Topical Issue Debate

Disabilities Assessments

I am pleased to raise this critically important and urgent issue. If a society is measured by how well it looks after the most vulnerable, and if there is to be a degree of compassion in our country so that we can deliver a fair society, we must bring about dramatic improvements in this area. The waiting times for an assessment for autism in Cork are a disgrace and a scandal. The HSE has given me the latest waiting times and the figure for St. Joseph's Foundation is 18 months, for the Cope Foundation it is 25 months and for the Brothers of Charity it is 28 months. It is not the fault of the service providers in question as they can only do what they can with the resources they are given.

I recently raised an individual case of a young girl who is just short of three years of age. She joined the list in January 2018 and she has been told she is likely to get her assessment after 28 months, in May 2020. The lack of a public diagnosis can have very serious implications. Where is the early intervention for children who are facing these waiting lists? Some schools in Cork have a policy whereby they do not accept a child on the waiting list to attend the special school, or a unit in the school, in the absence of a public diagnosis. Some parents pay for a private assessment to be done and can thereby access domiciliary care, home tuition and the incapacitated child tax credit. Not everyone can afford a private assessment, but even if they can, many children cannot access appropriate education without a public assessment and diagnosis.

This is a priority and the way these children and their families are being treated is a scandal. I hope there will be a radical intervention to make a tangible difference.

What steps is the Minister of State taking to address the disgraceful situation whereby the waiting time for an autism spectrum disorder assessment for children in Cork city and county, many of whom are in my constituency of Cork South-West, can take up to 28 months? The Minister is aware that children with disabilities are legally entitled to an assessment of need under the Disability Act 2005. Moreover, assessments should commence within three months of an application being received and completed within a further three months. I am aware of the roll-out of the new standard operating procedure and note the concerns about this raised by various stakeholders at the Committee on Health last week.

More than 1,150 children in Cork are waiting on stage 2 of the assessment of needs process. These children are waiting for clinical assessments to be completed and roughly 900 have been referred for an autism spectrum disorder assessment. Many of these will wait up to 28 months for an ASD assessment. Why has Cork got such a large waiting list? Why has Cork been left waiting so long? Behind these figures are human beings, parents and siblings, people who are waiting for an official diagnosis to be able to plan a future for their family.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue today. There have been significant year-on-year increases in the number of children applying for assessment, including for autism spectrum disorder and for disability services generally, which has led to delays in timeframes. The clinical picture of autism is complex and variable because of differences in the severity of autism itself.

In the 12 months prior to October 2017, Cork-Kerry community healthcare had received a total of 1,110 referrals for assessment under the Disability Act. In January 2017, approximately 808 applicants were waiting to move from stage 1, the assessment officer stage, to stage 2, the clinical assessment. I understand that a number of initiatives had been put in place in Cork-Kerry community healthcare, including recruitment of additional administration staff and additional assessment officers to screen applications. By October 2017, the waiting list had reduced to 137. The backlog has now been cleared and all assessment of need applications are commenced within a month. There are, however, a very high volume of applications coming through for assessment of need in Cork, with upwards of 100 applications being received per month.

At the end of April 2018, there were 1,150 children awaiting stage 2 clinical assessment as part of the assessment of need process in Cork. Approximately 800 of these cases have been referred for an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, assessment. The Cork-Kerry community healthcare organisation recognises the long waiting times for clinical assessments within the current assessment of need process, and a pilot project has commenced with the South Lee ASD team to look at reducing the time taken to undertake an ASD assessment.

In an effort to standardise assessment of need procedures and to facilitate timely assessments, the HSE identified a requirement to develop a standard operating procedure, SOP. This SOP is intended to replace the suite of approximately 50 guidance notes that have been issued since 2007 and will define the assessment. It will ensure a standardised approach across the State in respect of the operational application of the Disability Act 2005 and provide an important opportunity to balance and ensure equity in terms of assessment and support interventions for vulnerable children and young people with a disability. The HSE recognises that early intervention services and services for school-aged children with disabilities are paramount and need to be improved and organised more effectively. This process is well under way nationwide.

I hope the Minister really gets this issue. The intervention to deal with this will have to be radical because it is a sick joke that children have to wait 28 months for an assessment for autism while they go from aged two to aged almost five. It cannot be tolerated.

There is much talk about the confidence and supply agreement and the Taoiseach says he wants to extend the agreement and enter negotiations. One part of the agreement calls for improved services and increased supports for people with disabilities, particularly for early assessment and intervention for children with special needs. Given that this has not happened, before the Taoiseach comes knocking, looking for more time and an extension of the agreement, he needs to deliver. This is one issue on which we will not accept failure. It must be delivered.

I am glad the Minister of State accepted that the waiting lists are increasing but acceptance is not good enough. At this stage we need strong and fast action. Early intervention is of the utmost importance. It must be remembered that even after a diagnosis these children will face long waiting lists for therapies. The assessment of need must be worked on. Combined, the waiting lists for assessment and therapies make early intervention almost impossible. A diagnosis is required for many schools throughout Cork and to achieve this, the Minister of State must take action and hire more staff.

I assure Deputies Michael McGrath and Murphy O'Mahony that I get the point and accept they have a particular issue. We have a national issue but I also understand there is a particular issue with services in Cork. I acknowledge that we have to take action on disability services. However, the disability service is already engaged in a major reconfiguration of existing therapy resources for children with disabilities into multidisciplinary geographical based teams as part of its national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people aged up to 18 years. It is also anticipated that the combined efforts being undertaken by Cork-Kerry community healthcare and the HSE nationally relating to the assessment of needs process and progress on disabilities will have a significant positive impact on the waiting lists as we progress through 2018.

The Deputies asked me what I have been doing. I have been in regular contact with officials in the HSE on this issue. Last Monday afternoon, I sat down with the HSE and Department of Health. That was among my six priority issues. I have discussed this previously with both Deputies.

I appreciate the Deputies' support on this issue when it comes to the broader political issue in terms of the confidence and supply agreement. I am putting people with disabilities and similar issues at the top of the agenda and I welcome the Deputies support, which is needed. I will continue to be in regular contact with HSE officials on this issue to ensure this remains the case. People with disabilities cannot be left behind and I will accept my responsibility in that regard. I appreciate any support on this issue because a debate is taking place on whether we should have tax cuts or investment in services. From my point of view, I favour the latter and, in the context of this debate, services for children with disabilities.

Garda Commissioner Appointment

I welcome to the Gallery the sole survivor of the Miami Showband massacre and the brother of the three young Reavey brothers who were shot dead in a sectarian attack. They are here because they head up a group known as the Truth and Reconciliation Platform. To my knowledge, the only real condemnation of the appointment of Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner was made by Stephen Travers who survived the Miami Showband massacre. Mr. Travers condemned the appointment for all the right reasons and we all heard him on "Morning Ireland" outline those reasons. I am shocked by the silence in this House about this appointment. I lived through the Troubles and, as a young woman from a republican family, I witnessed the distress of families who were victims of sectarian attacks, from both sides. This group represents families, victims and survivors from both sides and should be commended on that.

The appointment of Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner is like sticking a knife in their back. Mr. Harris has a record of blocking truth for the truth and reconciliation process that is needed to achieve closure on many issues in the North. I refer to what was said about him by a Belfast judge, Mr. Justice Treacy, in 2010 when he accused Mr. Harris of an extreme abuse of power in closing down the Historical Enquiries Team, removing its budget and powers. In doing so, he make clear that the state was not genuinely committed to addressing the concerns of the families, survivors and victims.

When one has a conversation with survivors, families and victims one realises that for many years they have been blocked from finding the truth. The Minister should think about that. How would he feel if his son, brother or someone else close to him was killed and he wanted to know who killed him and why and how he was killed? As the Minister will be aware, the collusion of the British and Northern Ireland state in these killings is common knowledge and a Belfast court has ordered an investigation into the matter. We have been trying to achieve a similar investigation into state collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The survivors and relatives of the victims of the Miami Showband massacre are taking a case to court. We know there are major question marks surrounding the involvement of Drew Harris in the blocking of information to these families.

I have a simple question for the Minister. Could he envisage a scenario in which the Garda Commissioner, namely, Drew Harris, is arrested and taken North to attend a trial that the survivors and families of the Miami Showband massacre manage to secure and give evidence on why he blocked the release of at least two files that pertain to what was known as the Glenanne gang? This group colluded with British MI5 forces to carry out at least 89 sectarian murders. How would the Minister, as a member of the Cabinet and Government, feel if the Garda Commissioner, who he so proudly appointed to do such a great job, was arrested on the ground that he blocked justice being delivered to the families, relatives and survivors of these horrendous sectarian murders? That is a possibility in the future and I would like the Minister to address it because that is what is at stake with this appointment. Put to one side the hurt and the stab in the back to the families and victims of collusion, who need closure, how does this appointment compromise the State, the Minister's office and the role of the Garda Commissioner potentially in the future?

I want to acknowledge the hurt, loss and sense of suffering on the part of all victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland over the years. I also want to acknowledge the broad welcome the appointment of Mr. Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner has received. This is the first occasion upon which the independent Policing Authority has recommended a candidate to Government, following a rigorous selection process conducted by the Public Appointments Service on its behalf. A great deal of work went into ensuring that the widest possible field of qualified candidates put themselves forward. I welcome the successful conclusion following the recent decision by the Government to appoint Mr. Drew Harris as the next Garda Commissioner.

As a well-respected Belfast-based newspaper stated during the week, Mr. Drew Harris is not an outsider, he is a policeman, he is an Ulsterman and he is an Irishman. He has defended the institutions of democracy and rule of law all his life. His father was murdered by terrorists with a political agenda in breach of democracy and rule of law. As Garda Commissioner, Mr. Harris will have the full functions of that role, including safeguarding the security of the State. On taking up office in September, he will, like all entrants to An Garda Síochána, make a solemn declaration, under section 16 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State. The incoming Commissioner is a person of huge ability and the highest integrity. I know he has enormous respect for and knowledge of An Garda Síochána, having worked with members of the organisation as close colleagues over the course of his career.

As I have said, this is the first occasion the independent Policing Authority has exercised its function in regard to the filling of this important position.

All those who put themselves forward were subject to robust scrutiny by an independent expert interview board which determined that Mr. Harris was the best person for the office. lt is only right and fair to give him the opportunity to be judged based on his performance in his new role which he will take up at a time of major reform and investment that will redefine An Garda Síochána as an organisation. In addition, the start of his tenure will coincide with publication of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland which will chart a new course for policing in the decades ahead. I am confident that Mr. Harris has the necessary ability and vital policing, security and change management experience required to lead An Garda Síochána at this critical time. He will bring his talents to the challenge of transforming An Garda Síochána in order that it will become a model of policing excellence, equipped to deal with the huge range of challenges such as those facing police services worldwide. He can be assured of my support and that of the Government and most members of the House in his endeavours.

