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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Apr 2000

Vol. 163 No. 2

Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I commend to this House the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill, 2000, which provides for the establishment, on a statutory basis, of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. As Irish society enjoys the benefits of a thriving economy and the Irish, as a people, feel a new and stronger sense of confidence, as Irish culture thrives at home and internationally and as Ireland participates as an equal partner with our European neighbours, it is difficult for many, and some do not want to do so, to recall our not so distant past and its failures. High among those failures is the abuse of some of the most vulnerable in our society – children com mitted to institutions for their care and protection. That abuse occurred cannot be doubted and it has been determined by the criminal courts. We do not yet know with any certainty the extent, causes, circumstances and where responsibility for it should lie.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill is intended to provide answers to those questions. More importantly, however, than that important objective is the objective of the commission to give those abused an opportunity to tell of that abuse in a dignified and sympathetic forum and to be heard by an experienced panel of people, specifically mandated by the representatives of the Irish people, the Houses of the Oireachtas, for that purpose.

When the commission has reported and been wound up, that will not be the end of the matter. There will continue to be a need to help those injured by abuse, for Irish society to come to terms with a part of our past we may prefer to forget and a solemn duty on all to play their part in ensuring that never again can children be exposed to hurt as they have in the past.

While a central element of the work of the commission will be to provide a forum for victims of abuse, it is essential that the commission has and is seen to have, a wider remit. That remit will include establishing all the circumstances relating to the operation of institutions covered by the Bill and their interaction with children and Irish society. It is necessary for a proper understanding of what occurred in institutions that they are placed as far as is practicable in the context of their time. This will involve reviewing the administrative and legislative framework within which industrial schools, reformatory schools and other institutions operated. It will involve appraisal of the systems of funding, supervision and regulation and is likely to involve consideration of the attitudes to children and child welfare predominant in Ireland during the period of the commission's inquiries.

While abuse and poor conditions have lately received most attention, and quite rightly have been condemned, that is unlikely to be the full story of institutional care. Many children found a place of refuge and safety in hard times in orphanages, reformatories or industrial schools and were well cared for. The commission must be told this story too and those who dedicated much of their lives to the care and education of children must be encouraged to come forward to the commission, if we are to reach anything close to a full understanding of what went wrong where abuse did occur. The commission report must be both comprehensive and balanced in all of its aspects, and this legislation will provide for such a balanced report.

The establishment of the commission on an administrative basis has been done previously. In preparing this legislation, the Government has sought to ensure objectivity in determining the terms of reference and the powers needed. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, chaired by the Honourable Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, was established by the Government on an administrative basis last May. The first task of this commission was to consider and make recommendations on broad terms of reference, as set out by the Government, and to recommend the powers it would need to fulfil such terms of reference.

The commission set out its findings in two reports to the Government in September and October of last year. These reports have been published. The recommendations of the commission's reports have been accepted without reservation by the Government. This Bill closely follows the recommendations in the report. From the beginning, this commission has been independent of the Government and will continue to be so throughout its operation.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, now to be established in law, will have three primary functions: first, to listen to victims of childhood abuse who want to recount their experiences to a sympathetic forum; second, to investigate fully all allegations of abuse made to it, except where the victim does not wish for an investigation; and third, to publish a report on its findings to the general public.

In setting out the terms of reference for the commission, the Government placed no restrictions on the categories of abuse to be covered, either as regards the nature of abuse or the location at which it occurred. The commission recommended that all situations other than abuse in family settings be included in its remit. In the commission's view including abuse in families would potentially overwhelm cases of institutional abuse, but more importantly they felt that the kinds of issues which arise in abusive family situations are quite different from the issues arising in institutional abuse. They concluded that if abuse in families was included in the remit of the commission it could detrimentally affect the therapeutic benefit of the commission for victims of abuse in institutions. The commission has reached a reasonable conclusion in all the circumstances and the Government has acted on its recommendations.

The Bill now covers the following categories of abuse – sexual abuse, defined in very broad terms, physical abuse, involving the negligent, wilful or reckless infliction of physical injury on a child, or failure to prevent such injury to a child, failure to care for a child which results in serious impairment of his or her physical or mental development or behaviour and any other act or failure to act which seriously injures a child. In the course of the debate in the other House, Members proposed that additional terms such as pain, distress and fear be specifically included in the definition of abuse. It is preferable that the Bill should be as broad and general as possible rather than seek to list each kind of abuse in detail. The latter course could result in limiting the scope of the commission, rather than extending it as was the intention of the proposers of those amendments.

Some concern was also expressed as to whether the terms of reference of the commission, as set out in the Bill, are sufficiently broad to meet all situations where abuse may have occurred. For example, abuse may have occurred while a child, although in the care of an institution, was not actually in the institution. Many children would, for example, have spent time working on farms. Another example cited was a situation where a child may have been abused by a person not directly employed by an institution but who had access to the institution. The Bill was amended to meet those concerns where there was any doubt.

For the benefit of Members of this House, I want to clarify the position as it now stands. The Bill now provides for inquiring into abuse in the following circumstances: first, any abuse of a person resident in or attending an institution which occurred in the institution, whoever the abuser was – in other words, if the abuser was a visitor, a member of staff or any other person; second, abuse of a person outside the institution while the victim was resident in or attending the institution by a person involved in the operation of the institution or associated in any way with the institution.

A key objective of this Bill is to provide for the needs of those who have suffered abuse in industrial schools, reformatory schools, orphanages and similar places. For too long they have encountered opposition, hostility and indifference and it is high time that this changed. The commission to be established under the Bill will, as its core function, provide those who have been silenced for so long with an opportunity to give their account to an experienced and sympathetic forum. This telling and listening function, which is the therapeutic function of the commission, is the function to which everything else should be subordinated.

For some people, this therapeutic role will be all that they require of the commission, while others will also seek that their allegations be inquired into and perpetrators of abuse, where uncovered, be held accountable. In this case the therapeutic role will be complemented by an investigative role in the interests of establishing the truth and giving persons against whom allegations are made an opportunity to defend themselves.

To ensure that the two strands can be accommodated, the Bill provides for two committees – the confidential committee, which will provide a forum where people can recount their experiences on an entirely confidential basis, and the investigation committee. The latter committee will be specifically mandated to carry out a thorough and comprehensive inquiry into allegations and to establish responsibility at the level of the individual abuser, the institution and the management and regulatory authorities. It is the Government's intention that the committee will have available to it the resources and all the legal pow ers and protections it needs to do this. In particular the committee will have the kind of powers and protections which a court would have, including privilege for witnesses, compellability of witnesses, discovery of documents, taking evidence on oath and offences for failure to co-operate or for obstruction. This committee will also report to the commission.

