I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, to the House.
Report by Commission of Investigation into Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin: Statements (Resumed).
The findings of the commission of investigation into the handling by church and State authorities of allegations and suspicions of child abuse against clerics of the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin were met with revulsion and horror. The Murphy report spelt out that "a systemic, calculated perversion of power and trust was visited on helpless and innocent children in the archdiocese over a 30 year period", according to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, when he spoke here in this Chamber. He stated, "it is a matter of profound regret that the tradition of deference which so many people showed to their church was, in so far as child abuse was concerned, entirely misplaced and had the effect of further abusing the victims". The Minister stated that when he received the report in July last, he immediately sent it to the Garda Commissioner. He added:
I have discussed it frequently with the ... Commissioner. It is clear from my contacts with him that neither he nor his force will rest until everything possible is done to ensure the perpetrators of this awful abuse pay for their crimes.
What stands out from this report is the failure of the Catholic Church to face up to, and deal in a proper and responsible way with, the serious and potentially criminal actions of its clergy. In every country where similar abuse has been identified, the church responded in a similarly defensive fashion. There has been no evidence of any country where the Catholic Church dealt with the allegations openly. The Vatican state oversees all of this and it has failed completely to handle the crimes committed by its members in Ireland and other countries. The Vatican and the papal nuncio to Ireland failed totally.
Speaking as a Christian, the failure of the church to put the welfare of the children before the perpetrators shows no reflection on the teaching of Christ, no more than if the Gospels did not exist. It is a mark of profound regret that the traditional deference which so many people showed to the Catholic Church was not only misplaced but, in fact, facilitated the abuse of innocent children.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, to the House. He has a critical role in the issues that arise from the Ryan and Murphy reports.
Ms Justice Murphy has done an excellent job. In fact, I would like to quote so much from this report, but I do not have time to do so today. Suffice it to say that the clarity with which the report speaks and with which it draws back the curtain on church practices is extraordinary and outstanding. It is quite difficult at times to believe what one is reading about what happened.
It also provides a stark reminder of the raw pain, hurt, anguish and degradation experienced by children subjected to child clerical abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin. It is quite clear we need an audit in other dioceses as well, and perhaps the Minister of State could respond to that. I am concerned that only recently this House discussed the HSE's attempt to get an audit done and the inadequate answers it got at that time. I understand the Minister of State and the HSE have taken this up and I would like a briefing to the House on that.
The report exposes the utter failure of both church and State to protect children and to investigate complaints. It reveals how priests engaged in clerical child abuse, and how they were protected and the children involved exploited. One can only imagine the terror, pain and hurt of the victims — the children — and their families when they sought to get the truth, thought they were going to the authorities in the church who would deal with their complaint, and were not listened to. It was abuse all over again. One must give great credit to those who persevered and ensured that the truth eventually came out.
What is staggering in the report is the systematic strategy by the church leadership to protect the institution at any price. The editorial in The Irish Times today puts it clearly. It is an extraordinary editorial when one sees what it states: “That culture of silence, denial and the protection of financial assets was instituted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under papal authority.” It goes on to speak of “medieval-style structures”.
It also comments on the Taoiseach's "painfully deferential statement". People in the country are concerned, and it is another matter to which the Minister of State might like to respond. The Taoiseach's statement was seen as deferential, in contrast to the way the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in this House dealt with the issues that arise from the report. That is of concern.
It is quite clear from the report that priests were moved from parish to parish, from places where they had damaged children to new places where children were easy prey. I could quote from the report where priests went from one area to another, for example, where a priest was moved in to work in a convent and the nuns were not told about his background, and likewise in various parishes. It is scathing in its description of how complaints were ignored, overlooked or dismissed, how a deliberate blind eye was turned and obscure mind games were used when victims sought the simple truth about these crimes of the most heinous nature.
Often the State did not know, except at times the Garda appeared to have been involved. There was a conclusion, however, of which I will speak. People went to the church because they thought their issues would be dealt with there. It was really a mark of their faith that that was where they went.
It is quite clear from the report that the abuse was not exceptional and it did not take church authorities by surprise. The church actually knew, but far from protecting the most vulnerable, it suffered the little children to face repeated and vile abuse by people serving in its name. That is there for all to see. It is clear.
The church also went about developing strategies which involved insuring against a known problem, denying the problem and its extent, and protecting abusers. In doing all this, as I stated, it was abusing the victims once again. When one has been victimised, the worst that can happen is that one is re-victimised and has that experience again, and that is what happened. That is why the report is scathing of the church authorities, but also of the State and its agencies. It says that the actions of gardaí involved in investigating the case of one serial clerical sex abuser in the 1980s were "shocking". It accuses gardaí of connivance with the church in stifling one complaint, failing to investigate another, and allowing a priest under investigation to leave the country. This is quite extraordinary.
I welcome the response of the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Fachtna Murphy, and I acknowledge the changes in Garda practice which we have seen since the 1990s. The situation must be kept under review, however, as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, said in this House last week. While all of this makes for depressing reading, it is good that the truth has come out.
Where do we go from here? It is clear that the days of a deferential State are over. There is just one legal framework in this country, that of the State. Canon law can never again be set as an alternative or, as seems to have been the case in many respects, a predominant law. Nor should diplomatic protocol be used.
I do not have time to go into the details of what the Minister said about the contact between Departments, but why was the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform not more proactive in ensuring that the commission got the material it needed? Something was missing in that response. They passed the material on, but given the seriousness of what was under discussion, there was room for a more proactive approach by the Department. I note the Minister said it was dealt with at official and not political level, but a question mark remains. I was not impressed by the way in which the Taoiseach dealt with this question when it arose. In many ways, it was about playing mind games and refusing to understand what was going on.
There is no question but that people's trust in the church has been very damaged. The extraordinary article by Vincent Twomey in The Irish Times today makes for incredibly sober reading. He states:
These criminals have caused profound damage to the numerous laity, men and women, who have remained "faithful", despite the scandals and the failure of the Irish church to nourish them, their children and grandchildren on the riches of this faith.
He also talks about the incompetence of the way in which the church is organised here. The article makes for sober reading from the professor emeritus of moral theology at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth.
The church's failings have been shown very clearly, but what is our role as parliamentarians? That is the key question. What is the role of the State in relation to the church? We are definitely at a crossroads concerning church-State relations. We need to be thorough and open in exploring whether a whole new set of arrangements would best serve the interests of children in future. We must undertake an audit of current church-State relations, whether they concern health, education or the protection of children. We need such an audit, as well as an open and proper debate. These issues must be dealt with, including whether to establish an education forum and whether the church's role in various hospitals is still appropriate. That discussion is for another day, but I just wanted to put down a marker on it. We need a full assessment at this point, however.
For decades the church has had a level of influence which must now be questioned in a republic that sets out to serve the people and protect our children. Much good work has been done, but when one reads about these horrors it undermines some of that work. There is no question about that. People are focusing on what is in these reports and it is clear that for too long parliamentarians bent the knee to church leaders.
We need to hear from the Minister concerning the child protection measures that must be put in place. In the forthcoming budget, will we be prepared to put in place the financial structures required to implement the Minister of State's response to the Ryan report? Are we willing to prioritise this issue above and beyond all others, and in spite of the fiscal challenges we face? I imagine the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is putting that question to his Cabinet colleagues. It is a very real one. Every day we hear of gaps in child protection services, including the independent inspections of residential care facilities where children with physical and intellectual disabilities are placed. When will that change? Does the Minister of State have the resources to deal with that now? If not, when will he have them? We should have independent reviews of the deaths of children in State care, but does the Minister of State have the resources? When will it start?
