has the right to self-regulate and develop and follow its own internal rules, but we are a democratic society and as such we have a right to ensure that control of our education system is at all times open and accountable to the people.

It is said that a childhood can last a lifetime. For those who have suffered abuse as children, that is true. We know that the terrible effects and the grave psychological damage of having been abused can lead people to suffer throughout their life. The Ferns Report states:

The impact of such abuse can have far reaching consequences, not only for the victim, but also for their relatives and friends. This damage can continue over a period of many years and into subsequent generations.

Since the report was published, the victims of child sexual abuse have heard us express our revulsion that such crimes could be committed against children, our astonishment at the nature and extent of this phenomenon and our determination to ensure it does not continue. If I were one of those victims, I would concentrate on this third aspect. How great is the State's determination to take steps against child abusers and what, specifically, is proposed?

The first issue facing us now is the Dublin inquiry to which the Government has long since committed and has finally announced. The Labour Party welcomes the appointment of Judge Yvonne Murphy, but we are concerned at the restrictive timeframe imposed on the inquiry. It has taken the Minister three years to deliver it and he has no qualms about justifying the delays. However, there is a real danger that the strict limits he is applying to it may prevent it completing its work.

There is another concern. The terms of reference confine the inquiry to examining a sample of "complaints or allegations of child sexual abuse made ... against clergy operating under the aegis of the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin. " This would appear to exclude members of religious orders from the remit of the inquiry.

Let us take a practical example involving three men in religious life against whom allegations of child sexual abuse are made. The first is a Christian Brother who worked in a residential unit. The claims against him will be examined by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The second is a Dublin parish priest, a manager of a national school. His case will be inquired into by the Dublin inquiry. The third is again a Christian Brother who worked in a non-residential school. The allegations made against him, no matter how serious, will not be investigated by either inquiry.

When the Minister first announced this inquiry in 2002, he held preliminary meetings with representatives of the diocese and of CORI. I do not know the purpose of the second meeting since the inquiry announced yesterday has no bearing on CORI members, unless, perhaps, securing such an outcome was the purpose of that meeting. I would be grateful if the Minister would elucidate on this issue.

With regard to the time an inquiry can take, I am conscious of the facts that pertain to an investigation into the Kilcornan centre run by the Brothers of Charity in Galway where there were allegations of sexual abuse of up to 100 residents in the years from 1965 to 1998. These are people with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. In response to the allegations, the Western Health Board established an inquiry. Six and a half years later we still await publication of that report. In 2003 a health board official admitted that the investigations had taken a great deal longer than anticipated. We should know why it is taking so long to publish its findings? Why has no interim report been published and what is being done to address the issue?

On the more general question of what reforms are immediately proposed, it is important to address this question in the light of one of the more sobering statistics quoted by Judge Murphy in his report. According to research undertaken by the College of Surgeons on behalf of two Departments in 2002, the prevalence of child sexual abuse by religious is 3.2% of all reported cases. That figure should not, of course, provide comfort to the religious since they represent nowhere near 3.2% of the adult population. Nonetheless, it should give us cause for thought. The figures published last week on the numbers of children taken into care as a result of sexual abuse are also highly relevant. One does not take a child away from its parents and out of the family home because the child has been abused outside the home by someone who is not a family member.

Mr. Justice Murphy points out that what he calls "third party" abuse of children — the systematic abuse of children outside the family and the family home by third parties in a position of trust and authority over children — represents a small fraction of the abuse occurring in Irish society. That is not to say, however, that it does not constitute a major issue for organisations entrusted with the care of children.

The recommendations set out in the report are addressed to three separate Departments. I will refer in more detail later to the disjointed nature of Government structures for the care and protection of children. My colleagues, Deputies O'Sullivan and Costello, will deal in more detail later this afternoon with the recommendations pertaining to the Departments of Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, respectively. Some of the recommendations in the report relate to the health services. The essential problem in respect of the health services was that although the health boards — now the HSE — had a power to investigate, they did not have a power to intervene or to take other action on foot of their investigations. It seems that, in such circumstances, some of what they did may have been ultra vires. Therefore, the proposed new power to take out barring orders against third parties is welcome. I am not convinced that the HSE’s approach to the duty of care it owes to children at risk is adequate. The resources and training given to HSE employees are also insufficient to meet that duty of care.

