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

The Murphy report concludes with the telling words of Mrs. Marie Collins. Mrs. Collins told the commission she no longer trusts her church. Judge Murphy wrote:

After years spent trying to get her church to deal openly and truthfully with the challenge posed to it by the scandal of child sexual abuse she has concluded that within the institutional church there has been no change of heart, only a change of strategy.

This is a view shaped by experience and pain and the opinion is damning. Marie Collins lays down a challenge to the Catholic Church in Ireland. Confidence in the institution is at a low ebb. The church must prove that its child protection procedures and practices are robust and stand up to scrutiny.

I spoke on Tuesday night about the steps being taken to deepen the Health Service Executive's audit of dioceses. I do not propose to retrace that ground but simply to state we are determined to ensure the Catholic Church today is reporting allegations of sexual abuse to the Health Service Executive and the Garda Síochána. As the Taoiseach said in the Dáil on Tuesday, the Government will await the outcome of the audit before making a judgment on whether to extend the terms of reference of the Dublin commission to take in further dioceses.

The Catholic clergy for much of the 20th century enjoyed an elevated position in society. Many did not ask to be put on pedestals but, as has been remarked many times over the past week, such was the sense of undue deference that many members of the Catholic clergy were given a special status in society. At a time of poor educational attainment, the priest was set apart and was looked to for guidance and leadership in local communities. There was a dependence on the local priest.

I noted a letter in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 1 December which stated:

Madam, — Looking on your map at the locations in Dublin of the child abusing priests, it was hard not to notice they are a virtual roll-call of working-class communities: Ballyfermot, Crumlin, Cabra, Ballybrack, Coolock, East Wall, Ringsend ... Can someone explain this pattern?

I am not sure if there is substance to the suggestion that clerical sex abusers were shunted from, in the words of the letter writer, one working class community to another. However, if this were the case, it is a particularly callous and cynical approach to the handling of allegations of abuse. Is it coincidental that the children who were abused in residential institutions, so graphically detailed in the Ryan report, came from the poorer and most disadvantaged sections of society? It is a question worth considering.

Last Thursday was a watershed for victims. It was day when their accounts were read and finally believed. There was vindication, but unfortunately at a heavy personal cost. Many lives were destroyed in the time it took people to face up to the truth of what was happening in communities across Dublin. The road to publication of the Murphy report was dark and winding. I hope and trust it was a journey worth taking.

The legislative framework that covers sexual abuse and child protection has attracted comment over recent days. Judge Murphy rightly criticised the failure of successive Governments to put in place comprehensive child protection legislation. That is a criticism all sides of this House must acknowledge.

Like the Ferns Report in 2005, the Dublin report expresses concern about the statutory powers of the Health Service Executive to deal with child sexual abuse by non-family members. Some have pointed to this as a stumbling block in reporting sexual abuse which I do not accept. In the wake of the publication of the Ferns Report, legal advice was sought from the Attorney General on the powers of former Health Boards and the Health Service Executive to investigate and deal with instances of child abuse perpetrated outside the family.

The Attorney General was not of the view that the Health Service Executive's powers under section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 were limited to cases of intra-family abuse. The Health Service Executive has stated it responds to all allegations of child sex abuse regardless of the circumstances of the allegation. However, I have undertaken to clarify this point further, following the findings of the Murphy report.

It should be remembered that dating back to 1998, with the enactment of the Protections For Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act, there has been legal protection for anyone reporting sexual abuse. The perceived absence or gap in current child protection legislation should not be used to explain away failures to report sexual abuse. There is an onus and responsibility on all members of society to do so.

In addition, section 176 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 introduced the criminal charge of reckless endangerment of children. It states:

A person, having authority or control over a child or abuser, who intentionally or recklessly endangers a child by—

(a) causing or permitting any child to be placed or left in a situation which creates a substantial risk to the child of being a victim of serious harm or sexual abuse, or

(b) failing to take reasonable steps to protect a child from such a risk while knowing that the child is in such a situation,

is guilty of an offence.

This is a serious charge. Although it cannot be used retrospectively, it is a potentially powerful provision in tackling those who attempt to hide sexual abuse.

There is an undoubted gap in legislation dealing with the sharing of sensitive information between statutory agencies. The establishment of an interagency review group in the diocese of Ferns was crucial in bringing the Health Service Executive, the Garda Síochána and church authorities together, which in turn greatly assisted the Ferns investigation. It was recommended such an inter-agency review group be established in each diocese.

It quickly became apparent, however, that in the absence of legislation covering soft information, such meetings could not proceed. It was assumed a constitutional referendum would be required before such legislation could be introduced. A provision on soft information, therefore, formed part of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2007. The Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, chaired by Deputy O'Rourke, was established to deepen political consensus on the wording contained in the referendum Bill. The committee's first interim report recommended a referendum was not required. The Government, in accepting this report, has commenced initial work on the legislation.

At a cross-departmental level, it has been agreed 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 a Bill on soft information that I will present to the Government will include a proposal that the Garda vetting unit, based in Thurles, will be put on a statutory basis with responsibility for the management of all soft and hard information. What is envisaged is an agency led by the Garda with the Health Service Executive and any other relevant body working alongside it similar in structure to the Criminal Assets Bureau which has Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social and Family Affairs co-located together under Garda leadership.

Each and every chapter of the Ferns, Ryan and the Murphy reports are littered with attacks on children and childhoods. Lives were left ruined but amidst all the suffering there was great courage which I wish to acknowledge this morning.

Those in a position of authority in the Catholic Church and those who perpetrated the appalling abuse graphically described in the Murphy commission report deserve our condemnation. It is right we react with horror to these revelations. It is also essential the Garda does everything possible to achieve justice for the victims of abuse. There must be no impunity for the perpetrators of abuse or for those who covered up and facilitated abuse by moving abusive priests from one parish to another. The Government must also take seriously calls for the Murphy commission to investigate other dioceses in addition to the Cloyne diocese.

We should also remember the Catholic Church authorities exercise their mandate throughout the whole island of Ireland. No redress board has been established to pay compensation to victims of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland nor has a commission been established to investigate allegations of child abuse by priests there. There is no reason to believe that clerical sexual abuse stopped at the Border.

I am calling on the Government to engage directly in discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and with Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, to seek the creation of structures to address allegations of clerical and institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. We have an interest in this State to ensure justice is done for all who lived on this island. Deputy Ó Snodaigh of Sinn Féin on Tuesday was remarkably silent on this issue.

The Murphy commission report not only documents the failings of the church but also the failings of the State and its agencies. The Murphy commission records that it wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome in September 2006 seeking important information but received no reply. It further records the congregation contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs stating the commission had not gone through appropriate diplomatic channels. It did so, I understand, in March 2007, some six months after the Murphy commission wrote to it. The Taoiseach told the House on Tuesday this response was furnished to the Murphy commission. It appears there was no further communication involving the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The commission also reports that it wrote to the Papal Nuncio twice. He has explained his failure to reply on the basis he was only appointed to Ireland in April 2008 and had no information he could give to the commission. Surprisingly, the Taoiseach in the House on Tuesday excused the conduct of both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Papal Nuncio. He was defending the indefensible. By his words he was not, as Taoiseach of this Republic, acting in the interests of our people but displaying in this House the undue deference to those in church authority which has been justifiably criticised in recent days.