When will the resources be put in place to prevent children from being put into adult psychiatric hospitals for treatment of mental health issues? More children are being placed in such hospitals this year than last year, but how can that happen? How can we put more children with mental health difficulties into adult psychiatric wards for treatment than in 2008, despite all the talk about the Murphy report? How can we stand by?
Yesterday, I saw the Minister of State replying to questions in the Dáil about missing children. I did a report on this matter and interviewed some of the children concerned. The isolation and despair they felt was extraordinary. One can only imagine the terror of children who go missing into the sex industry and what they must experience. They receive a different level of care to Irish children in care. That must stop. They must get the same level of care. We must protect these children. It is not an easy issue. I note the Minister of State said that many of these children go back to their families. I hope that is correct, but I suspect that many of the children disappear into dangerous situations.
The Minister of State's report on the Ryan report contains 99 recommendations. We need a further debate, however, on the implementation of that report. The aspirations and wording of the Minister of State's report are very good, but are they backed up by resources and personnel? Which recommendations have been implemented to date? Have the timeframes been adhered to? These are really serious questions. I have gone through that report, which is a good check-list of what needs to be done. However, we must have feedback on it from the Minister of State as to whether what needs to be done is actually being done and if the resources are there. The Ombudsman for Children is the only independent office in the country solely charged with listening to children and highlighting their concerns. It should not be downgraded or have its resources cut in today's budget. I hope it will not happen because that office has an important role to play.
If the Minister of State gets the resources and is in a position to deal with the range of issues I have outlined, the Government will give a strong message that it is not just about words. It is not just about the shock and condemnation that everybody feels when they read the Murphy and Ryan reports. If the Minister of State gets these resources to implement a programme to deal with the issues I have outlined, he will give a strong signal that children matter. I look forward to hearing his response to the many outstanding issues regarding child protection. On a simple level, however, his response is all about the aspiration to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Quite clearly, this task falls to the State in terms of setting standards and assurances. We must never again hand the care and protection of our youngest citizens over to a body that is not accountable. This is clearly what happened and untold damage was done as a result. We must examine the Murphy and Ryan reports together. We must also look at the 1,000 victims who went to the Ryan commission. When one reads the Murphy report one can see even more clearly what they were up against and how incredibly difficult it must have been for them when they were ignored. We can never again turn a blind eye.
Many cases of abuse are being reported to the HSE, but I am afraid that with long waiting lists for child and family centres — some of them are closed around the country — we are still turning families away. We are not meeting their needs or responding to the crisis affecting many families today. I wish the Minister of State well. He has a huge task and I hope he gets the resources to deal with it. We cannot be complacent, either about the issues in the report, or the State's ability to respond to children and families in trouble today.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews. He is doing good work, and I note how quickly he read himself into his brief. Senator Fitzgerald and I sit on the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children and of allMinisters, he certainly plays his part. That has to be acknowledged and is very much appreciated.
Where does one start when it comes to debating something like the Murphy report? I have taken it up in the past ten days and I can read only a couple of pages before putting it down again because my mind is not able to take it all in. I pick it up a few days later and have to read over what I have already looked at, because it is so unbelievable. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was right in coming out six or eight months ago and flagging this as one of the worst reports in the history of the State. When somebody of his calibre says that, it is time to batten down the hatches, in the knowledge that this is to be an appalling horrific report. Even the archbishop's statement did not prepare politicians, however, for what they would read. Other media commentators have said the same in recent days. One opens and closes the report, reopens and closes it again. A report of this size will take several weeks, if not months, for people to read and come to terms with.
With Murphy, Ryan, Ferns and perhaps even more reports to come, I would consider this to be Ireland's "gulag" and complete shame on us, the people of the State of Ireland for allowing this to happen. It is an appalling situation. I do not know Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, but people who do say what a good man he is. I have no doubt he is a good man and is doing the best he can, with a terrible situation, to try and put it right.
I cannot understand, however, since he knew the enormity of this report and allowed it to be published and launched, and yet nothing has been put in place. I speak of the resignations that I hope are pending, of some of the bishops named in the report. I heard Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the Sunday after the report was launched saying he did not have the authority to ask Bishop Murray in Limerick to resign or to dismiss him. A couple of days later, however, when public opinion was at its height and people were so enraged at what they were hearing and reading, Archbishop Martin wrote to the bishops named in the report and asked them to consider their positions, to look into their consciences and do the right thing by the church and the children who were abused. I should like to ask the archbishop why he could not have done this before the report was launched. Why was it not arranged in order that we would have seen those resignations in the very hour the report was published? I hope the bishops involved will resign, but it seems they have waited to be pushed and it is somewhat too late for them to go now.
Since I was a child, I have always heard, "We are the brethren of the church". Was it not convenient for the clergy to let us know that we were the church, when they were looking for support, donations or recruits among families who gave sons and daughters to the religious life? Families have been wiped out by the abuse of children by clerics in this country. It is severe to term this Ireland's "gulag", but so horrific is the situation that this is how I see it. Directly behind the Houses of the Oireachtas is the Dr. Dermot Ryan Park. I believe it was owned by the church a long time ago, and at some stage there were plans for a cathedral to be built there. The church handed it over to the council many years ago, and out of gratitude it was called the Dr. Dermot Ryan Park. Dr. Dermot Ryan was one of the archbishops named in the report. I suggest to the Minster of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, that the park should now be renamed and the name, Dr. Dermot Ryan expunged from it. Let it be called anything, "the Children's Park", or whatever, but the late Dr. Ryan's name should no longer be associated with the park, because he does not deserve the honour.
The heroes in all of this are people such as Andrew Madden, Maria Collins and Colm O'Gorman who were brave enough to stand up. When they were disbelieved, they stood up and continued to speak out. On the incarceration and treatment of children, where do we begin to put that right for those who have been at the receiving end? I recall when I was a child and we still hear the church intone, "Suffer little children to come unto me" and the fact that Our Lord loved children and there was always a special place in the church for young children. Again, shame on us all, because we are all residents of this State where the most appalling cover-up was carried out by the church. It had to be aided and abetted by various arms of the State. That is why I conjure pictures of the "gulag" in my mind and am reminded of scenes from the former USSR.
Somebody talked on the radio this morning about the footage that accompanied the Murphy report. One saw a male in clerical garb going into a large dormitory, getting a young boy out of bed, the child kneeling down at the side of the bed, ostensibly to pray. Instead of joining his hands in prayer, however, he puts his entire face into his hands. Is the poor child saying, in effect, "Oh no, not another day of this terrible abuse."
Nobody is above the civil law and Canon Law cannot take a superior place over the law of the land. The Seanad is the right place to say that I hear the church leaders saying that Canon Law is not superior to the civil law, but I am not sure they believe this. I do not believe they see civil law as being superior to Canon Law. Going back 12 or 14 years to the terrible scandal for the church when it was revealed that Bishop Eamonn Casey in Galway had fathered a child, I recall the night Annie Murphy was on the "Late Late Show" with Gay Byrne, and she was given an awful rough time. I was shocked, as a young woman living in Ireland, that anybody should be treated like that. Gay Byrne gave her a hard time and the audience gave her an even harder one, as they jeered and mocked her. She was brave enough to admit her child had been fathered by a bishop of the Irish Catholic Church. While I have sympathy for her, I have greater sympathy for Bishop Eamon Casey. Archbishop Martin said he had no authority to seek the resignation of bishops identified in this report, yet the Irish church saw fit to banish a man like Bishop Eamon Casey for doing what comes natural to any human being, in terms of his being with a woman, to the furthest end of South America. I cannot recall the place to which they sent him. The church covers up and buries under the carpet what is natural and tries to pass off as being all right that which is unnatural by sending to different parishes clerics who have already violated complete families and communities.
