Thursday, 26 February 2004

Questions (2)

Joe Costello


2 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the outcome of his meeting with the One in Four group on 13 February 2004; the reason the inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse in the Dublin diocese, announced by him in October 2002, has not yet been established; when he expects the inquiry to be established and operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6400/04]

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Oral answers (16 contributions) (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

On 13 February last I held a further meeting with three people representing those who have experienced sexual abuse. In common with all our previous contacts, the meeting was very useful and friendly. In my view, the most suitable and cost effective form of investigation in this instance is the model set out in the Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003, which I published and presented to the Dáil on 1 July 2003. I wrote recently to the Government Chief Whip seeking Dáil time as a matter of urgency for this particular Bill and she has assured me of her assistance in this matter. The Second Stage has been ordered for next week. I look forward to full co-operation from other parties in the House in passing the legislation and I welcome their recent statements reaffirming their support in progressing this vital legislation.

In parallel with work on the Bill, preliminary work has started on draft terms of reference for a commission to investigate the matter referred to in the Deputy's question, and I hope the proposed commission should be in a position to commence its work in September of this year, subject to the necessary legislation being in place.

As the Deputy is aware, a special Garda investigation team was set up in the national bureau of criminal investigation in October 2002 to investigate allegations of clerical child sex abuse. I sought an update from the Garda authorities in regard to this investigation and I am informed that a total of 14 files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions to date seeking directions as to criminal proceedings and a further 20 cases are currently being investigated — that is 34 in all. I am assured by the Garda authorities that all the allegations are being thoroughly investigated. Deputy Costello will appreciate that the matter of criminal prosecutions is a matter for the DPP.

I regret that it had to come to my tabling a question in the Dáil before we see action from the Minister in this regard. He said that the legislation was promised in July 2003 and he announced it on 3 December 2002, when he said he had announced he would establish an inquiry into the clerical abuse in the archdiocese in October 2002. Now he is at last getting Dáil time from the Chief Whip to introduce the legislation. That is out of line with what was reported in the media when the Minister said that the work could begin if Opposition parties supported the Bill, giving the impression when he met the One in Four group on 13 February that the reason the legislation was not being brought through the Dáil was because there was no support for it from the Opposition parties. In February 2003, I put on record that I would support the proposed scheme the Minister indicated he would bring forward. There is no question of the Opposition at any stage suggesting it would not be supportive of thistype of legislation on the commissions of investigation.

Why has the Minister made false and misleading statements as to why he has delayed so long in bringing forward an inquiry into the abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin, that was highlighted initially in the "Cardinal Secrets" programme and on "Prime Time" on RTE 18 months ago? Why is it that as a result of that, the Roman Catholic Church, which had set up the Irish Catholic Church independent commission in December 2002, disbanded the commission because of the Minister's commitment? Judge Gillian Hussey stood down. The commission which had been set up for six months has not been sitting for thepast 50 months because of the Minister's commitments which were never delivered on.

I made no false or misleading statements in private or in public. I indicated, as is the case, that on 1 July last I published the Bill, which has not yet received its second reading in this House. The reason for that must be plain to everybody. I am not accusing Deputy Costello, Deputy Deasy or anybody in this Chamber of responsibility in that regard, and have not done so. I have not suggested that is the responsibility of the Opposition parties.

The Minister said the legislation is not supported by the Opposition.

No, I did not. What I said, and reiterate clearly now, is that I have 13 important Bills which cannot get an adequate and expeditious hearing in this House.

That is not our fault.

The constant cry from Deputy Costello is that it is not his fault. Every day in this House between half an hour and an hour is wasted discussing whether we should discuss matters. That is what happens. Every day we have votes on the Order of Business and we sit here answering inane questions about what will and will not happen. If we added up all the hours spent every week on the Order of Business wasting time and devoted that time to dealing with a Second Stage debate, this legislation would be law already.

On a point of order——

The Deputy will get to ask his supplementary question in a second.

What the Minister said was that the work could start if Opposition parties supported the Bill.

That is not a point of order. The Deputy stated that earlier.

The Minister is still misleading the House.

Allow the Minister to conclude on this question, please. We lost 15 minutes on the vote.

I do not draw a Jesuitical distinction between supporting the Bill and making provision for it to be heard. The Bill was published on 1 July 2002. I like going through the legislative process. It is one of the aspects of politics that I like. I am not shy of it, but this House seems to spend more time talking about what it is not doing than getting on with what it should be doing. I will not retract that point. I strongly believe in it.

Will the Minister ask the Chief Whip to get the legislation on the floor of the House?

As with Deputy Deasy's question, we have taken more than six minutes on this question and have already lost 15 minutes with the vote.