It is a scandal the congregation and the Vatican relied on diplomatic protocol to avoid providing information to the Murphy commission. In his convoluted defence of what occurred, the Taoiseach did not adequately explain why the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, failed to follow up the letter received by his Department and ensure that the Murphy commission received the information and documentation it was seeking. The only conclusion that can be reached is that this failure to act was another example of undue deference being shown to Rome by an Irish Government Minister.

Protocol, whether real or imagined, was given greater priority by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith than was the welfare of children. With regard to the Papal Nuncio, no issue of protocol prevented his responding to the Murphy commission by letter, even as a matter of courtesy. If he personally had no documentation or information to furnish, he could have said so. He could also have facilitated the work of the commission by asking his predecessor what assistance he could give to it. That the Taoiseach should defend the Papal Nuncio's failures in this context is beyond comprehension.

The Papal Nuncio is the Vatican's ambassador to this State. I believe he and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith should be invited to a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children to address the issues raised by the Murphy commission and that the committee should explore what can be done to ensure his and the Vatican's full co-operation with the commission in the current investigation into the diocese of Cloyne and in any future investigations in other dioceses. I hope the Papal Nuncio, who is after all regarded by this State as head of the diplomatic corps and essentially primus inter pares, will co-operate. In most countries that do not have a special relationship with the Vatican, the head of the diplomatic corps is normally the longest serving ambassador. This should be the position in this Republic. If the age of undue deference is truly over, the Papal Nuncio should not be treated with any more or less respect than the ambassadors of other States with whom we have diplomatic relations.

In a speech he delivered on the steps of Government buildings on the day the Murphy commission report was published, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, surfing the wave of justifiable public outrage, cynically presented himself in heroic guise criticising church authorities and the priests who preyed on young children. He stated:

It is not now — nor has it ever been — acceptable that institutions behave or are treated as above the law of the State. This is a Republic — the people are sovereign — and no institution, no agency, no church can be immune from that fact.

This would have been impressive were it not coming from a Minister whose Fianna Fáil Party has been in Government for 20 of the past 22 years and which is responsible for our current seriously dysfunctional and chaotic child protection system. The scandalous culture of secrecy, cover-up and absence of accountability for which the Roman Catholic Church is justifiably criticised is endemic in the State's child protection services.

David Foley was 14 years old when, in 2002, he arrived at Dublin's Pearse Street Garda station reporting trouble at home and seeking help. Instead of getting the care he needed, he ended up in an emergency care hostel as part of an out-of-hours service. On 10 September 2005, almost three years after he entered the care system, David Foley, then 17 years of age, was found dead from a drug overdose in an apartment in Dublin's inner city. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, then Minister of State with responsibility for children, asked the HSE to conduct an internal inquiry into the care provided to David Foley. It is believed that a report of that inquiry was furnished to the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, in December 2008. Despite numerous promises made by him, the report remains unpublished and secret.

Tracy Fay was placed in the care of the State when she was aged 14 years. A series of recommendations for her to be professionally assessed were not properly implemented and she went through a series of chaotic emergency care placements. In January 2002, four years after being admitted to care, she died of a drug overdose. Despite serial promises, the completed internal HSE report into her death remains unpublished and secret.

In September 2006, Melissa Mahon, aged 14, was killed by Ronnie Dunbar, a prolific known paedophile. Melissa was the child of Freddie and Mary Mahon, three of whose daughters were taken into care in the United Kingdom before they moved to Ireland. Melissa had made allegations of sexual abuse against both her parents. I am informed that British social services informed the HSE of their concerns about the Mahon family. At the time of her death, Melissa was supposed to be in the care of the HSE. Following Ronnie Dunbar's conviction and life sentence in July last, I called for an independent review into the HSE's dealings with Melissa Mahon and the Mahon family. I do not know whether such review is taking place or if any report ultimately will be published.

On 4 August 2009, Danny Talbot, aged 19 years, died. He and his family were utterly failed by the HSE and our children's services. On 6 October last, only a few weeks ago, when meeting with family members seeking an inquiry, the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, promised to revert to them within three weeks. To date, they have not heard from him.

It is entirely unacceptable that no automatic independent investigation is triggered when a child in care or reported to be at risk dies. How can we ensure that children are, in so far as is possible, protected in the future when there is no accountability or transparent system for learning from the tragic deaths of such children who have been utterly failed by the State? On behalf of Fine Gael, I am again calling on the Minister of State with responsibility for children to publish in full all existing reports into the deaths of children in care, to guarantee that a proper independent and transparent investigation will take place into the circumstances surrounding the death of any child reported as at risk or who dies while in the care of the State or shortly thereafter and that the resulting reports be made public.

The Deputy has one minute remaining.

The Ferns report in 2005, the national review of compliance with the Children First child protection guidelines in July 2008 and the Ryan commission report all detail the inadequacies of our child care laws and services. In July last, the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, published an implementation plan to address many of the inadequacies documented. While much of what is contained in the plan is praiseworthy, the problem is that the legislation required is not being prioritised and the inadequacies in our child protection services are not being addressed quickly enough. Children who deserve better continue to be at risk.

The Government must immediately prioritise the legislation required to put our child protection guidelines on a statutory footing. There is no reason such legislation could not be enacted and in force by next Easter. The Minister's promise to have it drafted by December 2010 and operational in 2012 is totally unsatisfactory. The Government should immediately prioritise the long-promised legislation for the use of soft information in child protection to which the Minister of State referred. It was first called for in the Ferns report in 2005. The Minister of State omitted to mention that in September 2008 the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children recommended the legislation be published by December 2008. The Government's promise that heads of a Bill will be prepared by the end of this year means that there is no possibility of such legislation being enacted and coming into force before 2011.

Scandalously, the Murphy commission report reveals that inter-agency meetings between church authorities, the Garda and HSE to address issues of clerical abuse of children as recommended by the Ferns report were blocked by the HSE and never occurred because of the absence of legislation on soft information.

The Deputy's time has expired.

I am almost finished. It is simply not credible for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the Minister of State with responsibility for children to portray themselves as committed to child protection when the enactment of such legislation continues to be delayed. It took less than six months to conceive and enact the complex NAMA Bill. It will be at least six years since publication of the Ferns report before we have legislation on soft information.

There is an urgent need for the Government to introduce legislation to amend the Statute of Limitations Acts 1957 and 2000. Such legislation is needed to facilitate victims of clerical abuse, who did not seek compensation in the past because they lacked the strength to do battle with the church or felt that they would not be believed as they could not prove their allegations due to lack of access to church records. The publication of the Murphy report assists these individuals by confirming that extensive records validating allegations of abuse are held by the church authorities. The Government should give a commitment to this House that it will introduce the necessary legislation amending the Statue of Limitations Acts without delay.

While I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate, I wish it was not necessary to have it. I congratulate Judge Yvonne Murphy in respect of the comprehensive report she has produced, which is shocking, damning and obscene. I could add many more adjectives which would not even begin to sum up all of this.

