Thursday, 11 June 2009
Ryan Report on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Motion (Resumed)
- acknowledges that everything possible must be done to ensure the grievous mistakes of the past are not repeated in the future and underlines the importance of the Government's commitment to fully implement the recommendations of the Commission's report including, in particular, to ensure the uniform application throughout the State of the 'Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children' of 1999;
- notes that both in the meetings with former residents and the congregations support was expressed for the proposal that the use of a further substantial contribution from the congregations should include a form of independent trust to be set up by the State which would be available to support the needs of survivors for general education and welfare purposes;
When we broke unexpectedly for lunch - I did not realise there we be a sos - I had made reference to the courage of Mr. Andrew Madden. We must praise the courage of all of the victims of institutional abuse for coming forward and describing to the Ryan commission the dreadful events suffered by them during their childhood. Parliament must acknowledge, as others have acknowledged, that the State abjectly failed them. Indeed, this Parliament did so also in the sense that past Members of this Parliament in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s appeared to either have no knowledge or no interest in the dreadful plight of those consigned to the residential institutions. We now have a duty to acknowledge that this is the people's Parliament. It is the Parliament of all of the people of this country, of all of those whose lives have been blighted by their experiences as so graphically depicted in the Ryan commission report.
The Government has an obligation to the survivors of abuse to address all of the issues that now must be dealt with. It is right that we implement all of the recommendations contained in the Ryan commission report, both those recommendations that directly relate to the survivors of the institutions and those that relate to the manner in which we today run our child care services.
The survivors of the institutions are entitled to justice. One of the important elements of the all-party motion before the House is that when this motion is passed we, as Members of the Oireachtas, across the Chamber on a united basis, acknowledge that crimes of a barbaric, sadistic, appalling nature have been commitment against children in this country. Everything must be done to bring to justice those who perpetrated the barbaric physical and sexual abuse described in the Ryan commission report.
For too long the religious orders have not only attempted to evade their responsibility, but conspired in covering up the true extent of the abuse that took place. There is an absolute obligation on these religious orders. Much has been stated in the past two or three weeks about money matters, but there is an absolute obligation on the religious orders to make available to the Garda Síochána all files and papers they have relating to members of religious orders who are currently alive and who perpetrated the dreadful violence and sexual attacks that are the subject matter of this report.
For too many years the religious orders moved the perpetrators of physical and sexual violence from one part of the country to another and exported it across the world. Some of those who perpetrated violence physical and sexual attacks on the residents of institutions found themselves transferred to England, Newfoundland, Canada, Australia and America, and perpetrated similar appalling torture on children in other countries around the world. I do not believe the religious orders and congregations have adequately co-operated with the Garda Síochána in ensuring that those who perpetrated these offences were brought to justice, and they must do so.
It is stated in the motion before the House that an assistant Garda commissioner has been asked, presumably following appointment by the Garda Commissioner, to review the Ryan commission report and to consider what further action the Garda Síochána might take. I believe there are people who have suffered greatly who have information that they can give to the Garda which may now result in prosecutions, either that would not otherwise happen or of people previously identified who the DPP, without adequate information being available, determined should not be prosecuted.
There must be co-ordination in this area. If victims of abuse want to report to the Garda Síochána they should not be put in a position where they are visiting different Garda stations in different parts of the country dealing with persons, perhaps members of the Garda, who are not trained to deal with the circumstances that these people have experienced. There should be an assistant Garda commissioner not merely reviewing the Ryan commission report but co-ordinating a Garda task force to talk to and interview those who come forward and to co-ordinate the conduct of any further investigation that may be necessary, and to co-ordinate the obtaining from the religious orders of any information and documentation.
We know from the Ryan commission report that files were sent outside Ireland to Rome relating to a number of religious who engaged in the most despicable sexual violence against children. Those files went to Rome because in some instances ecclesiastical action was taken against these individuals, but reports were not made to the Garda and it is crucial that they are. Of course the support services the victims require must be put in place.
The motion passed in this House two weeks ago - we repeat it today - calling on the religious congregations to make a greater financial contribution is important because it gives the Taoiseach the moral authority of all Members of this House representing the people of this country in the conduct of his discussions with the religious orders. Like many outside this House, I am somewhat cynical still about the sincerity of the apologies being given. I say so from experience. I do not need to read the Ryan commission report.
My experience and that of a colleague in my law firm in representing victims of abuse has been, in dealing with allegations before the redress board, various religious orders, in particular the Christian Brothers, were in denial until five days before the report was published. The Christian Brothers' response was that the congregation did not accept that systemic abuse took place. This was the order's standard response, until the Ryan commission report was published, in circumstances in which they had to know the abuse was systemic. The order had to know because it, on occasions, attempted to deal with some of its members who misbehaved but the practice was to transfer them to somewhere else where they continued to misbehave. It was almost impossible not to know how systemic were the violence and sexual perversions in which the individuals were engaged, using children as objects, and their failure to recognise the children's humanity.
I remain cynical about what is being stated by the orders and congregations on their additional contributions. Their contributions should comprise 50% to the redress payments being made to victims of abuse. There should be an additional financial contribution to the trust fund under discussion. The congregations' statement following their meeting with the Taoiseach is noteworthy, as it gave no commitment towards contributing a cent extra to the redress fund. The language used was careful. Reporting on it, The Irish Times stated:
The Congregations, who had an initial meeting with an Taoiseach today, indicated their willingness to make financial and other contributions towards a broad range of measures, designed to alleviate the hurt caused to people who were abused in their care. The Congregations will contribute towards a trust, proposed by an Taoiseach, and a process has now commenced to establish how this can be achieved.
They should contribute to a broad range of measures to assist the victims, but the last thing they should do would be get involved in the trust in any shape or form.
The assets that the religious congregations will contribute to the trust must be identified. However, they must contribute to 50% of the redress fund separately. There has been no such commitment following the meeting. Let no one fool himself or herself. Will the Taoiseach clarify the intentions of the congregations and orders when he next meets them? The public has a right to know, as do the survivors of institutional abuse. I do not want the Dáil to go into recess, leaving the Taoiseach's office and the religious orders and congregations to do a merry dance for weeks or months, hoping that pressure will recede from the latter as time passes. Pressure must be maintained.
At no stage should we be under the illusion that the religious orders are more at fault than the State. They are equally at fault. The State put young children into institutions and abandoned them, as the report comprehensively describes. The State did not ensure that its own guidelines were properly applied. The then Department of Education received a myriad of reports on children being physically and sexually abused in institutions, but it looked the other way.
Deputy Ó Caoláin referred to a 1954 Dáil debate, when Captain Cowen brought to the attention of the then Minister for Education a vicious and brutal attack on a young child. I was going to bring the same report to the House's attention. In 1954, a Deputy told the House that a child had been assaulted in a manner that should have had every alarm bell ringing, but everyone involved in the exchange in the Chamber looked the other way and the world continued on as if nothing needed to be done. Judging from the cases that came before the redress board, many other cases of physical and sexual abuse of young boys were regularly perpetrated in that very same institution over the following years. If someone had done something during the 1950s, lives might not have been blighted and so grievously damaged, but the State looked the other way. It should never do so again.
The contribution of the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, was interesting. It was different from any contribution he has made in the House since his appointment. In the past two years, a period encompassing his predecessor and him, I have made the case in the House that our child protection guidelines of 1999 are not being uniformly applied throughout the country. Children were at risk yesterday, last week and last year and are still at risk. Being at risk, a child's situation is reported to one of the HSE's 32 child care officers. However, the plight of children is being ignored because the system is broken. Consistently, the Minister of State has defended the indefensible in the House.
I have been critical of the fact that no real-time information is available to him on what is occurring within child care services. I have brought to the House's attention that more than 20 children have died in the HSE's care during the past six years. I knew more about them than the Minister of State did. I have sought details on the number of children in the health service's care who have died in the past ten years. Two or three months later and the HSE still cannot provide clarity on the matter. I have criticised the fact that the HSE is in breach of its statutory obligation to report on our child care services. At the beginning of June 2009, we received a report on child care services for the year ending 31 December 2007. Yet again, this report confirmed their dysfunction. Until now, however, the Minister of State has defended the way in which the system has worked. I welcome that he has changed his tune today, but it must be greater.
The HSE's 2007 child care report established that 23,268 reports on child abuse, neglect and child welfare concerns were made to the HSE, but initial assessments were undertaken in only 15,074 cases. No initial assessments were undertaken in 8,194 cases. The 2007 document showed widespread discrepancies between different areas in terms of the number of children determined to be at risk pursuant to reports. No detailed explanation was given for those discrepancies.
