Tuesday, 3 February 2004
Third Interim Report of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse: Statements.
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the matter of the third interim report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and related issues. Prior to commenting on the content of the report, it is necessary to remind the House that the Government is the first in the history of the State to listen to the victims of abuse, apologise to them on behalf of the State and take positive action to redress the wrongs inflicted on them in the past. Indeed, we are speaking in the House on this issue today only because the Taoiseach initiated a process of redress with an apology to victims of abuse in 1999. Since then, the Government has put in place a number of initiatives designed to assist former residents of the institutions in question.
In particular, we have put in place the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which comprises a confidential committee, an investigation committee and a nation-wide programme of counselling. The latter is operated under the auspices of the health boards to providing a free counselling service to all victims of abuse in childhood. The Government has also established a redress scheme through which victims of abuse in residential care can receive financial compensation. The Residential Institutions Redress Board administers the scheme. The Government has also put in place proper channels of communication with survivor groups to ensure at all stages of this process engagement in a proper consultative process with survivors. Furthermore, outreach services are provided in the United Kingdom to enable survivors who moved to the UK to access all relevant information and advice.
There is no comparison between the Government's record and the record of the rainbow coalition Administration in assisting survivors of abuse. Not one member of the rainbow coalition Government took the time to meet the victims of abuse from Goldenbridge and the plight of former residents was, in effect, ignored. Not one strand of the various elements of redress now in place was initiated by any of the parties on the Opposition benches. While they may now consider they are entitled to criticise the efforts of the Government to provide redress in respect of the difficulties experienced by survivors of abuse, it might be more appropriate for the Opposition parties to ask why the pleas made to them in Government fell on deaf ears.
As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will know, this debate was not intended to take place until 8.30 p.m. While there may be difficulties providing copies of my speech, I am sure Members will receive them as soon as possible. While I apologise to Members of the House, the Government did not request that the debate be moved to this time. It was trying to facilitate members of the Opposition.
I thank Ms Justice Laffoy and the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse for the completion of its detailed third interim report. I welcome the report and am pleased to see that it provides at least some closure and confirmation of their experiences for the former pupils of the Baltimore Fisheries School. I remind everyone that the valuable work the commission has completed in respect of Baltimore fulfils one of the main purposes for which it was established. The commission was established to inquire into the abuse which occurred in these institutions and to report on it. This remit continues to inform the manner in which the Government deals with this issue.
The report deals with many aspects of the work the commission has done since the completion of its previous interim report in November 2001. It deserves to be read carefully as a stand-alone report as well as in the context of further findings of the commission as its work continues. At the end of the commission process, it will form part of the broader picture of what life was like for children in our institutions. The report refers to the manner in which requests for additional resources were dealt with and the manner in which the Department of Education and Science interacted with the commission in its role as a respondent. I will deal with each of these issues in turn.
The Department of Education and Science is the commission's sponsor. Since the publication of the third interim report, there have been renewed calls for this function to be removed from the Department. The Government's position on sponsorship of the commission by the Department of Education and Science is that it is appropriate and should continue. The Department's sponsorship of the commission can be equated to the position of other Departments responsible for sponsoring inquiries which come within their remit. Examples include sponsorship of the Mahon tribunal by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and sponsorship of the Barr and Morris tribunals by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Since its inception, the Department has responded to the commission's requests for resources as quickly as possible. As with all other Departments, the Department of Education and Science must submit each request for resources to the Department of Finance and the Government for consideration. It has done so. The Department has been and will continue to be committed to supporting the commission. The resourcing delays to which the commission refers in its report relate primarily to the period since June 2002. The commission requested a virtual doubling of its resources during this time. Correspondence took place between the Department and the commission during the period between June 2002 and December 2002 to clarify the latter's position regarding timeframe and costings should these resources be sanctioned. On consideration of the matter, the Government agreed in principle to the provision of additional resources but remained concerned that, in itself, this measure would not result in the timely completion of the work of the investigation committee given its apparent lack of progress. The Government considered that the request for additional resources could not be considered in isolation. It was also considered imperative to review the commission's procedures and underlying legislation to establish if there was any scope to change or amend the Act to expedite its work and reduce the cost to the Exchequer while still achieving the original objectives.
The Government's view was that the difficulties faced by the investigation committee were more fundamental than issues of resources. Furthermore, it was and remains the view of Government that to allow the commission to continue with the hearing of over 1,700 individual cases without considering the huge legal bill being incurred would not be in the interests of the survivors themselves or society.
I record that at every stage the Department made every effort to co-operate with and assist the work of the investigation committee of the commission. The Department voluntarily handed over to the commission over 500,000 pages of documentation between 2000 and 2002. Furthermore, by June 2003 it had provided the commission with approximately 1,900 statements relating to cases before the investigation committee. In addition, the Department responded to 16 discovery directions issued to it. I have always accepted that some difficulties were encountered, especially in complying with a small number of the discovery directions. However, in that regard the commission's third interim report acknowledges that, "some of the difficulties were caused, or contributed to by the Committee in that for example there was not sufficient clarity in the direction as to what was sought, or insufficient time was being allowed for compliance."
In an effort to resolve difficulties that had arisen, the Department reorganised the manner in which it dealt with the commission in early 2003, and the residential institutions redress unit of the Department has since acted as a focal point for dealing with all commission-related matters. The unit then seeks assistance or information, if required, from relevant sections. That approach ensures that one unit is aware of all issues relating to the commission, and consequently the Department is able to respond more effectively to discovery directions and other matters.
Furthermore, to ensure that the Department's processes are above reproach, last December I ordered an independent review of the process and procedures for the making of discovery to the commission by my Department. My desire in directing that such a review take place was to ensure full and complete co-operation with the commission and that any changes to be made in the manner in which discovery was being processed should be addressed. I appointed the former chairperson of the Bar Council of England and Wales, Mr. Matthias Kelly, QC, to conduct that review. In addition to being completely independent of my Department, Mr. Kelly has considerable experience of sexual abuse litigation and is co-author of an article entitled "Child Abuse in Residential Homes" in The New Law Journal.