The commission has a duty to publish a report within two years of its establishment and an interim report within 12 months. Members in the Dáil requested the inclusion of a clause requiring an interim report within 12 months. The commission is free to produce any interim reports it wishes, but an interim report will be required within 12 months. The publication of this report, containing the findings and recommendations of the commission, is an essential part of the service which the commission can render to victims of abuse and to our society as a whole.

The legislation provides that the report contain recommendations and specific findings. The commission will make recommendations in their report on how the effects of abuse suffered by individuals might be alleviated. They will also make recommendations on how future abuse can be reduced and prevented and how children can be protected. Senators should note that in the matter of recommendations the Bill provides the commission with absolute discretion. There are no areas denied to it, administrative, legislative or otherwise. This approach is an essential ingredient of the independence of the commission. Having heard the evidence from people alleging abuse and those accused of abuse, from other former residents of institutions, from those employed in institutions and those involved in management, from Government Departments and other public bodies, from experts in such areas as child care, sociology, psychology or history and from witnesses with an international perspective, the commission is in the best possible position to decide where it should make conclusions and recommendations within the very broad parameters laid down in the Bill.

The Bill provides that the commission will be able to make specific findings of fact in its report. It will also be empowered to identify institutions in which abuse occurred and the people responsible and may make findings in regard to the role and responsibility of management and regulatory authorities in its report. However, the report will not make findings on any individual case as these are likely to be matters which are or will be the subject of civil or criminal proceedings. This is based upon the recommendations made to the Government by the commission in its report in October. The commission specifically requested that the issue be treated in this way.

The power to name in a report that will be published individuals who the commission is satisfied have abused children is a significant power. The commission must have due regard to the rights of any person against whom allegations are made to his or her full entitlements to natural justice and due process. Within that context of regard for constitutional rights, it is right and reasonable that the commission should have the powers to name institutions where abuse was committed, or individuals who either committed abuse or who were involved in the general management or operation of an institution where abuse occurred. Anything less would, in the words of the commission, be "wholly anodyne" and a serious breach of faith with those who will brave the trauma of recounting their experiences. It would also be a serious abdication of responsibility to the institutions and people who provided a considerable service to the children entrusted to their care and the community and would allow them to be tarred with the same brush as those responsible, directly or indirectly, for abuse.

The commission will be entirely independent in carrying out its functions, a point specifically provided for in the Bill. Following on the recommendations in the commission's report on its terms of reference, the Bill provides for some key procedural issues and specifically requires the commission to bear in mind the difficulties posed for people in telling of abuse in childhood and imposes a duty on the commission to ensure that proceedings are conducted as informally as possible and that the atmosphere is sympathetic and understanding. These provisions are entirely consistent with the need to give victims a forum to tell of abuse and that in doing so they should not be exposed to the sometimes harsh and adversarial environment of a court.

Related in part to this desire to avoid undue formality and an adversarial environment in the commission meetings are the provisions in the Bill which provide that the hearings of the confidential committee and those of the investigation committee relating to allegations of abuse be held in private. This approach was recommended by the commission primarily on the grounds of fairness to those against whom allegations are made. In addition, the making of specific allegations in a public forum would greatly increase the adversarial elements in the process at the expense of the listening and therapeutic elements. In response to views expressed in the other House, the Bill now specifically refers to the importance of the commission and its committees conducting their hearings in public to the greatest extent practicable. Such public hearings will form an essential part of informing the public of the wider context in which allegations of abuse will be made.

The Government is committed to ensuring that a wide cross-section of people comes forward to the commission so that the final report can be as comprehensive as possible. In the case of former residents of institutions, in particular, many may have difficulty in covering the costs of coming to the commission. On top of the emotional stress which recounting events of the past might cause, this financial burden could be the last straw which makes them decide not to come to the commission. To help to alleviate this burden and encourage as many people as possible to come forward to the commission, the Bill provides for the drawing up of a scheme of expenses for witnesses. Under the provisions relating to expenses I will also prepare a scheme relating to the issue of legal expenses.

In principle, the Government accepts the view expressed in the commission's report on its terms of reference that an administrative scheme for legal expenses should be put in place. In devising a scheme under which legal fees will be paid, it will be necessary to strike a balance between the requirement of legal representation in some cases and the desirability of it in others, the therapeutic role of the commission and the objectives that the commission hearings be held as informally as possible. I have, during the course of Committee Stage debate on the Bill, published both the general and legal expenses scheme in draft form. Neither of these schemes will be finalised until after the enactment of the Bill and consultation with the commission. I am prepared to consider any reasonable proposals for amendments which are consistent with the objectives of the commission.

Last May the Taoiseach on behalf of the State and all citizens of the State extended an apology from the Government to the victims of childhood abuse for our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain and to come to their rescue. The measures then announced as the Government's response to childhood abuse were widely welcomed and eagerly anticipated. Almost a year has passed and despite the excellent work done by the commission and others the legislation which will activate one of the key Government measures has not yet been enacted. For those not familiar with the legislative process there is understandable impatience and even disillusionment that their concerns are not being taken seriously enough.

I want to reassure such people that the Government is deadly earnest in its determination to give victims of abuse an opportunity to be heard and to establish what went wrong and why. I know that this House shares that objective. Accordingly, I trust that Members will appreciate why we are making every effort to pass this Bill before the recess. If we are unable to do so, the result will be further delay and further postponement of justice for those who have been abused. The sooner the commission can begin its work, the sooner the agony of waiting of the many people who want to give evidence to it can be ended.

I thank Members of Seanad Éireann for their co-operation in taking this important Bill in the busy period before the Easter recess. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on the way in which the Bill has been presented. It is an urgent Bill and the Minister will not receive opposition from us. We will not delay the passage of the Bill because we regard it as important. I compliment the Minister on his speech, which demonstrated a sensitivity towards the issues involved and the need to tackle them urgently and honestly but in a fair and humane way. Whatever criticisms I have will be made in the context of my total support for the principle and the greater part of this Bill.

The Bill is being introduced at an interesting time in our development as a people. We all grew up at a time when many matters were not discussed. A priest leaving the priesthood was not spoken about, sometimes someone who left the seminary became a non-person for many years and a woman who became pregnant outside marriage was frequently banished, publicly excoriated and became a non-person. I recently came across a case of an old woman who died in County Kildare. She was a wealthy woman and was part of a large farming family. She had a child when she was 14 or 15 years, who was taken from her and never spoken about again. In her will she left some money to her daughter whom she had been unable to acknowledge in her lifetime.

