Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005: Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
"In page 6, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
3.—References in the Principal Act to the Minister for Education and Science shall be construed as references to the Taoiseach.".
As we discussed on Committee Stage, the purpose of this amendment is to transfer the work of the commission to the Department of the Taoiseach from the Department of Education and Science. The reason is we believe it is inappropriate that the Department of Education and Science should be the sponsoring body for the legislation. It is also the central Department in regard to the various investigations being undertaken by the commission. The former chairperson of the commission, Ms Justice Laffoy, indicated that during her tenure, it was having a great deal of difficulty getting information from the Department, particularly in regard to the discovery of documents. That is documented in Ms Justice Laffoy's letters to the Department and in her letter of resignation from the commission. That is one aspect of the problem.
The other aspect is a more general one in that it is inappropriate that a Department being investigated, albeit for things which occurred in the past, should be the one providing the support, finance and the legislative backing for the investigations. The spokespersons from three of the Opposition parties have tabled this amendment which shows unity of purpose in this regard and the view of the Opposition that it is not appropriate that the Department of Education and Science should sponsor this legislation and play such an integral part in the investigations.
I repeat what I said on Committee Stage. This amendment is fundamental to the Bill. It is important to remember the Department of Education and Science is being investigated, which is quite unusual. The Minister said on Committee Stage and previously that the issues under investigation happened a number of years ago, with which I agree. However, it is important to remember Ms Justice Laffoy's criticisms are quite recent — they were made in the lifetime of this Dáil. She found the Department obstructed the work of the commission.
We all hope a new era has dawned, that the Department's attitude towards the commission has changed and that Mr. Justice Ryan is receiving greater co-operation than his predecessor, Ms Justice Laffoy. However, we cannot take that in good faith. While this is in no way a criticism of the Minister, it is wrong that the Department of Education and Science is the sponsoring Department for this legislation. That has shown up the difficulties. Had it not been the sponsoring Department during the tenure of Ms Justice Laffoy, the situation may have been different. Her criticisms were wide-ranging and serious and that must be remembered.
I intend to press this amendment. As I said at the time of Ms Justice Laffoy's resignation, the Department of the Taoiseach would be a far more appropriate Department. It is also important to remember that many of the victims have expressed a lack of faith in the capacity of the Department of Education and Science to be the sponsoring Department. However, the fundamental issue is that the Department itself is being investigated in regard to actions over many decades and, in a sense, more recently.
This issue has been dealt with on a number of occasions and, as I said then, the position of the Department of Education and Science is very similar to other Departments sponsoring tribunals of inquiry, whether the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, etc. I know the Deputies have said it is quite different in so far as the Department of Education and Science is almost a respondent.
We took on board the criticisms from Ms Justice Laffoy and enormous change has taken place in the meantime, which has been recognised by the commission chairman, Mr. Justice Ryan. He recognises that the Department is responding very quickly to his requests for resources etc. There has been no difficulty in the relationship between the Department and the judge and the commission. It should also be noted that the third report acknowledged that some of the difficulties were caused, or were contributed to, by the commission 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.
Undoubtedly, things have moved on, including from the point of view of the money being provided. Some €10 million has been given to the commission for administration costs and a further €21 million has been provided for administration in the Estimates for this year and for the next two years. The commission has a staff of 53, all of whom were put in place very quickly at its request. We have also addressed any of the recommendations it has made to address any difficulties in the past. The Department recognises that this requires dedicated, substantial staffing and administrative resources, which have all been put in place to ensure we comply with the discovery directions.
The role of the Department as a respondent is quite clear and separate from it being a sponsoring body. Being the sponsor does not interfere with it taking its responsibilities very seriously. We are working very closely with the commission. It would only serve to delay matters further if this was to move to a different Department. We all want to ensure the work is carried out speedily and efficiently and that is what is happening at present. There is a good working relationship between us. It serves no purpose to try to move this to the Department of the Taoiseach because it would only be for optics and would affect the work of the commission.
We all accept the Minister is doing her best to ensure her Department complies with everything the commission requires and, as Deputy Enright said, we are not talking about the current Minister. However, we are talking about a principle whereby a Department is sponsoring a commission of inquiry in which it is directly involved and which is investigating it. We are concerned about that principle.
