Thursday, 28 April 2005
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005: Second Stage (Resumed).
Joe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
I thank Deputy Boyle for allowing me to precede him in the speaking order. I will be brief.
We are all aware of the tragic circumstances in which so many young people were raised in institutions and the manner in which they were consigned to lives of misery and, in many cases, physical and sexual abuse. It took until the end of the 20th century before an apology was made by the Taoiseach on behalf of the people for the gross neglect by the State in the management and care of many young people by entrusting them to the care of various bodies and religious orders.
We have subsequently and very laboriously put in place the legislation, the redress board, the recommendations of the review group, the Laffoy commission, and the report and subsequent recommendations of Mr. Justice Ryan. We are still a long way from completing our examination and compensating the victims of abuse. Not long ago a person was on hunger strike outside the House. He was not allowed give evidence and tell his story. Any development should be from the point of view of those who were abused in those institutions. There should be a belated recognition that such victims exist and their views on how the matter should be addressed should be an important consideration. If they need the catharsis of telling their story, of recounting the events, it behoves us to afford them that opportunity.
I am not quite satisfied with section 7 of the Bill which allows for such stories to be told merely to inform the commission rather than giving the victims the opportunity of an outpouring of their traumatic experiences. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights which conducted hearings on the Barron report into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The relatives of the 33 who died and the survivors attended the hearings. For the first time in 30 years these people had been afforded a forum to recount their experiences. They described how their lives had been affected. The opportunity given by the formal hearings was a great relief to them. They had been afforded a public hearing which was a recognition of how they had been neglected. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure they will be given the opportunity to recount the experience before any redress board and any commission.
I am aware of many people in their 50s, 60s and 70s living in the north inner city of Dublin who as a result of mitching from school, for the most trivial of larcenies or where a parent had insufficient income to raise a child, spent their early childhood in institutions. The many diverse reasons often had little to do with misbehaviour but such was the system at the time. Their lives have been blighted. Many of them progressed to a life of crime, moving from one institution of detention to another and many have been damaged. Many of the men never married and live a single life and many are alcoholics. I am sure the same applies in other parts of the city and in other urban centres and rural areas. Countless numbers emigrated because often arrangements were made to encourage them to emigrate. There was less crime until the 1960s because vast numbers of youngsters leaving these institutions were directed abroad.
A good friend of mine was very severely abused and has since been before the redress board. His mother brought his case to the attention of the then Minister for Education. She procured a meeting with the Minister for herself and her child whom she took out of the institution for the meeting. She told the Minister about what had happened her child. The child was returned to the institution. Those in charge of the institution were spoken to. The child had complained about a particular person who then asked the child the reason for the complaint but following this the child was treated fairly. The then Minister for Education had been in direct contact with the institution in which the child was abused. He put a stop to the abuse but allowed the child to remain in the institution. Many situations are similar and have never been properly examined. I am sure the authorities were more aware of what was happening than we have been led to believe. There is an onus on the State and the religious orders cannot be cleansed of their responsibility in the matter.
During the passage of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 through the House I raised the case of the Bethany Home with the then Minister. I requested that the home be included in the list of institutions. The Minister stated the original list was limited to 128 institutions, with 13 subsequent additions. I was more or less promised at the time, I believed, that the Bethany Home would be included. I have been in communication with some of the former residents of that home for a long time and they wish to be included. I have received replies from various Ministers on the case. However, it seems to have been ruled out on the basis that the Department of Health and Children did not inspect the home at any stage. Whether or not the State inspected it, this was an institution in which young people were placed and it should be included on the list. The former residents who are now in their 60s and elderly hope their case will be considered promptly. Other similar institutions existed. There needs to be a fresh look at the list of institutions in the Schedule with a view to ensuring a full list is compiled of institutions within the remit of the board, otherwise these elderly people will not be able to make a claim.
I thank Deputy Boyle for his generosity in sharing time. I hope the Minister of State will take action on some of the issues.