On the Thursday and Friday following publication of the report every radio programme conducted an interview with a victim of the abuse. While these people found it so hard to articulate their story they did so in a manner which allowed the listener to understand what had happened to them. It was obvious these were people with broken lives who were finding it hard to stay in relationships, to maintain work or even live and that many had drug and alcohol problems. They had been left to suffer while the church got away with covering up the abuse.
Perhaps now is the time open up the debate on church and State and the involvement of the church in our schools and hospitals in particular. The State needs to take a proactive approach here. It is wrong that we, the taxpayer, pay for our schools yet we have no responsibility in terms of what happens to the children in those schools. Such issues are dealt with by boards of management, the chairman of which is usually the local parish priest or the bishop of the diocese. What can we expect when these are the people who are dealing with the complaints about the clerics?
I make the point that all clerics, priests and bishops are not bad. It is for the good ones that we need to continue to support the church. However, I find that very hard to do having read the Murphy report. While the scale of the abuse was so bad there are no words to describe it, the scale of the cover-up is appalling and should never be allowed to happen again. It is time to cut the strings between the church and State. I look forward to the Minister of State implementing the recommendations of the Ryan report. I believe when they are implemented Ireland will be a safer place for children.
We all know children can be abused in their own homes. We have seen evidence of such abuse often at the hands of their parents. However, while those mothers and fathers have all been imprisoned, we have yet to see any of the clerics identified in the Murphy report imprisoned for the abuse and terrible pain inflicted by them on this country.
I suppose I should not preface my remarks by saying I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this report because it is my wish that there was no such appalling situation to comment on. So be it, we must deal with the report this afternoon.
I listened with interest to the previous speaker. I recall being in the Chair for Senator Feeney's contribution on the Ryan report, on which occasion she made an equally sincere and emotive presentation. Senator Feeney has struck a fair balance in her presentation today. I would summarise this report as Ireland's dark night of the soul. It is a report which challenges us to acknowledge who and what we are as a society and people. The report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin is to a degree almost an extension of the Ryan report. We are now dealing with a society wherein, apparently, abuse of young children and young adults by men of the cloth and collar was widespread and endemic to a frightening degree. Obviously, as has been and must be stated by all speakers our first thoughts must be with the victims, some of whom have unfortunately passed away, some the victims of suicide. To the remaining victims, including those not yet classified, we must offer more than words of consolation. We must offer them every possible support, including financial and emotional support, and must above all put in place a structure and system of authority and regulation which will assure them that what was imposed upon them, the abuse and suffering they experienced, will never again be experienced by another generation of Irish children. The greatest monument to current and past victims would be an absolute assurance that this will not be permitted to happen again. The victims must be to the forefront of our concern.
We must also recognise that the Irish Catholic laity, of which there are hundreds of thousands, are deeply upset and disturbed by this report. Very few countries across the globe, with the exception of a few countries in South America, have the same connect between church and State as has Ireland. While for generations there has been a unique relationship between families and priests in this State, certainties have been removed and doubt has been cast resulting in great suffering among ordinary Catholics. What they have read and know to be true is deeply and profoundly upsetting. We must empathise with those people who feel like the rug has been pulled from under them and who are genuinely upset for their church. The church is the people not priests, bishops or the Pope and the vast majority of people here who have read this report are gravely upset at what transpired.
We must also recognise the upset caused to the vast majority of clergy across the country, including priests and nuns, who have committed themselves to full Christian living in its broadest and finest tradition. They are gravely pained by the fact that many of their clerical colleagues were engaged in the shocking abuse of children. It is important to officially recognise that the vast majority of clergy here, not just at present but through the generations, have done their job professionally and openly. They, too, are very wounded by this report and the behaviour of their colleagues.
Where do we go from here? There have been numerous calls for the bishops who were found wanting in carrying out their duties and who failed to investigate and report to do the necessary and honourable thing of resigning their posts. It probably will not make a huge difference to victims at this stage but it would be an indication that lessons are being learned. If resignation of a bishop or bishops would help in that regard that must happen. Straws in the wind appear to suggest that some of the Catholic bishops will resign. The business of the Catholic Church is its affair. It is not an establishment church whereby bishops are appointed by the parliament. We neither hire nor fire, and we cannot force a bishop to resign his position. However, such a resignation would be a positive and strong signal and a tiny step in the right direction, and, perhaps, a small building block for the future. We will await developments.
The broader questions we must face are about where society goes from here, how it plans for the future and the position of the great debate about church and State. This country's people come from a tradition of great deference, not just to the church but to the State, schools and all forms of authority. Generations of Irish people have written verse and sung songs about being downtrodden by the British, but we really are downtrodden by ourselves. We have always deferred to authority in a way that is quite unique among western European nations. It is time for Irish people as a society to lose the chains of deference and walk a little taller. That would be a positive step in trying to create a new relationship between church and State.
I was reading through the Constitution last night in preparation for a debate in the House on the Criminal Procedure Bill. The Constitution was carried in 1937 by approximately 685,000 votes to 526,000. It is supposed to contain the guidelines for how we live as a society, with rules and regulations to ensure that neither rank nor collar will put anybody above the law. Are we attempting to build a new republic and new society in which everybody has their role and appropriate place of influence? There have been many issues with the Constitution; there have been many amendments to it and more are projected for the future. It would be helpful if the Minister and his colleagues commenced preparation for a new constitution. The 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising is only seven years away. As a maturing republic, perhaps we need a new constitution in which we can clearly outline our priorities and the parameters of law and behaviour.
We regularly speak about the need to rebalance the relationship between church and State and the need to examine the education sector, in terms of its ownership and direction. In the course of a debate on a new constitution we could deal with these matters in a sensitive and inclusive fashion. The issue of church control of education has been centre stage in national debate. It was understandable that in the immediate aftermath of publication of the Murphy report there was great demand that church control of education be ended and that the system of patronage be amended. We must move carefully and cautiously. The vast majority of people here would still prefer their children to be educated in Catholic schools or within the Catholic ethos. A balance must try to ensure there is still such a possibility, while, on the other hand, the ownership, control or direction of the educational sphere be more democratic and Department-led. When shocking reports such as this are produced there is always a great danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. We must be cautious in planning for the future. For that reason I favour slightly longer term planning for Ireland as a society via reflection on the need for some major constitutional initiatives, probably leading to a new constitution.
I thank the Minister for attending this debate and, most importantly, Judge Murphy, her officials and staff for presenting us with this appalling vista, as it must be described. I hope, however, it is a document from which Irish society will learn huge lessons. Inevitably, in the course of forthcoming months and years reports will be produced on sadly similar behaviour in other dioceses. It is necessary for society that all this is brought out into the open in a transparent fashion. I hope it will assist the beginning of the healing process.