The Irish Examiner has done a public service today by publishing the details that helped the HSE to formulate the 2007 child care report. The newspaper confirmed that social workers in the child care services have claimed they are being overwhelmed. They cannot deal with the number of reports of children at risk or carry out proper assessments. A proper out-of-hours service is necessary. They lack the back-up they require in terms of children with intellectual disability. Let us not just assume that simply because of the Ryan commission report, which addresses and reveals the horrors of the past, that no horrors of today need to be remedied.
The important element of the motion is the Government's commitment to taking steps to ensure the uniform application of the child protection guidelines. I have sought their being made statutory. In today's motion, Fine Gael would have liked a Government commitment to giving them statutory effect. However, it could not be agreed. For the first time, however, the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, has acknowledged in the House a number of important factors. While he has finally acknowledged that making the guidelines statutory needs to be considered, he should go beyond this point and ensure they become statute.
There is an urgent need to take action to ensure the discrepancies across the HSE are addressed. The Minister of State described the difficulties he faces. He has finally accepted that he has no up to date information on how our child care system is operating. He is the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for children and youth affairs. We have a Minister of State who reports to this House on child care issues who does not know how the child care service is working and has no real time information about it. It has taken him a year to admit that is the situation.
He said the situation will be remedied. He makes reference to what he referred to as the health board legacy and alluded to the fact that different computer systems are working in different areas and in some areas there are no computer systems at all. This Government has been in office for 20 of the past 22 years. It has been in office consistently for the past 12 years. It is the same Government that, in 2005, put the HSE in place.
The HSE has been operating for four years and is the body that has an obligation to protect children. It is indefensible that systems were not put in place to ensure that the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews knew how the child care service was operating. It is indefensible that, as of today, we do not know how many reports have been made to social workers about children at risk and that information is gathering dust on shelves because the resources do not exist for assessments to be undertaken.
We do not know how many children have been damaged, brutalised or sexually assaulted, or whose welfare has been irrevocably affected by the failure of our current child care system. We do not know how many children of today will be the adults of the future and the survivors of our failures today.
There is a terrible lethargy on the part of the Government in addressing these issues. There has been a denial of the reality that our system is dysfunctional. There is a denial of the reality that there is a need to radically reform and change the way it is operating. I welcome the fact an identifiable person will be appointed to be in overall charge of our child care services, but there is a need for far more radical change.
We need to get away from the corporate structure that exists so we have an holistic and sensitised structure - if that is the best way of putting it - so that if a child is in trouble or there is a need for an out-of-hours service, one does not need to go up through three, four or five managerial levels to someone who has no training in dealing with child care issues, no social work qualification and does not know the child concerned, who will then make a decision as to what is in that child's best interests.
There is a need for radical change and reform. I welcome that the Minister of State is finally realising that to some extent, but it is an indictment of this Government that is had taken the publication of the Ryan commission report for this to be acknowledged. There is a need for other changes.
Regarding children who have died in care, we know reports have been made to Government that have not been published. We must shine the light on what is wrong with our current child care services so we make the corrections that are required. The Taoiseach referred to the Ryan commission shining the light on the grievous wrongs of the past. We must shine the light on what is happening today.
I have very little time left, but I will briefly refer to two matters. David Foley, a young man of 14 years of age, sought help, wished to be taken into care and died at the age of 17, while in the care of the State. I believe a report into this case was prepared by the HSE, which has not been published and has been suppressed. A young girl, Tracey Fay, who died at the age after a fatal drug overdose, was also supposed to be in the care of the State. She was shifted from one social worker to another and was in and out of an out-of-hours service. I understand a report containing 50 recommendations was prepared on this case. It has been suppressed but should be published.
The suppressed recommendations contained in the Monageer report should be published. We have a plethora of reports detailing what is wrong with our child care services. We do not need reports, rather we need action. The victims of yesterday are entitled to reparation, recognition and justice. The children of today are entitled to the protection of the State and to know that we genuinely cherish them and want to provide them with the protection to which they are entitled.
In the context of the victims of abuse, it was suggested to me that not simply a general apology, such as has been made by the Taoiseach and his predecessor, should be delivered. Where we know the individuals and their addresses, a letter should be sent to each individual survivor by the Taoiseach on behalf of the State. It should apologise for the manner in which they were treated, ignored and abused. This would show a degree of commitment and sincerity and confirm to them personally that the State will do everything it can in the future to try to facilitate them in coming to terms with their suffering and lead reasonable lives.
Seán 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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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this significant debate. Any person who has looked at Mr. Justice Ryan's report or, more likely, has read newspaper coverage of its contents cannot fail to have been moved by the harrowing accounts of what transpired in the institutions mentioned therein. That it was the State which was responsible in many cases for referring these children to the care of these institutions makes this all the more disturbing and difficult to accept.
The Government has responded quickly to the publication of the Ryan report and the Taoiseach has sincerely apologised, and rightly so, to the victims of childhood abuse, on behalf of the Government, the State and all its citizens. No doubt there may be some, religious and lay people alike, who will regret that at the time they never spoke out or acted on what they may have known to be occurring or, indeed, suspected may have been taking place in some of these institutions. For all, there is the dawning realisation that nobody came to the rescue of these children.
The Ryan report was one of a range of measures introduced to address the abuse issue. It has 20 formal recommendations, which the Government has readily accepted. Of primary concern among these is the recommendation that the Government concede that abuse of children occurred because of systems and policy failures and because the management, administration and senior personnel who were concerned with industrial and reformatory schools were found wanting.
The Department of Education and Science, too, must accept its responsibility for failing to police these schools in a satisfactory manner. I add my own words to those of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy O'Keeffe, who extended his sincere and profound sympathy to all the victims in industrial and reformatory schools. Specifically, the State has accepted that the areas in which there were failings include funding, inspections and complaint handling, together with education and training.
Some progress in this regard has been made. An important change was introduced in September 2006, with the requirement to vet any person being appointed to a teaching position who has not been employed in the school system in the previous three years. This change also applies to other occupations that involve interaction with school children, such as special needs assistants, school bus drivers, caretakers and so on. Consideration is also being given, in conjunction with the Garda vetting unit in Tipperary, to how vetting of existing education staff working with children may be achieved.
The establishment of the Education Finance Board was also a welcome development which was initiated to provide grants to former residents and their families to avail of educational opportunities. An Origins information and tracing service has received hundreds of applications and is assisting those who left residential care unaware of the existence, or details, of any other family members. The provision of a dedicated counselling service and funding for a number of victim support groups for information and referral services for former residents, is also welcome.
The Residential Institutions Redress Board is totally independent of the Department of Education and Science. It makes its own recommendations and the State pays the recommended awards. The criteria governing the granting of awards by the redress board remains unchanged and ongoing claims will continue to be dealt with in the normal way.
The media has played an important role in highlighting the issues of concern to the victims of childhood abuse, particularly in publicising the findings of the Ryan report. I urge them to confine themselves to the issues. While it may be newsworthy to highlight individual buildings and institutions mentioned in the report, care should be taken to ensure that this does not bring unwanted publicity and attention to another innocent party. My constituency of Dublin North Central was the location of the Artane industrial school. In its enthusiasm to cover the Ryan report, some newspapers have included photographs of the Artane building as it is today. It is currently the home of a highly regarded post-primary school, St. David's Christian Brothers school, CBS. St. David's is a major secondary school in my constituency. Unfortunately, some newspapers, in taking recent photographs of the Artane industrial school have included the name of the school, St. David's CBS, in the published photographs. That brings unwanted attention and it may draw unwelcome comment from people who may not be familiar with the historical nature of the report. I have been contacted by constituents who feel aggrieved that St. David's may become inadvertently embroiled in the current controversy even though it only availed of the facility after the industrial school had long been closed. Given that the issue of institutional child abuse is such a sensitive one, it is incumbent on the media not to bring unwanted attention on other parties, be they educational or not, simply because they are currently housed in buildings which may have featured in the report. That is just a small point but an important one to put on the record.
Of equal importance is the issue of balance in dealing with the religious congregations in their totality. In the interest of balance and historical accuracy it is important to remember the good work those various religious congregations have undertaken in social, educational, medical and sporting spheres over many decades, while at the same time highlighting the horrors outlined in the Ryan report. Many of us have benefited from an education provided, in full or in part, by a religious congregation or are indebted to them for the care provided in a religious-run, medical institution. Nobody should lose sight of the valuable contribution the religious institutions have made to Irish society in many areas.
That is not to diminish in any way the horror of the abuse that went on in institutions in the care of some of those same congregations. The issue of whether the indemnity agreement can be reopened has received considerable attention. In my view the Government was correct to call on those same congregations to provide substantial additional voluntary funds in view of their moral responsibility in those matters. Some individual congregations have been forthcoming with a willingness to consider providing additional resources, and it is the Government's demand that more will follow.