Homosexuality was not discussed. We made the lives of homosexuals difficult and reviled and made fun of them. We put such matters out of our minds and pretended they had not happened. We were not alone in this; it was true of most other countries. There is an Irish tendency, especially among media commentators, to see such incidents as unique to Ireland. However, the reality is that much the same events occurred in France, Italy, puritanical areas of Britain and other small communities. They were covered up, not discussed, and people were not capable of handling them in an open way.

Of all the scandals that have emerged in recent years, the worst by far was the treatment of children in care. It gives nobody pleasure to say that. We must all acknowledge it happened. This Bill is a tangible recognition by the State and the Minister, on behalf of all of us, not just that these events occurred but that they must be acknowledged and made public and the State must make recompense in so far as it can be made. It would be foolish to think that this commission will solve all problems and we will wash our hands and go away when its work has been completed. We all know the reality is that the scars left on many of these people can never be healed. The memories and blighted lives of people who were never able to have the fullness of a decent, normal life, who were never able to establish a relationship afterwards, who lived their life in psychological fear and insecurity, wondering if this could happen again, are a result of what happened in many of these institutions.

Of its nature, the commission will examine what went wrong. However, there were also many good and selfless people in these institutions who worked hard, starved of funds, and found themselves in an inhumane and harsh regime which allowed them no scope. Many of the people working in these institutions probably found their lives blighted by what they had to endure. It is important to maintain a sense of balance in what we are doing today. Nonetheless, at last the State is facing up to the scourge of child abuse.

The Minister got the Bill and the commission broadly right. As far as possible, its hearings will be open and heard in public, which is important. However, the Minister is right that certain aspects must be confidential, at least until a conclusion has been arrived at. We do not want a series of cases where because of false or faulty recollections or mistaken memory, charges are made against people who could be blighted for the rest of their lives and may ultimately be shown to be innocent. This is a psychological matter where there may be faulty memory. The Minister is right to allow in the Bill scope for openness while also providing for confidentiality. I am sure the judge heading this commission will be the person best placed to decide which cases can be heard openly and which will have the benefit of confidentiality.

I am also glad the Minister is allowing scope for the broadening of the commission's remit. We all know from our experience of tribunals and commissions that once they are established they take on a life of their own and issues not anticipated at the beginning may quickly arise. It is important to have this flexibility if other issues arise, as they will. The Minister has included this flexibility in the commission's terms of reference.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Before the break I talked about the broad aspects of the Bill and indicated my general warm welcome of it.

I understand a meeting of the organisation of survivors of child abuse recently voted unanimously to veto co-operation with the commission as proposed. That may have changed, but I understand the obstacle to its participation is the Government's refusal to lift its exclusion of childhood victims of physical abuse from claiming civil damages under the new Statute of Limitations Bill. That Bill was hotly contested in this House and there were many divisions on it. Confining the extension of time to initiate a civil action for damages to child sexual abuse alone is discriminatory and unworkable. The reality is that many trailblazers, who were the people most determined to have their cases heard and who have been denied a hearing for so long, will not now have an opportunity to seek redress under the civil laws. The people who came forward in good faith and reported abuse to their legal representatives or the Garda and were told they were statute barred from pursuing their cases are again excluded because of the failure of the new legislation to exempt those who had previously reported such abuse.

The Minister may have addressed those objections and I would like to hear the views of the Minister of State on them. The restrictions in the Statute of Limitations Bill were discussed at length when that Bill went through this House and I do not intend to rehearse the arguments.

With regard to expenses, the Minister was fair in what he said this morning. While Ms Justice Laffoy proposed specifically that legal representation should be provided by the State, through the Office of the Attorney General, for those who could not afford it, there is concern that this does not figure in the Bill. The legal support the Minister proposes is not continuous legal representation of victims as a group so that they can be present throughout the hearings when evidence is being taken, but rather that individuals would have access to a lawyer during the hearing of any rebuttal or questioning that occurs. How will that operate? Who will decide whether legal representation is appropriate?

Another point, about which we need to be careful, that has caused concern is that the Bill envisages the use of staff seconded from the Department of Education and Science to act as the administration for the inquiry. I have no difficulty with that, as I am sure we all have the highest regard for the integrity, impartiality and competence of such people, but there is a feeling among the victim groups that this is the same Department that had responsibility for funding and regulating many of the institutions that will come under scrutiny in the inquiry. From the point of view of some of the people affected, this appears to be insensitive at the very least. They claim it may raise some issues in respect of which there may be a conflict of interest. They suggest other Departments should provide the support and funding for these organisations.

I received a letter from a man whom I know to be of good character, who wrote on behalf of the victims of Donal Dunne. I do not intend to read it, as I am sure the Minister also received a copy of it. This man and his group strongly make that point, although I do not accept it. I will pass this letter to the Minister of State when I have spoken. I would like him to address some of the issues raised in it.

It is impossible to understand at one level why the terms of reference of the commission do not contain an explicit reference to inquiring into the role of the State in the abuse that occurred. The State was a major player and most of those who will be affected by this legislation wonder why there is not a more explicit reference to the role played by the State in all of this.

It is wrong that the Laffoy commission has not been asked to make recommendations on the necessary changes to current policies, legislation and practices, which would have arisen from its study of the situation. Provisions are needed to reduce the detention of children, to ensure that professional resources are available to children who need them and to ensure appropriate settings are available, particularly for those who are disturbed. It is scandalous that we witness on a weekly basis the courts taking a policy lead in try ing to force the State to provide places for particular categories of disturbed young people and that the warnings, especially of Mr. Justice Peter Kelly, have not yet received public acknowledgement. I would be surprised if plans were not afoot to address the case he has made. It is disturbing that such a policy lead is continuing virtually on a weekly basis.

We need to ensure a visitors programmes is provided together with complaints mechanisms and that statutory regulatory supervision is applied equally to all institutions. A children's ombudsman needs to be established on a statutory basis together with whistleblowing procedures and a duty to report abuse. Common systems of regulation and inspection should be applied universally. A child complaints procedure and an advocacy service are needed for young people in residential care.

In spite of our economic prosperity 500 children, on average, are waiting to be referred to a social worker because of allegations of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. In spite of signing the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child in 1991, we have not incorporated provisions of the convention into our Constitution. There are a number of children incarcerated in a number of State institutions for such offences as non-school attendance, which is still termed a crime.