I would like to speak about a wider structural problem in the health sector. The poor relations within the health services are welfare in general and child welfare, care and protection in particular. It is an accident of history that such services are provided by the Department of Health and Children. Those of us who have tried to compare this country's health expenditure with that of other countries are aware that Ireland's figures are entirely skewed because much of what is classed in this country as health expenditure would be described in other countries as welfare provision. Child care and child protection will not thrive as long as they rank as also-rans within a health service that regards its main role as the provision of primary health care and hospital care to the general population.

Equally, preschool child care will not be taken seriously as long as its delivery is entrusted to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Regardless of the good intentions and dedication of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan — I do not doubt his ability or dedication — at the end of the day he is just a Minister of State operating under three different Departments. He does not have his own budget, he does not have his own legislative programme and he does not have direct access to the Government.

The Public Service Management Act 1997 was supposed to introduce new procedures to enable our system of government to manage better a cross-cutting issue such as child protection. Under that Act, the Government was supposed to be able to make orders assigning functions and responsibility for cross-departmental issues and allocating a team of civil servants dedicated to delivery. Eight years after the legislation was passed, no such order has been made in respect of an obvious issue like child protection, or in respect of any other issue. As long as Departments and Ministers maintain this silo mentality, something as important as the protection of our children, which is the shared responsibility of three Departments or Ministers, will remain the priority of none. I recognise that almost every interest group with an agenda for Government action demands the appointment of a Minister, or a seat at the Cabinet table to put it another way, to deal with the issue in question. It is clear that the present system is not working and needs to be addressed.

The issues which arise from the Ferns Report will not be dealt with in a coherent fashion if they continue to be divided between three Departments, none of which wants responsibility for managing what it perceives to be unmanageable. A single Department of children's affairs would deal with preschool, primary and secondary education, the child care and child protection functions of the health boards and the juvenile justice functions of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It would be able to adopt an approach that encompasses the Breaking the Cycle programme, school truancy, homelessness, juvenile diversion, the Stay Safe programme, children at risk and much more.

The Labour Party's position on this matter is clear — children's voices deserve to be heard, children's rights must be recognised and services to children must be provided coherently and holistically. I do not think the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, or any other Minister of State can guarantee us that this will happen. If that is the lesson we will take from the Ferns Report, I hope it is one we can act on. If legislation is published to protect children, the Labour Party will not be found wanting when it comes to supporting the Government in that regard. It is important, at all times, that there should be honesty about the Government's record and an honest approach to this important issue.

I would like to share time with Deputies Gormley and Ó Caoláin.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is with great sadness and anger that I speak during this debate on the Ferns Report, which was published by Mr. Justice Murphy, Dr. Helen Buckley and Dr. Laraine Joyce, whom I thank and commend on their work. This horrific report identifies over 100 allegations of child sexual abuse which were made against 21 priests in the diocese of Ferns between 1962 and 2002. This nightmare report, which deals with the hurt and pain of children, is just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone has to wake up to the reality that great pain and hurt was suffered by children who were sexually abused, exploited and raped. I will always focus on the victims and the survivors. During this debate, Members need to react to the Ferns Report in a way that supports and assists the victims and puts in place prevention measures for the future. If we cannot do that, we might as well pack up and go home.

We need to face the reality that most child abusers are aware before the age of 18 that they have a sexual interest in children. That is why many such people have an interest in the caring professions relating to children. As the isolation of children is an important part of their process of manipulation, there is a need for the Stay Safe programme to be put in place for all children. I appeal to the 20% of primary schools which do not offer this excellent child safety programme to reconsider their position. It is worth noting that genuine research, particularly that published by Professor Anthony Beech of the University of Birmingham, has indicated that 58.5% of child sexual abusers were aware of their sexual arousal to younger children by the age of 16. Some 92.5% of such people were aware of their feelings by the age of 21. Such early awareness is not unusual for sexual offenders. Harsh facts have to be faced if we are to protect children. For example, we have to address the reality that 42.5% of child sexual abusers said that while abusing children was not their primary motivation for working with children, it formed part of their motivation. Now is the time to acknowledge that the existence of paedophiles has been a reality for centuries and to do something about it.