I believe that the church is sowing seeds for further disaffiliation with the people who claim to be churchgoers. It has lost affinity with its people. To my mind, the reason for this is that the words of the Gospel by which we all, in various measures, strive to live are not exemplified in the institutions of the church which is riddled with out-of-date conformist rules which have no resonance whatsoever with ordinary people in terms of how they live their lives. I was struck by an article by Dr. Maureen Gaffney in The Irish Times yesterday in which she spoke about the church’s archaic rules on contraception. Who pays heed to them? The church, however, clings to them as if they were a totem pole of wonderful knowledge.

There are also the archaic rules on remarriage in which the church denies marriage to a person who wishes to remarry after a State divorce. The person cannot have a full marriage ceremony in a church. The church persists with an opaque and impenetrable system of annulment, which one can secure after something like 95 years and all sorts of tribunals of inquiry and so forth. Only then is one allowed to have a church marriage. It is appalling that when a couple part and divorce and each one wishes to marry again, they cannot go to a church of their choosing, if they are members of the Catholic faith, and ask that their second marriage be recognised. Until the church starts to have an affinity again with ordinary people and their ordinary, everyday problems, it is doomed to failure and we are doomed too.

I noticed that in the various interviews given by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and other church personnel last weekend they all very quickly said the report was terrible and then continued with the word "but". I urge them to get rid of the buts; they should just say they are sorry without the word "but" being added to it. They said there was no redress for extra-familial sexual abuse. There is. It is addressed by section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991. It is incorrect to say there is no access to redress. There is also the Oireachtas committee report on soft information, which was produced under my watch. I understand from the Minister that the heads of a Bill in that regard are to be brought to the Cabinet before Christmas. I am glad to hear that because we have waited too long for it. At least we now know the legislation will be produced and that it can be done without a referendum.

I was struck by something Deputy Shatter mentioned, the sheer discourtesy of a body called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or something with an equally convoluted title. This wonderful doctrine body, wherever it is, does not reply to letters. Consider the discourtesy of it, and the discourtesy of the head of the Vatican, parading around Ireland in his wonderful glitzy clothes but not replying to letters and not seeing fit to talk to his counterpart, whoever that is. It is just not good enough.

Like the Minister, Deputy Barry Andrews, I saw the letter to The Irish Times during the week which notes the uncanny moving of priests from one parish to another north of the Liffey. That was quite telling in what it implied. It was cynical. If a child came home from one of those schools, church halls or churches and reported something, they would get a cuff on the ear and be told: “How dare you talk about the good Father, when he is so good and kind” and so forth. The map that was produced showed clearly how they were moved from one parish to another. They did not fear that in those parishes they would be called to account or order. The parents in those parishes would say all is well and let the matter go.

There is another matter on which I cannot get a definite answer. When I was Minister for Education many years ago a programme was devised by the INTO and the Department, which took the lead role, called the Stay Safe programme. It was piloted in some primary schools before being provided in all schools. However, it is not available in all schools. Why is that?

Many of the bishops disagreed with it.

I know all about it. I was at the rough end of it.

They are still at it.

They still disapprove. How dare they? How dare any chairman, reverend, bishop or whatever on a board of management say the Stay Safe programme cannot be provided in a school?

Maybe some of them had a vested interest in getting rid of it.

The Stay Safe programme might be sketchy and brief but it is the beginning of creating an awareness in young people of improper sexual activity. However, 17 years after I left office in early 1992, not every primary school in Ireland provides it. Why not? If one does not want one's child to participate, there is an opt-out clause. The parents can state that they do not want their child to attend that class, and the child does not attend it. Every parent has that right.

It would be good to get a list of the schools that do not provide it.

Yes. I have been asking for that information in parliamentary questions but I am only given the percentages. I have asked again for the names of the schools that do not or are not allowed to have the Stay Safe programme in the curriculum. I believe the Minister of State with responsibility for children is well disposed to ferreting out that information in the Department, if that is possible.

Earlier I spoke about the archaic laws on contraception, to which nobody pays any heed, and on remarriage, as well as the opaque system of annulment, which nobody understands or can access. It is a maze. Occasionally, I might receive a visit from a woman who tells me about going to a tribunal to tell her tale. She might have three or four children and be very distressed because she can never get married again in the church. She cannot, because the church will not allow it. That, too, is an archaic rule. The church's attitude to women is extraordinary. It is as if we were a race apart or "dirty people", only to be tolerated because we have the wombs to have the children, we give birth to them, enrol them in primary schools and have them come out of those schools as good children of the faith.

There is much more to be done. The church should show that it is willing to take the necessary roads and to express itself as being more in touch with people than it has ever been previously.

We were well warned about the impact of the Murphy report. Archbishop Martin had carefully prepared the ground for its publication over a prolonged period. Public opinion had also absorbed the Ryan report and the horrors that it laid bare about our treatment and supervision of many thousands of children over many decades in residential institutions managed by religious orders. The Murphy commission was not concerned with whether abuse occurred, but with the institutional response to complaints, suspicions and knowledge of child sexual abuse. Nonetheless the Murphy commission found that "child sexual abuse by clerics was widespread throughout the period under review."

Notwithstanding the preparatory work done to prepare the public, including the Catholic laity, the contents of the commission's report have stunned the Irish people. The awful uncomfortable reality of child sexual abuse is bad enough; the record of collusion, cover-up and dereliction of duty by church and State authorities is beyond belief. These are not acts of omission because of over-work, forgetfulness, lack of knowledge or even neglect; the cover-up was deliberate, calculated and proactive. In the words of the commission:

The Dublin Archdiocese's preoccupation 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.

In fact, it sought to subvert the law of the State. In some instances, senior gardaí seem to have fallen over themselves to facilitate that subversion.

Given that we are discussing the protection of children, this would be a crime of the most serious character against any institution in society. That such a conclusion can be dispassionately arrived at by a judicial commission against the management of one of the largest archdioceses of the Catholic Church has shocked people. Church authorities have repeatedly claimed to have been on a learning curve prior to the late 1990s in terms of dealing with child sexual abuse. The commission makes plain that "it does not accept the truth of such claims and assertions". Despite 2,000 years of papal statements on clerical child sexual abuse, the Vatican has made no statement on the Murphy report. Worse, and notwithstanding the diplomatic niceties dwelt on by the Taoiseach on Tuesday, the Vatican authorities did not assist the Murphy commission. Right up the report, the Catholic Church's leaders in Ireland feigned a lack of appreciation of the abuse phenomenon. Yet in the mid-1980s, they were sufficiently aware to set about the taking out of insurance to protect the archdiocese. The commission records this as being inconsistent with the view that they were still on a learning curve.

All the archbishops of Dublin in the period covered by the commission were aware of some complaints. Many of the auxiliary bishops also knew of the fact of abuse, as did named officials. Religious orders were also aware. The report records this in some detail. According to it:

Most officials in the Archdiocese were, however, greatly exercised by the provisions of canon law which deal with secrecy. It was often spoken of as a reason for not informing the Gardaí about known criminal offences.

Referring to the experience in the archdiocese of Boston, the commission states: "In the case of that Diocese, as in the case of Dublin, secrecy protected the institution at the expense of children". As legislators, all we need to know about canon law is that its precepts may be used in the eyes of churchmen as a licence to protect the church at the expense of children.