The Government has highlighted the sense of shame many people feel at the findings of the report. It has agreed to consult with survivors of institutional abuse with a view to establishing a memorial to all victims, which will contain the words of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern's apology in 1999. That is a welcome step and will, I hope, help to further the healing process for the former residents, if healing is possible at all.
It also needs to be stressed that it was the Government that facilitated the establishment of the redress board and the commission's report so that former residents who wished to do so could tell their stories. The commission is to be commended on its work and the co-operation of former residents also acknowledged. With a view to the future, a number of additional measures in the area of child welfare and protection have been introduced. The national guidelines on child protection, Children First, are currently under review and it is hoped to include in that review the recommendations of the Ryan commission report. A new Minister of State with special responsibility for children and young people has been appointed, Deputy Barry Andrews. There is also now an independent system of inspection of State-run care facilities.
I wish to raise another important issue that highlights the Government's commitment to the protection of all children, namely, the publication of the national action plan to combat human trafficking. The plan is a framework of measures already implemented or areas requiring further action, and is the Government's response to tackling one of the worst crimes possible worldwide, namely, the trafficking of people, including children. With the recent focus on the care of children, following the publication of the Ryan report, it is encouraging that the plan deals with the protection of other vulnerable children. Key protection for child victims include counselling and debriefing together with a multidisciplinary assessment of each child's needs and a plan of care. The bringing to an end of the practice of accommodating children in hostels and the placing of those children with families in local communities may also prove a progressive step.
It is evident that any response to the commission report can never fully compensate victims of abuse for all the pain and suffering they have endured while in the care of those religious congregations. However, the Government has apologised for past failings and is committed to a child-centred approach to policy formulation, including robust inspection processes. It has also stated its commitment to make recompense to victims for what they have suffered. However, as evidenced by our recent past experience, it is the responsibility of all of us to be alert to the dangers that exist, and to do all in our collective powers to highlight and eliminate any possible risk to the welfare of any child.
I welcome the significant contribution made by the Taoiseach this morning. I also welcome the significant contribution made by the Minister of State with special responsibility for children and young people. We are having an excellent debate that is constructive and reflective. Such a debate is necessary at this time. I hope that following this two-day debate we can move forward and do what needs to be done, implement the recommendations and ensure that something like this never happens again.
Like other Members of the House I welcome the opportunity to speak on this report, which makes extremely painful reading for every decent man, woman and child in this country because it exposes very uncomfortable facts on an underside to life in Ireland. On my way into the House today I met with Michael O'Brien who was on "Questions and Answers" recently and some other men who were also victims of abuse in institutions in this country. Listening to their stories and reading the stories of others makes for uncomfortable and unbearable reading by any individual in this country. As a mother of young children, I believe the contents of this report to be shameful for Irish society.
I welcome the report which is a vindication of the thousands of young children, now adults, abused, ill-treated and left marked for life. Worse than this, they had nobody to whom they could tell their stories. There was nobody to listen to them. While the report is about the abuse perpetrated by the religious orders, men and women who betrayed shamelessly their vows, we must also remember that these awful things did not happen in isolation or without the knowledge of others. In rural local communities, Letterfrack, Daingean, Artane or Kilkenny local people, including doctors, the Garda, tradesmen, shopkeepers, teachers, social workers and local clergy knew what was going on. All had to know and all kept their silence.
To understand how this situation was allowed to develop we must look at the relationship between the State and the church in this country as represented by the religious institutions. That situation arose because of a policy of placing our basic educational and health services, funded by the taxpayer, under the sole control of the church. The Ryan report refers to this situation of control. It was a control which came to be unquestioned, which led to blatant abuse of power and allowed the religious institutions to behave as if they were above the law, unaccountable to anybody and, to this day, unaccountable.
In turn, the institutions were able to resist and oppose the idea of a child-centred education. Rather, children were considered intrinsically sinful; they had to be disciplined. It was an accepted belief in ordinary Catholic schools that children had to be punished. However, this reached its extremes in the institutions where defenceless children had nobody to speak for them and nobody to protect them. The end result was that the protectors became the persecutors. Sadism replaced sympathy and kindness and fear and exploitation became the norm. All of the tyranny was carried out with impunity. The perpetrators were responsible to nobody; they were untouchable.
What comes across again and again in the Ryan report is the repeated refusal of the congregations to accept collective responsibility. Even when forced to acknowledge the catalogue of wrongdoing in one institution after another, they flatly refused to make an admission. One of the main criticisms of the Ryan report is that even in recent times this continued to be the case.
The Ryan report tells us - we need to know no more than this - that the safety of children was never a priority and that "there was serious indifference to the safety of children". All of this neglect and abuse was carried out with the passive collusion of the State. Let that not be forgotten. The Ryan report states that the failure of the Department of Education to control the excesses in these institutions was an acknowledgement by the State of the ascendancy of the congregations and their ownership of the system. The deference shown by the State to the congregations was the green light for them to do as they wished without fear or stricture.
The Department knew about and ignored breaches of the code of corporal punishment. It investigated allegations of sexual abuse, confirmed them and dismissed the abusers without ever reporting the matter to the Garda. Complaints by parents to the Department of Education were ignored. Young girls were sexually abused by foster parents, holiday families, employers and visitors, and were powerless to find a listening ear.
It goes without saying that the recommendations of the Ryan report must be implemented now in full and without qualification. No child in the care of the State can ever again be put at risk, as were those who marched on the streets of Dublin yesterday. I joined that march yesterday not as a politician, but as a concerned citizen to show some solidarity with the people who suffered terribly at the hands of this State. The large number of people who turned up in support illustrated the outcry from the people of this country at this shameful experience, which is deeply regrettable. We must ensure that it never happens again.
I take this opportunity to welcome two points made by the Taoiseach this morning. He stated that he told the representatives that the needs of the survivors of abuse is the Government's number one priority at this time and that we are committed to addressing those needs and other issues that arise from the report in consultation with the representatives of the survivors. I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment that this matter will be treated as an absolute priority. Also, and this is critical, those who perpetrated crimes against survivors, regardless of how long ago or how old they are, must be made amenable to the law so that they can be held to account for their crimes. There are victims in this country aged 80 and 90 years who are still suffering the consequences of that abuse. I do not care how old the people in congregations who are guilty of this criminality are, every effort must be made to bring them to justice. We owe that to the victims and to the people of this country. What kind of society would we be if we protected these people? There is no place for them here. Every effort must be made to bring them to justice.
Most important, this file cannot be closed until the guilty are brought to trial and face the full rigours of the law for their misdeeds. Those identified in the Ryan report are not deserving of the cloak of anonymity. Having met some of the victims, it remains the case today that many of them have not had an opportunity to tell their story. They have been denied an opportunity to do so. It is a critical part of their healing that they be given an opportunity to tell their stories. I have also heard of people who, when they went before the redress board, were confronted by six barristers. I was told that in one particular case, blame was apportioned to a victim's father. It was said that the father had some role in the abuse the victim had endured in one of these institutions. That man never got an opportunity to contradict that allegation because he was not allowed to speak. We hear of claims averaging in the region of €64,000 per victim. I was told today of one man who, after 20 years and having suffered abuse in an institution, received €56,000. The people who carried out these criminal acts must be brought to justice. We owe that to the survivors, and even more important to those who did not survive but who lived and died without identity and were buried in unmarked graves and to those who endured adult years of torment and grief not because of what they did, but because of what was done to them.
I thank my colleagues for the opportunity to say a few words during this important debate.
I served as Minister at the Department of Education and Science for two and a half years, during which time I dealt with this issue and met with many of the survivors individually and in groups. At all times during my meetings with the survivors they stated their need to be believed, to get an apology and for the opportunity to tell their stories. They are the three issues which, during my time as Minister at that Department, I believed passionately needed to be done.
Painful and all as are the details of this report, I am glad Mr. Justice Ryan has delivered it in a timely fashion. I commend Mr. Justice Ryan, whom I appointed, for his work, the job done and the speed with which he completed the report without in any way lessening the chances of the victims to tell their stories. I am aware that the contents of the report have shocked and appalled everyone. The scale and extent of the systemic abuse outlined is such that it is difficult to comprehend. I know many Members of the House only heard or read of the scale of the abuse for the first time when the report was published a few weeks ago. They might now better understand why in 2002, as Minister for Education and Science, I initiated a review of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.
In March 2003, I travelled to London to meet with the survivors who resided in the UK. I was requested to do so by survivor groups in Ireland who made the point that while the Taoiseach made his apology here in Ireland, many victims lived abroad, quite a number of them in the UK. They wanted to personally hear an apology from the Government and from the State.
I spent a day in London with more than 200 survivors who told me many shocking stories which were similar to those set out in the Ryan report. This meeting convinced me that victims and survivors needed to have their stories told and publicly confirmed sooner rather than later. Many of the survivors were seriously concerned that they would be dead before they had the chance to tell their stories to the commission and, through the Ryan report, the public. The wanted to be able to face their abusers and describe to them the impact of their abuse while they were still alive.
