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.