I welcome the proposal that the commission will investigate any instance of dioceses not implementing church guidelines in respect of child sexual abuse. There have been many failures in this regard. I would like to cite an example of how guidelines were ignored and children were knowingly placed in danger. In the case in question, a victim's attempt to redress the matter received a spectrum of responses, from cold indifference to aggression. In this example, the church and some national groups failed our children. In the late 1970s, a religious principal teacher of a Dublin primary school sexually abused a 12 year old boy, who is now a personal friend of mine. In the mid-1990s, the victim of the abuse informed, in writing, the provincial leader of the abuser's religious order. Some 18 months after he made the allegation, the victim became aware that his abuser was still teaching. It was obvious that nothing had been done about his allegation, so the victim contacted the Garda. Despite the involvement of the Garda and the then Eastern Health Board, the abuser was allowed to continue to teach for a further period of 18 months. In other words, he taught for a total of three years after the allegation was made and was removed from the school only when a charge was brought against him. He was subsequently convicted of abusing the victim known to me and another young boy.

In the late 1990s, after the man in question had been convicted, the victim visited the Christian Brothers province leader — I refer to St. Mary's province — to ask him why many of the undertakings promised in the 1996 publication, Child Sexual Abuse — A Framework for a Church Response, were not delivered on in this case. The province leader became angry and enraged. He lost his temper, raised his voice and banged his hand against the arm of his chair. He acted in an abusive, aggressive, bullying and threatening manner.

The victim sought the help of the primary schools branch of the National Parents Council in an attempt to provide more protection and justice for pupils in schools and to share the insights he had gleaned from the entire experience. He asked the council to support him in finding out why a teacher accused of conducting sexual abuse was allowed to continue to teach young boys in a school for three years. It is shocking that he did not even receive an acknowledgement of his letter from the council. Some time later, he telephoned the council only to be informed that it had forwarded his letter to the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association. When he contacted the CPSMA by phone he was told it was not interested in what he had to say and that a file would not be created on this matter. This is but one story of the refusal of the church and of national groups to take on board, listen to and learn from the experience of victims. Its inaction and coldness has caused great distress which compounds the effects of the original abuse. I welcome the commission and I hope the victims' wisdom and voices will drive its activities.

I also wish to raise the important issue of sexual abuse of children and adults with an intellectual disability. This is another scandal. Most of their voices have not been heard and will never be heard. This is the hidden story of this debate. Children and adults with disabilities have been abused for years and nothing has been done. I urge everyone to read the report and implement the recommendations immediately.

I thank Mr. Justice Murphy and his team for a very thorough report. The Ferns Report engenders both revulsion and deep anger in the reader. As I read some of these graphic accounts I have to confess I wanted to inflict serious injury on some of the perpetrators of this abuse. In particular, when one reads the accounts of the activities of Fr. Fortune, one is lost for words. The only way I can describe this person is evil personified. One account that stood out for me was that of Colin who said that on the day he was getting married, the priest officiating said that he believed they had a mutual acquaintance, namely, Fr. Fortune. This is a sign of a really sick mind but it also shows that there was a network of sorts in place.

As we get over our justifiable outrage we must ask serious questions because the scale of this abuse could not and cannot have taken place in a vacuum. People knew, people suspected and many people, I am afraid to say, turned a blind eye. Those who complained were ignored. It was similar to the type of culture described by Seamus Heaney when describing Northern Ireland, "whatever you say, say nothing." It appears that politicians knew because, for example, a councillor put forward a motion to the South Eastern Health Board and only got the support of one other councillor. Who were those other councillors and why did they not support that motion? The church has primary responsibility for all this but the political institutions also let these children down.

From pages 238 and 239 we also know that the report was known to the Office of the Garda Commissioner. It knew about the activities of Canon Clancy because a letter was sent to the local sergeant, yet it was not acted upon. If the Garda Commissioner knew about this, clearly the Minister for Justice at the time must have known about it, yet nothing was done and no further investigation is being carried out.

I listened to what Deputy Twomey had to say. My experience is similar to his as I too went to a diocesan college and I did not know of any priests who were involved in abuse. On occasion, some engaged in physical violence but I knew of no examples of sexual abuse. For the most part, many priests led exemplary lives in difficult circumstances. A number of things must emerge from this report. Deputy Sargent referred to this matter during Leaders' Questions. The church must reform and the issue of celibacy must be seriously examined.

