Thursday, 28 April 2005
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005: Second Stage (Resumed).
James Breen (Clare, Independent)
I wish to share time with Deputy Connolly.
I welcome the change to the definition of abuse, which allows the commission to make a finding of abuse where it might be reasonable to assume the act or omission concerned caused serious harm to a person. It is important that the commission is empowered to do its job and widening of the definition will offer scope in this regard. If the definition of abuse is too narrow, it will restrict the work of the commission, which should ensure that as much help and support as possible is given the victim of such abuse.
The Bill also extends the function of the commission to include a duty to inquire into the manner in which children were placed in institutions and the circumstances in which they continued to be resident there. This is an important factor in regard to institutional care for children as it puts a focus on the reason children were placed in institutions in the past and will shed some light on the institutional care here. I am sure that in many cases in the past, the very act of putting some children into institutions and the manner in which they were placed there were abusive and denied basic human rights to some children. We cannot escape the fact some children were badly treated by being placed in these institutions when, in a more enlightened and humane society, they would not have been institutionalised and would have received help and care in their families or communities. This aspect of the commission's duty will cause us to examine why children are placed in institutions today and will question whether we continue to deny children their rights in such matters. We need to offer redress to the victims of past mistakes involving abuse in our institutions and to ensure the lessons learned are put into practice so nobody should have to suffer such abuse again.
The Bill removes the obligation on the investigation committee to hear all complaints and it gives it discretion as to which witnesses considered should be called to a full hearing to ensure the inquiry functions are fulfilled. In doing this, it also removes the requirement to satisfy that abuse occurred, to determine the nature, cause and circumstances of abuse. This will mean that the commission will not be required to have a two phase process in hearing evidence that would have led to unnecessary delays and costs for the commission carrying out its functions.
In the past, people have shown tremendous courage in speaking out. This has placed enormous mental and physical pressure on the victims and it is important to do as much as possible to speed up the process so that redress can be given as quickly as possible. Those involved deserve our respect and we need to ensure we remove obstacles that cause delays in dealing with such issues while at the same time ensuring justice is applied in a fair and equal manner.
Is the Government guilty of abuse? In my county — I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, is aware of it — there is no place for children with autism other than secure psychiatric units, which are not suitable. Children are also committing serious crime. They come before the Judiciary and it is faced with the problem of there being no proper places to send those children except adult prisons which are unsuitable. Such a lack of facilities is an abuse.
Children roam the streets at night with nobody to care for them. It is time the onus was put on parents to ensure their children do not roam the streets at night. They should be responsible for their children. It is an abuse of parent responsibility that young children are allowed to do so.
Children are being denied their rights by abuses that took place in the past. I know of a man who was in Letterfrack 56 years ago who received €114,000 compensation for the abuse he suffered. Such abuse can no longer be allowed to take place. Serious vetting of persons dealing with young people should be put in place to ensure they are not guilty of such abuse and are worthy to be responsible for the care of young children. If such vetting is not put in place, similar abuse will happen. How many children have been sexually abused in their homes? Such abuse is scandalous. I am sure the Minister of State will ensure that proper places are provided for the children to whom I referred and that the necessary arrangements will be put in place to penalise the perpetrators of crimes against young people.