That is why I reviewed the workings of the commission and gave it a new mandate, following consultations with survivor groups, when Mr. Justice Ryan agreed to take over from Ms Justice Laffoy. The wait for survivors would be between 11 and 15 years if we had not conducted this review. I pay tribute to Mr. Justice Ryan for his work in bringing these stories to public attention so that the victims and survivors can feel some vindication.
I benefited from a good education by the Christian Brothers. Most fair minded people would acknowledge that the vast majority of the religious who taught in our schools were not involved in this abuse. However, I was appalled at the attitude taken by the representatives of the congregations when I met them in December 2003 to request that they pay to the State the €6 million they received from their insurance companies as an ex gratia payment. I told the congregations that they had a moral obligation to hand over this money. We subsequently repeated the request twice in writing but were refused on both occasions. This underlined the official attitude of the congregations, and we have heard other stories about their treatment of victims in the context of the redress board.
We cannot and should not forget this shameful period in our history. I acknowledge the work Mr. Justice Ryan has done in bringing these stories to the public.
The matters being discussed today are without doubt the most harrowing and distressing that we have ever addressed. In speaking today I am extremely conscious of the victims of child sexual abuse and the fact that their words and stories communicate far better than I ever could the enormity of the violence and violation visited upon many of the children of this country over the years. Nonetheless I recognise that, as a Deputy, I have a responsibility to my constituents to speak on this motion. I am conscious of those who suffered at the hands of a small coterie of paedophile teachers in Laois-Offaly. I have met some of these people and I take this opportunity to commend them on their strength of spirit, courage and refusal to give up their fight for justice in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles.
We have reached a critical juncture in the governance of this State. It is now clear that as a country we grossly let down and neglected the most vulnerable. When these victims bravely came forward to tell their stories they were generally ignored or dismissed for many years. One of the most tragic aspects of the Ryan report and the litany of horrendous abuse it documents is that when these matters were brought to the attention of senior civil servants, the complaints which took so much courage to make were passed around from one section to another with a coldness and indifference that is staggering in the context of the nature of the complaint. Chapter 14 of the report, which documents years of sustained sexual abuse of young boys and the violent punishment of young boys and girls in schools in Laois-Offaly and other locations, reveals that when a brave victim sought to inform the Department of Education that a known paedophile remained on its payroll, his complaint was passed around like an unwanted gift and dismissed in turn by each official. This was the critical time at which the State and its servants, which had failed these children so monumentally, could have shown a modicum of compassion but once again the door was slammed in the victims' faces. I wholeheartedly support the widespread view that the perpetrators of the events described in the Ryan report should face criminal prosecutions. However, questions remain to be answered about the actions of the senior officials in the Department who were aware of the complaints but passed the buck or looked the other way. These Pontius Pilates also have a case to answer.
The strange attitude which the State has historically taken towards those who have suffered in its schools and other institutions persists to this day. Louise O'Keeffe, who was sexually abused by her national school principal in Cork in the 1970s, was recently pursued for costs by the State following an unsuccessful attempt to sue it on the basis of vicarious liability. It took the Supreme Court to show some humanity by refusing to award costs to the State. This vicious attitude on the part of the Government - a Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science is sitting opposite - leads it to pursue victims of child sex abuse in the courts and fight to the bitter end the beleaguered parents of autistic children who are fighting for their children's education. Moreover, it is wholly inconsistent with the attitude the State has taken in regard to religious congregations. Why was the State happy to pick up the tab for the religious congregations following a series of cosy chats between the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, his Secretary General and the representatives of the orders? When it was an almost universal view among experts that a 50:50 arrangement on indemnity would be a good deal for the religious orders, the then Minister and his Secretary General, Mr. Dennehy, agreed to pay what will amount to 90% of the costs. However, when a victim attempts to find justice in the court, the State throws the kitchen sink to win the case and crush the plaintiff. Similarly, a bank need only ask and the State coffers are opened. Compare this to the attitude taken towards abuse victims.
The State has found a convenient legal loophole regarding the management of primary schools. It has argued, and regrettably the courts have agreed, that primary schools are managed by boards of management. The Supreme Court judgment in the Louise O'Keeffe case supported the State's view that it could not be held vicariously liable for the actions of primary school employees and thus owed no duty of care to victims of paedophile teachers. Conveniently, boards of management are mainly voluntary. They have scant resources and spend a lot of time simply trying to keep the show on the road. In the meantime, the Department of Education and Science has the privilege of power without responsibility. It decides on teaching standards and the curriculum. It issues circulars laying down the law about almost every aspect of school life but when a victim such as Louise O'Keeffe appears it runs a mile and claims that the board of management is in charge. This strange arrangement is, in my view, neither moral nor sustainable. Even the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Pat Carey, referred to it recently as a cop out.
I recognise that religious congregations have done a great deal for the people of Ireland over the years but this does not mean their members have more rights than other citizens. It does not make criminals who cloak themselves in a religious mantle immune to justice nor does it sweep aside the rights of victims. It does not mean that the State should roll over for religious orders while pursuing victims like Louise O'Keeffe in the courts. There is a schizophrenia in this contradictory approach which must be addressed by this House. The State must be seen to be on the side of the citizen. However, there is little evidence that the State is truly on the side of citizens or even victims. Fundamental change is needed in the attitude of all relevant players, namely, the Government, civil servants, political servants and politicians, towards the people of this State and the individuals who have suffered such injustice.
Lip-service and window dressing are not enough. We must move away from the traditional notion that allegations are easy to make and difficult to prove or that those who complain are troublemakers. Such attitudes are relics of an old Ireland where voiceless children were beaten and abused by those thought to have been above reproach while the rest of the nation, its Government and citizenry turned a blind eye.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a particular interest in Chapter 14 of the Ryan report which refers to an individual who visited a reign of terror upon children in his care over a 40 year period; "John Brander" is the name he is given in the report. This depraved paedophile left the Christian Brothers at the request of his superiors in the 1950s following at least three complaints of sexual abuse of young boys. As the Ryan report points out, "by this means, Br Brander was able to leave the Congregation apparently of his own volition and with an unblemished teaching record". This reprehensible individual moved from school to school, including several in my own constituency, terrorising children, sexually abusing boys and beating the small children of both genders in his care to a vicious and depraved degree. All the while, he sycophantically buttered up his colleagues, superiors and neighbours. He cultivated power in the local community. After a reign of terror in a school, he would eventually move when the tide of complaints by the parents became too much and he would always be given a glowing reference despite the litany of complaints and a number of investigations.
It took until the 1990s before this man was prosecuted. For 40 years he did as he pleased in school after school throughout the midlands. Investigations have shown that the bulk of the abuse perpetrated in general was not known to the Department of Education and Science. However, the case of John Brander was brought to the attention of the Department as early as 1965 and again in the early 1980s when one of his victims made sustained attempts to alert officials at the Department to the danger this man posed to children.
The Ryan report documents a complaint made by the mother of a child in Rath national school, Ballybrittas, in 1965 where she drew attention to excessive use of corporal punishment including beatings around the head sustained by her young children. This enlightened woman also included the name and address of the local doctor. Her complaint was forwarded to the parish priest and a request was made for a written report from Mr. Brander on the matter. The parish priest replied with a staunch defence of Mr. Brander whose own report on the matter was so condescending that this alone should have set alarm bells ringing in the Department. He referred to the fact that the mother would be interested in the punishment meted out to her children as "typical of the atmosphere of that house" and claims that bruises were the likely result of vigorous football. Nonetheless the Department sent an inspector to the school and in what smacks of an old boys' network the inspector concluded that the complaint should not be taken seriously despite an acknowledgement by Mr. Brander that he was hot-tempered and the Department's own guidelines which directed that corporal punishment should only be administered for a "grave transgression".
Mr. Brander worked for two years in Rath before continuing the abuse of young children at Walsh Island school in County Offaly. In that school severe physical and sexual abuse was a daily occurrence for the pupils for more than three years. Eventually some parents approached the Garda, much to the consternation of the parish priest who indicated that he would have preferred to deal with the matter quietly himself; that is, one assumes, in the manner in which all other complaints about Mr. Brander had been dealt with.
A victim of Mr. Brander identified in the report as "Mr. Rothe" contacted the Department in the early 1980s. Initially he briefed an acquaintance who was a Department national school inspector about his concerns. The inspector took no action. Despite concern that complaining would adversely affect his own position, the victim took the brave step of writing formally to the Department warning them that Mr. Brander, who was at that time teaching in Tullamore, was a danger to young children. This letter was passed from Billy to Jack in the Department of Education and Science with nobody willing to follow up on its serious content.