Mr. Kelly conducted his review over a two-week period that commenced on 5 January 2004. His terms of reference were:
a) To review the processes and procedures operated by the Department of Education and Science in making discovery to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse; and
b) To make recommendations as are appropriate in relation to discovery by the Department of Education and Science.
In the course of conducting his review, Mr. Kelly met officials in my Department involved in the discovery process, as well as the legal team representing the Department. He also had access to all the Department's records. I understand that Mr. Kelly also met representatives of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse while carrying out his review.
The process of meeting and interviewing persons relevant to his review has concluded, and Mr. Kelly has returned to the UK to conclude his work on his report. I expect to receive that report within the next two weeks, and I am committed to ensuring full implementation of any recommendations that Mr. Kelly may make.
There are a number of other areas on which I wish to comment. Considerable staffing resources have been put in place within the Department to ensure that it is able to fulfil its obligations to the commission, both as sponsor and respondent. None of the staff within the Department dealing with this issue had any role to play in the operation of the institutions or has had any allegations made against him or her. All of the Department's efforts, both as sponsor of the commission and as a respondent to it, have been to ensure that the commission is enabled to carry out the task set it by the Oireachtas.
In that regard, the Department has, when necessary, and to meet the deadlines imposed by the commission, increased the number of staff working on the responses to particular directions. For instance, in responding to the abuse-specific discovery direction of 10 March 2003, the Department took on an additional 16 persons, including six documentary counsel, to ensure that the material was provided to the commission on time. I can reassure the House that, in the event that at any future stage the issue arises of its being necessary to put additional resources in place within the Department to meet the requirements of the commission, I will ensure that those resources are put in place.
Following the announcement by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy on 2 September 2003 of her intended resignation as chairperson of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Government, on 26 September 2003, appointed Mr. Sean Ryan, SC, as chairperson designate. At that time, and in advance of his being appointed to the chairmanship of the commission, the Government requested Mr. Ryan to undertake his own independent review of the working of the commission. The terms of reference of the review were as follows:
To carry out a review of the working of the Commission and to make all necessary recommendations having regard to the following:
a) The interests of the victims of abuse;
b) The completion of the Commission's work within a reasonable period of time and in a manner consistent with a proper investigation; and
c) To achieve the above objectives without incurring exorbitant costs.
It should be noted that Mr. Ryan was made a judge of the High Court on 15 December 2003 and was appointed chairperson of the commission when Ms Justice Laffoy's resignation took effect.
Mr. Justice Ryan's report is long, running to over 70 pages. However, he has concluded that a combination of legislative amendments to the original Act and alternative procedures being adopted by the investigation committee would result in the commission being able to conclude its work within a reasonable timescale and without incurring exorbitant costs.
The Government has accepted Mr. Justice Ryan's report and is currently arranging for the legislative changes recommended by him to be included in the amending legislation. Furthermore, Mr. Justice Ryan has indicated that he intends to engage in a consultative process with a view to obtaining the opinions of all parties to the commission's work on the best way forward. My Department will participate fully and constructively in that process.
I wish to publish and put in place the legislation amending the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 as quickly as possible to enable the commission to proceed quickly and efficiently with its work. However, the ongoing litigation involving the Christian Brothers is an issue of which I must take account before the legislation can be finalised. Indeed Mr. Justice Ryan in his report states that notice must be taken of the Christian Brothers' case and the potential effect of the ultimate judgment in the case on the proceedings of the investigation committee. He also comments that, if the Christian Brothers' action succeeds in whole or in part, the work of the investigation committee will be curtailed to a greater or lesser degree, but specific recommendations cannot be made until that case has been finalised. Indeed, Mr. Justice Ryan states in his report, "It is impractical to suggest that there could be amending legislation processed and enacted until the Murray/Gibson (Christian Brothers) litigation is determined."
I understand that the final version of Mr. Justice Abbott's judgment in this matter was issued on 27 January. There is now a 21-day period during which parties to that case can decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court. Therefore, the issue of when amending legislation may be published will become clearer over the next two to three weeks.
The Government remains totally committed to ensuring that the process to bring healing and closure to those of our citizens who suffered abuse while in institutional care will be completed within a reasonable time scale. In that context, the calls that have been made by the Opposition and others to transfer the sponsorship of the commission to——
I am disappointed that the Government accords far less attention to the publication of the third report by Ms Justice Laffoy than it did to Mr. Justice Flood's second report. I am saddened to say that, despite apologies and all the rest, we seem to think this issue is of less importance. That reflects on the Government and Members opposite.
I thank the Minister for his history lesson. We seem to spend more time in this House talking about the past than about the future. Today we must discuss where we will take this matter, as well as Ms Justice Laffoy's criticisms. I accept the Taoiseach's apology. I have always said that I believed he meant what he said. However, he has not acted on it appropriately. He issued his apology after the "States of Fear" programme shown on RTE in the spring of 1999. As is often the case, he issued the apology based on media and other pressure brought to bear on him to do so at the time.
When the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was established on 23 May following the Taoiseach's apology, it was rightly acknowledged that the victims deserved to have their stories heard. In the past, they were forgotten by society and shamefully abandoned. The commission's remit was to hear their stories, investigate the abuse of children in institutions, and publish findings and recommendations dealing with the issue.
Many of the victims of past abuse and neglect have had shocking and distressing experiences. It is right and proper that they be given the opportunity to tell their stories and how society failed them so that we can try to ensure it never happens again. Today, many of the victims of abuse are approaching old age. The commission should be at work now hearing their cases in both forums outlined in the original Act. These people have much to teach us and future generations about the kind of State-sponsored barbarity that can exist in a society that fails to be vigilant and fails to protect the vulnerable. We need to hear their stories and give them the chance to tell them so that we can ensure we neither forget the abuse nor let it happen again.
It is, therefore, an indictment of the Minister for Education and Science and the Government that the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has heard so few cases since it was established and has been unable to progress any further since last September. The resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy, a direct result of the failure of the Department of Education and Science to engage with her commission in what she said was a proper and meaningful manner, was the lowest point in the history of the commission since its establishment.
The publication of her third interim report last Friday has only served to confirm what has been evident for some time. It is abundantly clear that the Minister for Education and Science has lost all credibility in dealing with the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. It is also clear that responsibility for the commission should be transferred to the Department of the Taoiseach immediately.
