Report by Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin: Statements.

I call on the Taoiseach to make his statement under Standing Order 43.

The Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin was appointed in March 2006. Its report was published last week. It is a deeply upsetting document. At the outset, I want to say it is our duty as a society to confront and address the sexual abuse of children and to bring healing to those who have suffered the traumas of abuse. The greatest tribute we can pay to the courageous victims who brought to light these heinous acts is to redouble our efforts to ensure that this will not happen again.

The commission was appointed, not to detail cases of child abuse, but to report on how the church and State authorities handled a representative sample of allegations and suspicions involving such abuse, against clerics operating under the aegis of the archdiocese of Dublin over the period 1975-2004. In performing that task, the commission had necessarily to outline the child abuse allegations and suspicions in question, and they make shocking reading. As the commission says, it is abundantly clear that child sexual abuse by clerics was widespread throughout the period.

The commission drew together a representative sample of 46 priests from the 102 within its remit, out of the approximately 2,800 priests who served in Dublin during this period. It examined complaints against those 46 in respect of more than 320 children. Large and awful as that number is, the commission stresses that the true number is likely to be much greater: one priest admitted to abusing more than 100 children, another that he abused on a fortnightly basis for more than 25 years.

All of these children were persons entitled to dignity and respect. That was not how they were treated by the priests who abused them and the damage that was inflicted on them was not confined to the children: both the families they were born into, and the families that many of them subsequently managed to form for themselves, were also victims. The abuse did not stop there, for when victims found the courage to complain, what they had to say was not listened to and acted on, but ignored and covered up.

In a report of this nature, one does not look for heroes, but they are there: the victims who took their courage in their hands and came forward and made complaints. Many of them showed not only great courage but also great determination, patience and persistence, in what were clearly very difficult circumstances, in ensuring that their complaints were brought eventually to light. We owe them a very deep debt of gratitude for that, and also for their courageous cooperation with the commission. This report is their vindication.

The report makes two truly remarkable points about the motives of those who made complaints. When dealing with church authorities, the commission says the main concern of the complainants was the protection of other children: complainants almost invariably inquired about the whereabouts of the abuser and whether or not he had access to other children. The commission was also impressed by the extraordinary charity shown by complainants and their families towards offenders. It is very clear, the report says, that complainants frequently behaved in a much more Christian and charitable way than the church authorities did.

The responsibility for the abuse of children belongs to the evil men who did this. How men ordained for a ministry of love could have done such things to children is impossible to imagine. How they could have reconciled their consciences with their ministry is also impossible to imagine. What is no longer impossible to imagine is how they were able to continue to abuse and stay in their ministries for so long, because the commission has investigated that and has set it out for us in graphic detail.

I wish to put on the record of the House the Government's gratitude to the members of the commission and its staff for their thorough and painstaking work over more than three years and the clear and cogent way in which they presented what they found.

The detailed description in the report of how the diocesan authorities handled abuse allegations regarding the 46 priests makes deeply shocking reading. The absence of proper procedures and investigation, the failures of communication both internally in the archdiocese and between it and other church authorities, the lack of sharing of knowledge so that those examining allegations against individual priests would know of the totality of the allegations against them, the "don't ask, don't tell" culture, the non-application of the church's own canon law and the failure to report allegations to the Garda so that the criminal law could be applied, are all carefully detailed.

The whole shocking story can be summarised in a sentence, namely, the church failed to apply its own teaching and put children first. Alternatively, in the damning words of the commission:

the welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered in the early stages. Instead the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members — the priests.

The report raises very fundamental questions for the church. While the report acknowledges the contribution made by the archdiocese to the lives of our citizens, which should be acknowledged, the sins of omission and commission that the report found should be food for the most sombre reflection, especially in the context of Christmas, when the church celebrates the birth of its founder.

The fault for the cover-up lies primarily with the authorities in the diocese but there also were failings by agencies of the State. The statement issued by the Government on publication of the report already has stated, and as Taoiseach I repeat it formally in this House, that whatever the historical and societal reasons for this, the Government on behalf of the State apologises, without reservation or equivocation, for the failures by the agencies of the State in dealing with this issue.

The report makes a number of adverse findings against the Garda Síochána in about half a dozen cases both regarding inappropriate contacts between the Garda and the archdiocese and the fact that a number of very senior gardaí in past years clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit. There are also examples of gardaí actually reporting complaints to the archdiocese rather than investigating them and some of the Garda investigations that did take place were cursory.

However, the report was also impressed with the actions of some gardaí and the manner in which they investigated some individual cases. It makes the point that many of the complainants who gave evidence to the commission praised the professionalism they encountered in the specialist child sex abuse unit in Harcourt Square, Dublin. I am glad to acknowledge the work of those gardaí who acted correctly and professionally when allegations of abuse were brought to their attention.

Members will be aware that Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy issued a statement last week on publication of the report expressing his sorrow that, in some cases, individuals who sought assistance did not always receive the level of response or protection which any citizen in trouble is entitled to expect from the Garda Síochána. I welcome his statement and the commitment therein to ensuring that confidence in and the effectiveness of the investigation methods of the Garda Síochána are such that abusers cannot draw a cloak of fear and mistrust around their crimes.

The Commissioner outlined a number of initiatives being taken by the Garda in this area. These include the establishment of a crime-training faculty to train senior investigating officers, incident room managers and detectives; the training and appointment of specialist child interviewers throughout the country; the establishment and roll-out of dedicated child interview suites in each region; and the development and implementation of a youth and children strategy from 2009 to 2011. After pointing out that the Garda Síochána has the expertise and determination to investigate these despicable crimes and having assured victims that when they ask for Garda help they will get it, the Commissioner went on to appeal directly to victims and their families to contact the Garda and to report abuse. A dedicated telephone line has been established for this purpose. I repeat the Commissioner's appeal for anyone who has been abused, and their families, to contact the Garda and report the abuse as soon as possible.

The report finds no fault with current Garda handling of complaints and is quite complimentary about current Garda arrangements for handling such complaints. Nevertheless, after consulting with the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, intends to ask the Garda Inspectorate to review Garda handling of allegations of child sexual abuse to ensure that Ireland is in line with best international practice.

There also is the question of criminal liability arising from the response of church and State authorities to allegations of abuse outlined in the report. The Commissioner has asked an assistant commissioner to examine the report's findings relating to the handling of complaints and investigations and make recommendations to him. The Commissioner will then consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions as to what issues arise in the context of criminal liability.

The report also had comments to make about the HSE and its predecessors, the health boards, and about the legislative powers available for the protection of children against child abuse, including abuse by non-family members. Members will recall that after the publication of the Ryan report last May, the Government asked the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, to draw up a plan to implement its recommendations. The Minister of State announced that implementation plan, which involves some 99 actions to improve the delivery of children's services, in July and it is being put into action.

Exchange of soft information, that is, information which is available to authorities but where the person to whom the information relates has not been charged or convicted of a criminal offence, is a highly important aspect of child protection. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews's Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, in co-operation with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has commenced the process of preparing heads of a Bill in respect of the use of soft information and of consulting other Departments, the Garda Síochána and the HSE regarding the draft heads. At a cross-departmental level, it has been agreed that a single statutory agency should have responsibility for the management of all information, hard and soft, on child abuse in this jurisdiction.