I am sure the Deputy will agree that dealing with the legacy of the Troubles on the island is a complex and sensitive task, one to which there are no easy solutions. In my previous role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade I spent a great deal of time working with the main parties in Northern Ireland and the British Government to identify ways to address the legacy issues that continue to hold back politics in the North. In 2014 we, collectively, agreed a framework of measures in the Stormont House Agreement. The Garda authorities will continue to co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in all relevant criminal investigations, be they historical or contemporary, in accordance with the arrangements in place. Regrettably, the political impasse in the Northern Ireland Executive has delayed the roll-out of these measures under the Stormont House Agreement. With the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Taoiseach, I will work hard to seek the re-establishment of the Executive for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.

On the issue of unresolved and Troubles-related criminal investigations in this jurisdiction, the Garda authorities will fully pursue any new evidence or information that comes to light, with a view to bringing the perpetrators of crimes to justice.

My Government colleagues and I look forward to working with Mr. Harris as he takes up this exciting, not to say challenging role, in which we wish him every success.

As usual, I did not get the answer to the question asked. I have got used to not really expecting answers to really difficult questions. I believe, however, that the Minister may have given this issue some consideration. If he did not, he should have. He started his statement by referring to the rigorous selection process that had reached the decision to appoint Mr. Drew Harris. He must have thought about the possibility that in the future a person who had blocked information going to the families and survivors might possibly be arrested and brought before the courts in the North of Ireland and face a demand to give evidence there. If he has not considered this possibility, the process was not rigorous. Having blocked for six years the issuing of files to families, last August Mr. Harris was ordered to hand them over within 12 weeks. Last week the families received some of them. I do not know exactly how many they received, but two were held back. They relate to the Glenanne gang and a person known as the "Jackal". He refused to hand them over. The refusal to hand them over could be the subject of a court case. Is it right that a court should have to order the head of the PSNI, formerly the RUC, to hand over files within 12 weeks and that almost one year later he had only just about handed them over? I ask the Minister to picture the families who have waited six years for files and all of their lives for justice. At the end of July it will be 43 years since the Miami Showband massacre. The families have been denied access to the files by the State and now they will see a situation where a person who was the head of the PSNI will be the Garda Commissioner with access to files on their loved ones, files which they cannot access. Is that fair or just? Is it the justice the Minister wants to present?

On 31 July we will, sadly, commemorate the slaughter of the members of the Miami Showband. On behalf of the survivors, I ask the Minister and the Garda Commissioner to join us at the commemoration to meet the families and have this discussion with them. It will take place in Dublin.

I also ask the Minister to delay the appointment of Mr. Harris until he meets the families and answers their questions.

Neither I nor the Government will delay the appointment of Mr. Drew Harris. The appointment of a new Garda Commissioner is always significant, but it is particularly so with the appointment of Mr. Harris, the first person from outside the jurisdiction to be appointed to the position since the establishment of An Garda Síochána almost 100 years ago. The new Commissioner is a person of huge ability and the highest integrity. He worked in the PSNI throughout its transformation following the peace process. I am sure that experience will help him greatly in his new role as Garda Commissioner. Co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána has never been as good and this appointment will serve to cement that relationship even further.

As we approach the centenary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána, the organisation is on the cusp of significant change. The expert Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland is in the final stages of its work and its report will chart a new model for policing in the decades ahead. The new Commissioner will take up his post at this critical time. I look forward to the Deputy's contribution, with that of every other Member in the House, in ensuring the institutional framework agreed under the Stormont House Agreement can be established at the earliest opportunity to deal with the issue as raised.

I offer my condolences to all those involved, especially those affected by the brutal massacre to which the Deputy referred. I will not comment, however, on any court decision in Northern Ireland, no more than I would comment on any court decision here.

Even when it involves the Garda Commissioner.

I look forward to working with the incoming Commissioner. Our shared objective is ensuring the security of the State and the safety of the public. I am sure the Deputy and all other Members of the House will join me in wishing Mr. Drew Harris every success as Garda Commissioner and assuring him of our support at this challenging time as he takes up the position during what is an interesting and exciting time for An Garda Síochána.

Will the Minister accept the invitation to attend the anniversary commemoration of the Miami Showband massacre?

NAMA Portfolio

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and his office for affording me the opportunity to raise once again this very important issue. I want to discuss the impact on the town of Naas of the stalling of the town centre development. It was thought up some years ago as a flagship development that would attract a major anchor tenant that would, in turn, attract footfall which would be of huge and dramatic importance in the development of the town and the resurgence of commerce and the business sector in the area. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances that affected many parts of the country at the time, the development ceased and the company is now in receivership. Since 2008 there have been numerous attempts to bring it back into focus, but it has not yet happened. Every time someone inquires about it, there are various responses, as the Acting Chairman will be aware. We hear such responses as a breakthrough is about to be achieved, or that there are very positive things happening, or that they know where they are going and need the right sequence of measures to be put in place, but whatever has happened until now it is not enough. We have had the excuses which have come from all quarters. The fact is that the town has been blighted by the development that has not proceeded. There is symbolism in the cranes that have been immobile for ten years. No matter what way the town is approached, the first things that can be see are the cranes.

I have had discussions with various people who have been involved in various proposals. I have also raised the matter in the House on several occasions and hope I will not have to raise it again. I thank the Minister of State for coming into the Chamber to address this Topical Issue. This is a crucial time. We either make a breakthrough now or it will not happen at all.

I have made approaches to the arbitration authorities in an effort to apply pressure and get something done in the shortest possible time. I have been in touch with the local authority, as has everyone else. I have been in touch with the Minister, the Minister of State and their offices. There is little else I can do other than launch myself into space as a symbol of protest at this situation having remained immobile for so long.

Suffice it to say, there is still time to make a positive intervention. I am not blaming the Minister or his predecessors, but it is unacceptable that a business element in a major provincial town would be stalled in this fashion for ten years. Naas is well known throughout the country as being a market town and has always had a great reputation, as have its business people, and it has always enjoyed significant employment.

There needs to be a return of footfall to the town centre. Various developments have tended to draw the commercial sector outside the town. If that is allowed to continue, there will be more serious consequences and public confidence in the town will fail. So will confidence among business people, who invest their money in the town's businesses. It will all be to no avail unless something dramatic is done.

Will the Minister of State examine the issues and contact the parties involved with a view to bringing them together and knocking heads together, if necessary, in order to kick-start what has to happen sooner or later?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter which I am taking on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. As someone who is familiar with Naas, I know the cranes to which Deputy Durkan referred. Sadly, there will not be much news in the response that I must give him.

I recognise and appreciate that the Deputy is eager, to say the least, to see this particular matter brought to a satisfactory resolution. As indicated in previous parliamentary responses on the issue, however, the management of the stalled development in Naas is primarily a matter for Kildare County Council in the first instance. With processes under way involving NAMA and arbitration, it would be inappropriate for the Minister to become involved. It would not be proper for the Minister with responsibility for planning matters to make representations on this issue because, under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act, he is precluded from exercising any power or control in respect of any case with which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála is or may be involved, except in very specific and extreme circumstances, which do not appear to apply in this case.

The Deputy will be aware that the hearing of evidence in the High Court in regard to a land title issue on Corban's Lane was completed on 14 June and that the relevant judgment is awaited. Consequently, the arbitration hearing cannot recommence until the High Court land title case is resolved and the judgment issued.

I am informed that Kildare County Council continues to engage in advanced discussions with NAMA and the receivers in an attempt to ensure that a satisfactory sale of the site in question will come about. The council has confirmed to the Department that it will brief all relevant Oireachtas and municipal district members as soon as there is progress to report.

As the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy English, have outlined, and subject to a satisfactory planning approval, there is no impediment to the appropriate development of the site. Kildare County Council recognises the strategic importance of the site and will continue to support and work in partnership with any stakeholder involved. In recent years, the council has initiated and supported a number of projects with the strategic objective of ensuring that the social and economic development of Naas is protected and enhanced. This work is underpinned by the work of the Naas roads and transport steering group, the URBACT group and the Naas regeneration group. Kildare County Council has also received approval from the National Transport Authority to prepare a traffic management study for Naas which will form one element of a strategic social and economic plan for the town.

While I am sure the Deputy is frustrated by the length of time it is taking to get the matter resolved, I know that the local authority is doing all it can within the parameters of its role. We must recognise the due processes that are necessary given the receivership issues that arise in this case, but I am hopeful that there will be further progress to resolve the matter and facilitate the development of this strategic town centre site.

This is the first time I have been asked a question on the issue. While we are precluded ministerially from getting directly involved in the planning affairs of local authorities when planning matters are before them, I am not precluded from inquiring of Kildare County Council about the current position. In light of the Deputy's interest, as well as my own, in the development of Naas town, I would have no problem with ascertaining that information.

I thank the Minister of State. He rightly recognised the frustration of this and other Deputies, as well as everyone in Naas and the rest of the county, who have always regarded the town as-----

It is the county town.

-----a major business centre in the province. Sadly, people's confidence in the marketing impact of Naas is beginning to wane. The Minister of State identified the reason, namely, the ten years. Who wants to wait ten years for statutory processes to conclude? If we have to wait ten years for people to make their minds up about something, it is time to ask questions. We have had to ask questions about a number of planning and development issues that have arisen across the country in recent times, although I will not go into individual cases now. The Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Rourke, knows as well as I do that if it takes so long to make a decision on a simple matter, I hate to think what would happen were we ever faced with a very difficult issue to resolve.

I accept the Minister of State's bona fides on this. While a Minister cannot directly involve himself or herself in a planning application, he or she has the right to find out what is happening, why it has been delayed, what the rate of progress has been annually in the past ten years, what rate is expected in the next ten years and how much longer we must await the outcome.

I have pursued this matter every which way. I have spoken down the years to every party involved. I have raised it in the House and received ministerial responses. It is unfair to Deputies and the Minister that we must continue waiting in this fashion for a simple answer to a simple issue that has been ongoing for such a long time. It is the old story of ransom strips. We cannot afford ransom strips. Incidentally, the people who feel offended may be right, but we are entitled to a decision. We cannot go on forever. We deserve a response to a matter of this nature.

The Minister of State could have a serious impact on this issue. It would be to the benefit of the area and public representatives everywhere who want to see progress when progress is demanded and required.

While my role, as the Deputy acknowledged, is limited, that does not mean there is no role. I will endeavour to educate myself further. I am familiar with the site and the lack of activity thereon, but I am not as familiar as the Deputy or the Acting Chairman with the ins and outs of what is happening. The arbitration process is stalled pending the court's verdict on the case that concluded on 14 June. However, ascertaining information from the council is my job, and I have no difficulty with getting that information for Members.

I thank the Minister of State.