Another consequence of what the commission calls "the obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal" was the failure of successive archbishops and bishops to report complaints to the Garda prior to 1996. When the dictates of obsessive concern with secrecy were inadequate, it has emerged that there is a special dispensation for bishops to lie. The revelation by Cardinal Connell of the device known as mental reservation confounds anything experienced in the political world. Occasionally, Ministers evade, dodge, weave and mislead and Deputies exaggerate, but the word "lie" is not admissible in the Chamber. If a blatant untruth finds itself on the record inadvertently or otherwise, the requirement is to put the record straight as quickly as may be. However, leading churchmen can apparently, if the need arises, shelter behind mental reservation. Given Cardinal Connell's Drumcondra provenance when explaining the concept, we in the House should consider ourselves fortunate that mental reservation did not seep into the political water in Drumcondra.

We know that clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin was widespread. We know that "the vast majority (of priests) simply chose to turn a blind eye". We know that all of the archbishops since and including McQuaid contrived to cover up. We know that the auxiliary bishops of the same period were, to varying degrees, similarly culpable. We know that not one of the archbishops "reported his knowledge of child sexual abuse to the Gardaí throughout the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s". We also know that, when in 1995 Cardinal Connell eventually allowed the names of 17 priests to be given to the Garda, it was incomplete because at that time "there was knowledge of at least 28 priests against whom there had been complaints". We know that, in the mid-1980s, Archbishop McNamara arranged to have insurance taken out. We know that Bishop Kavanagh tried to influence the Garda handling of criminal complaints against a particular priest. He persuaded a particular family to drop a complaint made to the Garda. We know that Bishop Murray "dealt badly with a number of complaints". We know that there is "one clear case of a false accusation of child sexual abuse against a priest", an unimaginable horror for the man and his family.

The Murphy commission concluded that "every bishop's primary loyalty is to the church itself". The welfare of children either did not feature at all, as in the case of Archbishop McQuaid, or was a secondary concern. Apart from the routine dereliction of duty and moral authority, the failure to take action meant that countless children were abused who could have been protected. As public representatives, many Deputies believe that many suicides are due to the experience of victims at the hands of clerics who were left free to abuse again and again.

Notwithstanding their suffering and the damage inflicted in their early lives, many of the remarkable survivors hailed the publication of the Murphy report and anxiously awaited the response of the church. Has anything changed? The final paragraph of the report reads as follows:

Mrs Collins told the Commission that she no longer trusts her Church. After years spent trying to get her Church to deal openly and truthfully with the challenge posed to it by the scandal of child sexual abuse she has concluded that within the institutional Church there has been no change of heart, only a change of strategy. Is she right? Time will tell.

The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, referred to this paragraph. Since publication, what time has told is that, within the institutional church, little has changed. Marie Collins said as much on Tuesday when she outlined her bitter disappointment with the response of the bishops, some of whom have not even bothered to read the report. The media seems to dictate the changing episcopal response. The bishops seem to be measuring what they can get away with. They seem to misunderstand the earthquake they have set off in society. The Vatican is silent. The Papal Nuncio is contemptuous. Whatever happens, this is the end of the age of deference. We owe a great debt to Judge Yvonne Murphy and her fellow commissioners.

We are going through a crisis of seismic importance. We must view it as a moment of history when, in many respects, the authority of the Catholic Church has collapsed in Ireland. It has collapsed because of the crimes that occurred on an appalling scale and extended over many decades with the tacit collusion of the State. We all have a significant responsibility to ensure that we read, learn from and make changes arising from the report. I have not read it in full, only extracts, but even those comprise an astounding exposé of how an institution operated for many years.

The way in which Monsignor John Dolan dealt with a particular inquiry was incredible. He made it clear that, during the inquiry, one should reveal nothing to the person giving evidence. That reveals part of the huge challenge. As an institution, responsibility has to extend far beyond the Papal Nuncio — it has to go to the top. The Pope should comment on this matter and set out the changes that will arise from the horrendous evidence contained in these volumes.

The church has to engage in a significant amount of reflection on many of its core tenets. Its views on sexuality, chastity and celibacy have to change. It cannot continue to give women an inferior status. The church's approach to such issues set the seeds for much of what went horribly wrong. The hierarchical nature of the church as an institution is a more fundamental issue. As Deputy Rabbitte pointed out, the church's emphasis on fidelity and obedience made it very difficult for those who saw injustice to raise such matters and ensure appropriate action was taken.

The management of the church has to change. It was incredibly revealing to learn that when area bishops were appointed, there was no discussion and no document or mandate was given to them. There were significant gaps and flaws at managerial level. There would have been substantial criticisms of such practices if they had happened in the corporate or political worlds. Apparently, the auxiliary bishops work in accordance with the mind of the archbishop. That, in itself, makes the operation of the institution more difficult. The oath of fidelity to the holy apostolic Roman church leads to blind faith and thereby creates enormous challenges.

I would like to speak about the issue of secrecy in the church. In the early years of the period covered by the Murphy report, accusers were required to take an oath of secrecy. The penalty for the breach of that oath could extend to excommunication. It was difficult for people to tell their stories with such a significant cloud hanging over them. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand to learn that under Canon Law, paedophilia may be an actual defence to a claim of child sexual abuse, just as insanity would be under the law of the State. That is a taste of the earth-shattering evidence that is in the report before the House.

It came to my attention recently that the Archbishop of Dublin is the chair of the Board of Governors of the National Maternity Hospital. It is time to move on from that because it is not appropriate for a representative of the church to chair such a hospital or many other State institutions. We have to examine carefully the possibility of putting in place an alternative mechanism for these institutions. We need to learn from the Murphy report's earth-shattering evidence and conclusions and act quickly to implement its recommendations.

There are no words to express the revulsion I felt on reading the Murphy report. These evil men, who visited our communities and were welcomed into our homes, were allowed to violate the trust and values that I, as a Catholic and Christian, have cherished all my life. The Murphy report highlights the abject failure of the church to have faith in its followers and to believe what they were saying was true and needed immediate attention. The litany of abuse by members of the clergy in this country, which went on for decades, was covered up by those in power who did not want to deal with allegations and reports of horrific abuse. The highest and most powerful clergymen in Ireland turned a deaf ear to the cries for help of little children who were abused by those they were taught to respect and look up to. When one examines the accounts of abuse by the 46 priests from the Archdiocese of Dublin, as detailed in the Murphy report, one learns that child protection and welfare were alien concepts and the rights of the child were not prioritised. It seems unbelievable that the church, in order to save face, focused on protecting itself and covering up the wicked crimes of child abuse by priests.

The extent of child sexual abuse that has come to light this year has shaken this country to its core. It is shocking that these evil acts were allowed to happen not once but hundreds of times. These children were not in residential care or religious institutions — they were abused in their own communities, close to their families, friends and teachers. Many vulnerable children were singled out as easy prey by priests in their parishes. Children from underprivileged backgrounds were especially targeted. Priests created circumstances in which they could be alone with children, often with the full permission of their parents, to carry out unspeakable acts of sexual abuse. These young people struggled for years to live with what had happened to them. They could not tell a soul because it was so unbelievable; instead, they suffered in silence and in fear of being punished or sent to hell. They buried their dark secrets. As they grew older, they were tormented by guilt and shame. They had been brought up to respect religious people and not to question their authority. Therefore, it took huge strength and courage for them to come forward and to trust an adult with the truth of the horror they endured. I commend all those who told their stories and helped to put a spotlight on the evil priests who took away their innocence and betrayed their trust. This shows why it is so important for one to speak out and be heard, even if one is in the minority.