The heads of the Bill on soft information that will be presented to the Government will include a proposal that the Garda vetting unit, based in Thurles, will be put on a statutory basis and that this statutory body will have responsibility for the management of all soft and hard information. The proposal envisages an agency led by the Garda with the HSE and other relevant bodies working alongside it, which will be similar in structure to the Criminal Assets Bureau, which has elements from the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social and Family Affairs co-located together under Garda leadership. The findings of the commission's report about collection and sharing of information will be taken fully into account in this process. The proposed legislation will need to have regard to the constitutional rights of persons, including the right to equality before the law, the right to a good name, the right to privacy and the right to earn a livelihood. It also must address the right to fair procedures and have regard to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In addition to this legislation, a revised edition of the Children First guidelines is to be published shortly and the guidelines will be promulgated throughout the public service. The Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is committed to the preparation of legislation to ensure that State employees and staff from key agencies in receipt of Exchequer funding and who are working with children will have a duty to comply with the Children First guidelines. The commission's report expresses concern about the statutory powers of the Health Service Executive to deal with child sexual abuse by non-family members. The Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is consulting further with the Office of the Attorney General to seek clarity in this regard.

However, in the wake of the publication of the Ferns Report in 2005, legal advice was sought from the Attorney General regarding the powers of health boards or the HSE as it now is, to investigate and deal with instances of child abuse perpetrated outside the family. The Attorney General was not of the view that the HSE's powers under section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 are limited to cases of intra-family abuse. The HSE has stated that it responds to all allegations of child sex abuse regardless of the circumstances of the allegation.

It is only fair to record that practices in the archdiocese of Dublin and in the Catholic church generally have moved on considerably from what is described in the report. However, Deputies will be aware that the HSE is conducting an ongoing audit of all Catholic church dioceses. The audit aims to ensure that the HSE is fully aware of all clerical child sex abuse known to the church, including the whereabouts of alleged perpetrators. The HSE issued a detailed questionnaire to all dioceses during the summer and has received completed replies from the bishop in each diocese. HSE child care managers are in the process of meeting individual bishops to clarify issues arising from the completed questionnaires. A full report from the HSE is expected imminently setting out the national findings. A similar audit process is also well under way with religious orders and the HSE will furnish a further report setting out those findings.

The commission's report has thrown an appalling light on the practices of the archdiocese of Dublin in the past in dealing with, or more truly, in covering up, allegations against priests of child sex abuse. The abuse, even in the sample examined, was perpetrated against a large number of children. Their sufferings, and the damage done to the families into which they were born and the families that many of them managed later to create for themselves, can be only imagined. The behaviour of the priests who abused them was corrupt and evil. The failure of the church authorities to follow their own teachings, put children first and act decisively against the perpetrators was deeply immoral, shameful and scandalous. The State too, despite courageous and appropriate action by individuals, was guilty of many failings.

There have been improvements in the practice of the archdiocese of Dublin, and of the Catholic church in Ireland generally, regarding the care of children and in dealing with allegations and reporting them to the civil authorities. The State is conducting an ongoing audit into the current practices of every diocese in Ireland and its findings will be published shortly. The State is also taking various other actions and preparing legislation to further improve the protection of children.

The shame and horror, however, of this report must remain in the minds of every cleric in the Catholic church, of every member of the church and of every citizen to ensure every one of us puts the protection of children where it should always have been and must be from now on — first.

I speak on the Murphy report as a citizen, a husband, a father and a Catholic. It is with a degree of pain that I will say what I have to about the conduct of the church of which I am a member. When someone reasonably famous dies, the easy comment to make on their passing is that it marks the end of an era. The publication of the Murphy report does too. It marks the end of an era of trust in the Catholic church as we knew it.

The Ferns Report was deeply disturbing but it left the hope that such assaults on the innocence of children had, perhaps, only happened in this area. The Ryan report was equally disturbing, particularly because of the graphic nature of its presentation. Even as we condemn the callous and uncaring cruelty of the religious into whose hands were delivered generation after generation of little children, we in this House knew the first most deadly trauma of being torn asunder from family, and everything familiar, to be incarcerated in a penal institution was delivered by the State in our name.

Now the Murphy report has been published and we are left in no doubt. The events it examined did not just happen 50 years ago but went right up into the years of this decade. The era when the officers of the Catholic church were revered, trusted, depended upon, even kowtowed to, ended last week with the publication of the Murphy report. Nothing will ever restore the church to its former position.

However, that is to speak of an institution. Sadness and loneliness and unearned shame do not happen to an institution. Instead, they are suffered by individuals. Individuals, like the priests all across the archdiocese of Dublin who, having always done their job to the highest standards, nevertheless had to turn to face a congregation this Sunday to read a pastoral letter aloud. I hope those men — and the men and women in congregations who were never abusive to children in their care — understand the public admires the courage and continued commitment of the good religious and good priests serving this nation.

Good religious have always stayed focused on human beings. The tragedy is the bishops who protected paedophile priests seem to have lost sight of their victims. They protected the system at the expense of the people. They managed the way Enron was managed, through doctoring the figures, concealing the reality and ignoring the consequences.

The Catholic church throughout the 20th century was run by men who were hugely powerful and influential. They chose to use their power and influence in ways that left thousands of the faithful lost, damaged, destroyed. They could not believe the accusations could be true of one of their own men. In the face of any complaint, they closed ranks repeatedly against children and their families. They protected their own because their own men mattered. The human beings accusing those men of filthy actions, immoral behaviour and of repeated rapes of children did not matter. It was "Us and Them"; the "Us" being those who have taken holy orders and were, therefore, better than "Them", the laity.

That elitism allowed the protection and promotion of men who should never have been allowed near the priesthood. It allowed officers of the church who were not themselves paedophiles to dismiss the allegations of children as the product of attention seeking. It allowed them to dismiss the complaints of parents as motivated by the desire for attention or money.

The archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, in his response to the Murphy report told a simple truth that must not be overlooked. He said when parents came with their stories of assault and intrusion, they came to make sure what had happened to their child never happened to another child. That is the truth — the Christian truth. Parents who could simply have gone to the Garda, instead went quietly to the church they loved in an effort to protect other children.

Their generosity and concern, however, was rejected. Their children were interrogated, as if they were involved in some bizarre plot to damage good men. The officers of the church who dealt with them seemed to have forgotten the gospels. Nowhere in the gospels does Christ dismiss a cry of pain or ignore a need. When his apostles tried to shoo children away from his presence, he stopped them and said, "Suffer the little children". Two thousand years later the very men who ran the church turned that philosophy on its head. By their actions, they said, "Let the little children suffer". And suffer they did. God love them, how they suffered and continue to suffer.

Child abuse is a trauma that never goes away, a wound that never heals. How could it? Imagine an eight year old assaulted by a clergyman. A family friend, who is trusted, respected and loved, suddenly is doing things the child does not or cannot understand. The trusted figure wraps these actions in both treats and threats. Treats like trips and sweets; threats like no one believing such stories with the child beaten for lying. We know abuse leaves a reflex of fear and dread and suspicion in abused children, so that every affectionate touch became suspect, every loving instinct within themselves corrupted and tainted. The men who violated children were clever, manipulative and charming people who frightened many children into silence.