My words are very inadequate, as all words will be under the circumstances. Our thoughts must be with the victims and our thanks go to those courageous people who led the campaign to highlight the plight of victims. We must now move beyond word to deed. Major changes are required across all strata of Irish society to bring help and healing to a generation who lost their youth and in some cases, sadly, their lives. If we are to make a difference, we must plan ahead. We will revert to this report again. I hope we will learn from it and bring healing to the thousands of victims, seen and unseen, heard and unheard.
As Senator Bradford said, this report portrays an appalling vista. I join colleagues who have complimented the Minister on the compassion he has shown in his office. If there is any method by which the recommendations in this and the Ryan reports can be implemented, the Minister could go down in history as one of the people who put this State on the right track.
I had a conversation with a woman a couple of years ago, before either of these reports was produced. She was an alternative therapist and I recall her telling me that Ireland has a great deal of healing to do. I continuously think of her remark. I believe she was from Australia; she was not from Ireland. There was a great deal in what she said. A number of different organisations in our society have had abusers within those organisations. The church has been huge in that context in terms of the absolute abuse and appalling behaviour that occurred and the number of paedophiles it contained. It appears that people tended to go into the church to hide, possibly because of the deference this State paid to Canon Law. They knew that there was such deference. We need to get behind the mindset of those who did this. We need the church to tell us why it reckons paedophiles and abusers gravitated towards its culture and believed they could hide within it. If we are to move on as a people, the church must answer these questions.
As politicians and parents, with everyone else in society we must ask why we allowed this situation to continue. People claim they did not know, but I do not believe them. When I was 15 years of age, I attended a girls' secondary school beside St. Peter's college in Wexford. Some of the chaps with whom I hung around used to say someone or other was a Fr. Collins' boy. The paedophile ring in the college was cited in the Ferns Report. Deep down, we knew about all of this, although we might not have had the courage to face it for the past 30 or 40 years. I agree that we need resignations and that bishops' heads need to roll. This would not be an answer, but it would be a small step that could be taken to show some sorrow on the part of the church, as Senator Bradford mentioned.
Merely discussing the issue, however, will get us nowhere. Let us not lose track of where we are. We need to put systems in place to ensure this situation will not recur. Whether we are discussing the church, the GAA or, given the number of incidents of child abuse involving coaches at swimming pools, every parent must be able to say his or her child is safe in an organisation. The State has not reacted to this necessity, which is the message we must take from the report. The stories it contains are appalling and difficult to read. Senator Feeney stated she had to put it down several times. Like me, she probably has not read all of it because it is far too upsetting. However, we must face up to the fact that it all occurred.
In the light of the Ryan, Ferns and Murphy reports and the issues about which we have heard concerning the Magdalene laundries, we must deal with the issues raised and put systems in place. The Minister of State should be a Minister, for which I have been calling for a long time and I know I am right. If he is to deal with this matter properly, he must have a seat at the Cabinet. There are cross-departmental and cross-unit responses required from the Departments of Education and Science, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children, the HSE and the Garda, all of which are involved in the protection of children. If we cannot protect them, I do not know where we are going.
Yesterday in Wexford I attended a presentation by FAB, a domestic violence group, as part of the 16-day campaign against domestic violence and abuse. A poem was read out, although I do not have it to hand. It was written by a child of approximately ten or 12 years who describes the hands of a male as being creative and brilliant but asks why the man uses them violently against the child instead of putting them to best use. I was struck by this poem. Another was written by a little girl who was being minded by her granny. I ask for the Chair's forgiveness. I am upset about this issue because I recently had a baby. That little girl asked where her mother had gone but received no answers.
For some time I have been stating we have enough reports. While I commend Judge Yvonne Murphy and the commission for going through this difficult process and recognise that we need information, there has been a great deal of debate on the questions of church and State and whether we need to leave the church behind and rewrite the Constitution. These questions are relevant, but if the State is not willing or able to react appropriately by putting systems in place to avoid a recurrence, we are doing nothing.
I spoke to the principal of a small primary school in south-east Wexford who told me that she had reported three incidences of abuse to the HSE and the appropriate child care officer. It was clear to her that the children concerned were upset and that something was wrong. They may have been interviewed, but when she rang the HSE a couple of weeks later to find out whether anything had been done, she was told the case had been closed. We do not have sufficient resources. There is no point in those of us on this side of the House pretending that we are doing something about the overall issues involved when it is clear that we are not. This is a significant issue. We can build roads and schools, but none of it will make any difference if people are not safe and happy. We must reverse the order in the way we do things and put procedures in place. Children are too important to play politics with.
Other forms of abuse include bullying, harassment and the many variations of domestic violence and abuse. We have not revisited the issue of domestic violence since 1996, but even that Act is paltry and has many holes. Last night "Prime Time" ran a story on the report of the Law Reform Commission on rape and the small number of convictions achieved in that regard. The damage the Irish do to one another is unbelievable, but our laws do not protect us from it. We need to stop discussing the church.
Although I cannot find the appropriate section, part of the commission's report states a firm, simple and unmistakable procedure for the promulgation of the law is a basic feature of every coherent legal system. However, we do not have such a procedure. The report goes on to state the absence of such a procedure within church law makes the latter difficult to access and its implementation and monitoring of compliance difficult. The law is not being implemented. People should be thrown in jail if they have abused others. State law is superior to Canon Law. The report provides examples to show the Garda had not faced up to the problem.
Although we are debating issues of church and State, I have heard many examples where people reported domestic abuse to the Garda but were told that the Garda was not interested in getting involved in incidents in the family home because it did not want to delve into the issue. That is why matters at Monageer went as far as they did, according to the relevant report. There are many crimes committed against women and children in the family home because we are not reacting in the appropriate manner.
It is an appalling vista, but I am amazed by people's surprise at what is contained in the report. Everyone who has had a Catholic education, which means most of us, knew what was going on. We have watched films such as "The Butcher Boy" and others on the Magdalene laundries. The facts have been known. Therefore, we need to change our mindset. Some point out that the report only relates to a certain number of abusers and that there are good priests who do good work, just as there are good teachers, but equally there are teachers who abuse. There are brilliant parents who go to the nth degree to ensure their children's safety and education and do not allow them to walk home from school anymore. That we do not believe our children can walk on a path from A to B without being abducted or abused is a damning indictment of us as a people. We are distrustful of each other, instead of keeping an eye out for one another. Abuse occurred and is occurring, mostly in the family home.
I could go on talking about this emotive issue. The report is timely. Yesterday I dealt with the case of an anorexic girl who had to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital because she could not get a bed elsewhere. She is lucky that her parents have the money to pay for it. The State does not provide beds for anorexic patients. A couple of weeks ago I dealt with the case of a child who needed psychiatric help but was in a ward with older people dying from various diseases. If he had been left there for very long, he might have a case against the State. That will happen one day.
District courts have no facilities to deal with the constant flow of cases from domestic violence and abuse of children and all such happenings. We do not seem to have the compassion to deal with it. Yes, all the things we are doing as a Government are very important but action on this is probably more important. We must prioritise it after the budget which will get the economy back on track. It is as important. How many more lives will we allow to go down the tubes? We can throw church members in jail if they are guilty. We have laws and procedures to deal with that and those people should be dealt with. If the arms of this State do not deal with them, we have a problem.