The establishment of this commission marks an important point of maturing in our evolution as a people. We are able to face up to the horrific problems of child abuse that scarred so many lives in the past. It is important to remember this should be more than an historical exercise aimed at looking after the interest of those who were personally scarred. Enormous scars are still being inflicted on children across our community. We who speak here today and those charged with responsibility will be judged not so much by our passing of this legislation as by our capacity to face up not to historical problems but to the problems in our midst.

I commend the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on his approach. The Bill will have our full support.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House to debate the Second Stage of this Bill, which will establish the commission on a statutory basis. This is a societal issue that reflects what happened in our society dating back perhaps hundreds of years. I acknowledge the work of investigative journalists who brought this issue to the forefront. We are now living in an inclusive society in which there must be openness and transparency to bring these problems to the forefront and address them. I thank the Taoiseach also. I was glad he apologised to the nation for the pain inflicted on young people who had to endure such trauma in their lives and who internalised their problems because there were no facilities available to them.

The Bill is timely in that the commission, which has been working in an administrative capacity, will now be put on a statutory footing, and I congratulate Ms Justice Mary Laffoy for steering it in that direction. The Bill is wide-ranging and covers many categories of abuse, including physical, sexual and other abuse. That is important because very often abuse is only noticeable to the person inflicting it. Abuse can also take the form of a certain type of bullying or personality clashes between a teacher and a child or even between parents and a child. From my experience as a teacher and a counsellor in second level education, I know that this type of abuse occurs not only in reformatory schools and institutions, it exists in all walks of life. I congratulate the teaching staff who identify abuse, be it in primary or second level schools, where such abuse takes place.

People who have suffered abuse must be treated in a very sensitive manner. Abuse was not often highlighted by those in management positions who were aware that it was taking place in their midst. They decided to sweep it under the carpet in the hope that it would go away and that the child would forget about it. That was the way it was dealt with in the past few decades, but it is wonderful that we are now giving an opportunity to those who have been abused to come forward and relate their cases.

The commission will have three functions. It will listen to victims, investigate all allegations and publish a report. It is vitally important that those who are chosen to be members of the confidential committee, which will listen to the victims, have the necessary skills to enable them to create an atmosphere in which people can relate their cases. That will involve many hours of listening and a lot of patience. They will have to be able to reflect on what the people are recounting as well as encourage them to open up even further in terms of what they experienced. That will require a special skill on the part of those nominated to the confidential committee because they will be dealing with young children and adults who have internalised a great deal of negative emotion. They must be given the opportunity to relate their cases in comfortable surroundings and they must be made feel that we are on their side, because we have not been on their side. Nobody has been on their side. They are loners. The people on the confidential committee will have to be first-class therapists and counsellors. They will have to have an understanding and a warmth about them, and be able to listen. Not many people can listen these days. We are all talkers. Even those who are counsellors tend to talk too much. The members of this committee need to have a listening skill so that they can create a comfortable atmosphere in which victims can relate their cases.

A different type of person will be needed for the investigation committee, which will identify the perpetrators of abuse. It will be a tedious operation to bring the matter to its full conclusion and publish a report. I welcome the fact that the committee's findings and report will be available to be analysed by all of us. That is the best way forward. The Bill will result in the questioning of the management of institutes and families who have not shown responsibility for their children. Measures will have to be brought forward in that regard and the Bill will make those recommendations.

It is important for us to recognise that we failed in the past in that we did not intervene when we should have intervened. We did not acknowledge that this pain was being inflicted on young people, nor did we acknowledge that the culprits were allowed to carry out these atrocities. We brushed it all under the carpet and hoped that it would go away. It must be remembered that these people will never completely recover. It will take a great deal of counselling to get them to accept their pain, understand the reason it happened and build up self-esteem so that they can begin to live their lives again.

I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward the Bill. We are now an inclusive society but until we acknowledge what happened in the past, we cannot move on. We have a duty to the next generation not to run away from our past. We must confront our problems and the reason they occurred, and we need help to do that. There are many fine people in our society who are very vulnerable because of what happened to them in the past, and this debate gives us an opportunity to say "no more". We all accept that abuse occurred in the past but it will occur in the future also. We are now living in an open and transparent society and we must help those who have been abused.

We need skilled staff to ensure that the institutions they work with have a proper administration in place to deal with problems, to acknowledge that the problems exist and to take responsibility for their behaviour in any given case. I blame the management of institutions, schools and centres which cared for young children. Unless those in management positions are trained to understand the emotions of young people, these problems will recur. We must have the necessary resources. I am not just talking about financial resources, which is one aspect of dealing with the problem. This problem involves people and those employed in management positions, and those who look after children must be caring individuals. Children must be given proper care and adequate personnel resources must be allocated to ensure that this happens.

I had understood that this Bill came under the aegis of the Department of Health and Children but I discovered this morning that it was actually proper to the Department of Education and Science. In that context, there is a danger that we could fall between two stools. I accept that certain aspects of this matter relate to education but, as a counsellor, I dealt with problems of abuse and I was often obliged to seek help from those involved in the health services. There should be no question of our falling between the two stools of the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children. A co-ordinated plan must be put in place to ensure that, regardless of the way the legislation is administered following its enactment, people may seek help from either Department if necessary.

On many occasions I have inquired whether this matter is proper to the Department of Education and Science or the Department of Health and Children. In order to implement the system established as a result of the enactment of this legislation, there will be a need to ensure that victims of abuse have easy access to the right people.

I welcome the fact that the legislation promotes an inclusive, open and transparent society. The establishment of the commission on a statutory basis will weed out the awful blight of abuse which has affected society in the past and will affect it in the future. By placing the commission on a statutory footing we are saying that we will take no more and that, from this point on, the necessary structures will be put in place to deal with the problem of abuse.

The public must be made aware of that fact because there is not much point in our discussing the Bill in detail while those we represent do not understand its provisions. It is important that members of the public, boards of management in schools and those who deal with young children or adolescents are aware that a mechanism is being put in place which will afford protection to the victims of abuse. If an incident of abuse or some similar offence takes place in the future it will be dealt with by the confidential committee or the investigative committee, either of which can then make a report.

I have covered the major points but I must again stress the importance of employing staff who possess the necessary therapeutic or counselling skills and who are in a position to understand people's problems. It is not a case of providing proper administrative structures or of seeing this matter in purely clinical terms. Not many people are skilled enough to work as counsellors. Those who provide counselling are a rare breed and we face a major challenge in terms of ensuring that we attract the right kind of people to the profession.