Some, however, spoke up out of the confusion and shame. They spoke up and were believed by parents who acted with wisdom and compassion. They went to the church officials and told their story, only to find themselves dismissed, postponed, ignored, shunned and isolated. Their children were characterised as both wicked and untrustworthy. The officers of the church compounded the horrors visited on children by behaving as if those children were born liars out to do gratuitous damage to the priesthood. These were children who came of devout families who once had a fervent faith.

As we look at the appalling figures, we must never forget the unrepresented victims — the silent victims. For fear of being disbelieved, some never told. For fear of hurting their parents, others never told. For shame, because they thought, wrongly, they must be in some way to blame for the filthy thing being done to them, yet more never told. For every child who was immediately believed, how many were walloped and told not to be making up stories about a good man? For every child whose parents took immediate effective action, how many others were told to keep quiet and just keep clear of Father X?

The end result of this mismanagement is that men who abused were sent to another parish to new children to abuse. The officers of the church protected their own and freed men to do it all over again. They fooled themselves that it was an aberration. They convinced themselves that protection against being wrongly accused was more important than permanent, lifelong damage to children.

A recent newspaper report indicated that one man was wrongly accused. He stood aside from his ministry while investigations took place. We can all imagine the agony of that man, knowing people were canvassing among themselves the possibility that his hands might have violated the innocence of a child in the parish. We can imagine the misery of the man, on his own, exercising no priestly functions, with all the time in the world to consider what people might be thinking about him. The adage that a man is innocent until proven guilty is one that must leave a peculiar taste in the mouth of a man in that position. However, in that one case, the man was proven innocent. He went back to work. It was as simple, extraordinary and admirable as that. By vindication and courage he showed faith and trust in his own belief and in the future.

None of that courage, faith, and trust in people or the future was shown by countless officers of the church presented with evidence that children had been abused. Instead, what was shown was denial, evasion, irresponsibility and a dreadfully sophisticated word process. I was saddened as a citizen at one of the most shocking aspects of that word process, which took the form of a cardinal explaining to the commission, as if it was valid and acceptable, the concept of "mental reservation" which allowed him to mislead, not just victims, but the people of this country. By changing tenses and words here and there, a leading churchman with the lives and well-being of children in his care misled victims and media about paying for the defence of a priest who was a paedophile. How far the church has fallen is painfully illustrated by the fact that some people believe there was nothing wrong in what he did. Others did follow up each and every complaint with a passion. Those who did not look back at the records of complaint trailing men who had been convicted, failed in their duty of care to the children of the faithful. Those may be good men in all other respects — I have no doubt that many are — but as a Catholic and a father I cannot believe that any other virtues or competences outweigh the failure to prevent child rape.

Those children are grown up now and the scars are not readily evident. Yet, they carry them and will carry them for life. Their every relationship, every response will be influenced to a greater or lesser extent by what was done to them. It is no wonder they talk bitterly of churchmen making vague statements about regret for any pain or hurt suffered, when what victims want is that men who stood idly by, to coin a phrase, should now say and do something quite different. They want those men to say:

I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't believe you or ensure that you were believed. I'm sorry I didn't move heaven and earth when you came to us in trust and home. I'm sorry one of our men raped or groped you and in the process destroyed your innocence and childhood. I'm sorry that I concentrated on avoiding the giving of scandal as if the church's long term survival could be built on concealment of the truth and I am now prepared to resign and step down as a symbol of change. Let the law, both Canon and civil, take its course.

The obfuscation and self-protection of those who ignored the truth told by children will never be forgotten. It has irreparably damaged the Catholic church in this country and in the world. The tragedy is that some priests and bishops did more damage to the children and to the church than the initial offences could ever have done, because they forgot what their church stood for. They abandoned its values and stopped believing promises such as, "The truth will set you free". They applied sophistry and avoidance where honesty, trust, compassion and care were required.

Abused children grew up and grew old in secrecy and silence. They were the walking wounded, trying to make sense of a world out of which a priest had torn the trust, hope and innocence. The State has been rightly condemned for its role in harvesting children for religious institutions. Deputies Alan Shatter and Charles Flanagan will deal with the inadequacies of the State and its agencies. The State cannot gloss over the complicity of those who concealed, postponed and denied. It may well be, that with deliberate forgetfulness, enough evidence has been lost to ensure the safety of those who concealed and denied the pain of children. However, if action can be taken, let it be taken. Let that action be taken in the name of the church, in the wreckage of which the faithful now stand. Let it be taken in the name of the State that gave those who concealed prestige and power. Let it also be taken in the name of the generations of children who suffered and parents who watched them suffer.

I support the Taoiseach in giving priority to the legislative changes that are required to ensure that the State never allows anything such as that to happen again, and that we put in place structures and legal conditions as will be outlined by many Deputies. I have given my views about those who knowingly moved paedophile priests from parish to parish. The Murphy report is a sad litany of abuse following other sad litanies of abuse. There will be others in the future if further reports are done. It behoves us in this House to do what we can in a right and proper fashion to ensure that innocence and trust is not destroyed by the groping hands of predators on the innocence of young children. If we as legislators and elected representatives of the people fail in that duty then we will fail the generations to come. For our part, we will support the Government to give priority to legislation to deal with the issue in as comprehensive a fashion as is necessary and appropriate.

This is the second time within the space of a just a few months that we have come into the House to debate a report which outlines an appalling story of the abuse of young children; the second time within a few months that the public has been shocked to its core by what has emerged.

In the case of the Ryan report, it was a shocking and sordid saga of the systematic abuse and neglect of thousands of Irish children who were handed over by the State into the custody of religious orders over a period of more than three decades. In the case of the Murphy report, it is an equally shocking account of the systematic sexual abuse of young children in the archdiocese of Dublin and what was clearly a cold and calculated attempt to cover up offences, protect the abusers and leave children exposed to further danger and attack.

The uncovering of systematic abuse of children is a test as to whether the State has finally come of age and abandoned its decades-long practice of deference and subservience to authority. The real test for us in these situations is whether we, as a Parliament, and the Government, as the Executive authority in the country, are prepared to learn the appropriate lessons and to take steps, to the extent that this is possible, to ease the damage done to victims and to ensure that such abuses can never occur again.

It is true that the very act of commissioning a statutory report into the handling by church authorities of allegations and suspicions of child sexual abuse by clerics was a major milestone. That would have been inconceivable a generation ago, but it is not good enough to publish the report, express our collective shock and horror and then leave it at that.

When the Ryan report was published last July, I spoke about this culture of deference that had, for far too long, characterised the relationship between church and State. I also said that Judge Ryan's report had put paid, once and for all, to the illusions some might still have harboured that the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children could be explained away as the isolated actions of some abusive individuals. The overwhelming evidence of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was that abuse was the culture of these institutions, not the exception. The other fact laid so clearly before us by the Ryan report was how the wider Irish society colluded with the incarceration and abuse of children in religious institutions.