Inland Waterways Maintenance

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, for taking time out of his busy schedule. We are all busy.

This issue has been ongoing for more than ten years but has now come to the fore. The River Blackwater is of considerable benefit, not just financially but also in terms of amenities, in Fermoy. The Blackwater runs down to the estuary in Youghal. The first of the two major issues involved is that the weir is falling apart. Water levels have dropped dramatically. We have very warm weather at the moment, but the levels are still probably 3 ft lower than they would be normally.

The weir falling apart will have a detrimental effect on the migrating salmon, and the Blackwater is famous for salmon fishing.

We have a very old rowing club based on one side of the weir. It dates back to the 1800s. Rowers from this club have rowed in the Olympics. They will lose their sports club. The weir dates back more than 200 years but it has come to a point where this will have a huge effect. It is affecting people's lives within Fermoy and the general area from Fermoy to Youghal. In late April, hundreds of people demonstrated on the bridge in Fermoy to try to get something done and to call on the Government to act on this before it is too late. Unfortunately, we feel that it is a bit too late, but better late than never. Cork County Council has accepted that the weir is in need of repair but said it is a funding issue.

The biggest worry here is the economic impact, the tourism impact and the impact on sport. It will be lost forever. We are trying to promote sports, tourism and so on and I keep saying that, every time we seem to sweep down in certain areas of east Cork, we feel like we are being left behind. If we lose the weir, we will lose massive sporting recreation and fishing amenities. We will lose probably ten sports clubs, such as aqua clubs. When that is gone, it will be gone forever and we will be calling it "Ireland's Ancient Eastish". It will be missing a piece again. It will not move up the map. I appeal to the Minister of State to meet the campaign group and members in Fermoy. The local people have the best local knowledge.

It is bigger than our history of waterways, fishing, sport and the pride and beauty that we have in this country. The important thing is that we will lose a vital piece of our heritage in east Cork, predominantly in Fermoy, and everything that goes with it. It would be shameful to miss the opportunity and look back in years to come and be so regretful. One of the natural beauties that we have is that estuary and the River Blackwater. I encourage the Minister of State to go down and look over the bridge. I took photographs and will show them to him afterwards. It is vital to everything that happens inside Fermoy. If we lose this weir, I am afraid that so many people will be affected by this economically, in sport, in tourism and so on, that it will fall apart and we will end up with "Ireland's Ancient Eastish", as they call it.

I thank Deputy Buckley for submitting this Topical Issue matter. I acknowledge its importance. In recent weeks I have had conversations with all his colleagues in the constituency. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and Deputies Kevin O'Keeffe and Sean Sherlock have brought it to my attention. I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue in the Dáil and giving the opportunity to put it on record.

Cork County Council is the owner of the weir in Fermoy, as the Deputy pointed out, and is the authority responsible for carrying out any works to the weir. Local authorities are under the remit of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. My Department and its State agency, Inland Fisheries Ireland, are responsible for the protection, management and conservation of Ireland's inland fisheries and sea angling resources. The council has advised that both a project to ensure a permanent solution to fish passage and a project to ensure temporary repairs while the permanent solution is awaited are required. There has been ongoing liaison between my Department, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Cork County Council to advise how any proposed works can be consistent with fisheries and environmental obligations, particularly the EU Habitats Directive. Compliance with the directive is the key issue.

The engineering advisers of the council and Department have agreed the essential details of the permanent proposals. A number of options were considered by the engineering advisers and the primary consideration in agreeing the proposals was that they meet the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive. This is especially important for the free passage of wild salmon, a species included in the directive. The IFI regional director and senior officials of the Department met the council on Wednesday, 29 November 2017. The council advised that it is engaged in land acquisition to facilitate the permanent works. This is a matter for the council and, in the meantime, the Department has agreed to the council's temporary repair proposals for the weir. At the November meeting, Department officials requested an indicative timeline on the council's proposals for the permanent and temporary works. An update on this is awaited, following which the senior officials will again meet the council.

Funding of the works is entirely a matter for the council as the owners of the weir infrastructure. The Department and IFI have undertaken, however, to support any bid the council makes for central funding in the context of fisheries and habitat issues. The local authority is the owner. That is not to say that we would not support whatever call it would make to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for funding. As indicated in my response, the council has not responded to the request by officials from November of last year.

I have no problem in visiting Fermoy, making it my business or meeting the four Deputies or a group at some stage. I ask that the Minister of State and Deputies in the council go back to Cork County Council and ask it what it has done since November to progress this. Has it acquired land? Has it a design? Is it engaging consultants with regard to planning permission? Is it moving forward with a plan and costing that we can go to Government with? That is important. There is a valid case. Everyone accepts that work needs to be done but Cork County Council, as the owner, has to make the progress and present a case, together with the Deputies or such, and meet the relevant Ministers about it.

There is a bit of history in this with regard to proposals that the Office of Public Works, OPW, had to assist in this, going back to 2008 and 2010. There were a number of objections. There were plans to include it in the OPW contract for the Fermoy north flood relief summer scheme works in 2008. As a result, there were protests, and the then Minister of State, Conor Lenihan, agreed to a deferral of the planned works for a period to allow the council to carry out repair works to the fish pass and weir and some repair works on the weir. I understand there were extra plans in 2010. The OPW agreed to include weir works in the tender documents of the Fermoy south flood relief scheme, which was the remaining element of the overall flood relief scheme. No agreement was ever reached by the council on the rock ramp, however, and the works were not carried out. Opportunities were presented to Cork County Council at the time. There may have been funding issues etc. in that period.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. It is important. I ask that he go back to Cork County Council and let it update our officials about where it is with its plans to bring it along in design and planning.

I thank the Minister of State for his honesty and his in-depth answer. It seems to be a bit endemic in certain areas that some people are, unfortunately, not doing their jobs and others are trying harder. Going back to the issue of funding, the Minister of State mentioned that Cork County Council may have problems with funding. It comes from the central Government funding too. There has to be a bit of cohesion. It is not just the weir or river. It also has economic, tourism and sports impacts. There was the regatta there just a couple of weeks ago. A total of 212 races were held on that river. One can imagine the social impact it has and the positive mental health impact. It is a win-win.

I am very pleased with the in-depth answer because we are sometimes not told everything and I was not aware that somebody on the other side might not be pushing the boat - pardon the pun - far enough. I thank the Minister of State for that answer. I will raise it with Cork County Council as soon as I get out of the Chamber this evening. I will certainly tell the Minister of State, if he does not mind, and keep him updated. I appreciate his honesty.

As the Deputy is no doubt aware, a by-law was recently signed relating to catch and release and fly fishing only, downstream from the weir, within 10 m. Seven signs have been erected to notify the public of the new by-law. These were erected yesterday. Staff are monitoring daily all activity relating to the Fermoy weir, both with regard to water levels and angler presence. Fish stocks are under stress with the low water levels and high temperatures of water. We are told that there is a satisfactory flow of water going over the weir at one of the breaches in the south bank of the weir in the proximity of the mill race. IFI is confident that, at present, the situation is okay in the event of any fish running or migrating upriver. I was presented with some photographs taken today, showing that there is sufficient water for fish to get up. The consensus is that if fish were to arrive now that temperatures have dropped slightly, passage across the weir in Fermoy would be possible.

Some may ask whether this is about money. It is not. No amount of compensation can turn back the clock and undo the damage done to people's lives. The maximum compensation of €84,000 available from the redress board is scant and pitiable for the suffering endured by the people concerned. It is not, therefore, about money; rather, it is about the State making a tangible gesture as evidence of its good faith and an admission that a wrong was done by employees of the State while the people concerned were under its care and control. It would be evidence of its compassion and recognition in deed, as well as word.

Many members of the Government, including the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, recently fought a referendum campaign to abolish the eighth amendment on the basis of compassion. How can one be selective when it comes to compassion? How can one have compassion for one group of victims and none for another? Which group of victims is more deserving of compassion than the people concerned who often came from deprived backgrounds, were abused as children and have suffered as a consequence for the past 20 to 30 years? A Government of any persuasion or composition which denies the victims of convicted perpetrators access to the redress board does not deserve to call itself compassionate.

The sad thing is the suffering continues. In the words of Yeats, "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart." The people concerned have become disillusioned, disaffected and embittered following years of evasion, half-truths, hiding behind legal niceties and fine legal distinctions, bullying and intimidation. Their suffering must stop immediately because it manifests in suicide, suicidal ideation, health or marriage breakdown and, in many cases, a descent into the darkness of depression and mental illness. On a day when Members have been told that corporation tax receipts have gone through the roof, for the paltry sum of a maximum of €15 million the Government could bring to an end the suffering of the people concerned who have suffered so much. I urge the Minister with all of the sincerity at my command to take the opportunity to do the right thing.

I join my colleague, Deputy Willie O'Dea, in supporting the motion we have tabled on behalf of the survivors of child sexual abuse in primary schools. I have raised this issue in recent years with the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny; the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton. I have met the Minister on several occasions to discuss this specific issue. I acknowledge that previous Governments, of which I was a member, were wrong to pursue Louise O'Keeffe all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. That court vindicated her allegations of having been a victim of child sexual abuse in Dunderrow. That should have been the end of the matter for the Oireachtas and the Government. The judgment dealt with systemic neglect in the 1970s in the absence of a proactive regime which would have protected children in general. The nub of the issue is the very narrow definition and interpretation the Government has taken of the ECHR's judgment in the Louise O'Keeffe case as it applies to other survivors.

We speak in the context of the shock and horror expressed in the House in respect of a range of cases, the most recent of which is the CervicalCheck scandal. The Government correctly decided that it had to quickly to take various steps to help the victims of that scandal. There have been similar situations in respect of mother and baby homes and so on. I find it very difficult to comprehend the absence of genuine compassion for the survivors of child sexual abuse in primary schools.