If we do not attract the right kind of individual, victims will only attend one counselling session and refuse to return perhaps because of a personality clash with their counsellor. I am aware of many people who attended two or three counselling sessions but who gave up because they did not like the person with whom they were dealing. We must ensure that we attract the right kind of people to become counsellors.

I welcome the legislation. The fact that we are debating it means that we are moving forward and taking a further step towards the establishment of an inclusive society.

I welcome the Bill. As Senator Ormonde stated, we must hang our heads in shame when we contemplate what happened to young people over a lengthy period. Thankfully, however, the carpet under which everything was swept has been pulled back and the truth has been laid bare, mainly as a result of good investigative journalism. While we do not know all the details, this legislation will help to bring them into the open.

In May last year the Taoiseach made a public apology on behalf of the State to victims of abuse in industrial schools. As part of the process of atonement, the Minister for Education and Science drafted this Bill to establish a commission to inquire into child abuse on a statutory footing which will consider, in depth, the issues involved and report to the Government and the public on its findings.

The commission was first established in June last year on an administrative basis. Under the chairmanship of Justice Mary Laffoy the original broad terms of reference were as follows: to afford victims of abuse in childhood an opportunity to tell of the abuse they suffered to a sympathetic and experienced forum; to establish as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of physical and sexual abuse of children in institutions and other places during the period from 1940 to the present; and to compile and publish a report on the activities and findings of the commission, containing recommendations on actions to address the continuing effects of the abuse and actions to be taken to safeguard children from abuse in the future.

The commission was asked to consider these terms of reference, recommend any changes it considered necessary and outline the powers it would need. It submitted two reports in September and October of last year and the Government published this legislation, which is based on those reports, earlier this year. At the same time, it published the reports of the commission. The Government fully accepts those reports and the legislation has been drafted so as to give effect to the commission's recommendations. While preparing the legislation, the Minister and his officials consulted victims and the groups which represent them to ensure that it meets their needs.

The Bill has three main aims, one of which is to provide victims with the opportunity to tell their story in total confidence. As Senator Ormonde stated, this is particularly important and the confidentiality aspect is vital. Another aim is to investigate instances where victims wish such investigations to occur, consider stories of abuse and prepare a report on this work.

One of the central points victims made during the process of consultation on the Bill was the need for the commission to be available, in a completely confidential manner, to listen to the stories of victims. Many victims have faced circumstances where they found little willingness among people at many levels to listen to their stories about the abuse they suffered. The ability to be able to recount an experience of abuse in a sympathetic environment is an essential element for victims in helping them come to terms with that abuse. The need for such an opportunity was identified by victims of abuse as a crucial element of any structure to be established. The establishment of this commission will meet this need.

The commission is broken down into two separate committees, the first of which is the confidential committee. This committee will be available to victims who simply wish to tell their stories but who do not wish to take matters further. The process of investigation may be stressful and time consuming. Many victims may not wish to become involved in the process at all but the confidential committee has been designed to take account of the needs of victims at all times.

It is also important that victims have an opportunity, where they wish, to initiate an investigative process to consider their stories of abuse in greater detail. The investigative committee has been designed with a particular role in mind and it will have specific powers and duties to investigate the issues that arise as victims recount their stories. The legislation places a duty on the commission to carry out a thorough and comprehensive inquiry into allegations and establish responsibility at the level of individual abuse and also at institutional, managerial and regulatory authority level.

These are important and wide ranging functions and the Minister has made specific provision for them. The Bill is structured to provide the investigative committee with the powers and protections of the High Court. This gives the committee the necessary power to carry out its investigations in a full and thorough manner.

The legislation provides the committee with a range of important powers. The Bill takes into account the seriousness of the issue, which is basically child abuse. In considering this issue, it is imperative that the investigative committee is allowed to perform its functions as effectively as possible. Without these powers the committee would be severely hampered in its ability to consider issues to the appropriate level and our ability to understand and assess the issues involved in these cases of abuse would be correspondingly reduced.

The final function of the commission is to prepare a report on its work. This report will play a crucial role in our understanding and response to the issue. First, it is important to note that the legislation is explicit that the report must be made available to the general public. This is a key principle to facilitate widespread understanding of the issues involved in these cases. Second, the Minister has asked the commission to consider certain specific matters. These include recommendations to ensure the abuse of children in any institution will be prevented in the future. This is a most important function which will serve to assist in making policy with regard to the protection of children.

A further important matter to which the commission will devote consideration is addressing the damage done to victims of abuse. It is vital that this be considered. From its constant interaction and discussions with the victims, the commission will be best placed to make recommendations on this. It is important to remember that these recommendations will be made public along with the rest of the report.

The report of the commission will also report on incidences of abuse in institutions and, where the commission believes it appropriate, will be able to name individuals who committed abuse. It will go further, however. It is the Minister's intention that it will, in so far as is possible, present a general picture to show how Irish society treated the care of children over the years and examine the attitudes to children who were placed in care.

As well as the obvious weaknesses, the report can also list any strengths of the system. In particular, it is appropriate that where individuals have given much of their lives to the care of children, this contribution should be noted. Indeed, there were many people who devoted their lives to this and did an extremely good job. That should never be forgotten.

These are far reaching powers. The ability to name an individual in a report being made available to the public is something the commission will have to consider carefully. It will have to weigh up the evidence against any individual before making this decision. However, where the commission decides that it is justified, it is important that it has the right to name individuals. We must always remember the aim of the Bill, namely, to inquire into the abuse of children. The seriousness of this issue for society requires that we take fundamental action. The provisions of the Bill are designed to do that. They will provide the commission with appropriate and reasonable powers to investigate child abuse and report its findings.

Senator Ormonde was correct to point out the importance of setting up the listening committee in a way that people will have the confidence to tell their story. It is particularly important that they are not prevented from availing of this opportunity. One obstacle might be the costs involved because there will be substantial costs in some cases. I welcome the fact that provisions have been made by the Minister for Finance to help in this regard. It is important that if victims feel these provisions are inadequate, their concerns will be addressed. No barrier must be put in the way of their coming forward to tell their story in confidence and with trust that they will be given a serious hearing.

I welcome the Bill. It will go a long way towards healing some of the awful wounds inflicted. Let us hope we will never see the like again.

I welcome the Bill and the comprehensive overview given by the Minister. The Bill offers an opportunity to victims to have their cases heard and to the State to face up to its responsibility. I also welcome the fact that the Taoiseach acknowledged the extent of the abuse which occurred and apologised for it last year.