Through the rite of baptism, children are welcomed into the family of God as a new creation to be cherished, loved and protected by their new family — the church. Children receive holy communion — the bread of life — so they can understand the meaning of reconciliation, forgiveness and repentance. In confirmation, they receive the gifts of wisdom, understanding, judgment, courage, knowledge, wonder and awe. They are told that these sacraments will guide and help them to grow into mature adults. For some of the bishops, priests and other religious people in the Catholic Church, however, these teachings were only words. They went against the teachings that form the basis of our faith. They lacked the courage and humanity to act on the allegations that were made and to stop clerical child abuse before it destroyed more children's lives. Those in positions of power in the Catholic Church were obsessed with secrecy and reputation. They played God with people's lives. They forgot they are mere servants of God on this earth and are not infallible. For decades, priests have run our parishes and schools and sat on hospital boards. Every step of the way, they assumed responsibility for our children. We trusted them completely — that was how Irish society worked. This country's greatest failing was that nobody dared to question it.

The 172 named priests and 11 unnamed priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin about whom complaints were made have demonised the many other good priests and religious people in this country. Their barbaric acts have destroyed the lives of children sexually, physically and emotionally. This hurt will remain with them for the rest of their lives. These priests have been protected and hidden for years and have served no sentence for the life sentence of trauma and sadness they inflicted on innocent children. Many of these priests now hide behind false names and closed doors, where they will live out the rest of their lives in relative comfort.

Whether we are religious or have faith, we know that those priests who abused children were not only morally corrupt and evil but committed terrible, brutal crimes and must now be brought to justice in the criminal courts. It is very hard to understand how lengthy investigations into clerical abuse by the Garda have resulted in just 11 convictions. What about those priests who come under the remit of religious orders? Who is investigating their actions?

When complaints first surfaced, the State authority, the Garda, failed in its duty to investigate and condemn paedophiles who were masquerading as representatives of God in our communities. Some senior gardaí turned a blind eye and allowed complaints to be hushed up and dealt with by the church. In many cases, priests who were accused of abuse were not relieved of their duties but instead were allowed to move from one parish to another, re-offending and destroying even more lives in one community after another. I cannot understand how bishops and archbishops allowed this to happen. Those who allowed crimes to pass unpunished clearly considered themselves above the law and were incapable of admitting the horrific failures of the church.

The Murphy report does not only highlight the abuse that took place in the Dublin archdiocese but also shows the gross inadequacies of the Catholic Church in dealing with serious complaints of child abuse over a long period of time. The publication of this report must result in real and positive changes being made to ensure that these atrocities never happen again.

It is not up to all those priests and bishops described in the Murphy report to decide on their future. They were incapable of making the right decision in the past so how can we expect them to make the right decision now? The institution of the church will survive only if those people in it to whom we look for leadership do the right thing. Therefore, the responsibility lies with those who have been entrusted by the Pope to direct the church in this country. They have a duty to act now and remove those people whose positions are seriously compromised as a result of this report. Criminal offences must be acted on and sentences handed out.

I do not believe an apology will ever repair the damage done to people's lives. I do not believe the church is really listening, even now, after everything has come to light. Many people in the church are still in denial. They are still drawn to covering up what happened. I believe that trust and faith are the cornerstones of the church. This report has not affected my belief or faith in a loving God, but it has deeply affected my faith in the Catholic Church as I see it today, a church that has lost its connection with its people. Sadly, I do not believe much has changed today. I experienced this in the recent past when a family crisis led me to seek guidance from the church. Although the clergy were sympathetic and concerned, they never acted. It was all words.

I agree with Bishop Willie Walsh who said yesterday that people's trust is "seriously broken" and that those who have been so loyal to the church are particularly saddened by these revelations. I also agree with him that it is good that the power wielded by the church is gone and that what is happening now will bring about very significant changes.

If the church wants to survive, it must re-instate its position as a source of healing and trust in communities. It needs to act and repent. In order to restore confidence in the church and gradually build it up again, we must make people accountable for their actions. We then have to trust that priests today are different and do not subscribe to abuse in any form.

How do we go forward? Where does the church go from here? Even more important, how will the church re-connect with young people, most of whom see no relevance for it in their lives today? In these difficult times, people need an anchor and need to maintain their faith in God and trust in Christian values. To achieve this, there must be a period of renewal and the key ingredient is the youth of this country; otherwise, the church faces a very bleak future. This very dark period in the history of the Catholic Church will never be forgotten but if we move forward together through reconciliation, there is a chance that something may be salvaged from all that has happened.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to what I consider a very significant debate. It is very important to welcome the presence of the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, because it reminds us, if reminding were necessary, that this is about children.

Like other colleagues, I record my appreciation of the work done by Judge Yvonne Murphy in this report. The Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin clearly shows that a systemic calculated perversion of power and trust was visited on helpless and innocent children in our archdiocese over a 30-year period. Those responsible must continue to be brought to justice. It is very clear from the coverage we have seen in the past week that the people of Ireland must know this will never happen again.

I speak as a Dubliner, a Catholic, a parent and a grandparent. I try to bring to my politics my own life experiences and in a debate such as this it is relevant to say that. I came from a by-gone Dublin and I remember "them days". Children of my age and generation understood there were places to which one might be sent if one did not do things right. This was one of the stories heard on the street. It always worried me that there was acceptance of that in the Dublin of the day. What comes out of this report, and must be stated, is that all of us hope that such things are not happening now and will never happen again. It is very relevant to say that.

I went to school in Synge Street and to the Christian Brothers in Drimnagh Castle. I would not say all the Christian Brothers I met were nice people, but thank God I have no bad memories of them. At the same time, we are very aware that young people of my generation and beyond had bad experiences. It is very important to recognise that fact.

People come to Deputies for all sorts of reasons and in the current economic climate people come to us on a daily basis with issues of concern. I often said, and reiterate now, that the people who have affected me most in recent years are those who were kind enough to come to me and talk about their experiences of abuse. They sought my help in whatever little way they felt I could offer it. Only this week, I had a long discussion with a man. I will not identify him or say where he was from but we had a long conversation. I do not say this in any virtuous way but because I was a Government Deputy, he wanted to share his experiences with me and tell me how he felt, how angry and upset he was. It is very important that we should continue to listen to those people. I did so this week. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the victims of injustice in this regard for their brave co-operation with the commission in its work. It is important to acknowledge that and commend the work they did.

I do not hesitate to condemn those who did wrong but in my church and community there are those who do good work as priests and it is important to remember them too. I have a story that sums up my attitude to this point. Fifteen years ago I separated from my wife. I do not mind admitting that. At the time, my then 11 year old son was worried about missing his dad and all the other matters that go through a young person's mind. My wife and I discussed the matter and decided that a local priest in the parish would be a good person to talk to my son. I have often told that story and I discussed it with my son quite recently. We would not do today what we did then. To some extent, it is a shame that good priests doing their job in my diocese suddenly find themselves in that situation. There is no question but that we must all be careful about how children are looked after and dealt with.