I have had detailed discussions on the matter with John Allen who has fought this campaign for nearly 17 years. He is an extraordinary, a sensitive and very intelligent gentleman who has steadfastly pursued this case, but, unfortunately, he has not been met with a compassionate response by the State. I have written letters on behalf of several women from County Tipperary who have been affected by this issue and, with Deputy Willie O'Dea, met some gentlemen from Limerick on the matter. The motion is reasonable and quite limited. I met Conor O'Mahony of the child law clinic in University College Cork who has taken up the case of the survivors and written to the independent assessor appointed by the Minister. He makes the key point that the Minister is misrepresenting the basis of liability in the O'Keeffe case by focusing on the issue of prior complaint. In his submission to the independent assessor he states:

The judgment makes reference to matters of which the State “ought” to have been aware. The Minister says that this refers to the complaint. His argument is that because the State had not established a mechanism for handling complaints, it was not aware that a complaint had been made - it did not have actual knowledge of the complaint. Because the State ought to have established a mechanism for handling complaints, it ought to have been aware of the complaint, and therefore it was found to have had constructive knowledge of the complaint. It is on this basis that victims who cannot demonstrate a prior complaint are being excluded from the settlement scheme. The fundamental flaw with this argument is that it entirely misrepresents what the O’Keeffe judgment was referring to when making reference to matters that the State “ought” to have been aware of. First, it should be noted that the Court specifically found that the State had neither actual nor constructive knowledge of the complaint made in Dunderrow. Second, the violation was found in respect of the State’s failure to respond not to a specific risk in Dunderrow, but to a systemic risk that arose in the National School system as a whole, and not just in Dunderrow or other schools where a prior complaint had been made. Since the risk in question was systemic in nature, it applied in every National School and implicated every child. The duty that this placed on the State extended beyond reactive measures on foot of complaints and included proactive and preventive measures designed to prevent abuse before it occurred. The judgment in O‘Keeffe was based on a range of failings, including an inadequate inspection regime and a lack of direct State control of teachers. These failings all applied on a systemic level, and applied in the same way whether or not a complaint had actually been made. They were therefore common to all victims of sexual abuse in National Schools in the l960s and l970s ... By imposing a condition of prior complaint on the availability of redress, the State has shifted the onus from itself [to take proactive and preventive measures] to vulnerable children who are victims of sexual abuse [to make disclosures leading to complaints]. Moreover, not only does the onus shift to the victims to report, but to do so contemporaneously [since delayed reports in adulthood will not have been made “prior” to the abuse of other victims] ... This is an unconscionable position that ignores consensus in multiple international research studies that the vast majority of children who are victims of sexual abuse do not disclose that abuse.

Members of the House know that to be true and the Minister's Department has corporate knowledge of it through the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which I established in 1999 while Minister for Education and Science. The idea of modifying the Statute of Limitations at the time was based on emerging jurisprudence that the victims of traumatic or sexual abuse in childhood could not report such abuse at the time and generally did not do so until many years later. It is extraordinary, cruel, insensitive and contrary to any known research that a prior complaint should be a prerequisite for access to the rather limited redress scheme which has been developed.

Conor O'Mahony further stated:

Those that do usually wait a significant period of time ... before doing so; and even in the minority of cases were the abuse is disclosed, this often does not result in a complaint to the authorities. Thus, “prior” complaints are incredibly unlikely to exist, and indeed, even though there are 360 known victims of sexual abuse in National Schools, a prior complaint has only been established in respect of a single abuser to date. The condition of prior complaint is not designed to limit the scope of liability [and this is the crucial point], it is designed to eliminate it.

That is the purpose of the redress scheme.

Only seven offers of settlements have been made under the scheme the Minister has initiated, all of which relate to prior complaints in respect of that one single abuser, even though we know at least 360 cases arise for consideration. That is a settlement rate of approximately 2% and is clearly not indicative of a sensitive or compassionate approach.

I want to return to what the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, said to me here on 22 May when I raised the issue. He might have been caught unawares or just wanted to say the right thing to me on the morning. I would like the Minister to confirm whether the Taoiseach spoke to him about this because, as Deputy O'Dea pointed out, the Taoiseach stated:

If it is the case, as the Deputy said, that abuse has occurred and there is no doubt about that fact, then that is something we will have to consider. However, people will understand that when it comes to any scheme of compensation or redress scheme, there needs to be some evidence when claims are being made that alleged abuse took place. That was very much the case in previous redress schemes. However, if, as the Deputy said, there is no doubt that abuse has taken place in these cases, certainly that is something we can examine. I will take up the matter with the Minister ...

When I put the case to him, the Taoiseach said there should not be an issue if the evidence is available. This motion is about victims of abuse where the perpetrator has admitted his guilt and is in jail. The State and the Government are saying they will ignore the fact that there were court cases, that there was an admission of guilt and that the people responsible are doing time. They are convicted paedophiles. We know that happened through systemic faults in our system. There are not hundreds or thousands but a number who were convicted. We are asking that in those limited cases the very least we could do is to allow the victims of the perpetrators of that abuse into the redress scheme as some acknowledgement of the pain and hurt they have experienced. They continue to experience enormous trauma, pain and hurt by the lack of acknowledgement and the lack of any decent response from the Government to their plight.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“notes that:

- sexual abuse, and child sexual abuse in particular, is a heinous crime wherever and however it occurs;

- everything that can be done should be done to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice and to ensure that those responsible for such crimes provide redress to the victims;

- in respect of residential institutions, the State accepted that it shared responsibility for abuse along with those who staffed and managed the institutions since, as set out in the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ryan Report), the State was responsible for committing children to the institutions, for licensing their operation and for directly inspecting the institutions with respect to the care and protection of children within them;

- under the now-closed Residential Institutions Redress Scheme, over €1.24 billion was paid to some 15,000 survivors of abuse, the bulk of this coming from taxpayers’ funds;

- in respect of day schools, the 2014 European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) judgment found that the State failed in its obligation, in specific circumstances, to protect Louise O’Keeffe from sexual abuse by a teacher; and

- the State in 2015, introduced an ex gratia scheme of payments for victims of abuse by teachers and other school employees;

recognises that the requirement for evidence of a prior complaint of abuse (arising from the ECtHR judgement) is needed to access the ex gratia scheme in those cases where the State should reasonably have known of the danger posed by the abuser and taken steps to address it;

further notes the appointment of an independent assessor to hear the appeals under this scheme and that he is reviewing the legal implications of the ECtHR judgment, and awaits the outcome of the independent assessor’s considerations;

agrees that:

- the ex gratia scheme should be open to all those to whom the criteria apply, only some of whom may have been abused by the criminally convicted; and

- all the services of the State should be applied to support victims of crime; and

calls on all persons and institutions who have evidence of complaints in respect of sex abusers to freely provide that evidence so that the victims of abuse may secure redress, whether through the ex gratia scheme or through civil proceedings against those abusers and/or their employers, as relevant.

I thank the sponsors of the motion for putting it before the House. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is one of the most appalling crimes that can be perpetrated because it is inflicted on people in their most vulnerable years and is done by persons in positions of trust. Like all Members of the House, I believe we can spare no effort to stamp out that practice, to protect children from such perpetrators and to bring such offenders to justice.

We must also support the victims, in their needs as victims of crime, in accessing health and welfare services to overcome the huge difficulties they have encountered in their lives that Deputy Martin and Deputy O'Dea described. I believe we should be generous in affording them access to those State services that can assist them in dealing with what has been a very traumatic experience.

We must also spare no effort in ensuring that the child protection measures we put in place are rigorously enforced. Much work has been done since the European Court of Human Rights judgment to ensure we have a robust scheme.

The motion raises the question of liability to compensation. There is no doubt there is a clear liability on the part of perpetrators and those who oversaw them. When it comes to the issue of the State, we can see what has happened. In the case of industrial schools, the State failed. It clearly had a responsibility for the management of those schools. The State sent children to those schools. The State licensed those schools. The State inspected those schools to ensure the welfare of those children, and the State failed catastrophically in its execution of its clear and direct responsibilities. The Ryan report shows that litany of failings.

When Deputy Micheál Martin was in government, the State rightly introduced redress in the case of industrial schools. Under that redress scheme, the State has paid compensation to 15,000 victims. A sum of €1.5 billion has been paid out in respect of those claims.

At the time the Government of which Deputy Micheál Martin was a member put in place this scheme, the case around the State's liability in respect of primary schools was regarded differently by the State and has been since that time. The State did not enrol the children in those schools. They were not State institutions. The State did not employ the staff in those schools and the State did not manage the schools. That was the clear position of the State when the current Opposition was in government as it is now.

That was tested in the Louise O'Keeffe case. Louise O'Keeffe went to the European Court of Human Rights which found that in the case of Louise O'Keeffe, where there was a prior complaint but the perpetrator was not pursued in any way by the State, that established a clear failure by the State. That, in turn, meant the State had a responsibility and a liability even in the case of primary schools it did not manage, as I mentioned. That is what led to the ex gratia scheme that was put in place.

I recognise that many applications to that scheme have disputed the State's interpretation of the ruling that underpins it and how they, as applicants seeking to establish prior complaint, have been facilitated in that. It was in the light of understanding those concerns that I appointed an independent assessor to examine the appeals against that ex gratia scheme. There is no desire on the part of the State not to pay out in a case where the circumstances are similar to those found in the judgment in the Louise O'Keeffe case. That is the reason I have appointed an independent former High Court, Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, to assess the cases before him. That is not being done by me, as a Minister, legal advisers to the Government or the Attorney General. It is being done by an independent former member of the High Court to assess the issues, whether the ruling the State used to underpin the ex gratia scheme is properly rooted in the judgment and the process applicants have gone through to try to establish prior complaint. I believe we should await the findings of Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill in respect of the cases put before him. That process is designed to explore the arguments Deputy Micheál Martin made, and Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill will deal with that.

While both Deputies spoke eloquently about the very large number of victims and described how all of them have suffered grievously, in the motion they seek to open up a situation where the State would introduce a scheme purely for those who were victims of convicted perpetrators. I understand the argument they put forward here and to the Taoiseach, with whom I have discussed the matter. Essentially, the motion states that compensation should be paid to certain victims but not to others.

That is a deliberate distortion.

It is to be paid to certain victims, not on the basis of the State's responsibilities for failings that led to the abuse that they suffered, but based on the fact that there was a conviction of the perpetrator in their cases. Although I looked at this and took advice on it, the position is that this would treat different victims differently purely on the basis of whether a conviction could successfully be secured.

No, that is a deliberate distortion.

There are many reasons a victim's abuser might not be successfully prosecuted. The victim might have been too traumatised to pursue the case. The evidence might not be sufficiently strong for the DPP to prosecute. It may not have been possible to secure a conviction beyond reasonable doubt in the courts. There are many reasons a person who was a perpetrator might not be convicted. For the State to set up a scheme that would seek to treat some victims in one way and treat other victims, perhaps as traumatised or even more traumatised, differently would not be fair.

That is the position currently.

I have been advised that it would breach the equality provisions of the Constitution in that it would seek to treat one group differently from people who are in similar circumstances.

Can we see that advice?

If the State has a liability because of its failing, that has to be established and applied equally. It cannot be applied through using a conviction in a criminal court as establishing that the State had a liability. Convictions occur and the State is not by that proven to have been responsible.

It is not establishing liability, it is establishing that the thing happened.

The payment of compensation is linked to the State being responsible.

That is what happened in the redress institutions. The State was responsible. It put many of the children in these institutions, oversaw and regulated those institutions and was responsible for safety in them.

We regulate primary schools.

The State solely inspects in primary schools in respect of the execution of the curriculum.

That is not what the European Court of Human Rights said.