The commission has three key functions. The first is to listen to victims of childhood abuse who wish to recount their experiences to a sympathetic forum. In that regard, the healing function of the commission is vital and is the kernel of the Bill. As the Minister said, "This telling and listening function, which is the therapeutic function of the commission, is the function to which everything else should be subordinated." Those who suffered, whether in reformatory schools, industrial schools, orphanages and other places, were in the care of people who were in positions of great trust where care should have been at the core of their work. It is hard for us to imagine that, God forgive me, there were such savages and misfits in those institutions who inflicted so much pain, hurt and hardship on so many people, many of whom are only now coming forward after years of silence.

The second function is to investigate all allegations of abuse made to it, except where the victim does not wish for an investigation to take place. The third function is to publish a report on its findings for the general public. Ms Justice Laffoy is an excellent chairperson. She has commitment and will, no doubt, be fair to all concerned. The Bill must be fair and conscious of constitutional rights.

One of my concerns is the definition of evidence in the interpretation section. The definition includes "the expression of belief, opinion or intention". Evidence as defined by Henry Murdoch in a dictionary of Irish law is the testimony of witnesses and the production of documents and things which may be used for the purpose of proof in legal proceedings. The law of evidence comprises the rules which govern the presentation of facts and proof in proceedings before a court. Evidence may be direct or circumstantial. Direct evidence is evidence of a fact in issue. It may be the statement of someone who observed with his senses. Circumstantial evidence is evidence of a fact relevant to the fact in issue. It is evidence from which the fact in issue may be inferred.

When adducing evidence there is a standard and burden of proof to be established. The standard of proof in a tribunal of inquiry is usually the civil standard, that is, on the balance of probabilities. Whatever facts the chairperson accepts must be grounded on good evidence, that is, primary, direct or documentary evidence in the traditional legal sense. If facts are to be grounded on circumstantial evidence, this evidence should be corroborated. It is worrying that evidence is so broadly defined in the interpretation section of the Bill. It is hard to think that a chairperson could ground a fact on opinion or belief. The definition of evidence, therefore, should be amended or it should not be defined at all.

The issues which must be clarified include expenses for witnesses, costs for the parties, costs of representation and so on. It is important to establish an ombudsman for children. The commitment to set up a counselling service for victims is crucial. The Minister should draw up a document which is clear on how this will be done. Subject to these requirements, I am pleased to support the commission.

I support the legislation to establish a commission to investigate child abuse, which is timely. Child abuse is one of the black marks in Irish society and has created great difficulties for all of us. This problem must be examined and dealt with in a fair and understanding manner. It is also timely that the Government, on behalf of the people, has apologised for what took place in this regard. If one ties this in with recent statements by the Catholic Church seeking forgiveness from the Irish people and from God for the wrongdoing and hardship caused, it is an appropriate time to deal with the issue and to set up the commission.

The purpose of the commission is to deal with the problem of physical and sexual abuse against young people in institutions and elsewhere. This issue must be considered in a fair and reasonable manner. The setting up of the commission will enable those who have been affected in the past to feel comfortable to participate in the investigations which will take place. The Bill goes a long way towards allowing this to happen.

I welcome the fact that section 24 caters for advisers and researchers to help the commission in the performance of its functions. This may help institutions which have had major difficulties in dealing with the issue of abuse. These institutions are going through a transformation in trying to avoid anything like this happening in the future. However, many religious institutions have made a great contribution to society, particularly to young people. They looked after people where the State failed to provide the necessary resources to do so in the past. In the past large families were looked after in industrial schools. In fairness, the only places that cared for people when their parents were not available to look after them were the religious institutions. This was a great responsibility which was supported by the State. This became clear in some of the television documentaries outlining the problems that existed. It is important that the commission investigate successfully the institutions responsible for the abuse, be they church, religious or State.

Section 15 guarantees the confidentiality of the committee. This will make participants feel confident that they are being dealt with in a proper manner. Section 34 restricts the Freedom of Information Act. I welcome this because it is a very sensitive issue and of great personal importance to those concerned. It is important to ensure the participants that the matter will be dealt with in a sensitive manner.

The commission has sufficient power to ask participants to give information on oath in order to obtain a true reflection of what happened at the time. When the report is published, the State will have to try to deal with the therapeutic and healing issues for these people. The State will have to make it clear that it is conscious of the hurt imposed on these people. We have a responsibility to try to undo some of the damage caused to people and avoid anything like this happening in the future. We must consider the issue in its entirety.

It is important that the commission obtains all the evidence in relation to this abuse so that the public can have trust in the investigation. There is political agreement in relation to the establishment and bona fides of the commission to investigate this important matter. I welcome the legislation to set up the commission and wish it every success.

Mr. Ryan

No one should say anything in a situation such as this without giving it careful consideration. I do not wish to cavil or argue with my colleagues because we all feel the same. It is very painful for an Irish Catholic to have to stand up in a House of the Oireachtas and say he welcomes legislation such as this. It is a profound admission of the degree to which the deep religious faith of the Irish people motivated them that they put their trust in people whom they believed to be better than themselves. Some 60 years later we must look at a level of abuse, most of which took place in institutions, including religious institutions. Because of the Roman Catholic Church's determination to be in control, many of these institutions were run in a Catholic ethos under the control of instruments or agents of the majority church, of which I am still a somewhat battered but unbowed internal critic. It is a very painful thing.

I fully accept the sincerity of the apologies given. I have always believed that much of the work of church bodies and agencies was good, necessary and fortuitous because the state of services for our children would have been horrendous without them. However, that does not get away from what happened. It is disingenuous to say that similar patterns occurred around the world because as children we were brought up to believe that we were better here, that we were not "pagan England" where horrible things happened to people, where people did horrible things and where people fell into horrible temptation when they went there. They even stopped going to Mass on Sundays – almost a definition of horror.

The real pain for our society and culture is that we were not better and because we claimed to be better we were worse. We know children have been abused, but they have been abused through history. Tragically, there has always been a trait in humanity which regarded children as a legit imate source of sexual gratification and another trait which saw the capacity or the right to discipline children, broadly defined, as a necessary part of authority. It was horrible. We have not reached the end of it yet, nor will we for a while because there is hardly an adult in Ireland who does not have a memory – I am 53 years of age – that causes them to feel more than a little emotional.

The function of the commission and the degree to which there is an effort to make it sensitive is most welcome. Nevertheless it will be painful. I have read the file of correspondence I and my party colleagues received. I am sure other Members received similar correspondence.