A blind eye was turned by all institutions of authority and by society at large. Again and again, the needs of the religious congregations which ran the institutions were put before the needs of the vulnerable children in their care, and not just by the congregations themselves. That deference to authority and the silence it engendered cost tens of thousands of children their childhoods and, for many, their chance to live a full and healthy life as adults. Judges Ryan and Murphy have ensured that we know now the full horror — the systematic terror and abuse — that characterised the lives of so many vulnerable children at the hands of those who were supposed to promote and protect their welfare.

We have a duty to make amends to these survivors. We know now what Judge Murphy and her colleagues have uncovered and we are grateful to them for their hard work for more than three years. The question is what we do with that knowledge and how we re-orient the structures of our State and our public services to ensure this can never happen again. The Murphy report makes grim reading. Its central finding is that it is abundantly clear that child sexual abuse by clerics in the Dublin Archdiocese was widespread from 1975 to 2004.

The Murphy commission considered and rejected the excuses offered by the church for its actions and inaction in response to this widespread criminal activity. The commission rejected the claim that archdiocesan officials lacked an appreciation of the phenomenon of clerical child sex abuse or its scale. It considered and rejected the claim that church authorities were "on a learning curve" about the matter. It pointed out that taking out insurance was an act proving knowledge of child sexual abuse as a potential major cost to the archdiocese. The commission considered the role of canon law and discovered that, rather than sheltering behind the rules of the church, the archdiocese had not even implemented its own canon law rules. The rules of the church had "fallen into disuse and disrespect".

The commission's conclusion is that the archdiocese's preoccupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church and the preservation of its assets. It states: "All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities." The reaction of church authorities to reports of clerical child sexual abuse was to ensure that as few people as possible knew of the individual priest's problem. There was little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child or for the welfare of other children who might come into contact with the priest. Complainants were met with denial, arrogance and cover-up, and with incompetence and incomprehension in some cases. Suspicions were rarely acted on.

The report also makes it clear there were very significant failures on the part of the State authorities. It is clear that Garda authorities, in particular, connived in this practice of cover-up. There were inappropriate contacts between the Garda and the archdiocese, and the relationship between some senior gardaí and some priests and bishops was inappropriate. A number of very senior members of the Garda clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit. Against that backdrop, particular credit is due to those gardaí, most of whom were lower rank, who did their duty without fear or favour.

It was not until November 1995 that Archbishop Connell allowed the names of 17 priests about whom the archdiocese had received complaints to be given to the Garda. However, even at that stage, the figure was not complete. At that time there was knowledge within the archdiocese of at least 28 priests against whom there had been complaints. In summary, there is no arguing with the conclusions of the Murphy commission that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin over much of the last quarter of the last century; that the State authorities facilitated the cover-up, by not ensuring that the law was applied equally to all and by allowing church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes; that the welfare of children, which should have been the first priority, was not even a factor to be considered; and that the focus was on the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the good name, status and assets of the institution and the priests. In particular, I welcome and endorse the commissioners' remarks:

In the mid 1990s, a light began to be shone on the scandal and the cover up. Gradually, the story has unfolded. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that no similar institutional immunity is ever allowed to occur again. This can be ensured only if all institutions are open to scrutiny and not accorded an exempted status by any organs of the State.

As public representatives and legislators we have a particular responsibility. It is not enough for us to identify and decry the wrongdoings of the past, especially the wrongdoings of others. This report, together with the earlier report of the Ryan commission and a number of other reports published over the years dealing with child protection and the lack of it, should set a Government and Oireachtas agenda for action. I will identify some examples.

First, the Murphy report points out that the HSE has only a very minor role in dealing with child sexual abuse by non-family members. It remarks that the HSE has given the impression to church authorities and the Garda that it can do more in the area than it actually has the power to do. The report says that the legislation governing the role of the HSE is inadequate, even for that limited role. Specifically, the Child Care Act 1991 does not sufficiently clarify the powers and duties of the health authorities. We must, therefore, legislate to clarify exactly what the role of the HSE is with regard to non-family abusers and to set out clearly the powers it has to implement that role.

In that regard, I note that the Government response to the Ryan report was published on 28 July. It contains 99 commitments, but only one of these is a commitment to law reform. That commitment, that public servants and employees of publicly funded bodies must adhere to the Children First guidelines, will have no impact on persons or bodies which do not receive public funds and which have authority over children. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, and the Government must re-examine their priorities on foot of the Murphy report and must strengthen the remit and powers of the HSE and other State agencies. Whatever else we have learned, we are all surely in agreement that the State has the primary responsibility for ensuring that children are protected from sexual abuse and that when abuse does take place it is properly investigated and appropriate action is taken.

Second, the legislation to deal with the exchange and use of "soft" information by regulatory bodies, as recommended by the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children in 2008, is clearly relevant and necessary. The legislation must be brought forward as a matter of urgency.

Third, shocking as the extent of the abuse that has been revealed is, I believe the organised cover-up will cause most anger. Innocent children continued to be exposed to the risk of serious sexual abuse. It is true that many of those who were involved directly in the abuse and in the cover-up are now dead and no longer amenable to the law. However, there is an obligation on the State authorities to make up for its previous failings by now ensuring that anyone still alive who was involved in the abuse or whose failures to act amounted to criminal offences are brought to justice at the earliest possible time.

Fourth, we must re-examine our criminal laws as they relate to cover-ups such as this. Do we have adequate legislation to punish those who withhold information about the commission of serious offences against children? We have laws that prohibit impeding the apprehension or prosecution of a person one knows or believes to have committed a serious offence. However, the offence is aimed at action rather than inaction. In other words, mere inaction or mere failure to disclose highly relevant information is not an offence. Since 2006, it is a crime to intentionally or recklessly endanger a child by causing or permitting any child to be placed or left in a situation of substantial risk. Again, however, that new offence does not relate to covering up an offence that has already been committed. If we believe that the cover-ups dealt with in the Murphy report should be prohibited, something more is required.

Under the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, a new offence of withholding information about serious offences was introduced. It applies to offences punishable by five years imprisonment or more. However, this applies to all offences that involve "loss of human life, serious personal injury, false imprisonment or serious loss of or damage to property or a serious risk of any such loss, injury, imprisonment or damage" except sexual offences. In other words, sexual offences are specifically excluded from its ambit, although all serious injuries to the person and serious damage to property are covered. As a result, it is an offence under emergency legislation for a teacher to fail to report to a garda his or her belief that a child was seriously assaulted in the home, but not if it was a sexual assault. We need to bring some clarity to this area.

Whether bishops implicated in the Murphy report resign from ecclesiastical positions is a matter for the church. However, whether any such bishop should remain as a patron of a school or otherwise continue in the management or supervision of education or health provision for children should most certainly be a matter for the State. Therefore, where a bishop has been directly implicated in the Murphy report, he should have no role as a school patron or a hospital board chairman.

Effective implementation of child welfare and protection policy in our schools, hospitals and other institutions must be the paramount consideration. The patrons and members of school boards of management and their equivalents in health agencies must be persons whose integrity, competence and suitability have not been called into question as a result of a public investigation like this. The State has a duty to ensure that this is so. It is the Government's job to take the necessary action to implement it.