Like my colleagues, I read parts of the report. I have not read it all and do not know whether I will. Like everybody else, I found it quite upsetting. It is important that we understand there are good people in the system. I hope they all take the view that the perpetrators of the crimes, who were unjust to the children, should be punished. I have no hesitation in saying that.

A number of people, although not members of the clergy, said to me during the week that while there is considerable focus on the bishops and auxiliary bishops at present and that it is fair enough that a debate should take place in this regard, they are not convinced that some of the bishops did not act in bad faith. It is important that we understand that.

Not much attention has been paid to the fact that questions must be answered by those in the medical profession who intervened in cases of child abuse.

I stated how I understood these matters as a small child in Dublin. There is no question but that we all have a different understanding today. For all of us, there has been a learning curve. As legislators, we should take this on board.

The Kennedy report of 1970 dealt with residential institutions such as those in Letterfrack, Daingean and Artane. A constituent of mine told me this week it took quite a while for legislation to be introduced. I tried to find out this morning exactly when it was introduced and I understand it was in the late 1980s. There is no question that these matters need to be dealt with more quickly. I hope the lessons we are all learning this week will be dealt with very quickly.

We should welcome the fact that my church and, I hope, every church in Dublin, although I have not even visited every one in my constituency, is taking great strides to understand the question of child protection and stress its importance. The guidelines are available to people and can be read easily and confidentially. The child protection officer is being identified and it is very important that this be the case.

I have a background in youth work and consequently believe it is very important that there be awareness of child protection policies everywhere young people gather. We have heard many stories recently about young people being upset and abused in various settings, including swimming clubs. Young people must be protected at every opportunity and I hope the work being done in this regard will be broadened, such that where young people gather under adult supervision, they will feel safe and their parents will know they are safe.

I have been listening all week to radio coverage and it is coming across very clearly that people have very clear views on how their children should be looked after. I have heard in this debate and on the radio during the week people asking questions as to whether they should allow their children go to clubs or interact in any way with adults. Questions arise as to what happens in schools. I spend as much time as I can with my small granddaughter and understand the challenges her parents face.

This debate needs to take place. I hope the victims of abuse will understand the issue is being treated as very important in the Dáil. Members from all parties have a responsibility to ensure this is the case and to say to the Ministers under whose remit the report falls, that they must continue to take action to ensure children are safe at all times.

It is with a heavy heart and some regret that I must debate this report in the Chamber. It really is difficult to respond to an 800-page report that gives a detailed account of the most monstrous, heinous and systematic abuse of children. It is particularly difficult to find words to respond in a short slot in the debate. However, there are a few points I want to put on the record.

It is important when contributing to this debate that we be mindful at all stages of the survivors of the abuse. It is important to refer to those affected directly by institutional abuse as survivors rather than victims because they want to find solace and strength on foot of the revelations and find a way forward so they can recover and get on with their lives.

I find it really difficult to comprehend or rationalise the sick minds of the so-called men of the cloth who perpetrated crimes on the most vulnerable young people in society. It is shocking to learn that so many families, parents and young children placed such trust in these people and that this trust was abused so completely by people in positions of power. It is unquestionable that the perpetrators were not good men put on this earth to carry out the will of God. They were depraved, evil predators and paedophiles who preyed on the weakest and most defenceless and vulnerable in society.

On reading the report after its publication late last week and over the weekend, I felt physically sick to learn of the extent and nature of some of the actions of the perpetrators, the priests. It is impossible to understand the twisted mindset of those people, who were in positions of enormous power and who had considerable influence, and who could destroy, wilfully and knowingly, the innocence of so many young people. It is extraordinary.

Apart from the perpetrators and abusers, what of the eminent bishops and other members of the church hierarchy who conspired to conceal these evil acts? There is no pardon available to them. They clearly abused and denigrated their exalted positions of power. Ultimately, they facilitated the rape and sexual abuse of young children, in respect of whom they, as the senior members of the Catholic clergy, had an enormous duty of care. This duty was completely ignored, abused and breached.

The report is unequivocal in its findings on the degree and nature of the cover-up, about which it states:

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 [extraordinarily] assets of the institution and of what the institution regarded as its most important members — the priests.

That suggests a hugely skewed view of the Catholic Church in this country. Ireland is not alone in this, but it is what we are referring to now. The Dublin diocese, particularly, was totally warped in how it viewed priorities. The priests, the assets and the reputation and good name of the church were more important than young, vulnerable children. It leaves me without words to respond.

We have to acknowledge that the bishops, priests and perpetrators were not the only ones responsible for the mass cover-up. It is an important point. Irish society as a whole colluded to cover up these scandals. There was a priest who abused numerous children in my home parish. Everybody knew about it. He was moved to a neighbouring parish where he continued the abuse. Many, if not most, lay members of the church, that is, people who went to read at mass and give out communion every Sunday and who were the so-called pillars of the community, knew what had happened and facilitated the cover-up. It is very easy for us to place blame on certain individuals in the church and certain clergy, but the net must go much wider than that.

The Murphy report makes the role played by the Garda Síochána very clear. The report is a damning indictment of the Garda for its failure to investigate, for ignoring complaints and the fact that it chose deliberately to accept that the regulation of the clergy was completely outside its remit. Clearly this was in contravention of the law of the land and any sort of moral duty the Garda has to protect members of our society. Major collusion went on throughout Irish society. It was endemic throughout the land. Lay people, the Garda, social workers and people in a whole variety of positions of responsibility chose to ignore what was happening. It is something we must bear in mind and keep to the fore as we begin planning a way forward for the protection of children in the future.

The congregation of the Roman Catholic Church need to reclaim it. I say that as a member of the Catholic Church, and somebody who has a great degree of belief and a high regard for many members of the church. The faith is alive and thriving in the parts of Dublin with which I am most familiar and around the country. We must acknowledge that the hierarchy in the church at all levels, including Rome, the papal nuncio who is the ambassador for the pope in Ireland, bishops and other senior members of the clergy have failed the Catholic Church, faith and members of the congregations around the country.

We must remember that the vast majority of people who practice and believe in the faith are good people who want to see faith strengthened and do not want the church to be torn apart and abused by people who are clearly removed from the reality on the ground. In my parish I have heard, as recently as last Sunday, priests speaking from the pulpit who are genuinely shocked, disgusted and let down by what has happened in the church. It is important to acknowledge that.

It is time we achieved justice and truth for the survivors of institutional abuse in Dublin and around the country. I support my party leader in his call for the bishops named in this report to resign. They should resign and should not look to their congregations and other people to advise them. The men concerned are supposed to be men of the cloth, truth and faith. They need to look into their own hearts, do the right thing and resign. That is my firm belief.

To achieve truth and some semblance of respect for the people who have suffered at the hands of many people in the hierarchy of the church we and the Government need to commit to carrying out an investigation into every diocese. I urge the Minister of State to bring that message to the Government.

I have a final point, which is not a matter for legislation but, rather, for the Catholic Church. Priests should be entitled to maintain consenting adult relationships and to marry. It is something which I hope can be addressed in the future.