The most frightening aspect of the correspondence sent to the commission, copies of which were distributed to politicians, is the fear people have after perhaps 60 years. There is the fear that somebody in these institutions might still have some influence and the fear of seconded officials of the Department of Education and Science. I am sure it is unfair, but it must be remembered that these were people who were not believed. They discovered that to speak up was to invite further abuse. This was a culture in which to suggest that adults, and especially religious people, would do such things was to leave the child accused of evil doing and evil thinking. That is why many people escaped from the country. It is why much of the correspondence many people have received is concerned with the composition of the commission, the individual members and staffing. It is not because I distrust the people involved, it is because the victims of abuse have learnt to distrust everybody.

The intention is to be as sensitive as possible, but a little more than that is required. Many Members referred to the question of costs. To add even a flicker of a suggestion to people's worries and fears, by leaving them with the possibility that they will be under or poorly represented or poorly defended because they cannot afford the best, is to fail to understand the depths of their fear. That is why the cost aspect is important.

If it is managed sensitively and well, the pain people will suffer will be part of a healing process for them and perhaps for society. I hope out of it will come justice, in the best sense of the word. I do not mean vengeance. I never subscribed to the retribution view of justice. I have no desire, and never have had, to see old men or women in jail for things they did in their twenties. It is not part of the ethos of crime and punishment in which I believe, but I believe it is possible to have justice without vengeance.

I hope we will learn from this. The first thing that needs to be learnt is not that we did not run our institutions well, nor that people with peculiar, perverted sexual urges drifted into them, but that unaccountable power is always abused. There is no institution in human history of which I am aware where human beings are given power over others – whether they be adults over adults, adults over children or children over younger children – which is not abused if it is not held accountable and transparent. It is always abused because that is part of our nature. It is why, for thousands of years, humanity has struggled with systems of authority.

The more we have struggled the more we have moved towards democracy, the most revolutionary concept of all. It is one with which, regrettably, the church of which I am a member has considerable difficulty. It had difficulty with it at the outset but ultimately came to terms with it, but it continues vigorously to resist any notions of democracy within its own institutions. Democracy is the only system that keeps power under some kind of control, otherwise it will be abused.

I am 53 years of age, so I was alive when the atmosphere surrounding this ethos was prevalent. We all want to pretend that the phrase, "Spare the rod and spoil the child", was never said. It was the accepted wisdom of society until approximately ten years ago that not only was it necessary but good to physically punish children. I am not a crusader against corporal punishment – I do not believe that anybody who has brought up children believes in absolutes any more – but the phrase "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is regrettably a biblical phrase. It is not merely a part of folk wisdom. I invite people to explain what it now means. It meant a licence to beat children. While I do not support the campaign by the ISPCC to penalise or criminalise every slap to a child, because that would make the job of parenting even more difficult, the value that phrase contained must be acknowledged. Another common phrase was, "Children should be seen and not heard". They were seen and were not heard, and because they were not heard everybody ignored what happened.

Corporal punishment persisted in institutions which should have known better. I know that many of the boarding schools run by religious orders, long after they stopped using corporal punishment for academic matters because the State said they could not, still used corporal punishment to deal with disciplinary matters. This meant a person unconnected with a child but who was in loco parentis believed it was both right and proper to inflict physical punishment on someone else's child. That takes a particular mentality, and the old line “It hurts me more than it hurts you” is no excuse. The decision and acceptance that a person has the right to inflict pain as punishment on a child because he or she is in authority over that child is a dubious decision which implies dubious values on the part of the person who accepts it. That happened until early in the last decade at least. It was not something which happened 90 or 60 years ago. People believed they had the right to do that.

It is worth saying explicitly that what happened occurred in what used to be called "the good old days". It is difficult for many people in Ireland today, be they churchgoers or not, to listen with equanimity to lamentations of the fact that morality has broken down in Ireland. Morality had broken down in respect of a large number of children at a time when we were supposed to be in the good old days when everyone behaved properly. The truth is that nothing of what we now know would ever have emerged if the power of the Roman Catholic Church had not begun to be diminished. We would still not have heard any of it because that was the nature of society. I hasten to add that being a member of the church or a religious is not necessarily a connection with child abuse. Rather, that institution had a level of unaccountable power which permeated everything.

I remember in second class in school, which is 44 or 45 years ago, a Christian Brother who so terrified me that I can still remember him perfectly now. I was the best in the class academically and I was a well behaved child—

The Senator still is.

Mr. Ryan

—and I was still terrified. I am still the best in the class but I am no longer well behaved. The Cathaoirleach could give evidence on that. If there were an inquiry, he would have to give evidence to that effect.

In third class I remember people being paraded for religious examination or catechism as we called it. The first time a pupil failed a question, he or she received two slaps. The second time it was four slaps and the third, six slaps. All this was in the name of religion. I remember boys in my class, who everyone would recognise now as mentally handicapped or slow learners, being humiliated for the entertainment of the rest of us. I remember a lay teacher called the "spitting sheriff" who terrified everyone. Fortunately for me, he did not teach me. I remember in secondary school being beaten around the head with closed fists by a Christian Brother, and this was a school in which my father taught. Everyone remembers such events and that was the prevailing ethos.

We should never lament the departure of the good old days. In that regard we are better off now than we ever were. Despite our faults, problems, social issues and collapses of morality, we are better off. According to those whose institutions concealed this behaviour, there is, allegedly, a collapse in morality. There is a story about a certain Des Traynor, who is now deceased, lamenting the decline in morality in Ireland in the 1980s which is an interesting commentary on definitions of morality.

What are we to make of the touching representations in the interests of natural justice which many of us received from church and church-related bodies? I believe in natural justice. It is a concept which civil society developed in the teeth of resistance from the institutional church, which the institutional church still does not practise in its own fora and which it ignores when it dismisses people. If one reads the equality legislation or the Education Act, one can see that the church still claims the right to dismiss people without proper accountability, which we need desperately. We should be wary of that.

We should remember that two members of the staff of Maynooth college were sacked because their lordships did not approve of their opinions. I believe in natural justice and that no person should be harmed because of a false allegation about child abuse. However, natural justice is a concept which was developed in civil society in the teeth of a belief that divine inspiration was a better way to organise society. Divine inspiration did not work. Our much lamented secularised society is a good deal better.

There is more to this than looking back. It becomes a useless exercise if, in 40 years' time we discover another scandal which was happening at this time and which we ignored. I will give a good and explicit example. Goldenbridge has often been mentioned and I am sure every photographer attached to Dublin newspapers and others have gone there to get a good graphic. I know the television cameras have been there. To get to Goldenbridge, one must walk through St. Michael's estate in which there are hundreds of children whose futures are guaranteed to be disastrous because society has placed them in the most appalling housing.