I have also taken advice and it is very clear from the legal advice available to me that any attempt to create a scheme such as this would be open to challenge by others who are not included within the ring fence of conviction and that such a case would be successful because it would be treating one group of victims differently from another group and that would not be acceptable and would not be in coincidence with the principles of equality in our Constitution.

Can we have a copy of that advice?

The core issue the Deputy raises, namely, what the court established and whether the ex gratia scheme is properly applying that, is being evaluated by an independent High Court judge who is respected by everyone. It is not being evaluated by me, as Minister, or our legal advisers. It is being assessed independently by a judge and we should await his findings.

I am sharing time with Deputy Funchion. I have been a Deputy for two years and the Minister's amendment to the motion was the most shocking thing I have seen in this House. Tomorrow, we will vote on the motion before the House and the Minister knows the Government will lose that vote. Given that he knows his amendment will be lost, I am perplexed as to why he proposed it. The motion has the support of all parties in the House. The Government will be isolated tomorrow when we vote against its amendment and support the original motion.

This is an issue I have been deeply involved with since before I was elected to the House. When I was a councillor I met some of the lads who attended Creagh Lane national school in Limerick. I welcome the lads who are in the Gallery. I particularly welcome John Allen from Cork, and echo the comments made by Deputy Micheál Martin. Mr. Allen is a fine person. I have dealt with him a number of times and his commitment to seeking justice not only for himself but also for others is to be commended. The other lads from Creagh Lane who are in the Gallery are John Boland, Christy Rainbow, David Phayer, Ger Naughton, Buddy Boland, Georgie Kennedy, Tom Hogan, William Buckley and Ger Smyth. I also mention those who had intended travelling today but could not make it in the end. I specifically want to remember those who have not survived and are not here tonight.

I and my party have worked in a co-operative way on this topic. Sinn Féin suggested what could be included in the motion, refrained from putting forward our own motion and did not table any amendments to ensure the motion passes, which I have no doubt will be the case given the widespread support for it among all parties, apart from the Minister's party. With the support of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and others, the motion will pass and I expect the Minister to take action on it immediately. The will of the Dáil should not be ignored by this Government whose actions to date on this issue have been despicable. I expect Fianna Fáil to use the leverage it has under the confidence and supply agreement to ensure action is taken once the motion is passed.

I will speak briefly to the specifics of the motion. It notes the Louise O'Keeffe judgment and the narrow interpretation the Government has made of it. I asked the Minister in parliamentary questions who exactly provided the advice that a prior complaint was required. Unfortunately, he failed to provide the requested information on that occasion. Perhaps he can shed some light on the matter tonight. I also asked previously about the total absence of consultation talks. Maybe the Minister can update us on their progress. I asked why the Minister is refusing to provide information to the State Claims Agency relating to ex gratia scheme applications despite the agency having requested it in November 2016 and having sent numerous reminders to the Department. Will the Minister update the House on that? I have asked countless parliamentary questions seeking information on this topic and most of the time the answers received provide no information. I can only assume this stonewalling is because the Government knows it is wrong, but just does not want to deal with the issue. That is simply not good enough.

Creagh Lane was a small national school in the heart of Limerick city. It should have been a place - an education facility - in which children were nurtured, supported and encouraged to reach their full potential. Unfortunately, for many this was not the case. It was a horror story and a true nightmare for many of them. These children were failed by a State that should and could have protected them. It is disgraceful that the men from Creagh Lane have had to put up such a fight. Having been subjected to the most horrendous sexual abuse as children, they were denied redress due to barriers put in place by Fine Gael. Some of these lads were recently quoted in thejournal.ie. Christy Rainbow, who was abused at the age of eight, said: "School was about survival, I'd be looking at the teacher thinking 'just stay away'." Thomas Hogan, who was abused at the age of six, recalled screaming and having to be tied into a buggy with a rope to be brought to school. He said: "The children never spoke about it, we just kept our heads down and our mouths shut." John Allen from Cork said: "I shut down. All I know is I was crying for my mother."

I know most of these lads personally. I went to a similar type of school not far from Creagh Lane a few years later. Many of them had not spoken about their abuse for years. Families and friends were unaware of what happened to them and what they went through. Some did not speak about what happened to them until after the case against their abuser was concluded in 2009. I remember one survivor telling me, when I met him in the Dáil just after the conviction of the ex-Christian Brother, that his mother asked him if the reason he looked back every day when he was leaving for school was that he wanted her to take him back.

The Government's handling of this matter has been shambolic and shameful. It is clear it does not understand the hurt and stress it is continuing to cause to survivors. It has forced them to protest outside the Dáil gates to try to get their story highlighted in the media and to travel to Europe to highlight the injustice done to them in the European Parliament. Their testimonies on that trip were powerful and will remain with me for the rest of my life. The Government's failure to give these men the justice they require has meant they have had to retell their heart-wrenching stories again and again, thereby reliving their awful experience, and has forced them to plead for the redress to which they should be fully entitled. This is a scandal.

In his reply to Deputies Willie O'Dea and Micheál Martin, the Minister tried to muddy the waters by talking about floodgates opening or other victims being left behind. That is not intention of the motion, as the Minister well knows.

I want to address the official statistics pertaining to child sexual abuse perpetrated by religious persons in Irish schools, which give an insight into the possible reach of this motion. The official statistics are contained in the "Review Reports by Diocese" and "Review Reports by Religious Order/Congregations" sections on the safeguarding.ie website. These statistics confirm that only 72 religious were convicted of child sexual abuse in Ireland since 1 January 1975. Of these, 39 were priests and 33 were missionaries, and of these 33 missionaries, 12 were Christian Brothers, so this will not open up a floodgate. As this motion is dealing specifically with access to redress for people where the perpetrator of the crime has been convicted, there is no floodgate issue and the number of people is limited. The Minister is aware of this as Victims Of Child Abuse in Day Schools, VOCADS, has provided him with these statistics. Our party leader, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, raised this issue with the Minister. At the time, she said that of the 210 survivors the State had bullied into dropping their legal cases of abuse, 15 had applied to the ex gratia scheme and of that number, eight had failed. This is disgraceful.

I return to the Government amendment to the motion. The Minister knows that with the help of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and others, the amendment will be massively defeated so why has he tabled it? The Government amendment states that the ex gratia scheme should be open to all those to whom the criteria apply. The Government still thinks it is a case of excluding people who cannot prove a prior complaint. I am very disappointed by this stance and, quite frankly, I am confused as to why the Minister is trying so hard to block access to redress for people who were failed so badly by the State, who are now looking for justice and who are being put through hoops by the Minister. Will he give the reasons he is blocking people from accessing redress? Is it because he is worried there will be too many of them and that it will cost the State? What exactly is his reasoning? This House and, more importantly, the people in the Public Gallery who are directly affected by this, deserve to know. Sinn Féin will not be supporting the Government amendment.

The State has failed these men terribly. It failed to protect them when they were children in school at their most vulnerable. It failed them when the individual who perpetrated the awful abuse was not brought to justice for years after the events took place. It failed these men when they were forced to grow up with no supports or help for the awful trauma they went through, and it continues to fail them by putting barriers in the way of redress and making them plead for compensation. I ask the Minister and this Government to ensure this failure ends here tonight.

Sinn Féin is supporting the motion and we welcome the fact that it is being brought forward. I welcome the people in the Public Gallery and commend them on their courage. It is disgraceful that they must come here and have their stories told like this. This should not happen. They should be getting all the supports along with every other victim of child sexual abuse. It should not even be up for question and I do not know how they cope with this on a daily basis. I find this subject very difficult, even listening to the material quoted by Deputy Quinlivan. I do not know how many anybody could listen to that and not do everything in their power to help people in that situation.

It is really far-reaching and quite disgraceful on the part of the Government to say that it did not force these children to go to school or that it did not send these children to school. Every child is expected to go to school. We still have the system whereby if a child misses 21 days, the State will be down on him or her like a ton of bricks. It is ridiculous to say they were not forced to attend these schools.

I thank and commend Deputy Quinlivan who has been taken a huge personal interest and done a huge amount of work in the area. I commend him on his efforts. As we are aware, much of this comes on the back of the bravery of Louise O'Keeffe who was forced to go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The Irish Government now says that the Louise O'Keeffe case and the entitlement to redress only applies to people abused by someone who had a prior complaint against them. This is completely unfair. These men were abused as children by someone in a position of power and are now being punished for not being capable of speaking up at that time, a time when the Catholic Church was the ultimate power in this country and when they were just children. Let us not forget that.

We know from the Ryan report that the State was aware of the sexual abuse of children in school in the 1940s but did nothing about it until it was forced to in the 1990s. As survivor Thomas Hogan said in thejournal.ie recently, "I can't recall very much about being seven, but I can recall the fear of that and I can recall the anger of it, not being able to say or do anything about it." These children could not speak up. This was not a choice on their part and to say that a prior complaint needs to have been made is not only insulting to them but belittles the suffering they experienced. I find that particularly difficult. Perhaps it is because my son turned seven last week but just thinking about the situation, what these children went through and what they are now being forced to go through as adults is nothing short of disgraceful.

The Government claims the floodgates will open but these are very specific cases and there is nowhere near enough people for floodgates to open. To be honest, if it is a case of floodgates opening, let them open. Anybody who has been abused at the hands of this State should be given whatever support and counselling services they need. Some Fianna Fáil Deputies talked about the effect on relationships, families and every single part of a person's life. It does not matter whether the floodgates open because people need support and it is not good enough that we come in time and again, apologise and say the stuff that happened was disgraceful. We are standing over it today because we will not give adequate support to these victims and are forcing them not only to relive it but to come up and tell their stories publicly. I find the whole thing disgusting.

The State has never taken responsibility for this abuse. Thomas Hogan has stated that if, at the time his abuser, Seán Drummond, was convicted, the State had come out and said it did not do its job at the time and was sorry, that would nearly have been enough. The Government did no such thing and has instead fought victims tooth and nail to deny any culpability. Redress is owed to these men and we welcome this motion which it is hoped will ensure this is what they get.

John Allen has been mentioned on a number of occasions tonight. This quote from him sums up the situation. He said that, "Instead of standing next to me, the Government is standing opposed to me. It's morally wrong." It is not too late. We have not voted on this. It is not too late to withdraw the Government amendment and it is not too late to support the motion and ensure everything is done to address the situation and that all of these people get the support they need. That is the least we can do and that is the least they deserve. I am sure most Deputies will be supporting this but I appeal again to the Government to withdraw its amendment and to do everything in its power, given that it is in power, to ensure these men and all victims of child sexual abuse are looked after. It is about time we started dealing properly with our horrific history. We seem to be doing it in piecemeal amounts. It takes a huge amount of public pressure and protest for things to change. We need to look at these situations, deal with them and ensure that people are given every support. It is the least we owe them.