I was disappointed with the Taoiseach's reply to me during Leaders' Questions when I put this point to him. The Government and the State can act on this issue. As the Taoiseach stated, we cannot declare who should be bishop in a particular diocese, but the State can determine who can be patrons of our schools. Under sections 10 and 11 of the Education Act 1998, it is a condition for the recognition of a school, thereby allowing it access to public funding, that the Minister is satisfied that the school complies with health, safety and building standards as are determined by law and any further such standards that are determined from time to time by him or her and that the patron agrees that the school should operate in accordance with any regulations by the Minister under section 33 of the Act and with any other terms and conditions as may reasonably be attached to recognition by the Minister.

Section 33 allows the Minister to make regulations relating to the recognition of schools and its withdrawal, but no such regulations have been made. I am calling for a ministerial regulation to the effect that, having regard to the need to ensure the effective implementation of child welfare and protection policy, the patron and members of the board of management of a recognised school must be persons whose integrity, competence or suitability have not, in the opinion of the Minister, been called into question as a result of any public investigation or inquiry authorised by law. This can be done now. The Government can determine that any bishop or person who has been found to have been negligent in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse and who has been criticised in the terms clearly set out in the Murphy report can and should be stood down as patron of a school.

I note the Murphy commission's satisfaction that there are now effective structures and procedures in operation in the Dublin archdiocese. In particular, the commission was satisfied that all complaints of clerical child sexual abuse made to the archdiocese and other church authorities are now reported to the Garda. While acknowledging that the current archdiocesan structures and procedures are working well, the commission was concerned that they were heavily dependent on the commitment and effectiveness of two people, the archbishop and the director of the Child Protection Service. It is for the State to develop, maintain, implement and enforce child protection and welfare guidelines that ensure all bodies, public and private, have embedded institutional structures that ensure an ongoing and effective commitment.

We must also consider the future of the Murphy commission itself. It already has further work to do. The Government has referred to it the report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland on the diocese of Cloyne. We now know the full extent of the shocking abuse that went on in the Dublin archdiocese. We know from the report published in 2005 that there was a similarly sorry and sordid story in the diocese of Ferns. We also know from the January 2009 report of the national board that there were serious problems in the diocese of Cloyne, which are now being examined by the Murphy commission.

If there were such extensive incidences of child abuse and systematic cover-up in three dioceses, how can we safely assume that there were not problems in other parts of the country? We cannot and we owe it to any victims of child abuse to bring out the truth, no matter how long it takes or who stands to be embarrassed by the findings.

The Murphy commission has done an exceptional job of work in examining the Dublin archdiocese. Notwithstanding the considerable additional burden that would be placed on the members of the commission, the Taoiseach should ask them if they would be willing to continue its work to cover other areas of the country and to make the appropriate order required.

I join the commission in paying special tribute to the complainants who gave evidence before it. I have no doubt that reliving their experiences was extremely painful. The commission itself states that it was left in no doubt about the devastating effect child sexual abuse can have not just on victims, but on their families of origin and the families they create subsequently. These witnesses were giving evidence not just on their own behalf, but as a public service. Their evidence was instrumental in helping the commission to examine properly the catalogue of secrecy, cover-up and inaction in which the church authorities indulged.

One lesson we must learn is that the vast majority of those who were abused as children complained when they were adults. In almost all cases, they said that they did not complain as children because they did not think they would be believed or because the abuser had told them not to tell anyone. We must never again rear a generation of children who are taught to kowtow to authority and to believe their complaints will not be taken seriously.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Tá aiféala orm go bhfuil orainn déileáil le tuairisc dá leithéid seo. Is trua mór é gur loic iad siúd a bhí i suíomh údarásach thar na blianta ar an dualgas a bhí acu. I roinnt cásanna, thugadar tacaíocht dóibh siúd a bhí ag baint mí-úsáide ghránna as páistí. Rinneadar neamhaird air, nó chabhraíodar leis an cover-up ar na coireanna i gcoinne na bpáistí.

The report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin exposes glaringly how the most powerful men in the Catholic church in the Dublin diocese conspired to protect abusers of children. Especially damning is the conclusion that the State authorities facilitated the cover-up and allowed the church to operate beyond the reach of normal law enforcement. Senior gardaí, up to and including the level of Commissioner, repeatedly turned a blind eye to crimes of clerical sexual abuse. They colluded in crime, in depraved sexual attacks and in an abuse of power and influence. They perverted the course of justice and protected the guilty. Like many others, I believe the paedophile priests and the bishops, archbishops and gardaí who protected them are culpable in the deaths by suicide of many abused children or later adults whose lives were destroyed by the paedophiles and their protectors. We are discussing children.

I am calling for an inquiry into each and every diocese. Child sexual abuse on the systematic scale of which we read in the harrowing report from Judge Yvonne Murphy was not just confined to the Dublin or Ferns dioceses, as we saw in the case of the harrowing Ferns Report. Rather, the abuse was widespread and visited on children in every diocese. Society owes it to those children it failed to protect in the past to expose the wrongs done to them and to ensure that every step is taken to pursue the perpetrators of abuse and those who failed, or purposely refused, to carry out their duties to protect children. These crimes must be investigated and the criminals prosecuted.

The Murphy report describes the gross betrayal of generations of children by powerful people in clerical and State authorities. It is a reminder of the truth of the saying that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The hierarchical, male-dominated structure of the Catholic church has given bishops almost absolute power in their own dioceses. This has been a recipe for disaster over many years, especially for any child who has been a victim of abuse by clerics. The report puts it in very clear terms:

The Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State.

The report makes it clear that bishops in Dublin ignored the church's own rules on abuse:

The authorities in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the religious orders who were dealing with complaints of child sexual abuse were all very well educated people. Many had qualifications in canon law and quite a few also had qualifications in civil law. This makes their claims of ignorance very difficult to accept. Child sexual abuse did not start in the 20th century.

The report strongly refutes the claim of the archdiocese and other church authorities that they were on a learning curve, prior to the late 1990s, in respect of the clerical abuse of children. This was a convenient date for such a claim because it was in 1994 that the extent of this abuse began to be realised by the public, when the Brendan Smyth case came to light. The learning curve claim is a lie because senior clerics as far back as Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in the 1950s, and almost certainly long before him, were well aware of these cases and were covering them up. This was a cover-up on a scale never before seen. The Murphy report shows the extent to which the perpetrators of child abuse and their masters were willing to go with the cover-up, the aim of which was "the protection of the reputation of the institution and the reputation of priests". Why should we believe this cover-up did not extend beyond Dublin? That it did extend beyond Dublin will be exposed by other reports of this nature, dealing with other dioceses.

Difficult questions must be asked about Church and General, which was the insurance company involved in this matter. What was the extent of its knowledge of the matter? Why were its files shredded? Will there be a Garda investigation into the role of this company? Will the Garda themselves be held accountable? The report tells us that a number of senior gardaí, including the Commissioner in 1960, regarded priests as outside the remit of the force. Essentially, gardaí bowed down to the hierarchy, at a terrible cost to those children whom the Garda, and the State in general, were supposed to protect. Anyone, including gardaí, who is found to be complicit in the cover-up of child sexual abuse must face the full rigours of the law.

