Leaders’ Questions.

I am truly appalled by the contents of the Murphy report which was published last week. Arising from that report, does the Taoiseach consider it appropriate that persons in authority in the Catholic Church, who knowingly moved paedophile priests from parish to parish should continue to be in positions of authority either in the church or in State-funded institutions?

I have been very clear on this matter. The State's job is to ensure everybody is equal before the law and that applies to institutions and individuals. The State must also ensure that best practice in this entire area will be promoted in the future. From this and previous reports, we have confirmation that there was an horrific deficit of accountability and these matters were not handled properly. The reputation of institutions was held to be of higher priority than looking after children and ensuring that anybody who offended was dealt with by the law. That belongs to that era and needs to be recognised and accepted. Agencies of the State or people who acted on behalf of the State who similarly were less than proper or appropriate in how they dealt with these matters must be also apologised for and I do that unreservedly on behalf of the State.

It is for the individuals who are affected by the findings of this report and conclusions to consider in what way they can continue in whatever positions they hold. It is a matter for them to consider how that is to be dealt with within their own institutions. There are people considering this now in the context of the report and its implications. For my part, as Taoiseach, it is important to point out the State holds no brief and must ensure that everyone is amenable before the law. I will continue to state this openly and candidly. I hold no brief for anyone who has failed in his duty in this respect.

The question of what position individuals should hold within the Catholic Church or any other institution or denomination will have to be addressed through personal reflection and by those with whom they work and to whom they are beholden, including the members of the church and their peers in the clergy.

I am a member of the Catholic Church and note that, in recent days, devout Catholics who have followed the teachings of their church faithfully over very many years are appalled by this position. They want their church to be a church of the future with a future. The symbolism of change is very important.

The Archbishop of Dublin said in his pastoral letter on Sunday that child abuse was and always is a crime in civil law and Canon Law. Those in positions of authority who knowingly moved paedophile priests from parish to parish, thereby allowing them to perpetrate their crimes and destroy children's innocence, should not continue in positions of authority.

Consider the communications between the Murphy commission and the papal nuncio and Vatican. It is discourteous that the papal nuncio did not respond to the two letters sent to him by the Murphy commission. The Vatican, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responded to the Department of Foreign Affairs indicating the communication was not made through the proper channel. In light of this response, what action was taken by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, who happens to be the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister who presented the Murphy report some days ago? The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the equivalent in the Vatican of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister were actively making contact with the British Government and British ambassador about the Barron and McEntee inquiries into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, yet how is it that, in respect of this sensitive issue concerning the destruction of the innocence and lives of vulnerable children, there was no response from the political end of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the response from the Vatican that contact had not been made through the correct channel? Did the Minister for Foreign Affairs know about this? Was the Government informed of the response from the Vatican? Why was no action taken in respect of information in files from the Archdiocese of Dublin submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome? The lack of action was such that the grievous and evil circumstances that obtained were allowed to continue.

Deputy Kenny asked about the Department's position on what happened. It is a matter of regret that the Holy See was not in a position to provide a substantive response to inquiries from the commission of investigation of the Dublin Archdiocese. It is important to be clear as to how and why this occurred.

The commission of investigation wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in September 2006 seeking,inter alia, information on reports of child sexual abuse that had been passed on to the congregation by the Archdiocese of Dublin. The Holy See responded to that request by diplomatic note, sent by the Vatican Secretariat of State to the Embassy of Ireland to the Holy See in March 2007. This note made clear the view of the Vatican that, as the commission had been established under the authority of the Government through the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, such a communication should be routed through diplomatic channels and in accordance with international laws and customs. This diplomatic note was forwarded via the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which passed it to Judge Murphy of the commission. There does not appear to have been any further communication between the commission and the Holy See after that note was passed.

I understand, however, that the Holy See sought confirmation that the content of its note had been made known to the commission. That was confirmed to the Holy See and Judge Murphy was informed of the Vatican's interest in knowing the note had been conveyed to the commission. The Vatican made clear to the Embassy of Ireland to the Holy See that its concern to confirm that the note had been passed on was to avoid any impression that the correspondence from the commission had been ignored. It is not unreasonable to assume the Holy See was open to responding to a further approach through formal diplomatic channels. Neither is it unreasonable to assume that when the papal nuncio received correspondence from the commission in February 2007 and earlier this year, both the present and previous papal nuncios believed the matter was more properly addressed by the diplomatic note. It would not be normal practice for a diplomatic mission to release papers to a body in its country of accreditation without an approach through the host Government.

It is regrettable that the failure to acknowledge either letter has given rise to the impression the Holy See was refusing to co-operate with the commission. The commission notes in its report that, as a body independent of the Government, it did not consider it appropriate to use diplomatic channels and that it was a matter for the commission itself. The approach by the Holy See was consistent with international law, according to which dealings between states should be conducted via the diplomatic channel unless other arrangements are made by mutual consent.

The commission and the Holy See, it appears, acted in good faith in this matter, even if the best outcome was not achieved. It may be that an approach to the Holy See through appropriate diplomatic channels could assist in following up on the commission's report. This is a matter that the Government can consider, if appropriate, in the context of its response to the report.

That reply confirms what the problem is and has been, that is, that senior figures in the Catholic Church failed and, in respect of the note, appear to fail now to grasp the urgency of what was at stake. What was at stake was the widespread abuse of children over a long period. Every time this arises, the outcome is similar. Parents and others who went to priests and bishops to say something was going on were blocked and frustrated. The tracks in the sand were being covered rather than investigated. The Taoiseach's reply, on diplomatic movements made at different times, appears to confirm this is the approach taken in the Vatican also.