The Murphy report is incredibly important. Its implications go far beyond examination of the institution on which it was focused, that is, the archdiocese of Dublin. It raises some fundamental issues. The response of all Deputies who have spoken thus far have begun, and rightly so, with the position of those who have suffered. There are some matters to which we should return. The question is how much change is necessary and likely, and how much we can demand.

Those who suffered, in many cases, suffered because they were poor and lonely, which made them vulnerable to extraordinary breaches of trust by a number of individuals who have been named. However, there is not a shadow of doubt that the names in the report are but a sample of abusers throughout the country.

On the suggestion that canon law can take precedence over State law or that silence invoked by a church can damage the rights of citizens, we need more Deputies to state they are in favour of breaking such a relationship. I find it absurd that the papal nuncio could serve as the dean of the diplomatic corps when, in an institutional sense, his predecessors have refused to answer matters of concern within Ireland.

Apart from that failure, I find the allocation of the post in that way is inappropriate and wrong. I have been a spokesperson on foreign affairs for probably a longer period of time than anybody else in the House. The convention in a number of other places is for the longest-serving ambassador to serve as dean of the Diplomatic Corps. That is something which should happen, but it is a minor issue compared to the remarks I wish to make.

In looking through the report, I note a number of things took place. I turn to one of the strange assumptions upon which the report is based. Towards the end of part 1 of the report, there is reference to a document called Child Sexual Abuse: A Framework for a Church Response, which was published in 1996, and is regularly referred to as the “framework document”. Chapter 8 of it refers to people who are being recruited into the priesthood and paragraph 8.2.2 states

Formation is progressive, and must be evenly balanced between the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. The whole process of formation of candidates for the priesthood and religious life should foster an integration of human sexuality and the development of healthy human relationships within the context of celibate living.

As I have only ten minutes, I will confine my remarks to say that I would like to see any research which suggests one could achieve the objective of such a balance while meeting the requirements of celibate living. It is a matter for the organisation itself. However, I would be dishonest if I did not say it was an issue it must examine as a source point of what is contained in the report.

I wish to lay my cards on the table. As well as the victims, there are others who have been wounded. There are many people who have a spiritual life and for them it is a source of great importance. I listened with great care, for example, to the sensitive speech of Deputy Catherine Byrne. Many people such as Deputy Byrne — perhaps the majority of people who are not materialist extremists — believe in a form of spiritual life, which has been badly damaged by the actions of the people referred to in this report. There are many priests and nuns who are dealing every day, at this time of a broken economy, with distressed communities and people in poverty and isolation, and their work has been badly affected by this behaviour.

This report concentrates on the secrecy that was invoked and the priority attached to such secrecy over the responsibility of citizenship and compliance with the State and its Constitution. On page 24, section 1.93, the report states that a number of very senior members of the Garda, including the Commissioner in 1960, regarded priests as being outside their remit. There are examples of gardaí reporting complaints to the Archdiocese instead of investigating them. It is fortunate that some junior members of the force did not take the same view. There were suggestions that when complaints were made from outside the jurisdiction to the Garda, those responsible went straight to the Archbishop's palace with them rather than acting on them. That is serious.

I have been long enough in the House to have seen some of the people mentioned in this report in various referendum campaigns. They were out there in front arguing that we were representative of a fall from ethics and belief. In fact, they were militants when it came to these campaigns. There are people in this House who are on record as being opposed to the Stay Safe programme in schools. Let us be realistic about this. What is changing? Will there be changes in the Garda? Will there be changes with regard to those lay bishops who are all over the place on school boards of management and who, on the basis of their own version of what the church is doing, refuse to implement the Stay Safe programme?

In a recent by-election, when canvassing with a colleague, I heard Cardinal Connell say he was not one bit interested in politics. This is a great pity because what he was doing was quite political. On page 52, section 3.46, it is stated that he said, "Well, I think the Commission will have to accept that on my first meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I took an oath that I would not reveal what was discussed at meetings of the Congregation and I will of course be as true to that oath as I am to the oath I have taken here." I do not accept that because Cardinal Connell has retired he does not have to answer questions, but equally I do not accept that the public and legislators, who are required to have a view, should not express their views on the appropriate relationship of church and State. It is perfectly clear from my own writing that I have the greatest respect for spirituality, but I respect the independence of the Constitution and I believe in its republican nature. The church does better when it is accountable to the State and the Constitution and there is a degree of dignified separation between them.

Page 53, section 3.51, gives a list of the powers and responsibilities of the papal legate. I do not mean to insult anybody, but the role often included informing the Apostolic See about the conditions in which the particular churches found themselves, as well as about all matters which would affect the life of the Church and the good of souls. Therefore, when the choice arose, how was it a choice?

I will return to something I said here around the time of the Kennedy report. It was known in two Departments that a boy had been flogged on the landing in Daingean. However, when a young civil servant wrote to the head of his Department asking what should happen, the two Secretaries General corresponded with each other and said it would be better if this did not come out. What this report tells us is that the unaccountable, secretive retinue of abusers were well known and insured against. What was important was preventing scandal rather than addressing the rights of the child. This included institutions of the State such as administrators of justice, lay people, schools and others. The awful side of it was that the child who was wounded and had to deal with people in any of these institutions was told he was a liar. He was already poor and perhaps lonely, as so many children were. I met them when I was in the MacBride commission. They went on to have terrible lives; some of them ended up in prison.

It is not just a matter of noting this report. Those involved must say that they, as part of something that was so rotten, must now leave, and something new must be built.

Normally one is pleased to speak in the House. Unfortunately, today's discussion is one that gives none of us any pleasure.

This is a report on the response of the church, as an institution, to the revelations of child abuse. There is no question but that child abuse did occur. I find the response of the church disappointing. Many of its senior members seem to continue to live in denial, refusing to accept that as custodians of the moral values of our society they have failed grievously. Not only have they failed but they have been complicit in compounding that failure through their continued refusal to accept responsibility, particularly those bishops who were directly involved. It is unacceptable that they should now look to the laity and to their priests instead of to their consciences. Surely their consciences are informed enough to know right from wrong. As one journalist put it during the week, the Irish people certainly know what is right and what is wrong. Instead of continuing and ultimately succumbing, perhaps those who are in leadership roles in the church will now show that leadership by doing the right and honourable thing — by listening to their consciences and remembering what brought them into the church in the first place. They must restore Christian values and do what is right.

There are many good people in the church. I, like many others, was educated in a school run by a religious order, the Franciscans in Gormanston, which has also had an unfortunate history. It is not that wrong does not occur in the world; it happens all the time. Bad people do not disappear. Some people have their demons, as in the example I will mention shortly, because of the problems they suffered in life. The issue is how we deal with that. It is a system that protects people from the misdemeanours of individuals.

Unfortunately the system operated by the Catholic church in this country over the years under discussion shows very clearly that the reputation of the church came first and consideration of child safety came a long way behind in second place. I support people like Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who is caught in a difficult place, who strives to bring his fellow churchmen with him and who invites the Garda back to ensure there is not a paedophile ring within the church. He needs our support even though he can oft be the focus of our anger because he has put himself out there. However, the people at whom we really need to be angry are the bishops who are condemned in this report and do not act. They have preached oft and long to us from the altar about our conscience, Christian values, morals and doing the right thing, and yet they vacillate when it comes to themselves and that is a disgrace. It is not just a disgrace but also a rot that will destroy the Catholic Church in the country.