The Government must take immediate steps in response to the Murphy report's finding that the existing legislation governing the role of the HSE in dealing with child sexual abuse is inadequate. There is a need to clarify that role. The report states that it is of great concern that "the HSE and the health boards have given the impression to Church authorities and the Gardaí that they can do more in the area than they actually have the power to do" and that "the health boards and the HSE do not properly record cases of clerical child sexual abuse". The Government must immediately rectify the major concern, as highlighted in the report, whereby "the Child Care Act 1991 does not sufficiently clarify the powers and duties of the health authorities".

The report states that over many years, there was little or no concern for the welfare of abused children or other children who might come into contact with abuser priests. All four archbishops in the period covered by the report — McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara and Connell — failed to report knowledge of child sexual abuse throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. As I read the disturbing accounts of abuse that are contained in the report, it galled me most that in many cases there was no sense of remorse, or of having done wrong. These abusers and their protectors lectured the public about morality and wrongdoing. These twisted perverts were given a signal by archbishops in Dublin over the years, in the form of the impunity or blind eye that was turned to the crime of raping children. The signal in question — carry on regardless — was given to all paedophiles in or out of the priesthood. It is shocking that the archdiocese took out insurance in 1987, such was the extent of its knowledge of child sexual abuse in the church and the potential financial cost of it. The report states:

The taking out of insurance was an act proving knowledge of child sexual abuse as a potential major cost to the Archdiocese and is inconsistent with the view that Archdiocesan officials were still 'on a learning curve' at a much later date, or were lacking in an appreciation of the phenomenon of clerical child sex abuse.

Like the Ryan report, this report must prompt the Government to act urgently to protect vulnerable children today.

The recent closure of the special care facility at Ballydowd raises major concern over child services in this State. This centre, which had been in existence for nine years, having cost €13 million to put in place, had to be closed because of its unsuitability for the troubled children who were held there. It is extremely worrying that the HSE presided over a facility that, as HIQA has said, did not have enough staff to run consistently and safely. How could this have been allowed to go on? The HIQA national children in care inspection report, which included a report on Ballydowd, is a severe indictment of the State's failure to protect children. It highlights serious deficits in standards aimed at safeguarding vulnerable children, including lapses in vetting procedures for staff and foster carers working with children. My party spokesperson on children, Deputy Ó Caoláin, and others have repeatedly raised these issues in questions to the Minister for Health and Children and at the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.

We also have the scandal of children going missing from State care. A recent report from the Ombudsman for Children revealed that 454 children went missing from State care between 2000 and 2008. The children in question are foreign nationals who are in Ireland without a guardian. In many cases, they were not reported missing to the Garda. Of the nine hostels inspected in the report, just two were registered and seven were found to be unsuitable, unsafe and unclean. Children in some hostels were left overnight with little or no adult supervision. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, and the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, who has direct responsibility, must explain in detail how, yet again, children have been let down in this way by the State. They must act with urgency to bring the care of vulnerable children up to standard or else we will have more Ryan and Murphy reports in years to come, only this time they will cover the present era.

The woefully inadequate state of our child protection services has been repeatedly exposed. There are insufficient numbers of social workers and other front-line workers and not enough support systems in place. The HSE knows of cases where children are in grave danger but services are not in place to make the interventions required. Sadly, the nightmare of child abuse is not a thing of the past. It happens every day. Most of this abuse takes place in the family home. If the necessary services are not in place the State today will be just as culpable as it was in the past when it conspired with the church to cover up the abuse of children.

A whole range of measures must be taken in the light of the Murphy report but also in light of the Ryan, Ferns and Monageer reports and the recent HIQA report I mentioned. These measures include the updating of legislation and clarification of the role of the HSE with regard to protection of child from abuse; a full 24-hour on-call social work service for vulnerable children and families; and the delivery of the promised referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution.

The State must address the need for truth and justice and recompense those abused in institutions, both residential and non-residential, not covered by the Ryan report, including Finglas Children's Centre, Scoil Ard Mhuire in Lusk, Trinity House, Trudder House and Madonna House, as well as the Magdalen laundries and institutions established after 1970. There must be a commission of investigation or other form of credible inquiry to investigate all matters relating to the conduct of Michael Shine in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. There must be implementation of the Ombudsman for Children's call for a child death review mechanism, in light of the deaths of at least 20 children in State care during the past decade, deaths which are now the subject of an internal HSE inquiry.

We have heard calls for the resignation of those bishops found culpable in the Murphy report. I support those calls. However, much more important is the need to reform the way our education system is managed. These bishops and others are so-called patrons of schools which are funded by the State. Many parents nowadays have their children baptised primarily to ensure that they can get into primary schools in their locality where Catholic church baptismal certificates are required. This is a disgrace in this age and in this State and highlights the need to complete the separation of church and State, especially in education.

The State pays for education through capitation grants, teachers' salaries and other funding but the vast majority of primary and secondary schools are not under democratic control. They are predominantly under the patronage of Catholic bishops and in the ownership of the Catholic church. This is a legacy of the era of Catholic church power and control that allowed the abuse highlighted in this harrowing report to happen. We must move to a democratically controlled education system that is truly representative of the community and respectful of the rights of people of all religions and none, a system that is truly totally child-centred.

I return to some aspects of the report. The report is available publicly but it is a pity we do not have the opportunity to transfer the full report into the record to show the world the full extent of the disgraceful carry-on that happened in this city. I do not refer to the actions of the perpetrators because words fail me with regard to the abuse, pervertedness and shame they brought on their church but to the failure of the State authorities and the bosses of the paedophile priests, the bishops and archbishops to protect children. Children are supposed to be key to the Catholic church and this State but the institutions of the State and the church let them down at every turn. This is a report about Dublin. What about the reports to come from other dioceses? That must be investigated.

When we dealt with the Morris report into Garda corruption in County Donegal, I stated that a report into the abuse of power by the Garda Síochána was needed, not only in County Donegal but in other Garda divisions. The same situation is replicated here. I believe the systematic abuse of children by paedophile priests did not confine itself to Ferns, to these institutions or to Dublin but happened in every diocese. That fact can be reflected when people read this report and remember the priests who were moved out of Dublin.

In the minute remaining to me, I shall deal briefly with the section on the Garda. The report states:

There were a number of inappropriate contacts between the Gardaí and the Archdiocese. Clearly the handing over of the Fr Edmondus case to Archbishop McQuaid by Commissioner Costigan was totally inappropriate. The relationship between some senior Gardaí and some priests and bishops was also inappropriate — in particular, in the Fr Carney and Fr [blank] — cases.

A number of very senior members of the Gardaí, including the Commissioner in 1960, clearly regarded priests as being outside their remit. There are some examples of Gardaí actually reporting complaints to the Archdiocese instead of investigating them.