Departmental memoranda from various officials referred in strangely detached terms to Mr. Brander's status as a recognised teacher and examined the issue from a salary aspect. However, it noted, "Presumably Primary Branch have a file about the alleged misbehaviour in a primary school on this teacher's part." A later memorandum quoted in the Ryan report stated that there was not much point in proceeding with the matter and ended by questioning whether it was correct to rake up the past. Noting that the inspection reports relating to Brander were positive, Department officials again decided to take no action. The exchange of memoranda by Department officials at this juncture is shameful. The pass the parcel and turn a blind eye attitude that has been so well documented with regard to the Catholic church was also endemic in the Department of Education and Science. Those involved bear a heavy burden on their consciences.
The bizarre disappearance of letters from the file and the reappearance of information relating to Mr. Brander is a matter about which I am extremely concerned. In 1997, the Department of Education and Science informed the Garda that no complaints had been made about Brander when he was there. A spokesman for the Department told the media that there was no record of any complaint against Brander. I knew this was untrue and sought an Adjournment debate here ten years ago and wrote to the then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, in respect of the matter. This led the Minister to admit rather belatedly that a complaint did exist. He cited a mistake by the civil servant in question as the reason the complaint of Mr. Rothe was not identified in the initial response to my Dáil Adjournment matter in 1998. There was no mention of the complaint made by the Rath mother in the 1960s. That never appeared until the Ryan report was published.
Who in the Department of Education and Science was removing information from the files of alleged paedophiles? How did this information miraculously reappear at the bitter end? This is very serious and sinister and I want answers from the Minister for Education and Science on how this could happen and what investigation was carried out to identify how this information could disappear and reappear without explanation and how this House could be misled. This did not happen in the 1950 and 1960s; it happened when I was a Member of this House. I raised the matter with the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Micheál Martin, and spoke to the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, personally about the issue. The victims of Mr. Brander are looking for answers about what happened to these complaints and that is the very least they are owed at this point in time.
The victims of Mr. Brander are included in the report yet they are excluded from the redress scheme. The litany of abuse detailed in Chapter 14 highlights how wrong it is to ignore those who suffered abuse in primary schools who were not in full-time residential care. The State cannot persist in washing its hands of responsibility for the abuse that was perpetrated by teachers on its payroll. The approach to victims of abuse in primary schools must be changed and we need legislative change in this area to close the legal loophole that is allowing the Department of Education and Science to shirk its responsibilities on a daily basis.
In the few minutes available to me I have concentrated on the Brander issue but as Deputy Shatter mentioned, the children of this country are owed more than a Dáil debate and hand wringing by the powers that be. If the Government truly cares about child welfare and is truly sorry for the crimes perpetrated against vulnerable children in the past it will take concrete steps now to save today's children from a fate of neglect and abuse. Today in my constituency there are 30 foster children with no care plan or assistance. I commend the bravery of abuse victims who have told their stories. Our thoughts are with them but that is not sufficient because our thoughts should inform policy and decision-making for the children of this nation now and in the future.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important debate and I thank my party leader, Deputy Enda Kenny, for proposing that the House debate an agreed motion on the Ryan report and I welcome the fact that all parties supported that call.
The publication of the Ryan report represents something of a watershed for Irish society. For the thousands of victims over many decades it represents the first time that they heard the Irish nation speak with one voice to say, "we believe you". All of us agree that it should never have taken so long for that to happen but we welcome that it has belatedly happened. In my ten years in politics at local and national level I have met many victims of institutional abuse and abuse in day schools. Each person has bravely told a devastating and compelling account of how he or she was treated at the hands of those in whose care he or she was entrusted. Each person has had his or life affected in various ways; some people's lives have been shattered forever. An expert on bullying told an Oireachtas committee that it takes three generations for the effects of bullying to cease to have an effect on the family of the original victim. I am not an expert in this area but I can only question how many generations will continue to be affected by the appalling abuse perpetrated on innocent and mostly young lives.
The Ryan report, in examining abuse under its many different guises and headings, at last acknowledges our shameful past. The real tragedy is reflected in the fact that Mr. Justice Ryan mentioned that simple gestures of kindness were vividly recalled. Perhaps many of us can contrast this with childhoods filled with kindness where a tiny unkindness is what is remembered because it was so far from the norm. For many of these victims the kindness is remembered because it was something unexpected and totally out of the ordinary in their lives.
This report is a litany of horror and abuse - physical, emotional, sexual - neglect, constant hunger, cold and fear. All this terror was suffered simply because one was poor, one's mother died or one had committed some small misdemeanour.
The rules and regulations governing the use of corporal punishment were disregarded with the knowledge of the Department of Education. The harshness of the regime was inculcated into the culture of the schools by successive generations of brothers, priests and nuns and ignored by successive Department inspectors. For girls, corporal punishment was pervasive, severe, arbitrary and unpredictable. While the level varied among schools, almost all institutions used fear as punishment and as a means of discipline, and it was administered in a way calculated to increase the anguish and humiliation for girls.
The report's findings on sexual abuse make horrific reading. It is clear it was endemic in boys' institutions. While not endemic in girls' institutions the children were nonetheless subjected to predatory sex abuse by male employees, visitors and people in outside placements. What is most disturbing about the sexual abuse in boys' institutions is the fact that cases were managed not with a view to supporting the victim and punishing the perpetrator but to minimise the risk of public disclosure and save damage to the reputation of the institutions and congregations. In other words, they protected the perpetrator and their own institution at all costs. It is clear they knew sexual abuse was wrong because the report finds that when lay people were found to have sexually abused they were generally reported to the gardaí, yet when one of their own was found to be abusing, a different standard applied. It must be acknowledged that there is no excuse. Even then, sexual abuse, as it is now, was a criminal offence.
It seems the only real response by the congregations to sexual abuse was to move the offender to a new location which, far from being a punishment, simply provided him with a new group of children to terrorise. The documents prove they long understood the issue of recidivism. At all times the reputation of the congregation and the institution took precedence over the safety, welfare and dignity of children. In some cases - I will deal with this aspect later - offenders were not only transferred but were released from their vows and facilitated to work as lay teachers. They were permitted to take dispensation rather than be dismissed by the order.
Emotional abuse was clearly a way of life. There was no getting away from it, and it was bred into the institutions from the beginning. Chapter 15 on St. Conleth's reformatory school in Daingean proves that. Its establishment in Daingean caused considerable debate at the time because it involved moving more than 200 boys 60 miles to a building that the then Minister for Education described as "in such a bad state of repair it is very doubtful whether the present building can be brought up to a satisfactory standard". Concerns about the distances families would have to travel show clearly the lack of concern for the emotional development of children, with one priest contending that it would have the advantage of preventing undesirable visits and that parents would not mind travelling by buy from Dublin occasionally.
I raise a particular issue of concern to many victims and refer also to the Taoiseach's contribution earlier. Mr. Justice Ryan makes clear in his report that St. Conleth's was different from all the other institutions inquired into by the commission. It was a reformatory, and most of those in reformatories had been convicted by the courts of criminal offences. The premises were entirely unsuitable and the lack of any real education denied these young men basic opportunities. Minor offences that could otherwise have been dealt with resulted not only in being sent to a reformatory but in having almost every basic human right stolen.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in the Chamber and he might be able to deal with that issue, but in his contribution earlier the Taoiseach stated that it is "now the law of the land, beyond any doubt, that no criminal record exists in such cases, nor in the case of those who were convicted and committed to a reformatory". I would have liked to see that fact reflected in the motion. The motion refers only to industrial schools, not reformatories, and I believe the Taoiseach's comments must be clarified to ensure that reformatories are included. No crime - serious or petty - deserved the life sentence inflicted on those children. The State must contact every person involved, and in cases where they have died, their family should be contacted and it should be given to them in writing that no criminal records exist.
The real horror of all this is the fact that it is not something in our ancient past but something that is up to date and shows the reaction of our religious congregations when they further perpetrated hurt and pain their predecessors had committed by failing to revisit the deal.
The original deal was bad for everyone - the taxpayer, the victims, the Government who made the deal and the orders who did not take the opportunity to face up to their responsibility and the shame of their past. The failure to respond adequately in 2002, and having to be forced by public opinion to respond now with a belated attempt at redress, is shameful. Like many others, my experience of many religious has been positive. I know many who are hurt deeply by the pain their colleagues have caused, but living up to that, meeting their obligations and paying the debt due to these victims now may in some way help to heal the pain for everyone involved.
I wish I could call the Ryan report the final chapter on abuse in Ireland. Only the victims have a right to say when the book is closed but for me it cannot be closed yet. This report deals with institutional abuse and, as Deputy Flanagan outlined, abuse in day schools but the redress board has not been permitted by the State to go down that road. That must be addressed. I made that point in 2003 when we debated changes to the relevant legislation. I tried on that occasion, and many times previously and since in the House, to convince the Government of the importance of giving the victims of day school the same opportunity as has been given to those in residential care but always met the argument about the State not being in loco parentis to children in schools. I fail to understand how the impact of rape or any type of abuse is in any way lessened because one goes home to one's own family afterwards.