As politicians, let us pledge this immediately. Let the Minister of State pledge to the children of Ireland that this will never happen again and State procedures will be put in place that will be strong enough to ensure it does not happen again.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The speeches this morning have been among the best I have heard in the House. I say this as one who spent five years as a seminarian in the 1980s until 1990, as a regular Mass-goer and as one who has great faith and belief in God and religion. The Murphy and Ryan reports leave a sense of anger, bewilderment and need for repentance by the church. We are in Advent, a season of repentance and looking forward, of hope. My hope is that as a result of the great work done by the Murphy commission — I pay tribute to Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy and the members of the commission — we will have a new church and a new order. As Senator Bradford rightly said, no words of ours today in this Chamber will give redress to the victims. At the forefront of all we say and do must be the victims who have had horrendous crimes inflicted upon them by trusted people.
It is extraordinary that there was a veil of secrecy and, as the report stated, avoidance of telling the truth to avoid scandal and protect the reputation of the church and preserve its assets. The preamble to the Constitution mentions seeking to promote the common good, "with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations". We achieved so much in that paragraph of the preamble but lost the fundamental point. A fundamental break has occurred between the church and its people. We need a new order. We must create a new society and a new Ireland because the pillars of our society have cracked and crumbled. The institutions of our State, through the bad works of politicians, have tarnished all of us, as politicians. The church has been tarnished. It behoves all of us, regardless of party politics, not only to try to, but to create, engineer and put in place a new Ireland, where, as Article 40 states, "All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law".
What has happened is something none of us can even comprehend. I know from talking to victims of abuse that we can never give them their lost lives back. They have been imprisoned in a cell of hurt, anger and humiliation, not by themselves but by people they trusted. Reading page 5 in Part 1 of the Murphy report, I found it extraordinary that there is a 2000-year history of biblical, papal and Holy See statements showing awareness of clerical child sex abuse. I want to see us creating an Ireland of equals where the gospel message, "Suffer little children to come unto me for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven," is enacted. The gospel I read and l listen to still has resonance for all of us but the practitioners have lost the faith and trust of the people, and rightly so.
I make another point as a former seminarian. I am glad the church has changed its formation policies and the way in which people are admitted to seminaries and trained. The reality is that there are many good priests and nuns here who are doing and have done tremendous work. I know from talking to friends from my class in the seminary, in Cork and other dioceses, that they are genuinely outraged at what has happened. In our right sense of outrage we can lose sight of the fact that there are good people administering works in dioceses across the country today. We must never forget that the church has broken its special relationship in this State.
We hear about Canon Law which I studied. We need to consider what the report states, namely, that Canon Law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the 20th century. Ms Justice Murphy is right. Bishops and archbishops of Dublin hid under the veil and protection of Canon Law when administration of justice to the victims was what was required. If we cherish values and cherish each other as individuals, as Senator Bradford rightly said, it is time we had a new constitution that would reflect the new Ireland and the relationship between church and State, that would put in place the idea in a clear unambiguous manner that all of us have duties, responsibilities and roles and must live up to them. It would be a very good exercise for the Joint Committee on the Constitution to consider creating a new constitution that would reflect the new Ireland, without diluting the role of each of us as citizens and outline our obligation to live up to what we are meant to be — citizens equal before the law. We have a responsibility to do this.
Other Senators referred to the Murphy report being difficult reading. If one reads both the Ryan and Murphy reports, the stories are human stories that make for very difficult reading. However, we must never allow either this or the Ryan report to sit on the shelf. We must never allow ourselves again be in a situation where such things can be allowed to happen. These reports must be acted upon. That is why it is important to move and take these reports as a movement for renewal: of the church in its relationship with its people and of the State towards renewal of its relationship and bond with the people.
It is very easy to criticise bishops and some bishops should resign. They were aloof and distant and did not act. We can all tell stories of priests moved from parish to parish, sent to or brought back from the missions. That was fundamentally wrong. As the report states, the secrecy that tried to protect the institution of the church at the expense of children was wrong and must never be allowed to happen again.
In The Irish Times this morning, Vincent Twomey, Professor Emeritus of moral theology in Maynooth, has written an excellent article about the restructuring of the dioceses here. We must examine seriously what Professor Twomey, who values people, states in his article in The Irish Times this morning.
The victims in this report deserve not just our apology or sorrow. They deserve and require us to act collectively, and they need the bishops to put in place a system to ensure this does not happen again. I hope this report, in its severity, will be the launching pad for a new Ireland where we can have a society of equals.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, to the Seanad to listen to the statements on this report. I echo many of the points made by Senator Buttimer. We are singing from the same hymn sheet on this issue.
I do not know how to discuss this report. I have scanned it. I could not read it because the litany of abuse and cruelty in every chapter upset me greatly, particularly as this kind of abuse went on for a period from 1975 to 2004. I cannot explain my feelings of disgust. It is difficult to put into words the disgust felt by people. People who do not have the report but read extracts in the daily newspapers have discussed it at the dinner table and in their local pub. That discussion is taking place across the entire country. This abuse was being perpetrated under our eyes and we did not see it. How did that cover-up take place? Four archbishops covered up the abuse. They were arrogant because they had the cloth, and the cloth spoke louder than any words. The message the church sent out in past years was that it had arrived. The allegations were against 46 priests, and the State facilitated cover-up. Successive Governments did not tackle it. There should be no doubt about that. The Garda listened to complaints but did not follow up on them. The vast majority of the church turned a blind eye.
We are at a crossroads in society. Society must change. The political institution has been criticised. The church has been greatly criticised. We are saying that society must change in the future. We are a Republic and nobody is above the law, neither priests nor judges. Everybody should be equal before the law.
I grew up in a Catholic family household. We had priests coming into our household who played cards frequently. They were lovely people. Two of my aunts are nuns. They are beautiful people. There are many good priests and nuns doing great social work and I have to speak for them as well. I feel sorry that they find themselves, as do politicians, in a position where one bad apple appears to create all badness. That is the position we are in currently in terms of protecting the institution of the church. I do not like using the word "institution". That word must change.
Senator Buttimer said that we must change and we may bring in a new constitution. We must go down that road because the relationship between the church and State has broken down. They worked together for a long time and now we must consider where we go from here in terms of the church's role in the future.
The priests got lazy. They were lazy even in their sermons. They did not give good sermons. That is the reason the churchgoer moved away from the church. There are people who are no longer "churchy", so to speak. They are interested in their religion but they are not interested in the church. I do not know how we can rethink that concept in the future but we are at a crossroads and we must bring in the guidelines and legislation. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, on putting that in motion, setting up the guidelines and ensuring the agencies involved with young people, be it the Health Service Executive, our schools, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and many of the other agencies, interact to ensure abuse will not happen again.
It is horrific that we are here discussing this report. I am not good at talking on this issue. I am not able for this kind of debate. It is too hurtful when I think of the good work church people do and then they are destroyed, so to speak, by these people who had power over young people. I never want to have to talk on this topic again. I was a teacher. I hope that as teachers, priests, nuns and politicians we will do everything in our power to ensure that young people will never again be subjected to clerical sexual abuse.
I have not much more to say on this but I hope procedures will be put in place to deal with it quickly. I hope the audit the HSE put in motion last summer will bring about a change and that there will be no more cover-up. It should all come out now. I congratulate Archbishop Martin for saying this is the end of the road for the church of the past. I only hope that the failure to deal with a problem will never happen again and legislation and statutory guidelines will be put in place to ensure that the gardaí and teachers will know what to do in the future. I hope also that parents will feel their children are being protected by the agents of the State in dealing with problems.