None of us in the Opposition wants to delay the operations of the commission but I do not see why transferring it to the Department of the Taoiseach would delay its operations in so far as there is agreement on what needs to be done. There has been a great deal of detailed consultation. I do not believe moving it to another Department would delay it. The principle of allowing a Department to be involved in investigating itself is a bad one. It is not something we should include in legislation in the future. The sponsoring Department should be at a distance from the activities being investigated. They are very serious activities in terms of the responsibilities of the Department in the past and its direct role in putting young people into institutions in which they were abused. The Department had that supervisory role and failed thousands of children. It is a serious matter of principle.
I appreciate that as the Minister said, things have moved on. However, if the Department of Education and Science was again of a mind to be less than helpful to the commission, there is no guarantee this would not happen again. That is why we are trying to ensure it is moved.
I reject outright what the Minister said about delay. The most important thing is that we get this right. It is more than a year and a half since my party leader and I first raised the issue of moving this to the Department of the Taoiseach. Ms Justice Laffoy resigned in September 2003. If there has been delay, it certainly has not been on our part. We have waited a year and a half for this legislation to reach this stage. There was adequate time to make this change. There have been instances where legislation has been brought forward quite quickly on occasions when it suited the Government.
To cite that acceptance of this amendment would cause a delay is not a valid reason for not accepting it. It is important that tactic is not used. It would not necessarily have to take a long time for such a transition to take place. Such a transition would be in the best interests of the victims involved, of getting at the truth and of ensuring that the Department of Education and Science co-operates fully with the commission in the same way as would a witness giving evidence to it. However, that has not happened up to now, but we hope it will happen.
The Minister referred to other tribunals but this inquiry is different. The Department has made considerable discovery at this stage. However, we still must guarantee, through this legislation, that everything is done in the best possible manner. Moving responsibility for this matter to another Department is the best possible way of dealing with it.
This matter was raised a number of times by Deputies from all parties. I raised it in the House two years ago and in committee with the then Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in terms of trust and transparency in regard to the Department of Education and Science and its role as well as that of other Departments such as the Department of Health and Children.
The survivors still have huge mistrust of certain officials within the Department of Education and Science and their ability to provide the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Department of the Taoiseach would command much more respect and recognition in terms of seeking to do a job. That is not taking from the Minister's role in trying to push matters forward. I agree with what the other Deputies said. This is not about causing a delay but about doing what is right. If we reflect on other issues debated in this House in recent weeks, for example, the role of the few bad eggs in the Garda Síochána in Donegal and the need for independent investigation of Garda Síochána activities, the same principle applies here. Self-regulation is no regulation. This is an opportunity to put matters right in the legislation.
I remain to be convinced that a change of name would make a positive difference to the working of the commission. Dedicated staff are working on it in this Department and there is dedicated funding for it. The relationship is good and the process is working extremely well. Were we to change it at this stage, we would have to brief a new group of civil servants and probably have to transfer staff from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of the Taoiseach, and the same people would end up dealing with it. Therefore, this proposal makes no sense. I appreciate from where the Deputies are coming, but if the system is not broken why try to fix it?
It is working extremely well. The aim of all of us, including the judge, is to deal with this process as fairly and efficiently as possible. It is working satisfactorily at present with its current sponsor and that is the way to leave it.
The Minister said that. She said in her opening remarks that she remained to be convinced that such a change would make a difference. It will make a big difference to the victims. They want to be sure that this matter is investigated to the fullest extent and that everything that happened comes out. They want to have absolute confidence in this process. The fact that we are back here amending legislation proves that the system was broken and needed to be fixed. The victims want absolute confidence and faith in this process and the proposed change would make a difference to them. They are the ones who matter, not only the Minister. I wanted to clarify that.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 48 (Dan Boyle, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Paudge Connolly, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, John Deasy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Eamon Gilmore, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Michael D Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Kathleen Lynch, Shane McEntee, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Catherine Murphy, Dan Neville, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Seán Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, Billy Timmins, Mary Upton)
Against the motion: 62 (Seán Ardagh, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Pat Carey, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Mildred Fox, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Cecilia Keaveney, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Noel Treacy, Dan Wallace, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.