Last September, following Ms Justice Laffoy's resignation, the leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Enda Kenny, called on the Taoiseach to take personal responsibility for the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and for responsibility to be removed from the Department of Education and Science. He made this call as it was clear from the correspondence that passed between the Department and Ms Justice Laffoy that the Minister's ham-fisted review of the work of the commission was being carried out without adequate consultation with the chairwoman. It was also clear that there was an inherent conflict in having the Department of Education and Science as the sponsoring Department as well as being under active investigation by the commission.
This inherent conflict has been highlighted to an even greater extent in Ms Justice Laffoy's report published last Friday. In her most trenchant criticism of the Department, Ms Justice Laffoy states:
The Committee is not satisfied that, since its establishment, it has received the level of co-operation to which it is entitled to expect to receive from the Department of State which is its statutory sponsor. Moreover, it has experienced difficulty in securing compliance with its statutory requests and directions by the Department in its role as Respondent.
Ms Justice Laffoy was keenly aware of the conflict that existed in the dual role assumed by the Department of Education and Science. On the one hand, the Department was the sponsor for the work of the commission while, on the other, it was the focus of the commission's investigative attention. This was the conflict of interest about which Ms Justice Laffoy was concerned, especially as time went on and the obstruction of the Department became more evident.
On 29 January 2003, Ms Justice Laffoy wrote a paper to the Attorney General entitled, Position of Commission in relation to Government Review. The purpose of the paper was to set forth the considered position of the commission in regard to the review announced by the Government into the remit of the inquiry. One of the key recommendations made by the commission to the Attorney General related to the independence of the commission. Ms Justice Laffoy wrote:
The Commission is concerned about public perception of the appropriateness of the Commission being reliant on the Department of Education and Science for its resources and that Department being the Commission's communication channel to the Government given that the Department's conduct over the past 60 years is being investigated by the Commission, and the Department has a contractual engagement with the religious orders which managed residential institutions in the past, which might be perceived as not being conducive to support for the Commission's investigation of the conduct of those orders, which the Commission is mandated to conduct.
Ms Justice Laffoy suggested that the Government should consider whether the functions resting in the Department of Education and Science relating to the commission should be given to another Government Department with the exception of the Department of Health and Children or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It was obvious to her since last January and it became obvious to us last September that the Department of Education and Science should no longer have responsibility for the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. I and many of the victims support this call.
The Minister was being slightly disingenuous when said we do not have time to do that. Deputy Kenny made this call last September and Ms Justice Laffoy made it last January. Had we listened to Ms Justice Laffoy then, it would be ready to be transferred now. In fact, the transfer could have been done. As the Minister said, we must still await the outcome of the Christian Brothers case and legislation to come after that. If we put our minds to it, there is no reason it could not be done. If the Government refuses to do so, there is very little we can do as we are outnumbered in this House. The Taoiseach should give much thought to which Minister must deal with it.
Much was made of the indemnity deal. Deputy Rabbitte raised it earlier on Leaders' Questions and I support what he said. The previous Minister, Deputy Woods, negotiated the indemnity deal and he has, to a certain extent, taken a great deal of heat from the incumbent Minister in the debate since then. Ms Justice Laffoy points out some dates in her report and she certainly did not notice any greater co-operation since the Minister took office than that which she had been given by the previous Minister.
It is important we point out that the Minister for Education and Science is the person with political responsibility for the Department and the allocation of resources. From even a cursory reading of Ms Justice Laffoy's interim report, it is apparent that neither he nor his predecessor resourced the commission properly nor enabled the Department to respond to the commission's request in a manner that understood or appreciated the importance of the commission's work.
The Department of Education and Science was always going to be critical in the success or failure of the commission. Ms Justice Laffoy acknowledges from the outset that the commission, to do its work in a fair, proper and efficient and cost effective manner, required the full engagement of the Department of Education and Science. She said that, from the outset, the work of the commission had been contingent on the Department in its role as respondent engaging fully with the committee and promptly and properly fulfilling its statutory obligations in that role. However, this engagement was clearly not forthcoming. She listed several specific concerns regarding the co-operation of the Department of Education and Science with the commission. She stated:
The Committee's principal area of concern. . . relates to the manner in which the Department has complied with directions for discovery and production of documents . . . The Department, despite clear indications from the Committee that the prescribed form should be followed, has unilaterally omitted those averments from an affidavit of discovery sworn pursuant to a direction. This is not a state of affairs which the Committee finds acceptable.
It is not one I find acceptable either.
These are serious matters. A commission established by the Government and this House with a senior member of the Judiciary as its chairperson was being hampered and hindered in its investigation by a Department of State. It is difficult to think of a more serious charge that could be made against a Department or a Minister. It is not good enough for the Minister to shrug off this criticism. If he cannot appreciate the seriousness of this matter, then I redouble my call for responsibility to be removed from him and his Department.
If charges such as these were made against an individual by a tribunal or inquiry, we in this House would be quick, as we have been on previous occasions, to criticise him or her for failing to comply or co-operate with an investigation established by the State in the public interest. That these charges are being made against a Department does not in any way make them less serious. If anything, it makes them more so. I remind the Minister in the context of his reference to the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the Barr and Mahon tribunals that the Departments are not being investigated in those instances. That is an important difference. The Minister's Department is being investigated and he is supposed to supply the resources to allow the investigation to take place, which he clearly has not been doing. That is one of the main points Ms Justice Laffoy made.
Coupled with these considerable difficulties, there has always been an issue relating to the resourcing of the work of the commission. Ms Justice Laffoy stated:
The Committee was assured that the issue of resources would be addressed. Over a year later resources were still an issue.
The issue of resources was a considerable point of conflict between the commission and the Department. Ms Justice Laffoy had requested additional resources to allow the investigative committee to sit in a number of sessions concurrently instead of just one. This would have enabled it to hear a far greater number of cases allowing people to have their stories heard.
The request for resources was agreed in principle but the Minister and his Department then complicated matters seriously by requesting that Ms Justice Laffoy would only engage new staff on short-term contracts. This led her to state: "While the Government decision gives the appearance of accepting the need for resources, it seems to the Investigative Committee ... the same amounts in substance to a refusal of the request". Appearances often seem to be more important.