These gardaí were supposed to be officers of this State but they clearly and totally failed their duties in that regard. If any of them are still alive we must ensure they are charged with that and perhaps stripped of any pension or other rights that went with that period. They failed absolutely the children in their care.

I do not have enough time to continue but I thank Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy for this detailed report. It is harrowing but should be read by anyone who is involved in child services in any shape or form.

I already spoke publicly of the anger and revulsion with which I read the commission's report. There is no doubt that these and other emotions are shared by all members of this House. However, anger and revulsion do not beget justice. In recent days we have seen an understandable drive for some gesture, word or act to express our collective disgust and feelings of collective failure that Irish children, our neighbours, friends and families suffered silently amongst us, as we went about our daily lives.

However, we must remain focused and clear-headed. The painful fact is that there is no possible single act of purgation with which we can turn the clock back and wholly erase these failures or heal the pain. What is possible and meaningful is to ensure that the guilty are punished, that our criminal justice system acts without fear or favour and that those evil men who raped and assaulted children in this State face justice meted out by the State and its people. This justice must be blind to position, power or clerical rank and know innocence or guilt only as defined by the people and as set down by their Oireachtas in the laws of the Republic of Ireland.

I can assure the House today that it is clear from my contacts with the Garda Commissioner that neither he nor his force will rest until everything possible is done to make sure the perpetrators of this awful abuse pay for their crimes. Those who have not yet been brought to justice for these crimes should spend every day of the rest of their lives realising there is no hiding place for them and that justice, even where it may have been delayed, will not be denied. As the report makes clear, a number of the perpetrators have already been brought to justice, proceedings are pending against others and a number of investigations are ongoing.

It was because a number of cases are the subject of proceedings that it was necessary for me, in accordance with the provision of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, to make an application to the High Court for directions as to the publication of parts of this report. The House will be aware that, in the circumstances, Mr. Justice Gilligan ordered certain redactions.

When the report was published, I said there must be people with some memory or fact that could help bring the perpetrators to justice. I appealed for those people to come forward. Of course none of us would blame people for wanting to put the dreadful brutality they suffered in their childhoods behind them. The report is a testament to the courage of many victims of abuse who did come forward and, irrespective of how painful it was for them, told their stories to the commission. While I realise what I am asking is not easy, I emphasise that anyone who comes forward will have what he or she says investigated fully and will be treated with great sensitivity.

Any information, particularly new information, can make a difference. I am told by the Garda that the special contact line it set up after the Ryan report was published has resulted in about 60 cases being actively investigated. Many of those cases will result in files being forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It may be helpful for Members to place on the record of the House the special contact arrangements that the Garda has made following the publication last Thursday of the commission's report. The special telephone number is (01) 6663066. People can write to the office of the Assistant Commissioner, National Support Services, Harcourt Square, Dublin 2, marking their envelopes "Dublin Archdiocese Report".

Beyond the question of dealing with individual perpetrators of sexual abuse, there is the wider question of criminal liability for the way abuse allegations were handled. The Garda Commissioner has appointed Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahoney to examine specifically the findings of the report relating to the handling of complaints and investigations by both church and State authorities. The Assistant Commissioner has been tasked with carrying out such investigations and inquiries as he deems appropriate and to make a report to the Commissioner with his recommendations. The Garda Commissioner will then consult the Director of Public Prosecutions as to what issues arise in the context of criminal liability.

It would be a disservice to the victims to pretend that pursuing criminal liability in regard to the handling of the cases of abuse is straightforward. At times, some actions are profoundly morally wrong but not of themselves criminal acts. The law as it stands — particularly the offence of endangerment in the Criminal Justice Act 2006 — is stronger than it used to be but cannot be applied retrospectively. The standards of proof involved in a criminal trial are, quite rightly, high. Many of the difficulties involved are identified in the commission's report. However, the victims are entitled to expect that the issue of criminal liability on the part of anyone in authority in the church or State in the handling of these cases will be pursued fully and rigorously. That is exactly what will happen. Assistant Commissioner O'Mahoney and his team will have the full investigative powers of the Garda Síochána in carrying out this examination. They will pursue their inquiries, without fear or favour, wherever they lead.

The commission's report finds that, in some cases, An Garda Síochána did not appropriately pursue allegations made known to it. My profound regret that this should have been the case is shared by the Garda Commissioner, who has apologised for those failings, as has the Government, without reservation or equivocation. In the half dozen or so instances where Garda handling of cases is criticised in the report, a common theme is that deference to the church brought about circumstances in which individual gardaí treated members of the church as if they were beyond the reach of the law. Perhaps in the times in question, gardaí were not unique in showing such deference. However, it is not, and never has been, acceptable for institutions to behave as if above the law of the State, or for them to be treated as such. This is a republic with a sovereign people and no institution, agency or church can be immune from that fact.

In fairness to members of An Garda Síochána, it is only right to point out that the commission makes no criticism of current arrangement for investigating allegations. Reflecting the comments of victims, the commission is quite complimentary about the current arrangements. It points out that, even in former times, a number of gardaí pursued these cases without fear or favour.

I pay tribute to the professionalism and sensitivity of individual members of An Garda Síochána, as reflected in the commission's positive remarks. There are, however, no grounds for complacency. Both the Garda Commissioner and I accept that, in this constantly evolving area of law enforcement, it is necessary to review our approaches continuously to ensure that the highest standards and best international practice are adhered to. It is against that background, and having consulted the Commissioner, that I have asked the Garda inspectorate to review arrangements for Garda handling of complaints of sexual abuse against children.

I do not believe anyone for one moment doubts the commitment of the Garda Commissioner and his force to pursue allegations of the kind in question with determination and professionalism. It is worth noting that the accountability arrangements for An Garda Síochána have been transformed and modernised by the Garda Síochána Act 2005 from the arrangements that were in place during the period covered by the report.

I pay tribute to the commission for the valuable work it has done. I welcome the fact that there was agreement on all sides to discuss the report here today. There are hard and bitter lessons to be learned from the report. As legislators and public representatives, we cannot flinch from the heart of darkness at its core. All sides of this House are determined to do all they can to consign those evil days to a past which must be accounted for. It is a past for which those involved must take responsibility and face the consequences of their actions. Above all, it must never be repeated.

Sadly, for most of the past 90 years, we have lived in ade facto theocracy in which elected public representatives and senior public servants sought to enforce the agenda of the main church with secondary regard for the people of this republic. Deference and subservience to church authority appeared to be the order of the day, in spite of the fact that our Constitution purported to vest sovereignty in the people alone.

The Murphy report confirms that State authorities, including the Garda, facilitated the cover-up of child abuse by members of the clergy by failing to fulfil their responsibility to ensure that the law was applied equally to all. The report states senior members of the Garda regarded priests as outside their remit, with some members reporting complaints to the archdiocese instead of investigating them in any coherent and proper way. It reveals that senior gardaí had inappropriate dealings with bishops, breached their duties and allowed one priest suspected of sexual abuse to leave the country without bringing criminal charges. The report infers that there was one law for the clergy and another for the people. The inference of the perversion of the course of justice is clear.

What happens next in our courts, as legislators, will confirm whether this culture has truly changed in practice or whether public servants, be they politicians, civil servants or public servants such as gardaí, will continue to allow their personal religious beliefs to supersede law of the land, with devastating consequences.