We must also examine the role of the church in primary schools. I do not think priests should have an automatic right to be on school boards. The Ombudsman for Children has said that many areas need to be examined. She is on record as saying that the legislation in her areas of responsibility is not strong enough. Many sections of the Children Act 2001 have still not been implemented. Section 10 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 states that better notification is needed and the Garda needs to be in a position to better respond when we know there is a paedophile in an area. These are all areas that must be addressed on foot of this report. It is a shocking report and if it is not acted upon, that would be even more shocking.

This report reveals a clerical establishment that wilfully ignored what can only be described as an epidemic of abuse. It reveals a picture of rogue clerics preying on successive generations and being facilitated in this by the church authorities. What emerges is an attitude on the part of the church that sees children as objects rather than human beings. They were objects of temptation for so-called "weak" priests. The little action that was taken was about helping the priest to resist "temptation"— the children were apparently irrelevant. The perceived precedence of the church's reputation over all other considerations led to untold suffering.

The authority enjoyed by the church at the time was something that was valued not just by that institution but also by many other conservative forces in society. The inability or unwillingness of the Garda to take action on this matter is a case in point. At one stage an allegation of the most appalling abuse carried out on the altar against young girls preparing for their first holy communion ran into a brick wall because the file disappeared, not the witnesses or victims, just the file. I seriously question how the disappearance of a file containing witness statements could cause such a serious investigation to fall. Surely in a matter of this gravity the taking of a second set of statements would have been the normal practice. Only in doing so could the authorities have shown that they really did intend to prosecute and protect the children concerned.

I note also that the garda responsible for the disappearance of this file was subsequently honoured by the Vatican for services rendered. It would be most useful if the church could clarify the circumstances and reason for this honour. Until it does, the suspicion must be that the attitude of cover-up stretched right into the heart of the Vatican, if indeed it did not emanate from there in the first instance.

I do not intend to go into individual cases. However, it is worth mentioning the case of Seán Fortune to illustrate the processes at work. Here was a priest who had been identified as a predatory paedophile before he was ordained, yet he was ordained. Throughout his time in the priesthood the most vile allegations followed him around like a dark cloud. The dogs in the street knew what he was, yet he continued on with the air of a man who considered himself untouchable, and well he might. Time after time his bishop ignored the reports that he received and allowed him to continue to wreak havoc with young lives in the diocese, so much so that at least two of his victims were driven to suicide. In these circumstances those who knew and did nothing are as culpable as the abusers themselves, perhaps even more so. The abuse was perpetrated in all areas, in the home, in schools, at social events, anywhere the abuser could find a victim. We should make no mistake, there are abusers in all walks of life — they are not only clerics. The Ferns Report, shocking as it is, is but the tip of an iceberg that lies deep in Irish society and beyond.

I will conclude by making a number of recommendations that must be implemented urgently if this scourge is to be seriously tackled. The guidelines in Children First — National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children must be fully resourced and implemented so that all the agencies covered, including the Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive, schools and voluntary organisations are enabled to fulfil the role outlined for them.

For every one staff member working with children in this country, there are at least 20 volunteers. Therefore, Garda vetting must be made available to the voluntary sector as a matter of urgency. The basic child protection awareness module delivered to trainee gardaí in Templemore is grossly inadequate given the key responsibility they have in the area of child protection. Therefore, I urge that a comprehensive child protection training package should be developed and delivered to all gardaí as a compulsory part of their training.

The numbers of children first information and advice persons in the HSE and their resources should be increased in the HSE areas to ensure the child protection training they deliver to staff and volunteers working with children is available to all who need it.

This report exposes the extent to which the power of the church in Ireland was used to destroy the rights and the lives of children. For too long that power went unchallenged by the State. Indeed, it was enhanced by the State which abandoned so many children into the hands of their abusers. The lessons must be learned and action must follow.

Like other colleagues, I come to this debate with much sadness because any of us who read the report, or who tried to understand the issues, are hugely upset by it. I compliment my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on his work and on his handling of what is very difficult business for him. We should wish him well as he proceeds.