Those children suffered just as despicable a violation of their innocence. They faced the same concrete wall of having no one to tell, a society that protected the abuser and not the victim, and living with the shame that they were too young to know. That should rest with the abuser and not with them. Until this chapter is written and these stories are not only told but acknowledged, we cannot fully learn from the past or try to move on.
I give an example that highlights the importance of dealing with this now, once and for all. Deputy Flanagan has dealt with this issue also. I refer to the case of Donal Dunne whom I have named in this House previously and see no reason not to name him now. He taught in Marino, Mullingar and James's Street, Dublin, as a Christian Brother until 1957. Following that he left the Christian Brothers and taught in Lanesboro, Ballyfermot, Rath, in Laois, and Walsh Island, in Offaly. He then taught at second level in Castlecomer in Kilkenny and in the Sacred Heart in Tullamore. The man was able to move freely from school to school even when allegations had been made. He was eventually convicted on sample charges. However, the background and his ability to move from place to place has only now been adequately investigated.
One of his victims sent a detailed letter of complaint to the then Minister for Education in 1982. In the same year Deputies Michael Keating and John Boland questioned the Government on this issue. Twenty-seven years on no redress or compensation has been made to any of the victims of Donal Dunne.
In 2003 I raised in Private Members' business in the Dáil the need to introduce a system for vetting, which I appreciate has been put in place but we have yet to deal with the issue of soft information, despite a recommendation from a committee. It is a fact that nothing had been proven against Donal Dunne at the time he was moving from school to school. There is the issue of the allegations having been made but even with those and the Garda investigations, unless we move on the issue of soft information that could happen again.
In reiterating our apology as a State and as citizens of the State, we must facilitate the writing of this final chapter. I urge the Government to allow that to happen. If we are ever to make Irish society a safe place for children, we must take a long, hard look at how we proceed. If we had proper vetting with soft information, a referendum on children's rights, a proper functioning social work service that operates on a 24 hour, seven days a week basis and not from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., a system that responds to special needs rather than putting them into pigeon holes, and a Department of Education and Science that has real responsibility for what happens in our schools, we might then be able to move on.
I join with previous speakers in acknowledging the courage of many individuals who came forward to tell their stories and who are responsible for this report. I refer to people like Mary Norris, who was institutionalised with her sisters and brothers because her widowed mother formed a relationship with a local man. People like her had the courage to come forward and reveal to us the system that destroyed their lives.
This report represents a darker side of Irish life which many people in authority knew existed but decided to ignore. Within the institutions there was a culture of silence and outside them there was a culture of indifference. In most cases the children were placed in these institutions because of unfortunate family circumstances and, through no fault of their own, were subject to, in the words of Cardinal Brady, "a shameful catalogue of cruelty: neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, perpetrated against children" in the name of Jesus Christ. Their plight was ignored by those responsible for their welfare such as the Departments of Education, Health, Justice and society in general. The report shows clearly, as many speakers have stated, that sexual abuse was endemic especially in boys institutions. As Deputy Enright noted, the report states that perpetrators of abuse were able to operate undetected for long periods at the core of institutions. Cases of sexual abuse were managed with a view to minimising the risk of public disclosure and consequent damage to the institution and the congregation. This policy resulted in the protection of the perpetrator.
The House and the country will be judged by the way in which we respond to the report. Although there are recommendations in the report, I would prefer if they were stronger. However, if we implement the recommendations suggested, we will have made some progress and, at least, we could say to the people who have endured such hurt and pain that we were responsible for changing the system, opening up the entire issue to the public and ensuring the same does not happen to others. The recommendations are fairly comprehensive in general and the recommendation on independent inspections is essential. However, I see no reference to a greater inter-agency, cross-departmental approach. Child care is not simply the responsibility of the HSE alone, but that of many Departments and there must be more of an inter-agency cross-departmental approach. I recall the former Minister of State, Mr. Austin Currie, was assigned roles related to several Departments to co-ordinate this approach.
A very comprehensive overview and review of child care services throughout the country was published today in The Irish Examiner by Jennifer Hough, who obviously went to immense trouble to put it together and it is worth examining. In County Kerry there are remarkable gaps in the provision of child care services and it is no wonder, apart from this discussion concerning our institutions, that gaps remain. If we are to be really committed to our children, we must consider the gaps throughout the country in protection services, foster care, residential care, including high support, and in search and reunion services.
An individual admitted to an institution in Tralee some 70 years ago is trying to trace her family. She has made remarkable efforts to trace her family and relatives. She was born in Tralee but is unable to make any progress because she cannot get information from either the religious orders, the HSE or any other source. Such cases and those of others placed in institutions should be reviewed and every effort should be made to facilitate these people in tracking their families. They should be helped in every possible way.
As with other speakers, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the report. I congratulate Mr. Justice Ryan on the report, which is most comprehensive, laid out in very simple language and accessible for all people. Everyone in the country should read the report, as there is a message for everyone. It should be distributed throughout the education system and should be made accessible to anyone who wishes to read it because there is a lesson here for all of us.
I pay tribute to the report, prepared by Mr. Justice Ryan, on the work of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. His report lays bare the full horrors faced by those committed to the institutions in question. Most important, his report is an official and incontrovertible statement of confirmation of the pain and suffering endured by so many children whose stories have up to recently either not being listened to or believed.
Along with the Taoiseach and other Ministers, I met with the survivors last week and it was a harrowing experience to listen to their accounts. It is deeply shameful for us that the abuse on the scale documented by the commission report took place in our country and that for so long it was not confronted. The State failed in its duty to protect the children involved causing untold harm and grief to them, their parents and families.
In the time available to me I will refer to two issues particular to my Department. One relates to the recommendation in the report that the lessons of the past should be learned such that steps can be taken to reduce the risk of repeating them. Before touching on this aspect, I first refer to another issue that continues to be a cause of some concern to survivors, that is, the question of the possibility that they may have criminal records. It is a question that has given rise to real fears and the fact that it continues to be raised can reinforce those fears. It cannot be denied that children committed to industrial schools were often treated in a manner similar to criminals, indeed possibly worse. As the Ryan report states, "Children were committed by the courts using procedures with the trappings of the criminal law".
There was a perception held by many that industrial schools were simply prisons for children. The records kept by some of the religious institutions and the way children were treated certainly add to that perception. It is not surprising, therefore, that many survivors went away with the view that they had a criminal record hanging over them. Let me be categorical and unambiguous: the State and our system of law does not regard any child committed to an industrial school as a criminal or as has having a criminal record. All the relevant State agencies have been instructed of this and if any individual encounters a problem he or she should draw it to the attention of my Department and it will be dealt with.
It does, absolutely. I take this opportunity to clarify this point of law. Many well-meaning individuals have made different suggestions to address this concern. However, if we are not careful, rather than solving the issue we may add to the problem and reinforce the perception that these children had criminal records.
The majority of children committed to industrial schools were committed by the District Court under section 58(1) of the Children Act 1908. The provision allowed any person to bring a child before the District Court to have that child committed to an industrial school on the basis the child was found begging, was homeless, had parents who did not exercise proper care, was destitute or was associating with criminals or prostitutes. In practice the applications for such committals were most frequently made by the ISPCC, the Garda, school attendance officers, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, parish priests etc.
If the court decided to send the child to an industrial school, an order of detention in a certified school would be made out and signed by the Judge of the District Court. A record of that fact would be made by a handwritten entry in the court minute book. There was no criminal conviction. In most cases the Garda would not even have been aware of the decision. There are no central records kept by the State of these court orders. The entry in the court minute book would be just one of many other entries, such as liquor licence applications and so on, on the page recording the business of the District Court on the day in question.
The question of a pardon or amnesty has been raised on occasion. Immediately following the publication of the Ryan report, I asked the Attorney General to examine this issue. A pardon can apply only if a person has a criminal conviction recorded against him or her. Reference to pardons may serve to reinforce the perception that these innocent children were convicted of some crime.
The question of erasure of records has also been raised. As I have explained, there are no criminal records. The non-criminal records in the court minute books are not organised in any way that the relevant entries can be easily identified. In any event, I would be extremely cautious about destroying official records for both historical and practical reasons. Destroying these records might well be viewed as vandalism by future generations and an attempt to air-brush out a shameful aspect of our history. However, there may be individuals who wish for their records to be erased and destroyed and the matter is something we are prepared to examine on an individual basis. On a more practical level, destroying such records might undermine efforts by survivors who wish to take legal actions or simply to research what happened to them.