I wish the Minister well in taking on board this legislation and these statutory guidelines to ensure we move to a different era and that the church, as an institution, will change to help people, and not only young people. It has a role to play in society, not as priests in a lordly way, but as ordinary people with a vocation to help those in distress. That is my wish for the future of the institution of the church. I want to protect the good priests and the good nuns and tell them that they should continue doing their good work. They should tell the others to get away and that they do not need them in their church. I ask the good priests to stay with us and fight their case to be part of the church of the future.
I welcome the Minister of State. I am appalled by the latest child abuse report, which relates to the sexual abuse of children by the clergy. How many more reports are needed before the State starts to act resolutely? The Ryan report on institutional abuse was published earlier this year. We have not yet debated the implementation plan for that report. Mandatory reporting of child abuse has still not been introduced. Professionals should be protected when they make such reports. The child protection guidelines have not yet been placed on a statutory footing. I am sure children here are being abused today. Terrible reports of abuse are emerging from the direct provision centres. I refer to the trafficking of under age minors, and so on. More reports like the Ryan and Murphy reports will have to be published if the State does not act resolutely. The report before the House should have marked the end of the line. I would like to raise many serious issues about the Murphy report. I wonder if I will get answers. Will somebody respond at the end of the debate?
There will be a response.
What is the legal status of the Murphy report as it stands? Will priests who sexually abused children and those who covered up and facilitated such abuse by not acting be convicted as a result of this report? What is the legal status of the report? I am not convinced that it has a powerful legal status. Page 44 of the report states that an archdiocese does not "have to comply with any regulations or norms that are supervised by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement". It explains that "the precise legal status of the Archbishop of Dublin has yet to be determined by the Irish courts". It suggests that according to legal advisers for the archbishop, it is by his own discretion that he can establish himself as "a corporation sole". The report explains that "a corporation sole is a legal entity consisting of a single person, so that the corporation passes from one holder of a position to the next". The haziness surrounding the legal position of the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Dublin makes it difficult for any legal action to be taken against the archdiocese or the archbishop regarding clerical child abuse. The State has to act. It seems fundamentally wrong that the archbishop and the bishops are responding to Canon Law but not to Irish law. Our children will be at risk as long as that continues.
Generations of children have been abused. Page 45 of the report states that "the supervisory role of an archbishop .... has been described by canon lawyers as "very, very minor"." Is this a way out? The Murphy report mentions that in the Ferns Report, there was "no evidence" of jurisdiction exercised over Bishop Herlihy or Bishop Comiskey. It points out that "every bishop is accountable directly to the Holy See". The report states that according to Canon Law, "each bishop has "legislative, executive and judicial power" over the church he is entrusted with. By contrast The Irish Times today reported that “Vatican analyst Giancarlo Zizola argued that however much Irish public opinion might struggle to understand the Vatican’s “silence“, there was nothing surprising or scandalous about it”. It quotes Mr. Zizola as saying that “when things like this happen in the local church, it is the local church which must assume responsibility” and that “there is a clear division of responsibility here – the pope is not the church”. The Vatican is saying it is up to the church in Ireland.
The legal basis for the approach being taken by the Archbishop of Dublin is that he does not feel he needs to be responsible to Irish law. We will continue to be in trouble if we do not take this matter into our hands. My reading of the Murphy report is that everyone is passing the buck. The Murphy report states that "as long as he operates within the canon law, the bishop is free to [operate his church] as he sees fit". That is very serious when one considers that the report also states that the actions of Bishop Murray of Limerick were "inexcusable". The commission agrees with the view expressed in the Ferns Report that a bishop's personality is reflected in how a diocese is run. If bishops do not take responsibility, for example by taking action on behalf of victims and refusing to condemn the actions of the erring priests under their wing, what hope can victims have?
We must protect the good people in the church. Many bishops are named in this report, including the Bishop of Galway, Martin Drennan, who happens to be my local bishop. Page 617 of the report states that in 2002 and 2003, "Bishop Martin Drennan heard reports that Fr. Guido was indulging in inappropriate behaviour which gave rise to concern". It continues:
Bishop Drennan recommended that he attend at the Granada Institute for treatment, but he adopted delaying tactics and the Granada Institute then declined to take him because of his resistance. In May 2003, he was sent for an initial assessment to a consultant psychologist. During that assessment he admitted that he was homosexual. [The psychologist] recommended that Fr Guido not have any contact with children or young people until the assessment had been completed and that he go abroad for treatment.
I am satisfied that Bishop Drennan took the necessary steps and made the necessary recommendations when it was brought to his attention that the behaviour of this priest was risky. The priest in question had been acting out, for example by "inviting young people to his house for meals and collecting teenagers from pubs late at night". He had also "taken young people to Lourdes and joined them for drinking parties". While there may be more to it than I know, it seems that the bishop acted when he had received enough information. I am satisfied that he took the necessary action. Not every bishop who is named in the Murphy report should be wronged. If there is evidence that a bishop did not take appropriate action, we have to act resolutely. I am concerned about the legal haziness associated with this issue. It seems that each bishop is accountable to himself. The report makes it clear that it cannot be argued that these bishops were ignorant:
Many of those in authority in the Archdiocese had civil law degrees or occupied prestigious appointments in third level education. Monsignor Sheehy, Bishop O'Mahony and Bishop Raymond Field were qualified barristers. Bishop Kavanagh was Professor of Social Science in University College Dublin where both Archbishop Ryan and Archbishop Connell held high ranking academic posts.
These men were very well informed — they knew the law of the State and the Canon Law.
On the worrying issue of legal privilege, when Archbishop Connell met a member of the Garda Síochána in 1995, a document containing the names of 17 alleged clerical abusers and the claimants in each case was submitted. The commission is of the opinion that this submission was not adequate as it was not done in compliance with the standards of the framework document of 1996. It is alleged that there were 28, rather than 17, abusers. Just 17 abusers were disclosed. When Archbishop Connell was questioned on the matter, his reply was that those priests who were not on the list had not been members of the clergy at the time. It was a cop-out for him to say they "had been laicised". He justified this omission by saying he would not answer for people who had been laicised. The Murphy report quotes Archbishop Connell as saying that the disclosure "was a beginning and it was a very big beginning because nothing of the kind had ever happened before". What good is that to victims?
As I am conscious of the time constraints I am facing, I will conclude by speaking about the control of our schools. As we know, the church is the patron of almost all of this country's primary and secondary schools. I appreciate that there are other patrons like the VECs and Educate Together. However, the time has come to consider seriously the role of the Catholic Church in the patronage of primary and second level schools. Major practical issues arise in this regard such as who would move in were it to move out. However, Members must agree fundamentally that children can never be placed at risk. I encourage the Minister of State to examine this issue.
I thank the Senator.
Moreover, the possibility of putting in place mandatory reporting on a legal basis also should be considered, as should a statutory footing for child protection guidelines. Certainly, the Minister of State should respond to my previous questions on the legal status of this report——
Senator, my hands are tied in respect of the time.
——to ensure that convictions are achieved for those who covered up as well as for those who abused.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach and compliment him on the discharge of his brief. He is one of the brighter young people to join the ranks of the Ministers of State. While I do not wish to be patronising, the truth is the truth.
This item on the clár of Seanad Éireann gives me absolutely no pleasure. I am a committed Roman Catholic. However, as a parent and as a public representative, I must express my revulsion at the findings of this report. I have been in public life for more than 30 years but never thought I would be obliged to make the utterances I am about to make. One sad result about this is that so many good priests, nuns, brothers and religious will be tarnished. People will state cruelly that they all are the same, which is not the case.