In a letter to the editor, printed in today's edition of The Irish Times, Dr. Vincent Twomey, professor of moral philosophy in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, stated:

At the very least, it would seem, all were guilty of negligence — some, such as Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick, whose behaviour was described as "inexcusable", more than others. But all were deemed guilty of inaction, of failing to listen to their conscience.

Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." This is something that cannot continue. None of us can stand idly by anymore. None of us can afford to accord reverence and deference to the point of breaking the law, abusing children, depriving them of their right and worst of all robbing them not just of their innocence but often of any chance of happiness in life.

I wish to read into the record part of an article in the Fingal Independent about the victim of a priest in my constituency. It states:

Bernard told the Fingal Independent that it was important for the country's children, that something like this never happens again.

He said: "Going forward, all institutions dealing with children have to know that if they are aware of a scandal they can't do nothing about it.'"

He said he bore no grudges against Fr McNamee's family and he was still struggling to understand why the priest did what he did.

Bernard said: "He had his own demons that he wasn't able to deal with in the institution he was in. I don't in any way condone what he did but I recognise there was no support for him either."

That man showed more compassion in those few words than the church has shown in all its volumes of rhetoric. If the church is to survive here, and retain and regain respect, it needs to act in a manner that is respectful of both law and morality. I regret that the very slow reaction of many of these men — for they are all men — does the church no good whatsoever.

Last week a fellow Deputy alleged to me that a good friend of his who had been abused by a priest was visited by a bishop earlier this year and offered a large sum of money to go away and keep quiet. He refused to do so. Like thousands of other people he wants to see justice done. I object in the most strenuous fashion to another bishop suggesting that given that we know it went on everywhere else let us get on with child protection and forget about all the perpetrators. That is unacceptable. This investigation must be extended to every diocese in the country. Every perpetrator needs to be brought to justice. All those who were abused need to be afforded the opportunity to confront their abusers if they are still alive. They certainly should have the opportunity to confront those who protected those priests and moved them around so they could continue their evil ways. That is the very least we can expect.

We also need a dedicated special Garda unit to investigate matters relating to clerical child sex abuse in addition to the existing domestic violence sexual assault investigation unit. We need an investigation to establish whether a paedophile ring existed within the Catholic Church. I support Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in this. Where the law permits, people who broke the law or aided and abetted others to break the law should be subject to criminal proceedings. I understand from reports in today's newspapers that the Garda has confirmed that will happen. However, it needs to happen expeditiously and should not be left to become an investigation that wanders on for years. The Garda has its own problems in this area in so far as some of its members behaved in a far too deferential fashion in the past. Perhaps some politicians did likewise. However, now that it is exposed the question is how we should react.

Canon Law is for the church and it should be left for the church. Let the church not be under the illusion that it is not subject to the law of this State or that Cannon Law supersedes it. The silence of the Vatican is a gross insult to the nation and unacceptable. The failure of the papal nuncio to at the very least acknowledge receipt of the extract of the report sent by the commission is reprehensible in the extreme and is symbolic of the ongoing denial of the church. If such a matter were sent to the British Embassy and we did not receive a response there would be uproar. So let us have uproar over this matter and let the Vatican as an independent state respond in a responsible fashion to retain the good relations we have had for many years.

Those men who are responsible, directly or indirectly, for aiding and abetting the continued abuse of children, for not confronting priests, and for not at least putting them out of harm's way and allowing them to continue to abuse in different communities with no warning given to those communities, ought to look to their consciences and act decisively if they care for the future of the church, the good of the country and the victims of the abuse.

Deputies from all sides of the House have had the opportunity to respond to the report of the commission of investigation and its findings. This is a disturbing and emotional subject. I commend Deputies on the thoughtfulness of their contributions, which not only dealt with the report's findings and implications, but also made clear their revulsion at what the report revealed. Above all, the House has paid tribute to the courage of the victims and survivors of child sex abuse in their fight for justice and their outstanding contribution to the work of the commission.

It is right that we have placed emphasis on the State's response in this area, but of course the primary focus of the report is on the failings of the church authorities. No government in a democracy can or should prescribe how a church should be run. However, we can ensure that all institutions are subject to the laws of the State. I have no doubt Deputies are determined this must be the case. While there have been advances in recent years in how this issue has been dealt with, there are no grounds for complacency. It is the duty of Government to ensure that all institutions in the State are subject to the law of the State without exception and above all to the laws that protect children. The Government will do whatever is necessary to ensure the old ways of responding to allegations and evidence of child sexual abuse will not be repeated and the ways we now handle them will be continually updated in the light of developing best practice.

The victims are entitled to expect that the issue of criminal liability on the part of anyone in authority — either church or State — in the handling of these cases is pursued fully and rigorously. I assure the House that this 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 the examination of the report's findings relating to the handling of complaints and investigations by both church and State at the Commissioner's request. They will pursue their inquiries, without fear or favour, wherever they lead.

Members referred to the fact that while the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 introduced an offence of withholding information which might be of assistance in preventing the commission of a serious offence or securing a prosecution, it excludes an offence of a sexual nature from this provision. This matter was discussed when the Bill was being considered by the Oireachtas. The view taken then was that if offences of a sexual nature were not excluded in this way, it could lead to the introduction of mandatory reporting in sex abuse cases. It would not be appropriate to deal with such a complex issue as mandatory reporting in an Offences Against the State Bill.

The Government does not propose to introduce any form of mandatory reporting at this time. International evidence suggests that mandatory reporting serves only to swamp child protection systems with high volumes of reports, often resulting in no commensurate increase in substantiated cases. One need only look to New South Wales in Australia as a case in point.

Recent reviews of the Children First guidelines have found them to be robust and appropriate. What we need to focus on now is having the guidelines implemented on a consistent basis. The implementation plan drawn up following the publication of the Ryan report states that the Government will draft legislation to impose a duty to comply with the Children First guidelines on all staff employed by the State and all staff employed in agencies in receipt of funding from the Exchequer. Legislation will also be drafted to provide for sharing of information and co-operation between relevant services in the best interests of children.

The commission's report and several Deputies expressed concern about the statutory powers of the HSE to deal with child sexual abuse by non-family members. The Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will consult 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.

The Government earlier this year requested the commission of investigation to extend its work to deal with the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne because of concerns which had arisen about that diocese. The Government believes the work of the commission on the Archdiocese of Dublin and its forthcoming report on the Diocese of Cloyne will serve the primary purpose of establishing what happened so that lessons can be learned.

The Government and the Department of Education and Science are examining school patronage in general. This is a wide-ranging review. This is in addition to the Department's consideration of new developing areas, new patronage for schools and international experience in this area generally.

The Government has also been asked to amend the provision in the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 2000 to facilitate victims of clerical sex abuse in taking civil actions against their abusers and the church authorities, by extending the 12 month period. However, this is based on the misapprehension that the Act restricts to one year the period under which claims must be brought. In fact, the law enables those who suffered abuse and are under a disability as a result to have the limitation period suspended until they cease to be under such disability. It is, therefore, not necessary for the law to be amended.

I thank the Deputies who contributed to this debate today.