When the review of the commission was announced, Ms Justice Laffoy immediately wrote to the Department of Education and Science for clarification on a number of key points that directly affected the way in which the commission would function. Her main concern was that, since additional resources were allocated on a short-term basis only and given that the commission was under review, it was reasonable to conclude that "there is a significant possibility that the result of the review will leave the Commission with a reduced remit".
Ms Justice Laffoy was concerned that, if the investigative committee continued to work in its normal way, it would ultimately gather information that, after the review, would be worthless. This would involve a considerable waste of public resources. Trapped in this catch-22 situation, she wrote to the Department and stated that the commission was in "an invidious position".
The Minister assured us today by stating that: "in the event that at any future stage the issue arises of it being necessary to put additional resources in place within the Department to meet the requirements of the commission, I will ensure those resources are put in place". The Minister assured Ms Justice Laffoy that they would be put in place, but they were not. I do not know how any of us can be expected to take the Minister's word on that issue, and that is not something I say lightly.
In the final damning criticism of the Department, Ms Justice Laffoy stated: "it has to be observed that, in general, the Department as respondent to the vast majority of allegations which the Committee is investigating, has not adopted a constructive approach to dealing with its role in the inquiry". It is clear that responsibility for interfacing with the commission should be now removed from the Department. The Taoiseach should take personal responsibility for this and transfer responsibility for the work of the commission to his Department. The victims of abuse require no less than the Taoiseach to take personal responsibility for this debacle and move swiftly to reassure the victims that ministerial mishandling will not get in the way of them achieving justice.
Furthermore, with the Department of Education and Science in charge of the commission, how can anyone be confident that Mr. Justice Ryan, recently appointed, will not encounter exactly the same unhelpful, obstructive and combative approach? His recent report containing suggestions on a new way forward for the commission cannot be implemented unless the Government is genuinely willing to co-operate fully with the work of the commission. The response of the Taoiseach and the Minister since the resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy does not indicate that such a genuine willingness exists.
Following Ms Justice Laffoy's resignation from the commission, it became immediately apparent that the difficulties she had faced in the job had been exacerbated in large part by the actions of the Department. At the time, the Minister decided to withhold her resignation correspondence and effectively kept the country in the dark regarding the reasons for the severe dissatisfaction which led to her resignation. When he was finally shamed into publishing the letters, a half-hearted attempt to justify the actions of his Department and the Government accompanied their release.
History repeats itself. When Ms Justice Laffoy published her third interim report last Friday, the Minister went into hiding and did not surface to comment on the findings until Sunday afternoon when he offered lame excuses and explanations for the serious and disturbing charges laid by a senior member of the Judiciary against his Department. Without meaning any disrespect to Mr. Matthias Kelly, who is, I am sure, an eminent and capable man, the Minister proceeded to commission a further report, this time into the failings of his Department. While I do not doubt or question that such a report is needed, if he had been doing his job properly the Minister would not need to bring in someone else to do the job for which he has been appointed.
In the foreword to her report, Ms Justice Laffoy rather poignantly wishes Mr. Justice Ryan the success which has eluded her in finding answers for the victims of abuse and publishing them in the future. I also wish Mr. Justice Ryan every possible success. If, however, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is left in the hands of the Minister for Education and Science, I do not have confidence that Mr. Justice Ryan's work will proceed without further hindrance and unhelpfulness and a lack of real co-operation and engagement.
The response of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Science to the requests by the Opposition regarding the time allocated for this debate and the time at which it would be held indicates that they have not grasped the seriousness of Ms Justice Laffoy's third interim report on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. She has made astonishing criticisms of the Department regarding its response to the issues she raised not only in this report, but over a considerable period during which she attempted to draw to the attention of the Government the delays she was experiencing in the Department in responding to the concerns and resourcing of the commission and discovery. It is clear from Ms Justice Laffoy's letter of resignation, the accompanying documentation and this report of more than 400 pages, that the concerns she raised elicited barely a response from the Minister in particular and the Department in general and her resignation was required to force a political response from the Government.
The fact that the seriousness of the issue has been virtually ignored in the House today indicates that the Government has not grasped the importance of the report or that it is not sufficient to issue an apology and fail subsequently to meet the expectations of the victims to which it gave rise. At the time of the Taoiseach's apology, it was indicated that resources would be available to the commission, its work would not be hindered, it would be assisted in every way possible, and an attempt would be made to recompense victims of the most appalling chapter in the history of the State. Although nobody can make proper recompense for what happened to those who were in the institutions in question, surely they could at least expect a proper and urgent response from the Government which recognises the seriousness of the issues.
The Minister stated: "The resourcing delays which the commission refers to in its third interim report primarily relate to the period since June 2002." The report, particularly chapter 10, makes clear that resource issues were a problem long before that date. On page 157, the report states:
In November 2001, the explanation advanced for delay in submitting statements was lack of resources and, in particular, lack of resources during the summer months because of annual leave and such like. The Committee was assured that the issue of resources would be addressed. Over a year later, resources were still an issue....
That was November 2001.
Ms Justice Laffoy continued to raise these issues, particularly with regard to resources and the lack of an adequate response by the Department over a considerable period. Considerable time has been lost, not only since Ms Justice Laffoy resigned but also prior to it when she continually raised these issues. It is ludicrous to suggest that the decision to replace her with Mr. Justice Ryan and the sudden recognition that resources are an issue amounts to an adequate response.
The report also states: "The Committee is not satisfied that, since its establishment, it has received the level of cooperation which it is entitled to expect to receive from the Department of State which is its statutory sponsor." This statement brings to a head the issue of giving the Department of Education and Science responsibility for the commission. The Labour Party does not accept the Minister's argument that because other commissions of inquiry were sponsored by particular Departments, this should be the case in this context.
As Deputy Enright stated, the Department is being examined by the commission and, as such, it is entirely inappropriate that it should continue to hold responsibility for the commission in light of what has been revealed in this report. The Labour Party calls on the Minister and the Taoiseach to transfer responsibility from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of the Taoiseach. This should not cause additional delays because the delays encountered to date have been primarily related to discovery of documents. Transferring responsibility would not, therefore, cause undue delay and would provide the proper level of Government supervision of the matter. Clearly there is a conflict of interest which must be resolved and I call on the Minister to reconsider his position on this matter.