I will turn to the nub of the problem that confronts Members. I compliment Ms Justice Murphy on compiling this report. It details some outrageous accounts of abuse of the most vulnerable people, namely, innocent children. I refer to children who have had their childhood robbed of them and with whom I have been obliged to deal in my capacity as a psychiatric nurse. I recall one particular occasion in the female admission ward of St. Loman's Hospital, Mullingar, when I heard a female patient giving a graphic account of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. I also recall a teacher in a school I know very well who was found to be an abuser. However, that teacher was transferred to a school in Dublin in an area that was considered to be rough. The problem was not dealt with as this constituted a transfer of the problem rather than an interaction with it. In other words, the problem simply was moved on. This is what makes this report and others so damning. It affects people, irrespective of their status, and examples have been found in recent years concerning doctors, teachers, nurses, brothers, priests and nuns. In this case, it pertains to the clergy.
An investigation should be carried out in every diocese and in every parish, if necessary, for the benefit of abuse survivors. While I could say much about the status of survival in some cases, professional etiquette precludes me from so doing. I refer to any abused individual in any diocese or parish, the abuse of whom has not come to light. It would be a grave injustice to such a person not to make an effort to discover such abuse and to deal with the abuser, even in retrospect, because that is the only way one can bring closure to these people that is relevant to the abuse they suffered. Questions have been asked about the north-eastern part of our island which, regrettably, is not under the jurisdiction of the Government. I believe that every diocese on the island of Ireland must undergo a full and thorough investigation on the same lines as that which resulted in the Murphy report.
What makes this problem so repulsive is the conspiracy of silence. As for bishops who may not have carried out their duties in an appropriate manner or who may have hidden behind the concept of Canon Law, there can be no hiding place for an abuser, clerical or otherwise. They must be rooted out and dealt with, if only to bring closure to the abused and for the good priests, brothers and nuns, many of whom I know and of whom I have pleasant memories. During my days at St Mary's College, Mullingar, a wrong hand was never put on me. I thank the community of Christian Brothers at St Mary's College, Mullingar. While an individual there rightfully was named and shamed, in the main I can only say the best of my experience of the brothers, priests and nuns with whom I have come in contact. Members owe it to those good people to expose the wrongdoers. The bishops who have not taken to task the individuals concerned have not simply failed the abused children but also have failed society and their church.
Everyone can point fingers and were I on the Opposition side of the House, perhaps I would be saying the same thing. However, abuse did not begin today or yesterday. Members now know it has been ongoing for years and, at long last, it will be dealt with, I hope in an inclusive fashion. As the old saying goes, it is never too late to do the right thing. However, the buck has been passed in several sectors of society, including the Garda, the various Departments responsible, perhaps the Government and, as now has been proven conclusively, the church itself.
The single point I must make on this sordid saga is that trust has been betrayed massively. I refer to the trust of parents who committed their children to the care of clergy in respect of serving mass, attending boarding schools and so on. Such trust has been betrayed and the childhood of all those who were abused has been robbed absolutely. Moreover, unlike Dick Turpin, the abusers did not wear a mask but were barefaced about it. As I noted, there can be no hiding place for such people. Nevertheless, I maintain that one also must strike a blow for the good priests, brothers and nuns because they are innocent parties in this regard. As I stated, I am a Catholic and proud to be so. It is the singer that is at fault, not the song.
I welcome the Minister. Together the Ryan and Murphy reports make for horrendous reading and represent a shameful part of our heritage. Collectively, we have to feel ashamed. When we look back on our glory days, our heritage and literary past, we cannot deny that this sorry chapter is as much a part of our heritage and has to be faced up to. Just as the German people faced up to horrendous crimes of huge proportions in the past, we have to face up to this issue and accept our collective guilt and shame. It is, tragically, part of our heritage and inheritance. There is no avoiding that fact.
The biblical phrase "Suffer the little children to come unto me" comes to mind. The individuals who abused children stand condemned. Their crimes and breaches of trust are unacceptable and unpardonable. The parts of the State apparatus, institutions and bodies, which were complicit in the cover-up of the abuse must stand condemned also. That is what I meant by the words "collective guilt and shame". Many of us showed a lack of concern for children on the margins. Children of all social classes and groups were victims and trust was broken. To a degree, we did not show enough concern for more vulnerable children, all of which makes us guilty collectively.
As we solve the problem, we have to focus on the vast majority of good priests and religious who have done very good work. In many cases they have substituted for inadequate social and State services. They have been tremendous pastors on an individual basis as people of God and followers of Christ. They deserve our admiration. They are vulnerable today and another set of victims because they feel ashamed and a misplaced guilt, as many of us do when we blame ourselves for not doing something. Those who turned a blind eye and were aware of what was happening stand condemned. However, there are many good priests who deserve our thoughts, prayers and recognition. We should salute their good work, what they stand for and thank them. Many times they have done what the State should have been doing. They are great people.
When we look at our collective shame, institutional and individual wrongdoing and identify the good done by many priests, the question which arises is what will happen in the future. I am interested in the Minister's reply in that regard, as it will not be enough to just condemn what has happened. Steps have to be taken to ensure there will no be repetition and that there will be openness and transparency.
A number of initiatives were taken of which I am aware and which are identified in the report. These included the 1977 to 1983 guidelines on non-accidental injury to children; the 1980 to 1997 guidelines on the identification and management of non-accidental injury to children; the 1987 child abuse guidelines; the Children First guidelines of 1999; the duty of care guidelines of 2002; and the trust in care guidelines published in 2005. All of these documents need to be enforced. We need to enforce the legislation and guidelines in this area. We also need to provide backup, which will be important in the context of budgetary constraints. We should not reduce the number of staff working in this area or our vigilance in the identification of problems. It is important that we debate the issues raised and recognise our guilt in this matter.
I thank the Senators for their remarks on this excellent report. It deals with a disturbing and emotive subject and I thank Senators for the thoughtfulness of their contributions which not only dealt with the report's findings and their implications, as the last speaker stated, but also made clear their revulsion at what the report had revealed. Above all, the House has paid tribute to the courage of the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in their fight for justice and outstanding contribution to the work of the commission.
It is right that we have placed emphasis on the State's response, but the primary focus of the report is on the failings of the church authorities, as Senators have recognised. No Government in a democracy can or should prescribe how a church should be run. However, we can make sure all institutions in the State are subject to its laws. I have no doubt that Senators are determined that is the case.
I note Senator Healy Eames questioned the status of the report. It is well known that the commission was set up under statute to establish and report on the factual position and make findings. The report indicates that, because facts came to the attention of the commission after its finalisation, a supplemental report might be published, something of which we will have to take cognisance.
The Senator also raised the issue of the primacy of law in the State and referred to criminal and civil law being superior to Canon Law, which is the case. All persons in Ireland, without exception, are subject to the law of the land and all activities, criminal or otherwise, are subject to the laws we lay down. As I said when I launched the report, anyone, no matter who he or she is and whether he or she wears a collar, who commits a crime is subject to the criminal law.