I thank Deputy O'Dea and Fianna Fáil for using their Private Members' time for this motion. Raising this issue is a very good use of Private Members' time. I thank all the Deputies who played a role in raising these cases down the years. I hope that when this motion is passed tomorrow, the Government will recognise the democratic wish of the Dáil and implement the motion. Unfortunately, we know it will not do so, which is thoroughly undemocratic.

Like others, I pay tribute to the survivors, including the survivors in the Public Gallery. I have had the privilege of meeting the Creagh Lane survivors on a number of occasions. It is hard for anyone to campaign for years and years regardless of the issue but this involves people campaigning in a such a way when they have been abused, are suffering all the effects of that abuse in terms of their mental health and personal life, and then face a State that is determined to stand in the way of them getting justice and that is trying to bully them into dropping their case or saying it will pursue them for costs.

To continue despite all of that, to take the case for justice here and to take it to Europe really takes courage. They are responsible for pushing it this far and it is the role of those of us who are supporting this motion to try to push and assist in amplifying their voices to shame the Government into dropping its opposition and allowing them to be included in the scheme.

It is clear to everybody who is here that while this is a very distressing issue, in its facts it is a very simple one. The argument of the Minister, which has been answered by Deputy Funchion, is that while the State makes people go a school, it was not to know there was this abuser in Creagh Lane or the other cases where this applies. The State paid the teacher, however, and that teacher abused those boys in an horrific and repeated way. That man has been convicted so there is no dispute over the facts. Those people face threats and bullying from the State all over again, however, in an effort to have the State avoid owning up to its responsibility.

To come to the meat of the issue, I want to respond to what the Minister has said. It is shameful and it has been shameful for years every time this issue has been raised. I would not think the Minister got involved in politics to say to these people who are victims of horrific abuse by a man who was paid by the State that they should not get justice and should not be included. I am sure the Minister does not want to be doing that but here he is doing it. He has done it previously and he is doing it again this evening. The Government is doing it with its amendment, which has the same effect. I appeal to the Minister not to do it, to do the right thing and to speak out on this issue.

The Minister raised a couple of arguments that were disingenuous and that do him and the Government no service. The Minister said Fianna Fáil's motion calls for some victims to be covered by a scheme but not others. That is not true. The motion calls for some victims to be included, victims in cases where the position is clear and there is no dispute, and where the perpetrators have been caught and convicted. It does not call for anybody not to be included. It calls for these people to be included. What the Minister accuses the motion of is precisely what the Government is doing. By resting on the idea of prior complaint, the Minister is treating some survivors differently than other survivors on the basis of this prior complaint. It is the Minister who is guilty of saying some survivors are entitled to be included and some are not.

The second key argument he makes and has made over the years is to hide behind this exceedingly narrow definition or interpretation of the O'Keeffe case. The Minister made a revealing slip of the tongue earlier when he spoke about people objecting to the European Court of Human Rights ruling, and he then had to correct himself and say they are objecting to the interpretation of the ruling. That is a very important distinction. Louise O'Keeffe's opinion and other opinions do not agree with the excessively narrow interpretation that is being put on this by the Government. It is shameful for the Government to hide behind legalese and to say it does not have to do this.

Even if the Minister's interpretation was correct, so what? It would just mean the Government does not have a legal obligation to include these survivors in the scheme. It would not mean it is barred from including them in the scheme. It would simply mean it is not compelled to do it. Is that what the Minister is waiting for? Is he waiting for the European Court of Human Rights to rule again and to decide that these people have to be included? That is the argument that is being made, namely, that unless the ruling is such that these people have to be included, we are not going to include them. The Minister should forget about that and do the right thing. He should stop abusing survivors all over again. He should do the right thing by survivors tomorrow in terms of the vote and then take action. Exactly as Deputy Funchion said, these are not floodgates. These are people we are talking about, people who were abused where the State has a responsibility. Everybody who is affected in that way should be included. That is not some crazy notion and a Government that is serious about doing the right thing would simply do that.

I call Deputy Thomas Pringle, who is sharing time with Deputy Catherine Connolly.

The case of Louise O'Keeffe deserves to be remembered not only for the heinous crimes that were perpetrated against her but mainly for the way the State has tried to distance itself from them. It is a signal in regard to how the State deals with such cases. This has been done on our behalf and on behalf of every citizen of this State, but who gave the State the right to do it? Rather than admit its responsibility and ours, the State tried to cover it up and deny any responsibility, which is wrong, although that is what the State is continuing to do.

It is worth remembering what has been written about Ms O'Keeffe's case. The Irish Times stated:

When the little girl of eight and her classmates were abused there was no one to whom they could turn. Similarly at the criminal hearing there was no representative of the State to offer support to these victims. It was a case of “hear no evil, see no evil and thus there was no evil". [...]

Nobody seemed to care that it took more than 20 years before any girl summoned the courage to make a complaint to An Garda Síochána. Accountability is important, in terms of recognising past errors but also in seeking to prevent their repetition. A civil legal case was therefore taken to get such accountability.

The State denied any and all responsibility for the acts of the teacher. Yet the State dictated how many teachers may teach in a school, it pays their wages and their pensions on retirement, negotiates such pay and working conditions, sets their qualifications, gives them recognition to teach in school (without which they cannot teach) and sets the curriculum. [...]

Forty-one years after an eight-year-old girl was sexually abused by her principal in school, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in her favour: the State had failed to “put in place any mechanism of effective State control against the risks of such abuse occurring”.

The judges said it was “an inherent obligation of a government to protect children from ill-treatment, especially in a primary education context”.

This is the key point. It is the State's responsibility to protect all children in primary school, yet here we are, all these years later, and still the State, meaning us, is not willing to stand up and face its responsibility.

No one is clear from responsibility in this case. Fianna Fáil was in government when much of this happened and Fine Gael has been in power when dealing with the fallout from the case. I would hope that if I were in the position to deal with these cases, I would deal with them compassionately, but I do not know for certain. My main concern would be dealing with the victims rather than the burden on the State.

The Minister's response is horrific and terrible. Why is it that we will only do the bare minimum when dealing with these issues? Is it that the State thinks people are only trying to make money out of the situation? It is as if someone would put themselves through years of pain and suffering to get the amount of money that is involved in this case. The Minister has not done this on my behalf or on behalf of millions of Irish citizens so who has he done it for? He is only our representative in dealing with this. We are telling him it has to be dealt with and resolved, and he should do it.

I have no hesitation in supporting this motion and I thank Fianna Fáil for bringing it forward. The motion does not exclude people. It asks for certain people to be included. It is at the discretion of the Government to make it as broad as it wants.

I took the trouble to get the European Court of Human Rights judgment and I have read it. I advise the Ministers to read it, not alone in regard to this case but in regard to the background and what the case highlighted in terms of previous reports. To take such a narrow interpretation of this judgment is simply not based on reality and it is certainly not based on a reading of the case. I do not know how, given the circumstances, the Minister can sit there and justify a narrow interpretation of it based on a prepared script without reading the case. It is in very clear English and is very simple. It is a majority ruling. It is important to realise that this case is based on a case taken in the Irish courts, beginning in 1988, when Ms O'Keeffe instituted proceedings, and going right up to 2014.

Can Members imagine such a period of time? It was 26 years. More importantly, we are approaching nearly 50 years. I could take any year and note that we have failed utterly to learn.

I refer to the judgment to put things in perspective. The Government argues that a narrow interpretation is justified and that the State did not know. This case is based on a young girl who was abused repeatedly by a school principal, who was a married man. The patron was the Catholic Church. It is acknowledged in the judgment that the inspector from the Department went to that particular school more frequently than was usual. As such, the Department was quite aware that something was not quite right. Ms O'Keeffe had to go to the High Court where costs were awarded against her and she then had to go to the Supreme Court where the only thing it could do for her was reverse the costs order. She then had to go before the European Court of Human Rights. It is quite unbelievable that the argument was made that her application was manifestly unfounded. I do not know how any Irish Government could argue that. The majority judgment went against that. The Government argued that she had lost her victim status. The Government argued that her case was manifestly ill-founded. The judgment does not make for very pleasant reading. While I might accept that arguments have to be made on a legal basis, to persist now with those arguments against all of the evidence is unforgivable.

The judgment puts the case in perspective. In addition to the complaints being made at the time, the court looked specifically at the knowledge of the Government. It went back as far as the Carrigan report of 1931, which was followed by the Cussen report on the industrial schools in 1936 and the Kennedy report in 1970. I will stick to the Carrigan report as my time is limited. The Department of Justice refused to publish the report at the time and one can see why. Page 16 of the judgment states that the police Commissioner was an important witness for the report. He gave evidence of responses from 800 police throughout the country looking at statistics between 1924 to 1930 on the offence of defilement, carnal knowledge or rape of girls under ten years of age, between ten and 13 years of age and in other age groups. The Commissioner submitted a detailed analysis of those statistics noting, inter alia, that there was an "alarming amount of sexual crime increasing yearly [against young] children from 16 years downwards". The Department responded with a phrase like one of Lord Denning's that it could not possibly publish the report because the conclusion would have to be drawn "that the ordinary feelings of decency and the influence of religion had failed". That is exactly what happened. The ordinary feelings of decency and religion had failed utterly. Had the Government taken action on foot of the horrific rate of sexual crime in 1931, things might have changed. The Cussen report, the Kennedy report and any number of reports up to the present day tell us that the State was fully aware and colluded with the religious orders to keep things quiet.

For the third time, I appeal to the Minister to read this judgment. It does not talk about prior complaints in isolation. It refers to systemic difficulties, a failure to inspect and a failure to analyse the risk on the basis of the knowledge that was there. That knowledge was there. It is one of the clearest judgments and it is worth reading. I ask the Government not to add insult to injury by interpreting narrowly a judgment which does not deserve such treatment. I have only mentioned a fraction of what was in the reports referred to. If we are going to learn anything at all from this judgment, let us stop putting our heads in the sand and let us put our hands up.

I commend Fianna Fáil on tabling this motion which makes it clear that the conditions in place to access redress are causing huge distress to the victims. I agree with the point in the motion that it is unjust that citizens who have been sexually abused by perpetrators who were employed by the State in primary schools and subsequently convicted of sex abuse are excluded from the State's redress scheme because they are unable to prove that a prior complaint was made. It is very strange. It seems that we are determined to do all we can to make the lives of these most unfortunate people more difficult than they are. It is reprehensible. All one would need to do is ask Louise O'Keeffe to know how true that is. It was true when she took her case and it remains true many years later today.

I was appalled to note that the State Claims Agency, which manages litigation against the State in cases of child sexual abuse in schools, has settled only seven cases out of court to date. One has to ask what is going on and why an adversarial attitude prevails even to this day. With all due respect to the process of law and the requirement to satisfy a certain legal caution, it is clear that the will to provide redress as a matter of urgency is not there. It takes will and means to do it and it must be done. I acknowledge the progress on victim support in recent years, even if it has been very belated. It was in that spirit that I welcomed the publication of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016, which was the first comprehensive primary legislation to attempt to place the victim at the centre of the picture rather than to appear to give preferential treatment to the perpetrators of crime. That is what appeared to be happening all the time and we hope things have changed with the legislation. However, we have yet to see the fruits of that change.