We are to have a discussion later today on the Murphy report, which report follows the Ryan report and Ferns Report. There is an investigation ongoing in Cloyne. Will the remit of the Murphy commission be extended to consider other dioceses where issues have been raised about the abuse of children? The issue that must be addressed is the State's response. Does the Taoiseach believe it is acceptable that any bishop who has been criticised in the Murphy report over the failure to deal with the abuse of children should continue to be patron of schools that children attend?

This is a matter with which the Government can deal. Section 33 of the Education Act 1998 gives the Minister for Education and Science the power to make regulations governing the terms under which the patronage of schools may be issued. Could a regulation be made whereby any person criticised for failing to deal with issues of child protection, as identified recently in the Murphy report, would not be allowed to continue as patron of a school with overall responsibility for the school ethos, school governance and the appointment of boards of management and teachers? I do not understand how people who have been so roundly criticised for their failure to protect children can continue to be patrons of schools.

Regarding the first part of the question raised by Deputy Gilmore, I was simply setting out the position that these matters are dealt with in that way. A diplomatic note was sent to the Murphy commission but it was not followed up thereafter, which is unfortunate. Had the Department of Foreign Affairs or another Department been asked to pursue the issue, perhaps a solution to the problem could have been brought about or we would have been able to confirm the necessary information was made available. I make that point for the purposes of the factual situation, as outlined to me. The Director of Public Prosecutions acts in that way when dealing with outside bodies and other such agencies, so, using the diplomatic route is not unique to the current situation. I would like the commission to have any information it may seek.

On the other issue raised by the Deputy, namely, the patronage of schools, we have had discussions on it in terms of the evolving policy emerging as a result of different models of management and patronage which established themselves in Ireland over many years by different organisations which have been involved in education. It is true that in respect of Catholic schoolsex officio bishops of the diocese are patrons of the schools. The schools chose the patron, not the other way around. There is no executive function for patrons in respect of the management of schools. It is dealt with through codes of conduct, boards of management and so on.

In respect of any child protection or other issues which arise in schools, they are dealt with at board of management level. There is no executive role for a patron. There is a view that child protection services would be compromised in some way as a result of the current position. The patron has anex officio role, arising from the fact that the bishop of any diocese is the patron of the Catholic schools of the diocese.

I will not enter a discussion about who should be a bishop in any particular diocese. Arising from this report are issues as to whether a person continuing in ecclesiastic office is in the interests of the institution concerned, a matter which must be considered. We know one person is considering the situation and is talking to priests and other people.

My basic point is that there is no question of an executive role for patrons in schools. It is anex officio position which is historically held by bishops of dioceses, a situation which continues. While patronage of schools is an issue which is broadening, that is the situation as it currently stands.

The Taoiseach did not respond to the question I put to him on whether he would agree to have the remit of the Murphy commission extended to examine allegations in other dioceses, and I invite him to answer that part of the question.

In respect of his response about the patronage of schools, it comes as news to me that the patronage of our schools operates on such anex officio, almost honorary, basis, as described by the Taoiseach. In this country the bulk of our schools are denominationally controlled through the system of patronage, whereby schools in a diocese are placed under the patronage of the bishop in the diocese concerned. The bishop has a role in the appointment of a board of management and the chair of the board of management, and is the person who holds power in respect of the schools.

I agree that who should be a bishop in any diocese is not my business or that of the Taoiseach, but I respectfully suggest that it is the business of Government and the State to determine who should be patrons of schools which are funded by the taxpayer, supported by the State and to which the majority of children in this country go. I submit to the Taoiseach that anybody who has been criticised in the terms in which the Murphy report has criticised some bishops should not continue to be patrons of schools with the overall responsibility they have for schools.

Who is bishop in a diocese is a matter for the church and the individuals concerned, but who should be patrons of our schools is a matter for the State. It is time the State and Government asserted their authority in this area. It is something which can be done. It does not have to be dealt with under primary legislation. The Education Act 1998 is in place and provides that regulations can be made, setting down how patronage can operate. This is a test of whether we are learning anything from these reports or follow their logic, and whether the Government and the State will stand up to this kind of thing or we will continue with the kind of latter-day deference which gave rise to this problem in the first place.

It is time for the Government to stand up and say, "No". People who have been found to have neglected their duty and not to have followed up on complaints which were made about the serious abuse of children should not continue to be in powerful positions in respect of schools young children are attending.

I made the point to the Deputy that while the patron has overall responsibility for the ethos of the school, the implementation of child protection guidelines are primarily the responsibility of the board of management of each school. The Education Act 1998 makes no provision for the removal of a patron from a school. The Department of Education and Science has issued guidelines on child protection to schools since 1991 and for the past ten years all schools have been obliged to have child protection policies in place.

I am making the point that the Deputy is raising a more general policy issue, which relates to the open policy regarding the patronage of schools and who is involved in the boards of management of schools. A discussion took place in this House several months ago about the need for a forum to reflect the social change in our society and provide modern methods of governance in the future which will involve all stakeholders coming to the table to reflect the diversity in our society.

I have no problem with the policy development which has to take place regarding that. In terms of the current governance of our schools, there is anex officio reality that bishops of dioceses are patrons of Catholic schools. They have no executive role under our legislation——

They are on the boards.

——in terms of the child protection policies which apply in our schools. This issue has been raised in the context of the Murphy report. There is a wider policy context which I agree needs to be addressed and can be addressed by consultation, which is ongoing.

On the Murphy report, the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, has made it clear that we await the HSE audit in respect of the remaining dioceses and reserve the position of Government in respect of whether any of them require an investigation such as that carried out by the Murphy commission, as happened in the case of Cloyne, when it became clear that there wasprima facie evidence of a need to fully investigate the diocese as a result of what came to the attention of the HSE or the Minister’s office. The issue is clear, and we reserve our position and await the HSE audit so we can decide whether to take the matter further.