We examined the relevant legislation currently going through the Dáil and even in the case of spent criminal convictions, the actual records are not destroyed. Instead provision is made that the person shall be treated for all purposes as a person who was not convicted and when a query is made about a person's criminal record, it is treated as if there was never a criminal record. The State has already tried to give reassurance on this point. Section 35 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 was introduced by the Minister for Education and Children and provides that for the avoidance of doubt, a person who was detained in an industrial school as a child in circumstances where no criminal offence was committed by him or her, is not to be regarded as having a criminal record.
As a footnote to the question of industrial schools, in certain cases a judge could decide to divert a child away from the criminal justice system to an industrial school. Our understanding is that this power was used sparingly but we do not have any concrete figures because no central records were kept. Under the 1908 Act, a child charged with a criminal offence could only be committed to an industrial school if he or she was under the age of 12 or if he or she was 12 to 14, it was their first offence and there were special circumstances. However if this procedure was availed of, it was on the basis that the charge was proved but that no conviction was recorded.
With regard to reformatory schools, children sent to industrial schools were not criminals and had no criminal convictions recorded against them. However, a number of children between the ages of 12 and 16 were charged with criminal offences and on conviction were sent to a reformatory school. For most boys this meant Daingean. The Ryan report makes clear that there were abuses committed there. However, I would emphasise that we are concerned here with a much smaller group of children. For example, in 1956 there were 4,925 children in industrial schools but only 172 children in reformatory schools. These children in the reformatory schools had a criminal conviction recorded against them. These criminal convictions could have continued to haunt these people until the Children Act 2001. Section 258 of that Act provides that any person convicted of an offence while a child shall be treated for all purposes in law as a person who has not been charged or found guilty of the offence provided he or she has not re-offended within a three-year period after the conviction. This does not apply to persons who are charged in the Central Criminal Court with murder or rape.
Officials of my Department gave evidence to the Ryan commission on the question of criminal records and to the best of my knowledge, the Ryan report does not make any recommendation for the introduction of any new measures to address this issue. However, the Government is conscious that individual survivors may still have concerns and as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I am open to considering any proposal from individual survivors or from a survivors' organisation that might provide comfort to such individuals. If an individual wishes to have confirmation that he or she does not have a criminal record, this can be provided and is provided for in the existing legislation.
The Ryan report emphasises that the lessons of the past should be learned and in particular there has to be an acknowledgement of the fact that the system failed the children, not just that children were abused as a result of occasional lapses. While practices changed significantly after the Kennedy report in the 1970s, the legal and institutional framework remained unchanged for some time. It was only with the enactment of the Children Act 2001 that the old legal framework in place since before the foundation of the State was replaced by comprehensive modern legislation. One of the fundamental principles of the Children Act 2001 is that the use of detention for a child is to be a last resort.
More recently, the Government decided in 2007 that responsibility for young offenders should rest with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Up to then and during the period dealt with by the Ryan commission, the Department of Education had responsibility for providing residential schools for offenders under the age of 16 years. However other aspects of dealing with young offenders fell to the Department of Justice and this led to difficulties.
The Irish Youth Justice Service has been now been established as an executive office of my Department to provide one central point with overall responsibility for all aspects of youth justice. This has proved an important institutional reform and ensures that there is no confusion as to responsibility for the criminal justice aspects of dealing with young people. The service now has responsibility for running the four residential schools for young offenders. These schools have been subject to inspection by HIQA providing an independent oversight of these schools.
I refer to the motion before the House. We can never undo the damage that has been done. However, it is important that we fully acknowledge what did happen. We must accept our responsibility and do everything in our power to address the concerns of the survivors and ensure that the dreadful abuses inflicted upon them are never inflicted on a new generation of children. The motion before us makes clear what action is required. We have to implement all the recommendations of the Ryan report but we must also call upon the congregations concerned to make full and transparent disclosure of their assets and to make a further substantial contribution that can be used for the support of victims. It is important that the Oireachtas speaks with one voice on this issue and the motion before us today offers the opportunity to do so.
The content of the Ryan report chills me to the core. It challenges our beliefs and our views of history. It forces us to rethink our relationship with the church and our relationship with the State. It should make us humble and it remind us of our awesome responsibility to discharge duties to the children of the State.
On reading through aspects of the report, almost every second line makes the hairs on the back of one's neck stand up. Few things in politics chill one to the core but this report does. I refer to the experience of those who reported sexual abuse in institutions and the way in which these people were treated. The fact that those who had that awesome responsibility towards children treated those children who disclosed sexual abuse with disbelief and further abuse is one of the most chilling revelations in the report. Female witnesses describe at times being told they were responsible for the sexual abuse they experienced and this could only have caused greater psychological scars on the abused.
A second aspect of the report I found disturbing was the way in which the Christian Brothers in particular talked about retiring from the world and that there was a strong ideological wish to retire from the world and not to maintain any intercourse with externs without permission from their immediate superior. Brothers were not allowed to read newspapers, listen to the radio, visit friends or attend outside functions or sporting events without express permission. Walks had to be taken in the company of at least one other brother. This social seclusion and wish to push the world away must have been one of the most dangerous aspects of what went on in those institutions.
It is interesting to note that correspondence from lay people, particularly containing complaint or criticism, was treated with suspicion and hostility, thus perpetuating the problems within those institutions. Another aspect of the Christian Brothers' treatment was the attitude of the brothers towards women. The report shows that conversation with mothers or female friends of the children was to be kept to the minimum. One consequence of this was that the Christian Brothers' institutions became all-male worlds and this is a very dangerous place to retreat into. Numerous witnesses gave evidence to the investigation commission about the problems caused by the lack of female involvement in the day-to-day operation of the schools. The lack of this interaction with females was central and at the heart of the problem.
This should make us think again about our current education system where a significant section of secondary education is still segregated by sex. We should thing again about same-sex schools and I believe we should push more strongly for the integration of male and female, of boys and girls in schools as there are many positive benefits.
Another aspect of the report was the reference to modesty and silence within the institutions. The subdued tone within these institutions is an aspect of the institutional life that comes up repeatedly in books and films about that time. Whatever the effects are of silence among adults, I can only imagine that children must have emerged from these institutions deeply traumatised by the push towards maintaining silence at many times during the day. There was silence during meal times into the 1950s and many recall there was a general rule of silence when moving through the buildings, in the dormitories and at night. The natural tendency of children is to communicate, to talk and chatter, to laugh and cry. To have that denied within an institution must have traumatised brutally the most vulnerable in society.
From meeting those who have been abused, whether on the streets or at the door, or, most recently, meeting people who simply come up to talk about their experiences, in my 18 years in public life I have never met people so traumatised as those who suffered abuse in institutions. I remember such meetings as long ago as the early 1990s, and within the past two weeks a man came up to me outside the Blackrock Shopping Centre. The lives of these people have been destroyed by the treatment they received through the neglect of the State and the effects of the religious institutions. That can only be a call for all of us to effect significant change and ensure that we provide the best possible protection to the vulnerable in society. That silence was intimidating and left those people in great danger.
Looking on and reflecting on institutions of the present day in Ireland, some of the largest of these are hospitals, both regular and psychiatric. We must think very carefully about the record-keeping within these institutions. We should think very carefully about how we treat the vulnerable today and whether what is talked and written about in these reports is something of the past. We should look again at the systems we have in place to address the needs of the most vulnerable in society. I am not convinced, particularly regarding the treatment of those who suffer from psychiatric illness, that we are doing enough to deal with the strong needs of those individuals.
This is a call for action. The recommendations are spelt out in detail and I believe there can be no excuse for inaction on moving swiftly to deal with what is in the report. Society can only benefit from all of that.
What I found disturbing in the report was the role of legal teams which acted on behalf of orders and institutions in denying aspects of earlier reports and there is a question there for the legal profession. It must reflect on the considerable amount of work that legal teams did to try to refute what was patently obvious, namely, that the State and the religious orders had failed deeply the most vulnerable in society. When one looks at the response of the Christian Brothers to the Mazars' report, there seems to be a very great weight of legal action to defuse, refute and destroy the facts that were staring us in the face.
I welcome the motion and trust that we will move quickly to take action on the recommendations.
In the short time available to me I wish to associate myself fully with the agreed motion on this dreadful and horrific history of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect perpetrated on children of this republic for almost 50 years. I welcome the attendance in the House today of representatives of survivors and join with the people of this country in offering my personal solidarity and support to them. I sincerely hope that this debate and the actions to flow from it will help in some small way to alleviate their pain.
The Ryan report presents us with a litany of abuse of the most helpless and vulnerable children in our country by those entrusted with their care. It will take many years to absorb fully the horror contained therein and I hope we will return repeatedly to its contents to remind ourselves how easy it was for power, absolute power, to be used as an instrument of unadulterated evil.