We need something of that spirit now as we debate how to approach redress and compensation pathways for the victims of sexual abuse. Let us not forget that this country still has an enormous child abuse problem. In reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs confirmed to me that the numbers children being referred to child protection services for abuse from 2011 to 2016 was just under 250,000, which is an outlandish figure. While abuse takes place in several forms, including physical, sexual and malnourishment, this is a huge figure to see on our watch with all our education, legislation, awareness and agencies to deal with young children. It is truly horrific and deeply disturbing to see that in excess of 248,000 referrals across all categories of abuse, including physical and sexual, occurred in the period. The information provided to me shows that last year 36% of referrals were for emotional abuse, 16% were for sexual abuse, 23% were for physical abuse and 25% were for neglect. This amounts to a 50% increase in total referrals from 2011 to 2016, which is staggering. Of those nearly 250,000 referrals, more than 110,000 have been deemed to be of sufficient gravity and concern to warrant the immediate implementation of child protection measures.

In light of that information, it should be clear that we need to put in place, as a matter of urgency, better pathways to a more humane and compassionate redress scheme. Certainly, we need to be less adversarial and to remove the legal eagles from the situation. While they are acting on instructions, any situation in which they become involved is subject to delay and adversarial conflict as that is the nature of their work. I am not saying they are deliberately adversarial but they are making things adversarial on behalf of the State. I appeal to the Ministers to be more compassionate, to enter the modern era and to examine why so many children continue to be referred to the Child and Family Agency, the Garda and other social services.

I wish to share time with Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Willie O'Dea, for bringing forward the motion. On behalf of the victims of sexual abuse who have been excluded on an unfair basis from the fruits of the Louise O'Keeffe decision, I thank the Deputy and my party leader for their commitment. I pay tribute to the victims, many of whom are in the Visitors Gallery and many of whom have told me their stories of abuse and neglect by the State which are dreadful and appalling.

The Minister has tried to deal with our motion in a way that misinterprets it entirely, possibly deliberately so. We are not trying to create a category or a special category for certain victims of abuse. What we are trying to do is facilitate those victims of abuse whose cases essentially have been proved by way of a conviction by allowing them to qualify for redress. There would be no exclusion of anybody else. The courts are always open for any other victims of abuse who do not fall within the terms of our motion to take cases, but this is for persons for whom prior complaint has been an insurmountable and I suggest illegal hurdle put before them. The most ludicrous exemplar includes the first victims where there could not possibly have been a prior complaint. It makes a mockery of the Louise O'Keeffe decision and the law set down by the European Court of Human Rights to exclude these individuals and the others affected by it.

I note that Deputy Catherine Connolly set out a summary of the law. Having read the Louise O'Keeffe decision, there is no harm in outlining it. It states:

In sum, having regard to the fundamental nature of the rights guaranteed by Article 3 [the prohibition of torture] and the particularly vulnerable nature of children, it is an inherent obligation of government to ensure their protection from ill-treatment, especially in a primary education context, through the adoption, as necessary, of special measures and safeguards.

Furthermore, this is an obligation which applied at the time of the events relevant to this case, namely in 1973.

Nowhere in the statement of law by the European Court of Human Rights which we adopted as part of our membership of the European Community and under the Constitution is it stated there must be a prior complaint. Where prior complaint comes in is in the application of that general legal principle to the particular case of Louise O'Keeffe. It is deeply wrong, immoral and unjust to use the application of a general legal principal to exclude the people concerned who are nearly all men from benefiting from the redress scheme. We do not know what benefit it would provide, but all the law can give to the victims of a wrong is money. It cannot undo what has been done. It can certainly punish offenders, but it cannot do anything else. However, this is not about money; rather, it is about what the liable person - in this case, the State - can do.

I refer to a decision made in the High Court by Mr. Justice Max Barrett - it is an awful decision to read - in the case of one of the victims who is described in the judgment as Mr. A. I will not give his name, but it may well be known. There were other plaintiffs also. The judgment of Mr. Justice Barrett given on 26 May 2016 was incredible in the sense that issues of contract law were brought in to prevent the gentlemen from taking their case against the State because they had been served with a discontinuance notice a number of years previously when the State had a couple of victories in court cases related to this issue. In the judgment the word "victories" is in inverted commas because they were not really victories because the Louise O'Keeffe decision subsequently overturned the decision in her particular case and the plaintiffs had withdrawn their cases. Mr. Justice Barrett, in stating they could not come back, felt he was obliged by law to do so. Whether that is right or wrong is a matter for him. However, his comments were absolutely searing in terms of the way the people concerned have been treated. The judge stated he felt he was making the correct decision as a matter of law, but he freely admitted that he wished that matters were not so. Some of the facts claimed that underline the plaintiffs' claims and which were placed before the court make for deeply unpleasant reading. The judge stated his was a court of law and that he could not change the decision. What he said was, "But the Irish people, with their great and proper sense of justice, may well conclude that the path of rightness in this matter should lead ultimately to a different end [effectively our motion], regardless of the end reached here today" in court. He went on to state, "This Court, as an Irishman, would respectfully agree were they so to conclude." The people, as Mr. Justice Barrett stated, "with their great and proper sense of justice," might well conclude that the path of rightness leads to a better position, but they can only act through the authority of the Government of the day. Deputy Richard Bruton is the Minister for Education and Skills. He is the authority who could act in accordance with what Mr. Justice Barrett said. He felt he could do no different in a court of law but that the people could take "the path of rightness." I urge the Minister to take the path of rightness, as urged by the judge as the moral and right thing to do, and accept our motion, not to use the floodgates argument, as this involves a limited category of persons.

We have heard so much about Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill. As I understand it from reading the terms of reference he has been given, he is not there to overturn or interpret the particular advice the Government has received. He is there simply to apply it. That is in fundamental disagreement with what the victims are here about today. I do not want the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, to take personally the assertion that he is not his usual effervescent bubbly self today. He is in different form and I do not blame him because this is a difficult position for him to adopt. It seems clear from his body language and tone of voice that he is extremely uncomfortable. A plain reading of the decision of the European Court of Human Rghts and Mr. Justice Barrett's judgment and his exhortation of the people suggests the Minister is right to be uncomfortable, right to be queasy and right not to be in his usual best of form when delivering the Government's position.

I will leave it at that, but I urge the Government to withdraw its amendment.

Child sexual abuse is one of the most shameful aspects of the country's history. As Graham Green said, "There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in." When that door opens, how wrong it is to allow a trusted person, a teacher, to exploit and claim a child's innocence which in many ways leads to a difficult future for the child.

Our long history of failing to protect vulnerable members of society was highlighted again last year in the Grace case, with the horrendous revelations about the Tuam mother and baby home. They were only the latest shocking stories in a catalogue of abuse and neglect suffered by children at the hands of official Ireland. As far back as 1931, the unpublished Carrigan report identified an alarming amount of sexual crime and criminal interference in schools with children, aged 16 years downwards. However, despite the unavoidable awareness of what was taking place, the then Department of Education adopted a policy of avoiding culpability and instructed schools to direct complaints to school managers - parish priests - with no Department involvement whatsoever.

Louise O'Keeffe had to fight for years to make the State accept responsibility for the breach of her human rights in failing to protect her from abuse in Dunderrow national school in the 1970s. This eight year old child was let down in the most grievous manner by her school and the State, yet the Government tried to evade liability, insisting that the board of management held responsibility. She fought in the High Court and the Supreme Court and even faced losing her home to pay all of the legal costs involved. The O'Keeffe judgment of the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment, and Article 13, which sets out the right to an effective remedy. We owe Ms O'Keeffe a huge debt of gratitude for blowing this wide open. The court also ruled that there was an inherent obligation on a government to use special measures and safeguards to protect children from ill-treatment, especially in primary education when they were under the exclusive control of school authorities.

These safeguards were sadly lacking in many of our schools in the past.

The subsequent redress scheme, as interpreted by the Government, is completely unjust, requiring that applicants show their abuser to have been the subject of a prior complaint. The redress scheme, as we know, limits redress to those victims who could establish that their abuse had occurred in the aftermath of a prior complaint which had not been acted upon. This goes against all international research findings showing that the vast majority of survivors of child sexual abuse do not disclose the abuse or wait a significant period before doing so. Louise O'Keeffe’s abuser, Leo Hickey, abused more than 20 children, yet we know only one complaint was made at that time.

Fianna Fáil proposes to allow victims of abuse in primary schools, whose abusers have been convicted in the courts, to qualify for compensation under the scheme without the requirement of a prior complaint. I commend this motion because child abuse and neglect offend the basic values of our State and society and we have a responsibility to provide adequate redress to those we have failed so badly in the past.

I acknowledge that this is an important debate and that Fianna Fáil used its Private Members' time to table the motion for debate. I also draw attention to the Government's countermotion, which includes a number of points, of which the final four merit attention. The amendment notes the appointment of an independent assessor to hear the appeals under this scheme, and this has been acknowledged by most speakers. It states the independent assessor is reviewing the legal implications of the European Court of Human Rights judgment and notes that the assessor has called on the Dáil to await the outcome of his considerations. That is an important point. The assessor is reviewing the legal implications of the judgment. Deputy Connolly spoke very well on this issue and asked us to read the judgment. The Government has gone beyond that and asked a former High Court judge to independently review the judgment before reporting back to us. I am told the report will be available by the end of the summer. I call on colleagues to await that report because there is a reason we have courts and independent assessors.

Deputy Thomas Byrne argued that this was not happening. It is happening and I reiterate that the former High Court judge is reviewing the legal implications of the judgment. He has also written to the Minister indicating that he is considering whether the imposition of the condition that requires that there had to be evidence of a prior complaint of child sexual abuse is consistent with and a correct implementation of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Louise O'Keeffe v. Ireland. As the review is ongoing, it would be prudent of the House to wait for the independent assessor to produce his findings. We could then have a further discussion on the matter and move forward from there.

In the Government's amendment, we also agree that the ex gratia scheme should be open to all those to whom the criteria apply, only some of whom may have been abused by the criminally convicted. The Minister made that point earlier. We agreed that all of the services of the State should be applied towards supporting the victims of crime, especially victims of child sexual abuse. We ask the Dáil to call on all persons and institutions who have evidence of complaints of sexual abusers to freely provide that evidence in order that the victims of abuse may secure redress, whether through the ex gratia scheme or civil proceedings against the abusers and-or their employers, as relevant. That is also important. While I know this is in the scheme as currently interpreted, we await Judge O'Neill's findings.

