Dáil debates

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

9:00 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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An extension of time was recently agreed to allow the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse to fulfil its statutory mandate to publish its report. I hope the report will be published as soon as it is completed. It will tell a terrible story of injustice in our country.

The commission has been dealing with matters of life and death, the health and well-being of thousands of citizens and a system of deplorable abuse amounting to a catalogue of crimes carried out over decades. This system of abuse claimed the lives of many children. We may never know exactly how many children died of neglect and ill-treatment in Irish institutions. Our first and last concern should be the survivors of abuse and the memory of those who did not survive. Many survivors became so marginalised and damaged from their abuse that they were never able to avail of the commission or the redress board. We know that many of them ended up homeless on the streets of London and other foreign cities. While many people have availed of the commission and redress board, others are not satisfied that they have received answers.

I want to raise one case, that of the late Michael Flanagan, whose arm was broken by a Christian Brother in Artane Industrial School in 1954. His brother Kevin is still fighting for full information about what exactly happened and, in particular, why their mother was only allowed to see her son eight days after the assault was inflicted. This was an horrific example of what went on in these institutions. The passage of time in no way erodes the importance of addressing these matters. Michael Flanagan was then only 14 years of age. A Christian Brother used a brush handle to break his arm. The boy was locked in a shed at the back of the school for a full two and a half days. The Christian Brother responsible was neither prosecuted nor expelled from the order. The order admitted to the commission in 2005 that this member had simply been moved from Artane to another school. After release from Artane, Michael Flanagan emigrated to England. He was unable to read or write because Artane was, for him and many others, a school in name only. His health never recovered and he died at a relatively young age. His brother Kevin was asked by the commission to seek the information from them through a solicitor but he has informed my office that although he has done this, he has still not received the information requested. These issues need to be resolved and I urge the Minister of State to give his full support and co-operation to the securing of same.

The second main point is about the lessons that should have been learnt about the protection of children. Have they been learnt? The recent "Prime Time Investigates" programme exposed the woefully inadequate state of our child protection services, with insufficient social workers and other front-line workers in place. The HSE knows of cases where children are in grave danger but the services are not in place to make the interventions required. The nightmare of child abuse is not a thing of the past. It is happening every day and most of this abuse takes place in the family home. If the services are not in place, then the State today will be just as culpable as it was in the past when it conspired with the church to cover up the abuse of children in their joint care.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Following the Taoiseach's apology to victims of abuse on 11 May 1999, during which a series of Government measures were announced for the redress of abuse, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was formally established in May 2000. The commission is independent in its functions and its operation is governed by the terms of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 and the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Amendment Act 2005.

The broad terms of reference of the commission are to afford victims of abuse in childhood an opportunity to tell of the abuse they suffered to a sympathetic and experienced forum; to establish as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of the physical and sexual abuse of children in institutions and in other places during the period from 1940 to the present; and to compile a report and publish it for the public on the activities and findings of the commission, containing recommendations on actions to address the continuing effects of the abuse and actions to be taken to safeguard children from abuse in the future.

The commission acts through two committees which will provide the commission with a general report on the issues encountered in its work. The confidential committee provides a forum for victims of abuse to recount their experiences on an entirely confidential basis. The purpose of this committee is to meet the needs of those victims who want to speak of their experiences but who do not wish to become involved in an investigative procedure. The confidential committee received evidence from 1,090 witnesses. The committee's report will be a compilation of the evidence provided by the 1,090 witnesses and will form part of the commission's overall report.

The investigation committee facilitates victims who wish to both recount their experiences and to have allegations of abuse inquired into. The work of the investigation commission is broken down into three main phases. In phase one, public hearings were held into a number of institutions where opening statements were provided by the relevant religious managerial bodies of such institutions. In phase two, private hearings were held to investigate complaints of former residents of institutions. This process finished in early 2006. In phase three, public hearings were held during which a number of religious orders, Departments and the ISPCC gave evidence. Religious orders who testified at the phase one public sessions returned for further examination on issues of relevance to the inquiry. The Departments included Education and Science, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children.

Under the terms of section 5 of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, as amended, the commission is statutorily obligated to prepare and publish a report to the public. The report "may contain findings that abuse of children, or abuse of children during a particular period, occurred in a particular institution and may identify the institution where the abuse took place and the person or, as the case may be, each person who committed the abuse, but only if he or she has been convicted of an offence in respect of abuse...". The report shall not, however, "identify, or contain information that could lead to the identification of, persons the subject of abuse in childhood". Similarly, it "shall not contain findings in relation to particular instances of alleged abuse of children".

The legislation provides the framework for the commission's report and is quite specific in setting the parameters pertaining to its permitted content. It is a matter for the commission, which is entirely independent in the performance of its functions, having regard to the relevant legislation to determine the content of the final report and the manner in which it will be released and published to the public. In particular, the commission is obliged, in all circumstances, to ensure the confidentiality of witnesses and is not entitled to give judgments or make decisions in relation to individual cases. Consequently, it is not open to me, in my capacity as Minister of State, to intervene in this matter or to influence the content of the commission's report.

Both Houses of the Oireachtas have recently approved an extension to the specified period of the commission to the end of January 2009. This extension was sought to allow the commission to complete its report and to make the necessary preparations for its publication. It is expected, therefore, that the commission's report will be published by the end of January 2009.