I wish to place on the record the specific issues raised in chapter 10 with regard to the Department. The explanation given by the Taoiseach today did not address the questions raised by Deputy Rabbitte. It is important that they are properly addressed and placed on the record. The questions on which the responses were not received, in particular, the abuse specific discovery directions on which Ms Justice Laffoy has still not received an adequate response, arose specifically in response to the indemnity deal when the Residential Institutions Redress Act was being discussed.
On page 158 of the report, Ms Justice Laffoy states:
At the beginning of February 2002, the Committee became aware of statements being attributed in the media to the then Minister and spokespersons of the Department as to the prevalence of abuse in institutions which were to be the subject of the redress scheme eventually enacted in the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. At the beginning of June of the same year, the Committee became aware of media statements attributed to the then Minister in relation to the State's responsibility for abuse in institutions, which suggested that the Department might have been in possession of records which would assist the Committee in its inquiry. The Committee was not aware of the precise documents to which the Minister was referring. On 2nd July, 2002, a discovery direction was issued to the Department seeking discovery of all documents and records of whatever nature that were or had been in the possession or control of the Department, on the basis of which the Minister and/or his officials reached the conclusions——
(a) as to the culpability of the State and the regulatory authorities in the State for abuse of children in institutions, the investigation of which is within the statutory remit of the Commission, and
(b) the apportionment of blame between the State and the said regulatory authorities, on the one hand, and the managers of the institutions, on the other hand,
which were reflected in——
1. the agreement between the Minister and the Conference of Religious of Ireland, on behalf of eighteen Religious Congregations, made in June 2002, and
2. the statements and comments made by the Minister and his spokesperson reported in the broadcast and print media concerning that agreement and matters within the statutory remit of the Commission on or about 30th January, 2002, 1st February, 2002, 5th June, 2002 and 6th June, 2002.
Pursuant to that direction, an affidavit was sworn on 18th October, 2002 by the Director of Strategic Policy and Legal Services in the Department.
There is a footnote reference to an interview on "Morning Ireland" on 6 June 2002 with Deputy Woods in which he stated:
... ultimately here the State will pay and the State again as the Laffoy Commission I think will show in time because we have supplied a lot of information to the Laffoy Commission. We'll show that the State carry responsibility and Laffoy, the Laffoy Commission, Judge Laffoy will in due course report on all of that in great detail ...
The report continues:
Why is there an inconsistency between what has been disclosed and what the Committee might have expected to be disclosed having regard to the statements attributed to the former Minister and the Department spokesperson in 2002? Only one instance has been disclosed of the contemporaneous reporting by the management of an Industrial School for boys of sexual abuse of pupils in the institution by a person in authority.
It is clear that the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and Ms Justice Laffoy, on the basis of what she had heard the former Minister say in the media, sought the papers that would indicate the culpability of the State with regard to children in institutions. The former Minister had indicated in a radio interview and in other places, that there was substantial verification material and contemporaneous accounts. Only one contemporaneous account was supplied to the commission. The discovery is ongoing because there has not been discovery of all the documentation required by Ms Justice Laffoy and February of this year is the further deadline that has been given. It is clear from the report that Ms Justice Laffoy encountered a great deal of difficulty in getting the documentation she required. She documents this difficulty in detail in the report.
Questions must be asked as to why the documentation could not be supplied given that the former Minister indicated that there was documentation that would come out in the Laffoy report which would explain the basis of the agreement made with the religious institutions regarding the apportionment of responsibility between the State and the religious institutions. I hope the Minister will be able to answer questions on this matter. The information given to the commission so far does not supply the kind of substantial material that would have been expected in light of the agreement made and the statements made by the former Minister.
Chapter 10 of the report states:
For over two years, the manner in which the Committee requires the Department to fulfil its statutory obligations in relation to complying with discovery directions issued to it under the Act has been clearly communicated to the Department, both in correspondence and at procedural hearings. Despite that, as of now, the direction issued on 10 March 2003 has not been properly complied with and the Department has been directed to make further and better discovery. While acknowledging the enormity of the task which the Department has faced, the difficulties which may not have been foreseen and the Committee's own shortcomings, it has to be observed that, in general, the Department as Respondent to the vast majority of allegations which the Committee is investigating, has not adopted a constructive approach to dealing with its role in the inquiry.
That is a damning chapter of the report and I regard the Minister's response and that of the Taoiseach on behalf of the Government as quite pathetic. The time given for a debate means that only one person from each party will have the opportunity to speak and probably not even one person from the smaller groupings. It is a despicable response to the issues that are raised by this commission.
As Deputy Enright said, much more resources, time and attention have been given to other commissions of inquiry. This commission of inquiry is about what are probably the most defenceless people who ever had to survive in this State; those who were locked up and had no control over their own lives. They are people like the boys in the Baltimore Fisheries School which is the subject of part of this report. It makes distressing and appalling reading to read about the physical conditions in which those boys were kept, with beds full of urine, rats falling from the roof, not enough to eat, sexual and physical abuse and very harsh beatings. We will hear about this and other cases over the coming years because there will be others to follow. The Baltimore school alone deserves a debate in this House. Will the Minister provide Government time to debate this issue? The people who endured this deserve both the attention of a full debate in the House on what happened to them and an adequate response which does not seem to be forthcoming today.
The Minister gave the House a history lesson in his opening speech. The information about child abuse came to light in the television programme "States of Fear". There was not an awareness of the issue before that. Previous Governments of all hues did not have the knowledge that the present Government has. What the rainbow Government did or did not do is immaterial to information that emerged after 1999.
I call on the Minister to reconsider what appears to be a decision not to transfer the workings of the commission from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of the Taoiseach. Will he implement as soon as possible not just the recommendations of Mr. Justice Ryan but also those of Ms Justice Laffoy which were ignored when she tried continuously to draw the attention of the Government to the problems encountered by her and the commission over a considerable time? Her recommendations were only heeded when she took the extreme step of resigning from the commission, knowing full well the implications of that action. It is appalling that it took that action to draw the attention of the supervising Minister to the fact that there were problems.