We must never let down our guard in efforts to combat sexual abuse. This is especially true in the case of child sexual abuse. Our child protection system must be continually improved and monitored. I am glad to say that significant improvements have been made in recent years. In this regard, arrangements for Garda vetting of new teaching and non-teaching school staff were introduced in 2006 on a non-statutory basis. Garda vetting was placed on a statutory footing with the commencement of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 and 2016. All registered teachers currently teaching in Irish schools have been vetted. This amounts to approximately 98,500 teachers on the Teaching Council’s register. Under the Children First Act 2015, mandated persons, which include registered teachers, psychologists and other categories of professionals as listed in Schedule 2 of the Act, are required to report child protection concerns over a defined threshold to Tusla.

It is vital that our system has moved forward, complementing other significant areas of social progress in our country. Unfortunately, society was not always so open or progressive. In many cases, we, as a society, tolerated systems, structures and practices which were both aberrant and abhorrent. Tonight we have shone a light into the past and it is not pleasant. As Deputy O'Dea pointed out, it is very ugly. In reflecting on our history, we have to come to terms with it and we will learn from it. We cannot change our past but we must use it to shape a better future.

Those who have been prepared to come forward to seek justice for having been sexually abused, and not only in the school system, are to be wholly commended. Not only have they displayed great courage and forbearance, but they have done society a service by assisting in bringing the perpetrators of abuse to justice. Many of these survivors have been further vindicated in securing redress though the courts in actions taken against their abusers and those who employed and supervised them. This is an important pathway in a system where, under the Constitution, the State provides for education but is not the employer of teachers.

The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Louise O'Keeffe case provided clarification on the specific conditions in which the State failed in its obligation to protect a child from abuse by a teacher. Those circumstances relate to the fact that there had been a prior complaint of sexual abuse to the school authorities against the teacher in question. The importance of the prior complaint test was further highlighted in the domestic courts in the High Court judgment of Mr. Justice Noonan in June 2016. While this may seem restrictive, it is important in the public interest to ensure that the State and, by extension, the taxpayer do not assume financial liabilities without good cause. If this occurs, not only is it unfair to the public, it also potentially allows those responsible for the abuse to evade their obligations, which would be a terrible outcome.

I acknowledge that this is a difficult and contested area and that the State must act in a way that is fair and proportionate. The appointment of the independent assessor to the ex gratia scheme recognises this. In light of the assessor's requests for submissions from various parties, including the Minister, in advance of his assessing the appeals referred to him and in reviewing the legal implications of the judgment, it is clear that he is giving the matter serious and careful attention. The approach proposed in the Fianna Fáil motion of including in the ex gratia scheme survivors of convicted sex abusers, even in the absence of a prior complaint, may seem attractive on the face of it, but it has been argued that this would only open up the scheme in a limited way, as relatively few abusers have been convicted. However, what might seem like an inclusive measure, is actually an exclusive one. I must reiterate the remarks of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, that it would be manifestly unfair to those whose abuser was not convicted. The State is willing to provide redress where there is a just reason for doing so, but the State must also act in the public interest in a way which is fair and equitable to all. The amendment to the motion reflects this and I commend it to the House.

I thank Fianna Fáil for tabling this very important motion. I welcome into the Public Gallery members of VOCADS, Victims of Child Abuse in Day Schools, and all other survivors who made the journey. Separately I pay tribute to Louise O'Keeffe on her work on behalf of survivors. I commend John Boland, John Allen, Mark Vincent Healy and all the other people directly involved. I am very grateful to all the survivors in the Gallery for the service they and those like them have given to our State. Over a teaching career, an abuser had access to thousands of children. The survivors' efforts in having these abusers removed from our school system saved many thousands of children from decades of emotional and mental torment, addiction, broken families and, in many cases, suicide. Their selfless actions, which came at huge personal cost - I have in mind the personal humiliation many of them had to suffer while helping others - allowed many children to reach their full potential. Tonight, I thank the survivors for their efforts.

I have worked with survivors of sexual abuse for many years and my special adviser, Damian O'Farrell, has a close relationship with the secretary of VOCADS, Mr. John Allen. On behalf of survivors, I corresponded with the Minister of Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, and earlier this week the Minister kindly facilitated a meeting in Government Buildings. Those in attendance included the Minister and the Attorney General, who were accompanied by senior staff and advisers. The Office of An Taoiseach was also represented. I thank the Minister again for his work and understanding on this issue. I attended with my special adviser and raised several matters on behalf of the survivors.

The first is that the 2014 scheme, to which survivors are seeking entry, is an ex gratia scheme. It was also mentioned that some survivors had died in tragic circumstances while waiting access to the scheme. Then there was prior complaint being a condition of entry and the near impossibility of proving, or even showing, prior complaint, in respect of which we raised the point that the vast majority of victims of child abuse did not disclose their abuse and that, as a result, the number of prior complaints on which one could rely was minuscule by comparison. Also on survivors' behalf, we raised the significance of the Ryan report which highlighted the lack of integrity of the then Department of Education, on the same historical records of which survivors now have to rely to show prior complaint. The Ryan report states:

The Department of Education dealt inadequately with complaints about sexual abuse. These complaints were generally dismissed or ignored ... The Department, however, gave the impression that it had a function in relation to investigating allegations of abuse but actually failed to do so.

In addressing this matter at the meeting I reiterated that I was referring to the Department of Education in historical times only. I acknowledged and commended the Department of Education and Skills for the vast body of work it carried out to protect schoolchildren. To further demonstrate the difficulties in having to rely on prior complaint, we also gave as an example a mid-1990s written complaint which had effectively been ignored and in which case the teacher who was subsequently convicted had been allowed to teach for a further three years.

I thank and commend Louise O'Keeffe, John Allen, John Boland and Mark Vincent Healy and all of the survivors and victims for their efforts on this issue.

I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. I thank Members of all parties and none who indicated that they would support the motion when it is put to the House tomorrow. I was interested in the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, but noted that he did not indicate how he would vote. As the survivors in the Visitors Gallery would like to know, perhaps he might communicate his intentions to them later.

This is more of the same. The Government's approach in the Louise O'Keeffe case was not to state, "The State has been found wanting, so what can we do for the victims?" Its approach was to ask: "How much further does this force us to go? What do we have to do? What is the least we have to do as a result of this judgment?" In order to facilitate that approach, it gave the judgment the most narrow interpretation possible. I will not go over the mistaken interpretation, the asinine and narrow interpretation which the Government deliberately gave the Louise O'Keeffe decision as it has been dealt with very effectively by Deputies Micheál Martin and Catherine Connolly. Even if the Government was correct and the Louise O'Keeffe judgment in the European Court of Human Rights meant what it stated it meant, the Government is not prevented from allowing people to access the redress fund where the evidence is absolutely clear. The Louise O'Keeffe judgment does not restrict it from going further than requiring a prior complaint.

We have heard all of the international evidence of children not speaking about this type of activity until later in life, the difficulties in proving prior complaints and issues back in the 1960s and 1970s, but, as if all of those things were not enough, the Government set up a second hurdle, that one had to have brought legal proceedings within the time set out in the Statute of Limitations. Anybody who consulted a solicitor about legal proceedings was told that the courts would take the view that as the teachers involved who were paid by the State were employed by school management, the State did not have a liability. That legal advice was correct and has been upheld in a number of decisions in the High Court. When the plaintiff went into a solicitor's office, he or she was told that there was no point in pursuing his or her case as he or she would be wasting his or her time and money, as well as that of the solicitor. Now we are saying if they did not ignore that advice and tell the solicitor to go ahead anyway, we cannot accommodate them. That is cynical. The Government set up a redress scheme allegedly to help people, but it framed it in such a way that virtually nobody could access it successfully access. If it is so confident about its redress scheme and its legal advice that it is a wonderful scheme, how come so few have managed to avail of it? It is because they cannot surmount the two barriers the Government have erected in their way.

The interpretation in the Louise O'Keeffe case and the artificial requirement to have brought a legal case are buttressed by another argument, a constitutional argument which is pretty convoluted from what I could make out of the Minister's explanation. It sounded to me suspiciously like gobbledygook, but I would like to see the Minister's advice on it, if he has received any from the Attorney General or anybody else. He seems to be saying that adopting our motion would mean that we would divide victims into two classes, as though we wanted to compensate one class and not the other. That is farcical, as we want to see all victims compensated. In the motion we are simply trying to reach a situation where, if the evidence is clear and the case proved beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal court conviction, the victims would be given access to the redress compensation scheme. That is not an unreasonable demand. There is no question of the floodgates opening or a victim in the absence of a conviction challenging the scheme and opening it up. Any legal opinion to that effect is not well founded and before I could give it any credence, I would like to see such advice in writing.

The Government is emphasising the role of Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, which surprises me to some extent. I have read the terms of reference for his appointment and it is not clear to me that he is an appeal judge in respect of decisions of the redress board, or that he can reverse any of its decisions. The Government insisted on its interpretation of the Louise O'Keeffe judgment, but it is telling us tonight that it has now appointed Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill to see if it is, in fact, correct. I do not want to personalise the issue, but the Government has been extremely slow in its correspondence and communication with Mr. Justice O'Neill. It has been a while since he was appointed, but the activity and timelines do not indicate seriousness of intent on the part of the Government.

We will be pushing the motion and I hope we will receive the support of all non-Fine Gael Members of the House, as well as of the Deputies in the Minister of State's group. We are simply seeking justice, but the Government continues to hide behind evasions, legal niceties, legalese about such things as vicarious liability and references to the High Court and the Supreme Court, but these are victims of people who have admitted openly in court what they did and been convicted. Those who carried out these appalling acts had their salaries paid by the State. The acts were carried out in schools which were under the management and control of the State and which the victims were compelled, by law, to attend.

We have had a number of Private Members' motions, and I have had one or two of them, where despite the Dáil expressing its will, in a fairly emphatic fashion, the Government has simply refused to act. That is the definition of new politics. Old politics was where the Government had an overall majority and it voted down the Opposition. With new politics, the Government does not have a majority, its loses a vote but it does nothing.

I want to be absolutely clear with the Minister. I agree with Deputy Thomas Byrne in that I believe the Minister feels uncomfortable about this. From my dealings with him on a day to day basis, I know he is a reasonable man. I know he has a conscience and I know he knows that those people have been treated unfairly. In terms of the difference between the State's approach to people in residential institutions and to people who were abused by known abusers in primary day schools, I know the Minister knows that, in effect, there is no difference between them and there is nothing to justify their different treatment by the State. I know he knows all this. I advise him that if this motion is carried in the vote tomorrow, I will do my damnedest to insist this is one occasion on which the will of the Dáil will be made to operate. Let the Minister maintain his amendment, if that is his wish, but let him also know this matter will not finish tonight or tomorrow after the vote.

We cannot have applause in the Gallery.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 5 June 2018.