I have not yet read a single journalist fulminating about what happened 60 years ago who even noticed the place as they moved around it. It is bleak, frightening and the worst possible place in which human beings could be asked to live, and it has been allowed to become like that by the State. The children who live there have no hope, yet no one notices. It will only be in 30 years' time when people will notice these children and what was done to them. Some 25% of children live in poverty. That might have been excusable when we had no money but it is not excusable now. One of the excuses for much of the institutional neglect has been the shortage of money.

No one has said explicitly whether salaries were paid to the staff of these institutions as they were paid to the religious in primary and secondary schools. If salaries were paid, what happened to them, because these people had vows of poverty? Were they paid salaries to run institutions or were they charitable institutions? How could people be confined to charitable institutions?

I am still not certain that the abuse suffered by children who were fostered from institutions is covered by the Bill. This fostering was commonplace up to 25 years ago. I am not happy that the definition of a child is the modern one of anyone under 18 because, when most of this abuse occurred, the age of majority was 21. I do not see why people who were not treated as adults until they were 21 should be prevented from being able to tell the stories of what happened to them when they were over 18. In 1950, an 18 year old was not regarded as capable of having a vote, signing a contract etc. Why confine the Bill's provisions to people under 18 years of age? Why not leave the age at 21 years, the age stipulated in the Constitution at that time?

I pay tribute to all the Senators who participated in this debate in which I have a very personal interest. I had the privilege of bringing the Child Care Bill through the House in 1990, the first such Bill in the history of the State to go before a committee of the House. Deliberations on the Bill lasted for 15 months, as a result of which legislation was put in place which has served the State well.

Mr. Ryan

The Minister even accepted Seanad amendments after the 15 months of deliberations.

Yes, some of those amendments comprised part of the legislation which was enacted when the President signed the Bill and they have been used to good effect. We are now engaged in a post-adjudication process on the environment of the day and the crises which came to light since that legislation was introduced.

I thank Members for their courtesy in giving this Bill prompt attention. That is an appropriate and welcome recognition that the issue of child abuse is one of grave concern to this House and the Oireachtas as a whole and that we can and must make all possible efforts to prevent such abuse ever occurring again. That theme strongly permeated the various contributions made during the course of the debate.

We must accept the regrettable fact that child abuse has occurred in our society. The Taoiseach's apology last May started that process and this legislation will assist us in continuing along that path. The commission's report will reveal much of what was hidden about Irish society's attitude to children in the past. Senator Manning alluded to the hidden aspect of abuse. I agree with his comment that child abuse is not merely an Irish problem and has occurred in many countries throughout the world. Of course, as Senator Ryan pointed out, that is no excuse. Child abuse has occurred in our society and our task as a modern Legislature is to put in place the political parameters and regulatory regime to ensure this will not happen again. We differed perhaps in that we were slower to speak about the problem of child abuse but we are doing so now.

I found Members' comments informative and useful. I would like to respond to some of the issues raised during the debate and clarify some misunderstandings about the Bill's purpose and the role of the commission. A group opposed to the Government's stance on the Statute of Limitations proposed to veto the commission. The commission and the statute are separate and distinct entities and it is unfortunate that they were linked in this way. The position adopted by the group in question is far from being the position of victims generally. We hope that nobody will be discouraged from coming forward to the commission by the improper linkage with civil liti gation. The commission will be open to all victims of abuse and no time limitation applies.

A request was made that the Minister would consider continuous legal representation for victims. The scheme for legal expenses is in draft form and the Minister indicated earlier that he would consider all reasonable proposals to amend it. The Minister indicated in the Dáil that he accepted in principle that some legal representation should be available on a continuous basis for victims as a group. If we are to have individual litigation and representation, there will be a dissipation of the consensus required to deal with this issue. Consequently, equitable treatment demands that victims as a group would be properly represented.

It was suggested that staff should not be seconded to the commission secretariat from the Department of Education and Science. The staff in question will fulfil a purely administrative secretarial role and will not have a role in conducting inquiries, reaching conclusions or making recommendations. The current staff of the commission have been seconded from the Department of Education and Science and to change horses in mid-stream could greatly damage and delay the commission's work. I am satisfied that the commission, as a body of professional people chaired by a High Court judge, will ensure that no conflict of interest will arise. Having served in nine Departments, I know that the linkage with the Oireachtas, represented by a Minister as the political head of a Department who can avail of assistance, advice and guidance from a team of civil servants charged with particular responsibilities in a particular unit, is very important and should be maintained. In that way, any Oireachtas Member would have the right to question the Minister at any time and the Minister could obtain the information directly from the commission or any other organisation carrying out an inquiry in which the State has an involvement. In the interests of accuracy and fairness, it is important that that link is maintained.

In response to the comment that no reference is made to State bodies in the Bill, it was always the intention that public bodies would be investigated by the commission in regard to their role in and responsibility for the abuse of children. To put the matter beyond doubt, section 1(3) was inserted on Committee Stage in the Dáil.

It was suggested that the commission should make recommendations on current child care practices. Both the Minister and the Department are in agreement on that and I am satisfied that the commission's terms of reference are sufficiently widely drawn to allow this to happen.

A query was raised in regard to the definition of "evidence". A definition of the term is already used in legislation. The significance of the references to belief, opinion or intention in this Bill is that the commission will need to hear a wide range of views if it is to place abuse in institutions in the context of the time at which the abuse occurred. This in no way diminishes the require ment in law that facts must be established on the balance of probability before the commission can make a finding. That is only fair.

I again thank Members for their courtesy during this debate and for their contributions on the Bill. We look forward to clarifying any outstanding issues during Committee Stage debate. We, as legislators, have a solemn duty under the Constitution to have equal regard for all the nation's citizens. It is clear that for many years the rights of some people in the most vulnerable sector of our society were disregarded over a sustained period of time. This was a shameful episode in our history and while this legislation will not undo that shame, it will offer a sympathetic platform for those who suffered such abuse. It will provide a means to investigate specific allegations of abuse and to make findings in regard to those allegations.

The legislation, through the commission's report, will provide Irish society with an insight into and an understanding of the abuses of children which were committed in the past and it will make recommendations to ensure that such abuses will not occur in future. The commission's report will enable us to be fair and objective, plan for the future and ensure we protect the nation's children for all time. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 20 April 2000.
Sitting suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.