It is not enough to expect the resources of the Department of Education and Science to deal with this issue. The Government must assign specific resources to deal with this scandal adequately and properly.
Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis na Teachtaí Crowe agus Connolly. I wish to share my time with Deputies Crowe and Connolly.
Ms Justice Laffoy expressed a level of frustration rarely seen from the Judiciary. The Government's response to that frustration is beyond belief. It is clear from Ms Justice Laffoy's report that some of the religious orders were co-operative and others were far from co-operative, yet the Government seems to have entered into a financial accommodation which requires further investigation because it was not based on findings from the commission but rather to head off further embarrassment for the Government. This action may come back to haunt the Government.
I detect a deep sense of injustice as a result of the Government's handling of this matter. There is a wider sense of injustice than just the religious institutions and the horrific tales from Baltimore. The Government's lack of focus on the needs of children is a legacy which still needs to be addressed. Comparisons with other countries in such areas as playschool and crèche facilities, consideration of the safety of children in the matter of safety measures on roads, and maternity leave entitlement highlight the lack of priority given to the needs of children which still haunts Governments to this day. There is no comparison between the barbarity of what has been revealed and the treatment of children today, but children are perceived as second-class citizens and the reports of the Laffoy and Ryan commissions bear that out in an horrific way.
This is not just about finding the truth or introducing a measure to bring about redress. It is about dealing with these issues by stating clearly that children are central and should be afforded the importance of adults. When we speak of the brutality of the events being dealt with in the Barron or Nally reports, it is central that the Taoiseach should be involved. The Green Party has called on many occasions for a transfer of the child abuse inquiry from the sponsorship of the Department of Education and Science to that of the Department of the Taoiseach. When Patricia McKenna MEP reiterated this appeal on "Questions and Answers" last night, it was striking that Deputy Eoin Ryan responded by saying that the Department of the Taoiseach is too small. He said it would not cope with such a transfer because it does not have the resources to do so.
I am glad that the Minister for Education and Science has spoken about the need for his Department to take on additional resources. It is quite easy for a Department to take on extra resources as needs be. The Minister said that the Department took on an extra 16 persons, including six documentary counsel, on 10 March 2003. The Department of the Taoiseach could do the same, ultimately, especially as it has overseen partnership discussions, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and the Forum on Europe.
The Green Party restates the appeal to which I referred because this matter requires the Department of the Taoiseach to be centre stage. It should not be dealt with in smoky or smoke-free rooms by means of deals with the religious orders nor should it be compromised by being dealt with by the Department of Education and Science. If children are to be considered as first-class citizens rather than being seen as second-class citizens, which has traditionally been the case, this issue must be dealt with in the Department of the Taoiseach.
Many people hold the view that politicians do not live in the real world and are oblivious to what is happening. It is important that Deputies state during this debate that none of us is a stranger to this matter. We all know of individuals who attended schools or some of the institutions where abuse took place. We are familiar with the cases of adults who are still trying to deal with the problems associated with that abuse. It is important that we refer to our experience in the context of this debate.
I join other Members in saying that full credit is due to Ms Justice Laffoy for her role in the work of the commission and in bringing to light the negligence of the Department of Education and Science. It is a little ironic that less than a week after a judge in Britain whitewashed the Blair Government in one of the more bizarre legal decisions of recent times, a judge in Ireland is prepared to stand up for the survivors of child abuse in this State. She is willing to expose the Government's repeated and serious failures. I believe that Ms Justice Laffoy is a credit to the Judiciary. She has done the State and its people a great service. It is regrettable, however, that Ms Justice Laffoy and her staff on the commission are unique in that respect. Many other participants in this tragedy have done everything they can to prolong and drag out the process.
Ms Justice Laffoy's report is a terrible indictment of the Department of Education and Science and the religious institutions. It is barely a figure of speech to say that they have been allowed to get away with murder. According to the report, the commission has been denuded of ability to fulfil its statutory obligations. The Department has failed to provide the support the commission needs. It has been found to have repeatedly failed to comply with the commission's requests for discovery. Rather than being an ally in finding the truth, the Department has been an obstacle. Files have had to be torn from the hands of civil servants. The report seems to suggest that there has been outright opposition where there should have been co-operation. Irrelevant documents were sent to the commission but relevant documents were not provided or brought to light only after a bitter struggle.
The Government wasted €650,000 on its preparations for what was deemed to be an inadequate response last June to the commission's order for discovery. I find it interesting that the documents requested from the commission relate to the deal agreed between the former Minister, Deputy Woods, and the religious orders. Ms Justice Laffoy seems to suggest that Deputy Woods claimed liability for the State despite the lack of evidence to support his claim.
Having read the reactions of the survivors' lobby to the most recent report, it seems to me that they are unanimous on one issue; they all believe that the position of the Department of Education and Science is no longer tenable. Opposition Members have repeatedly pointed to the conflict of interest between the Department and the commission. It must be clear by now that the Department cannot continue to provide funding while fighting the commission every step of the way. The role and conduct of the Department during the investigation has been a disgrace.
In his statement, the Minister for Education and Science claimed that the rainbow coalition failed because it did not establish a commission. Sinn Féin was not part of that coalition nor were the Green Party, Independents and certain other Members of the House. The fact that the rainbow coalition failed to establish a commission does not exonerate the Minister who has let himself down by using these cheap shots. His use of such a tactic shows a lack of maturity on his behalf and undermines this debate.
The role of the religious orders in this affair is no less shameful than that of the Department, with a few exceptions. After the orders agreed what can only be described as a sweetheart deal with the former Minister, Deputy Woods, they fought the commission every step of the way. They contested every fact and disputed what Ms Justice Laffoy referred to as indisputable historical facts.
I note that Ms Justice Laffoy exempts certain religious institutions from criticism. This makes for an interesting comparison with the religious orders which would dispute that the sky is blue and the grass is green if they could get away with it. If some religious orders are prepared to co-operate, I do not see why the rest of them cannot do so, especially as the Government has made them exempt from paying any more than €128 million. There seems to be a form of agreement between the religious orders and the Department of Education and Science. It is as difficult as possible for the commission to arrive at the truth of this matter.
