On Thursday last, both Houses of the Oireachtas approved the draft Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 (Section 5) (Specified Period) Order, 2008. Under the terms of section 5(5) of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, an order to extend the term of the commission must be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.
As obliged under the Act, the Department consulted the commission on the timeframe for the extension of the current specified period. The Commission, which is independent of the Department in its functions, had requested an extension by eight months to the end of January 2009 to allow for completion of the report and to make the necessary preparations for its publication. The extension was required in order to allow the commission to fulfil its statutory mandate to publish its report during the specified period. The previous period expired at midnight on 22 May 2008.
Since the Taoiseach's apology of 11 May 1999 to the victims of abuse in childhood a series of Government measures have been introduced for the redress of abuse. These measures include the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the setting up of a financial redress scheme for victims of abuse and the establishment of a statutory redress board to administer such a scheme, the provision of counselling and the education finance board.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was formally established in May 2000. The broad terms of reference are 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 the physical and sexual abuse of children in institutions and in other places during the period from 1940 to the present; and to compile a report and publish it to the public on the activities and the 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.
As one of its core functions, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse provides those who were previously silenced with an opportunity to relate their accounts of childhood abuse to an experienced and sympathetic forum. For some people this therapeutic role is all they require of the commission, while for others their wish is that their allegations are inquired into. To ensure that the two strands can be accommodated, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 provides for two committees, the confidential committee and the investigation committee. This has ensured, on the one hand, the right to confidentiality of those who want only to access the therapeutic role of the commission and, on the other hand, rights to natural justice of persons accused of abuse.
The confidential committee has provided a forum for 1,090 victims of abuse to recount their experiences on an entirely confidential basis. The purpose of this committee is to meet the needs of those victims who want to speak of their experiences but who do not wish to become involved in an investigative procedure. The confidential committee is in the process of completing the final draft of the committee's report and the report and its conclusions will be presented to the board of the commission.
The investigation committee has been investigating complaints and allegations made to it. It has the power to compel persons accused to attend before it and to produce any documents it requires. Therefore, the investigation committee is facilitating victims who wish to recount their experiences and to have allegations of abuse fully inquired into. To date, part of the investigation committee's activities have included full hearings for 252 people, with 545 people interviewed by documentary junior counsel and 41 had both an interview and a full hearing.
The investigation committee has also held public hearings into a number of specific institutions. Evidence has been submitted to the investigation committee at public hearings relating to the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Health and Children and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Currently most of the hearings and interviews have been completed but the investigation committee may hold further hearings if it deems it necessary to complete its work. This committee is in the process of writing its report. While no further hearings are planned, the commissioners are working hard to review a very large body of oral and documentary evidence which will form the basis for the report. On completion, the commission will publish its report directly to the public. This is an important feature of the independence of the commission. The report of the commission will be based on the reports of its committees.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act provides that in its report the commission may identify institutions in which abuse occurred and the people responsible and make findings in regard to the role and responsibility of management and regulatory authorities. The report, however, following the recommendation of the commission, will not make findings on any individual case. The commission in its report may also make recommendations relating to measures to alleviate the effects of abuse on victims.
The publication of the report will not represent the end of the commission's operations. There are other functions to be performed, which statutorily can continue after the specified period has lapsed. These include settlement of all third party legal representation costs, management of discovery documentation held by the commission, the carrying out of any work related to post-publication of reports and management of the commission's general shut-down.
The commission, during the period of its existence, has been the recipient of a very large body of extremely confidential and sensitive material. Consequently and in accordance with section 6 of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, it will have to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for the making of as complete a record as is practicable of the proceedings of the commission and the committees. It will also be charged with making arrangements for the custody or disposal of the documents provided for the commission. The time and complexity involved in the completion of these tasks should not be underestimated.
Expenditure for the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse from inception to the end of 2007 was €43.7 million. At this point, it is estimated that an additional provision in the region of €45 million to €55 million may be required to meet remaining overall costs of the commission to the end of 2009. The 2008 allocation of €18.1 million will meet part of this liability. This is a tentative provision, given that the commission has yet to receive and assess a large volume of third party legal costs.
I thank Senators for approving this resolution by supporting the motion last week. The benefits in supporting this motion are clear. We have enabled the commission to finalise its statutory mandate, we have provided the legal basis through which the Government and this House have previously decided that the commission would report and we have provided the opportunity for a regrettable episode in Irish history to be recorded fully, accurately and fairly. We have also allowed for the commission inquiry to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
The publication of the report, containing the findings and recommendations of the commission, is an essential part of the service which the Government can render to our society. However, while Irish society as a whole can benefit from its work, let us not forget that this is primarily a commission for the victims of abuse. The work of the commission and its public report is an opportunity for them to receive the type of respectful and sympathetic hearing to which it is entitled. I thank Senators for recognising the significance in supporting this motion and their approval of it.