The Vatican response to the request received from the commission of investigation conveyed the impression that it was unwilling to co-operate with the inquiry, which is unfortunate. With regard to the papal nuncio, I understand the letter he received from the commission earlier this year included an invitation to submit any observations he wished to make on certain extracts from the draft report. While the fact that he chose not to do so did not impact on the commission's work, it is unfortunate that his failure to reply left the distinct impression that there was a lack of support for its work.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, invited the papal nuncio to meet him yesterday to discuss the commission's report. This followed a meeting between the Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the papal nuncio last week at his request. In the course of the meeting yesterday the Minister emphasised the deep concern of the Government and the wide public feeling of upset at the unacceptable way in which the abuse of children had been handled by the church authorities. The Minister asked for the full co-operation of the Holy See in investigations, including the continuing investigations in Dublin and Cloyne.
The papal nuncio said the Holy See was also shocked and appalled at the contents of the report and that it was taking it very seriously. It was aware of the outrage generated in Ireland by the report. The seriousness with which it was being viewed was reflected in the request from the Pope to Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin to meet him in Rome next Friday. I welcome these comments from the papal nuncio and the initiative of the Vatican in convening the meeting on Friday. It is essential that the church authorities at all levels demonstrate a firm resolve and capacity to ensure that the highest standards of child protection are applied, and that there is unambiguous acceptance of the responsibility of the civil authorities to ensure that the rights of children are vindicated and that those who commit offences are held to account whatever their status. There are distinct but equal responsibilities on institutions of church and State to ensure that vulnerable children are placed first in our approach and actions.
While there has been a fundamental change in recent years in the way this issue is dealt with in our society, as I have said in the other House there are no grounds for complacency. It is the duty of Government to ensure that all institutions in the State are subject to the law of the State without exception, above all to the laws which protect children. The Government will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the old ways of responding to allegations and evidence of child sexual abuse will never return, and the ways we now handle them will be continually updated in the light of developing best practice.
The Garda Commissioner has expressed his sorrow that, as the commission has found, in some cases, because of acts or omissions, individuals who sought assistance did not always receive the level of response or protection which any citizen in trouble is entitled to expect from the Garda Síochána. He has stressed that protecting vulnerable children must always be a priority for the Garda Síochána and that the force would continue to work with the HSE and other agencies to ensure children's safety and was committed to ensuring that the confidence in, and effectiveness of, its investigation methods was such that abusers could not draw a cloak of fear and mistrust around their crimes.
The report acknowledges the expertise and ongoing work of the Garda domestic violence and sexual assault investigation unit. The work of this unit is now supplemented by a series of initiatives and measures designed to enhance its investigative ability and provide specialist officers countrywide with the skills required to deal with the victims of sexual offences. These measures include the establishment of a training facility to train senior investigating officers, incident room managers and detectives; training and appointing specialist child interviewers throughout the country; establishing and rolling out dedicated child interview suites in each region; and developing and implementing a youth and children strategy for the period from 2009 to 2011. These initiatives are designed to bring the Garda Síochána into line with best international practice. The current Garda approach to child sexual abuse cases is designed to deal sensitively with victims and apply the best investigative methods to secure a just outcome in the courts.
The investigation unit undertook a substantial investigation in 2002, following the RTE "Cardinal Secrets" programme. The commission has acknowledged that this investigation was effective, co-ordinated and comprehensive. It resulted in the submission of several files to the Director of Public Prosecutions and following his direction a number of people have appeared before the courts charged with serious offences. Some of these cases are still ongoing.
The victims are entitled to expect that the issue of criminal liability on the part of anyone in authority — either church or State — in the handling of these cases will be pursued fully and rigorously. That will happen. Assistant commissioner O'Mahony and his team will have the full investigative powers of the Garda Síochána in examining the report's findings relating to the handling of complaints and investigations by both church and State at the Commissioner's request. The focus of the examination will be to establish whether the failing identified in the report amounted to criminal behaviour. They will pursue their inquiries, without fear or favour, wherever they lead.
There was reference to the fact that, while the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 introduced an offence of withholding information which might be of assistance in preventing the commission of a serious offence or securing a prosecution, it excludes an offence of a sexual nature from this provision. This matter was discussed when the Bill was being considered by the Oireachtas. The view taken then was that if offences of a sexual nature were not excluded in this way, it could lead to the introduction of mandatory reporting in sex abuse cases. It would not be appropriate to deal with such a complex issue as mandatory reporting in an offences against the State Bill. The Government does not propose to introduce any form of mandatory reporting at this time. International evidence suggests that mandatory reporting serves only to swamp child protection systems with high volumes of reports, often resulting in no commensurate increase in substantiated cases.
Recent reviews of the Children First guidelines have found them to be robust and appropriate. We now need to focus on having the guidelines implemented on a consistent basis. The implementation plan drawn up following the publication of the Ryan report states that the Government will draft legislation to impose a duty to comply with the Children First guidelines on all staff employed by the State and all staff employed in agencies in receipt of funding from the Exchequer. Legislation will also be drafted to provide for sharing of information and co-operation between relevant services in the best interests of children.
The commission's report and a number of Senators expressed concern about the statutory powers of the HSE to deal with child sexual abuse by non-family members. The Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will consult further with the Office of the Attorney General to seek clarity on this issue. However, in the wake of the publication of the Ferns Report in 2005, legal advice was sought from the then Attorney General regarding the powers of health boards, or the HSE as it now is, to investigate and deal with incidents of child abuse perpetrated outside the family. The then Attorney General was not of the view that the HSE's powers under section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 are limited to cases of intra-family abuse. The HSE has stated that it responds to all allegations of child sexual abuse regardless of the circumstances of the allegation.
Earlier this year the Government requested the commission of investigation to extend its work to deal with the diocese of Cloyne because of concerns which had arisen regarding that diocese. The Government believes the work of the commission on the archdiocese of Dublin and its forthcoming report on the diocese of Cloyne will serve the primary purpose of establishing what happened, so that lessons can be learned and remedies introduced. The Department of Education and Science is examining school patronage in general. This is a wide-ranging review. This is in addition to the Department's consideration of new, developing areas, new patronage for schools and international experience in this area generally.
Reference has been made to the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. As Senators will be aware, the committee has presented two interim reports and has over recent months concentrated its deliberations on family law issues. It has a draft final report under consideration and its deadline for reporting back to the Oireachtas is in a week's time, on 16 December.
Some of the contributions also referred to the exemption in the Employment Equality Acts to religious institutions and educational or medical institutions under their control. Such an institution can seek to invoke this exemption only if an employee or potential employee would undermine or crucially affect the values and ethos of that religious institution. There is to date no case law where an employee or potential employee has challenged the religious exemption or the manner in which a religious institution has determined that its ethos or values have been undermined. It would be open to an employee or potential employee to seek to show that the action taken by the institution was unreasonable or that it was disproportionate to consider that his or her employment was undermining the religious ethos of the institution. The European Commission raised some queries with regard to the protection against discrimination based on religious grounds. Their queries were answered by Ireland and accepted by the Commission in May 2008.
The Government has a clear duty to do all it can to ensure that the abuse so vividly and sickeningly laid bare in the report does not happen in the future and, where it does, that it is responded to appropriately. Consequently, notwithstanding the positive findings of the commission on current Garda practices, I have requested the Garda Inspectorate as part of its work programme to carry out a review of Garda arrangements for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. Furthermore, while the Ryan report dealt specifically with abuse of children within residential institutions, the Government has asked the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs to consider the commission's report with a view to establishing what actions are necessary in addition to the 99 points contained in the Ryan report implementation plan. These are just two examples of the action being taken and in addition to that action the Government will not hesitate to take any further action necessary.
I again thank Senators for their remarks on the report. I am glad to say it has beenwell ventilated in the House. We look forward to receiving the further reports from the commission.