It is time for the Department of Education and Science to be removed from this process. If it retained some shards of credibility when Ms Justice Laffoy resigned, it has lost them. While the Department remains involved, the commission will proceed without the confidence of the victims, the body politic or the people.
It is time for the religious orders to embrace the religion they claim to stand for. I do not see much evidence of the Christian notions of charity and mercy in their actions. The phrase "suffer the little children" is sometimes used, but the little children have grown up and have suffered enough.
The delays in the redress process make it more difficult for victims of abuse. The purpose of the commission was to examine the status and complicity of the State in the abuse. The collapse of the Laffoy commission has undermined the Taoiseach's ground-breaking statement. Ms Justice Laffoy's statement that the work of the commission was stymied rather than enabled is an indictment of the Department and the Government.
Ms Justice Laffoy's interim report has cast the Department of Education and Science, the Minister and, by extension, the Government in a light which is not very complimentary. Society has become ridden with tribunals and commissions. Most of society's principles are being stampeded on in a manner that would do credit to Saddam Hussein and President George W. Bush's deck of cards. The manner in which the Government tried to stall Ms Justice Laffoy's letter of resignation as chairperson of the commission investigating child abuse compounded the hypocrisy with which it behaved throughout. The lack of co-operation from the Department of Education and Science, along with its constant interference with Ms Justice Laffoy's remit, left her with no option but to resign. We must ask why she resigned.
Since the commission was established, the Department and the Government have displayed crass hypocrisy in their approach to the matter of child abuse. Based on its extended attempts to muzzle Ms Justice Laffoy and the commission, it appears that the Government has a vested interest in attempting to prevent the commission from fulfilling the functions conferred on it by the Oireachtas. The Taoiseach was disingenuous in his facile reference to Ms Justice Laffoy having encountered a heavy caseload of abuse allegations and legal challenges. I am surprised that the nature of the caseload was not known before she took on this case. One must ask who is deceiving who in this instance. The Taoiseach may have convinced himself that he was telling a fairy story when he gave a "Bertie-ese" explanation of the tensions between Ms Justice Laffoy and the Government. Ms Justice Laffoy's letter of resignation was preserved as a State secret for days until the mandarins were able to gauge the possible fall-out. One can only begin to gauge the degree of so-called Government concern for the victims of child abuse, who have been treated contemptuously by the Government and its minions.
The commission's original terms of reference were to address the appalling incidences of decades of child sexual abuse in the State's industrial schools and to provide a forum for the victims to relate their horrific stories. Unfortunately, the Department of Education and Science sought to mitigate or obscure its responsibility by muddying the waters. The Government, through its hypocritical attitude towards such a major issue of human misery as child sexual abuse, has perpetrated an unpardonable injustice and, in the event, may well have undermined the commission's effectiveness. Because of its lack of input into the commission's deliberations through its failure to provide the documentation sought by Ms Justice Laffoy, the State stands indicted of non-co-operation with the commission it sponsored. In any other country this would be a resigning matter on the part of the Minister and his senior officials, who have in effect colluded in the suppression of documents which Ms Justice Laffoy adjudged as being vital to the commission's deliberations.
The Department of Education and Science, through its responsibility for more than 90% of the institutions in which upwards of 1,950 cases of abuse took place, bears major culpability for the various instances of abuse. The Department's inspectorate has shown itself totally incapable of evaluating the running of such institutions and, as far as a psychological test is concerned, the Department is somewhere short of the Dark Ages. Inspectors conveniently overlooked what was glaringly obvious and ignored reports by the former manager of an industrial school about boys being sexually abused over a period of years. The lack of co-operation on the part of the Department bears a close resemblance to the British Government's reluctance to co-operate with the Barron inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
A large amount of documentation sought from the Department is still outstanding. It can hardly attribute its loss to the transfer of its records from Dublin to Athlone. These things do not go missing of their own accord. We heard earlier about documents vanishing. The documentation furnished by 55 industrial and reform schools indicated a massive cover-up, particularly in light of the Department's tardiness in forwarding the other documents sought by Ms Justice Laffoy. The fact that over two thirds of the documentation furnished by the Department to the commission has been irrelevant to the commission's inquiries is a despicable commentary on the Department's unsuitability to administer a system of juvenile correction and rehabilitation. The Government and the Department have shown a distinct lack of real engagement in the Laffoy Commission and have demonstrated a degree of hypocrisy that is breathtaking in the extreme. I call on the Government to remove responsibility for juvenile correction from the Department of Education and Science and vest it in the Taoiseach's Department instead.
What status does the Minister give to reports of commissions of inquiry? Will the Minister tell us now what weight he will give to the report of Judge Ryan when it comes out? Will he also deny responsibility when that report is issued? Did the Minister's Department officials report to him that they were not complying — or, as the Minister said, were not in a position to comply — with discovery directions at the time those directions were made? Did they report their lack of compliance with orders for production of documents? Was the Minister aware that his Department was not complying with statutory requests from the commission? Why was there an absence of departmental policy to deploy sufficient appropriate resources to ensure the Department could comply with its statutory obligations up to and after 29 November 2002?
Why did the Department leave out lists of documents that were at one time but are no longer in its possession? Why was information not given as to when the documents left the possession of the Department and where they went, as was legally required of the Department under the superior court rules? Why did the Department give so many irrelevant documents to the commission? Ms Justice Laffoy stated in her report that of the 457 documents provided following the signing of an affidavit by the director of strategic policy and legal services on 18 October 2002, fewer than 300 had a bearing on the issue of industrial and reform schools, with which the commission is concerned. I can think of one other person who placed on the record of a tribunal, as the Minister did today, that at all stages he made every effort to co-operate with and assist the work of the tribunal at which he was present. I hope the Minister is not taking lessons from him because if he is, we will not get very far.
My last question also deals with the production of documents. The conflict about the production of documents seems to have begun on 31 October 2001. The 457 documents were presented on 18 October. On 10 March 2003 the commission was still not satisfied it had received the documents it needed. It gave the Department until 27 June 2003 to comply. Another meeting was held on 5 December 2003. A ruling was made on 10 December 2003, and an order and direction that further and better discovery be made by 28 February of this year was issued. Is the Minister satisfied that on 28 February the documentation required by the commission will be provided to it?