As other colleagues have said, this debate is about the development of Irish society. There has been much talk lately about how Ireland is moving forward and progressing and how it is now seen throughout the world as an important player and a rich country. Much of what is going on now is about looking back at our past and exposing many things that happened as our State developed. A number of people have asked me in recent days why this debate is only about Ferns because there is a lot of other business which needs to be tackled. Colleagues made the point last week that as we approach the centenary of the Easter Rising, we need to celebrate it in different ways. I will not get into the debate about parades but, as a nation, we need to come of age and to deal with issues which must be addressed. The business before us is about that and the broader issues.

I have read a good deal of the Ferns Report which makes appalling reading. We should, in the strongest way, condemn those involved in abusing children. As colleagues have said, let us hope it is not happening on our watch. I remember making the point on a number of occasions during my time on the eastern health board that we must ensure things are not happening today in the name of the State which will be exposed in 30, 40 or 50 years time. We must ensure people will say things should not have happened again because what took place 50, 60 or 70 years ago should not have been allowed to happen.

I come from a generation when children were beaten in school. As a small child I remember hearing people on the streets threaten children with being sent to Artane or to other industrial schools. Thank God I have no bad memories from my childhood, including from school. As colleagues said, the dogs on the streets were saying children were being badly abused and poorly looked after in these places but the State and the establishment did not seem to do anything about it. We have waited all these years to be brave enough to do something about it. Those who are exposing these issues are to be applauded.

Reference was made to the various organisations which have done marvellous work, including that of Mr. O'Gorman, One in Four. I got to know that organisation and a number of Mr. O'Gorman's colleagues. Members will remember that approximately two years ago, a constituent of mine, Mr. Tom Sweeney, was on hunger strike outside the gates of Leinster House. I found that a very difficult time in my political life in the sense that one was dealing with people who were clearly upset and who had been abused. We tried to help them as much as possible. I hope colleagues will not mind me saying this but I also got to know the new Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, at that time and I got a good appreciation of where he was coming from on this issue. I was very impressed by his reaction. I am glad he was so forthright this morning in welcoming the initiative of the Minister, Deputy McDowell, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Government establishing the Dublin abuse inquiry. That is important and I am glad the Archbishop has promised full co-operation with the inquiry which is to be applauded. I hope we finally overcome the issues.

This debate should not only be about Ferns, although I certainly do not want to detract from the debate on it. However, I welcome the Dublin inquiry which should be wider. Despite our efforts in recent times and all that has been done, there is still a lot of hurt and a lot of upset people, many of whom still have not come forward and have not had their problems addressed. They include many people who were abused in institutions, State homes and so on. There are also other categories, including people who were abused in the home and who were the victims of incest. If we are growing up as a nation, if we are tackling these problems as a society and if we are prepared to expose the wrongdoers, then we should go all the way.

I join in the appeal to those people who have been abused and hurt to come forward. The Minister of State made the point that there is an open door and I hope people will find a way to address their issues. Other colleagues made the point about costs which I have also heard in conversations I have had with people in the Ferns diocese.

The efforts of Bishop Eamon Walsh in Wexford should be commended. He is an auxiliary bishop based in my constituency and the work he has done in Wexford has been generally applauded and universally acknowledged. We should also support the religious who are doing their jobs and I was glad to hear colleagues make this point, although counterpoints have been made in regard to the Catholic Church. I remember at a function a while ago making the point in regard to a departing priest that we should not be afraid to praise and applaud the work of priests who do their jobs in light of everything going on, who have no stain on their characters and who are very much respected by communities. The community very much appreciated me saying that. We should not be afraid to speak up for those in religious orders and the priesthood who want to get on with their jobs and who find what is going on very difficult to deal with but who deserve our praise. If we neutralise them in our parishes and deprived communities, where do we go? The lesson of the Third World should not be lost on us in that regard.

It is important the Oireachtas has the opportunity to discuss this report. Serious issues must be dealt with. I do not believe the full story has come out and we must continue to press to ensure that happens. I look forward to the Minister of State's response in that regard. He should listen to those who say there are still many cases to be addressed and many hurt people to be heard. He should understand he will have the support of both sides of the House as he continues and represents those who did not have a voice for a long time.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m and resumed at 2.30 p.m.