This week, the Garda Commissioner announced he has ordered an investigation into the findings of the Murphy report. It is vital that this investigation be more than just a paper exercise. We need to see prosecutions. If it takes an Act of the Oireachtas to overcome difficulties impeding prosecutions, we must enact it.

The very existence of the Murphy report affirms that we have made some progress in putting the good of the people ahead of the good of the institution of the Catholic church; however, there is no shortage of evidence that an unbalanced church-State relationship persists in this jurisdiction. A clear example of the inappropriate championing of church interests by the State is the indemnity deal agreed by the then Minister for Education and Science, the Secretary General of his Department and representatives of the religious orders regarding child sexual abuse and the setting up of the redress board.

The indemnity deal is a glaring example, but more subtle examples exist. It has emerged that there may be difficulties in prosecuting senior clerics and gardaí for their involvement in the cover-up of child sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese. Legal experts have pointed to the failure of a previous Garda investigation to mount a case against church officials for failing to report serious crime.

The investigation prompted by the 2002 "Prime Time" documentary on clerical child sex abuse sought evidence to support charges of misprision of a felony. Ms Justice Murphy states in her report "In all the circumstances, it is considered by the commission that the misprision of felony investigations were carried out more for the sake of completeness than from any substantial belief that there would ever be such a prosecution".

She further notes that difficulties have arisen due to the abolition of the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanour in 1997. The comments of Judge Murphy suggest that the previous Garda investigation was little more than an exercise in paper writing, perhaps borne out of a desire to soothe an enraged public rather than bring criminals to justice.

There is a gap in the Statute Book which impedes the criminal prosecution of State officials and clergy who covered up child abuse which should be addressed. We have heard references to amending the 1998 Offences Against the State Act which should happen as a prerequisite to dealing with the broader issues involved. As a House, we were able to change the statute of limitations to facilitate prosecutions for child abuse. Surely there is something we can do now to deliver justice to victims of child sex abuse.

It is abundantly clear that many politicians and senior public servants continue to have blind obedience to the Catholic Church with their fidelity to the State coming a poor second. What is also clear is the contempt in which the Church holds secular State authorities.

We now know that the Murphy commission wrote to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2006 seeking information on reports of clerical sex abuse sent to it by the Dublin archdiocese over the relevant 30-year period. It also sought information on the document Crimen Sollicitationis which deals with clerical sex abuse. It did not receive a reply. Instead, the Vatican contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs complaining that the commission had not used appropriate diplomatic channels.

A year later the commission wrote to the papal nuncio in Dublin requesting that he forward all relevant documents that had not been or were not produced by Archbishop Martin. The papal nuncio was also asked to confirm if he was in possession of relevant documents. He simply ignored the commission and continued to ignore it when earlier this year it sent him extracts for its draft document which referred to him and his office. Dr. Leanza, the current papal nuncio, has cited diplomatic protocol as the reason he and the Vatican authorities ignored a State appointed commission headed by a judge of this jurisdiction. This contemptuous response can only be taken to be a tangible example of the contempt in which the Vatican continues to hold the secular authorities of this State.

It is worth noting that in June 2001 Pope Benedict, the then Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote to every diocesan bishop instructing them to refer complaints of clerical child sex abuse to Rome in the first instance so that the Vatican could decide how such complaints would be dealt with. Therefore, we know that the present pope is a keen advocate, or was at the time, of the view that Vatican authority is superior to State authority in a country like Ireland where State law takes precedence.

Since the publication of the Murphy report we have heard apologies from senior clergy in Ireland but what action have we seen? We have been warned, as recently as today, not to seek "a head on a plate". In effect, that is another way of asking for an exemption from accountability. The dialogue may have changed in Ireland but has the culture changed?

There is little proof that the Catholic Church truly believes that civil law is superior to Canon Law and while senior figures such as politicians and public servants continue to be members of secret Catholic organisations, the State will always come second best and civil law will always be undermined. What is the legacy of putting Vatican interests ahead of the interests of the people of Ireland? We know it is abuse and oppression. The Murphy report says it all.

As an elected public representative, it does not matter one whit to me which bishops resign, and where and when it happens. That is a matter for them and the church. However, there are civil consequences which are important. Where bishops and priests are church patrons of hospitals and schools, and are members of their boards, they should be subject to civil consequences for their actions. It is time to shake off the legacy of subservience. It is time for the State to assert itself. It is now abundantly clear that morality is not merely a religious concept. Our State laws, in effect, are moral. In theory they are superior to canon law and the wishes of the senior clergy, but we must ensure at all times that they are also superior in practice.

I compliment Judge Murphy and the commission. However, the best tribute we can give to the judge and her team is to act on the report to ensure there will not be a repetition of what is contained in the 700 pages of the Murphy commission report.

The Ryan report and the Murphy commission have set out a litany of abuse, evil, crimes and omissions which have caused and will cause Ireland to have to rewrite its social and political history. In that sense, they have done a great service to our country and society in terms of knowing the facts. I share with my colleagues on both sides of the House an abhorrence and disgust at the crimes and crimes of omission outlined in the report. They have been well ventilated by my colleagues.

While the impact does not diminish with repetition, I refer to one issue in the short time which is available to me this evening before the debate resumes on Thursday. It is a matter to which the Taoiseach referred in his comments. Yesterday I met the new assistant national director of the HSE with responsibility for children and family services to discuss the progress and scope of the HSE's audit of child protection practices within Catholic diocese and religious orders. The audit, as currently designed, will be finalised by 22 December 2009 in respect of the dioceses. It is hoped that the audit of religious orders may also be completed by that date. A number of dioceses have asked to re-submit their questionnaire responses and the requests have been assented to, which will of necessity entail a delay in the process.

The returns have been submitted and child care managers who have undertaken the task of engaging with the dioceses are finalising their work which involves face-to-face interviews with each diocese. The assistant national director to which I referred, who was commended by Judge Yvonne Murphy for the way in which he carried out his previous role as director of child protection in the Archdiocese of Dublin, has suggested that to verify the data provided, additional information will be required from the HSE in respect of each diocese.

He has recommended that, in addition to the statistical information already supplied, the HSE's child care managers should request from the relevant ordinary, that is, the diocesan bishops and provincials of each religious order, the names of the complainant and the person against whom the complaint was made in respect of each allegation referenced in the audit return, the name and location of where the matter was reported to the HSE and the Garda Síochána and the date the report was made.

The child care manager will then arrange that each file is checked internally in the HSE to ensure the matter has been dealt with appropriately by the State and each diocese in question. A member of the national children and family social services team in the HSE will then liaise with the Garda Síochána to ensure receipt of all the allegations, as referenced in the audit. The collation of this additional information will, according the assistant national director, allow the HSE to submit to me a more detailed and comprehensive report.

I fully agree with this proposal and notified my support for this approach to the HSE this morning. It will write to each bishop requesting the additional information. The national audit has been criticised as a statistical exercise which is of little, if any, use. However, it should be remembered that the need for such an audit arose out of the recommendations in the Ferns Report.