The series of questions posed by the Deputy related to the discovery order to which I have referred over the past few days. A total of 35 people from the Department plus 14 lawyers are employed specifically to comply with the direction. I hope we will be able to meet the needs of the commission in this regard, although it has proven difficult in the past because of the nature of the request. At all times the officials in the Department dealing with orders for discovery acted on the advice of senior counsel, which advises the Department on legal matters. There seems to be some confusion about the specific discovery order under discussion. In the case to which the Deputy referred, we are not talking about documents which the Department knows it has and will not hand up, although this is the impression that has been created.
We are talking about documents which the Department might have had 50, 60 or 70 years ago, although we do not know whether it did — if it did, they may have been lost as far back as the middle of the Second World War — and that might have been relevant. Any reasonable person trying to meet a request such as this would find it very difficult. Notwithstanding the difficulties involved, we are doing everything we can to make sure that if any of those documents are available or if there is any record of their being lost or destroyed, we will be able to inform the commission of this. I assure the House that no stone will be left unturned by the legal team or the officials in the Department, who have been committed and dedicated to this work. Nothing will be left to chance. If the order can be complied with it will be. If not, we will explain as best we can to the commission why we cannot produce documents about which we do not know. I hope we will not be in that position. It is funny to be accused of not producing documents while being castigated for producing too many.
This is part of the difficulty. Everybody on the opposite side of the House wants to ignore what the commission's report said about some of the difficulties that have occurred. It said that some were caused because the Department did not put enough resources in place. I have accepted that we were on a learning curve. We tried as best we could. At the time I had only been in the Department for six months. The report states that from the beginning of 2003 we had rectified the problem of resources. People conveniently ignore the fact that the commission stated in its report: "It must be acknowledged that some of the difficulties were caused, or contributed to, by the Committee" [the commission's investigation committee] "in that, for example, there was not sufficient clarity in the direction as to what was sought or insufficient time was being allowed for compliance." That explains why a whole range of irrelevant documents, as Deputy Enright termed them——
——were handed over to the commission. The commission said that there was insufficient clarity in the directions. It also stated that it may not have allowed sufficient time for the Department to retrieve the documents. That is also a reasonable explanation and I compliment the commission on its even-handed manner in dealing with the issue.
At all times departmental officials complied with the orders to the best of their ability. They would not know until the commission summoned them that they had not complied because they were acting in accordance with legal advice. I was kept informed and apprised by officials at any stage that difficulties arose.
What extra resources does the Minister intend to supply to the commission with regard to its work and the discovery requests to his Department? Some of these have not yet been supplied and there will further discovery requests in the future.
Why were the resources that were agreed in principle on 3 December 2002 not provided? Ms Justice Laffoy's resigning letter states:
The factors which have brought about this situation, include the following ... the Government decision of 3 December 2002, to agree in principle to the provision of additional resources as requested, which in the event[s] has proved meaningless, because it was made contingent on the outcome of the review, which still has not been published.
That review was only published recently. My questions relate to resources and I want some straight answers to them.
Ms Justice Laffoy felt that, because the review was ongoing, she would not seek further resources. She also felt that the investigation committee should not carry on further work. She did not take up the resources. That is why there were——
What extra resources will I make available to the commission? I will wait to see whether the commission, under Mr. Justice Ryan, requests extra resources. Whatever resources are needed will be made available to him.
What extra resources will be made available in the Department of Education and Science to meet discovery orders? Extra resources will not be necessary to be made available in the Department. A team is dealing with this and, if Deputies read the report, they will see that the commission has indicated that, since the beginning of 2003, the Department has sufficient resources to engage fully with it and there is no need for further resources. If a need arises, I will examine it and provide the necessary resources. Some Deputies also miss the point that the final discovery document referred to earlier has been deemed as the last one the commission will need. If the situation changes and extra staff are needed, they will be made available.
Given Ms Justice Laffoy's criticisms of the co-operation she received from the Department of Education and Science, have the Minister and his Department learned any lessons from it, especially when there are other ongoing investigations with Oireachtas committees? The criticism of the quality of information is a valid one. I have seen pages of barely altered e-mails that have been submitted to Oireachtas committees. If the quality of information is in doubt, will the Minister inform us if the Department is resolved to provide better information in a quicker timeframe and prepared to truly co-operate with Mr. Justice Ryan after Ms Justice Laffoy's resignation? I also hope that the same will apply to any other ongoing investigations of other Oireachtas committees. The Minister seems to be saying that what will bring a resolution to this issue is if 500,000 pages of information are provided, regardless of the type of information and how the commission is able to deal with it.
I did not say that the provision of the 500,000 pages was a resolution of the issue. I used it as an illustration to show that the Department had nothing to hide and wanted to make everything available to the commission that it possibly——
One cannot win on this issue as one either provides too much or too little. The information was provided. It was not a case of providing it and bringing it over in wheelbarrows. It was carefully copied, indexed, catalogued, put on a database and provided to the commission. All information was supplied.
The commission began using discovery orders later on because it felt that, as it was using them for other respondents, it should do so for the Department. We endeavoured in every way we possibly could to comply with those discovery orders. Of the 16 orders made against the Department, 12 were fully met within agreed timeframes. There were difficulties with four orders, one of which is still outstanding for reasons I have referred to.
Ms Justice Laffoy stated that, arising from interviews given by the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, she sought discovery in the belief that departmental documents would explain why the State assumed culpability in all circumstance in all cases and why the contribution from the religious was capped at €128 million. Ms Justice Laffoy believed these documents would help her investigation. Do such documents exist and, if they do, will the Minister for Education and Science hand them over?
I said yesterday and will say it again that I find the fixation with the statement made by the previous Minister mysterious. I have not spoken to Deputy Woods on this issue. However, I believe that, in that radio interview, Deputy Woods said what we in this House all believe, what any Member would have said when asked such a question and which is now proved in the report——
The Deputy asked the question and I will give him the answer. What Deputy Woods said has been now proved by the third interim report and will be proved again with regard to other institutions. I surmise that Deputy Woods based his opinion that the State was liable on the information that we all had and knew through the television programmes and from various victims' groups and individuals that made contact with us.