There are so many questions in my mind as I read even the executive summary of the Ryan report. In the case of the savage and grotesque litany of sexual abuse and depravity inflicted as a matter of course on so many children, we must ask and answer one fundamental question, as a matter of urgency. Why was it that those men and women entrusted with the care of innocent and vulnerable children, who proclaimed themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ, could become agents of unspeakable depravity towards those same children? Was it the case that religious life, with its power and authority, became a refuge for people with predatory sexual instincts, or was it that a life of compulsory celibacy led to the development of such instincts in some of these people? The answer to this question should inform the church authority's planning to prevent such atrocities ever occurring again.
I predict this question will arise again, even more forcefully, when the report on the Dublin archdiocese is published in the near future. I believe this report will shock us to the core all over again and will lead many Catholics to question in a very deep way whether the institutional church has betrayed the core values it hoped to espouse.
I endorse today's agreed motion and sincerely hope it will mark a significant turning point in the lives of the survivors of institutional abuse in this republic.
I commend the Taoiseach on his speech today and hope the recommendations in it, those in the report and the recommendations of the victims are followed.
How could our institutions - the State, the various Departments, the legal system, gardaí, judges and other institutions such as the religious orders - have failed so appallingly? As a teacher of history, I have taught about the Reign of Terror, the Holocaust and the killing fields of Cambodia. Now the history books will include chapters on our reign of terror, which was the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children. As a teacher, I know what it means for a child to feel welcome in a school, to get the praise, the kind words and the encouragement. I know the difference that positive affirmation makes and how children learn and grow in that type of environment. However, the experiences of these children were all negative and hurtful. They suffered. That pain and anger have been very evident, particularly yesterday at the march.
Different types of help are needed. First, I find it offensive that the word "deal" can be used when talking about help. I feel also that when help is monetary it must not be swallowed up in bureaucracy or in legal fees.
I wish to mention a group of abused who do not wish to hear any more stories in the media because this is hurting them too much. They need a different type of help. As somebody who chaired the north inner-city drugs task force, I was constantly aware that those who were abused may turn to alcohol and drugs. I knew about the effects on their families as well as the other devastating effects of their having been institutionalised. Yeats wrote about a childish day being turned to tragedy. How many childish days were turned to tragedy in those years?
This is not a time for rhetoric, posturing or one-upmanship. This is a time for peace for those who have been hurt. However, they cannot have peace without justice and, therefore, I endorse the agreed motion.
I thank the Leas Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on the Ryan report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. This is a horrific report. When one reads chapter 7, particularly paragraphs 7312 to 73458 on sexual abuse, chapters 13 and 14, and, in volume II, chapters 1, 2 and 3, the evidence and facts contained therein speak for themselves. It was hell for these young boys and girls and it made my blood boil to see the nightmare of child sexual abuse.
I have friends who were abused and have met many others who were abused over the years. I am annoyed that even this week the State let them down by delaying the debate in the Dáil. Many of the survivors were hurt further by this. It is up to all Deputies to ensure the survivors get truth, justice, compassion and, above all, practical support. We owe it to the victims and survivors, and to future generations of children, to ensure they are protected with proper safeguards and support. Today in the House, I met Paddy Doyle and some other survivors. I now pledge them my total support. I welcome the statement made by the Taoiseach in the House and welcome the fact he met the survivors here face to face.
A particular aspect to the child abuse debate is the abuse of children with a disability. Page 14 of the executive summary deals with special needs and describes clearly the nightmare of these young children. Children with a learning disability, physical and sensory impairments, and children who had no family contact were especially vulnerable in institutional settings. They described being powerless against adults who abused them, especially when those adults were in a position of authority and trust. Impaired mobility and communication deficits made it impossible to inform others of the abuse or to resist it. Children who were unable to hear, see, speak, move or adequately express themselves were at a complete disadvantage in environments that did not recognise or facilitate their right to be heard.
Chapter 11 and sections of Chapters 13 to 18 of the report deal with the effect of abuse on people in later life. The confidential committee heard evidence both on childhood abuse and the continued effects of such abuse on witnesses. The enduring impact of childhood abuse was described by many witnesses who, while reporting that as adults they enjoyed good relationships and successful careers, had learned to live with their traumatic memories. Many other witnesses reported that their adult lives were blighted by childhood memories of fear and abuse. They gave accounts of troubled relationships and loss of contact with their siblings and extended families. Witnesses described parenting difficulties, ranging from being over protective to being harsh, and also commented on different issues related to child abuse. Approximately half of the witnesses have attended counselling services, either currently or in the past. Witnesses also described lives marked by poverty, social isolation, alcoholism, mental illness, sleep disturbance, aggressive behaviour and self harm. Approximately 30% of the witnesses described ongoing mental health concerns, suicidal behaviour, depression, alcohol and substance abuse and eating disorders, which require treatment - including psychiatric admission, medication and counselling. These are the realities for people who were abused.
On a more positive note, it is refreshing that in recent days we have seen some of the survivors and victims elected to Dublin City Council. I refer in particular to Councillor Damian O'Farrell, an independent councillor in my area, and to Councillor Mannix Flynn. It is refreshing that the survivors of abuse now have two voices on Dublin City Council and in City Hall. It is great that people here support them. It is important that people who lived through that bad experience have had massive public support to get elected to Dublin City Council. I commend both Damian O'Farrell and Mannix Flynn on their bravery in going forward, entering public life and declaring the background to their issues.
I give my commitment and support to all the survivors and victims of child sexual abuse. I say to them that the Independent Deputies of this House will give them their full support.
It is just about ten years since the three programmes that made up "States of Fear" appeared on television. When those programmes were broadcast, the reaction was entirely different from what we are witnessing this week in terms of the Ryan report. Much of the reaction then was to assemble the forces that had so successfully denied every assertion of abuse for decades. One could go back further. When the Kennedy report appeared, a special conference was held at which those who were involved in running the institutions where perpetrators lived and were sheltered decided they had been treated unfairly. It was said the Irish public had been insufficiently grateful to them for all they had contributed to society.
Therefore, there is something new about the universal apology that is appearing this week. It is of the utmost importance that the occasion of this debate should not be used as an opportunity for further evasion, an evasion that has been unjust and immoral and, if it were to happen again, would be a degradation of the parliamentary process.
It is interesting what has happened in the decades in between as the facts of the abuses in different institutions came out. It did not stop religious orders going to the market with their land. It did not stop an order, for example, from exhuming the bodies of 133 Magdalen women in order to clear the ground for it to be sold on the market because the order had lost money investing in shares in GPA. That information is included in the book "Suffer the Little Children".
It is time for us to recognise the necessity of what exists in the historical record. We need a clear acceptance by all sides of the House of the importance of the record being set straight with regard to the opportunities that existed but to which no response was made. Reference has been made to Mannix Flynn. I do not recall an all-party consensus motion following the publication of his book "Nothing to Say". I do not recall conservative politicians in this House, when they saw Patrick Galvin's "Song for a Raggy Boy", saying it was scandalous that should have happened. Even today, the universal apology is in danger of being diluted so thinly that it serves as a mask for something else.
What kind of assumptions create the notion that the body is sinful and that those who are celibate are uniquely better for caring for children than married people? Where do such assumptions lie as an assertion of an authoritarian religion that can defeat spirituality itself? We are not as far as discussing that yet, because of the abuse of authority and the notion that those in authority protect themselves at all costs. The first reaction is to protect the authoritarian abuse, then the property, then with hours or days left, when it is dragged out, the apology becomes available.
I am not conned by that, because 40 years ago next week I stood for election for the first time as a young person in my late 20s. In every election since, I have always been aware of the possibility of being accused of being simply anti-church. It is no credit to the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, that just last week he was at it again, saying that those who wanted to revisit the proper contribution the religious orders should make were, somehow or another, anti-Catholic. Shame on him. That is a disgraceful suggestion to make.
Frankly, there is nothing new in the Ryan report. After I came into this House - most of which time I spent on this side of the House, but with a brief period on the Government side - I noticed that even good and decent colleagues were afraid of saying something that might upset the church. It was not just fear of upsetting those who were ordained, but also those people above the level of principal officer in the two Departments that mattered - the Departments of Education and Science and of Justice, Equality and Law Reform - and all of the others in authority dotted around through the system, in a country that did not respect the principles of a republic and had a deadly intersection of church and State. They were afraid very often to open their mouths lest they would get a belt of a crozier. They were seriously damaged as politicians by the fear inculcated in them by those who were abusing authority. Abuse it they did, and they did so systematically.
Two kinds of defence were suggested when we were coming up to the publication of the Ryan report. One was a curious suggestion that the whole country was "at it", so that the cases dealt with by the commission were only a small proportion of the total. It was also suggested that we should only look at the cases for which the State was responsible. We have a responsibility to ask what quality of mind suggests, on a universal authority, that one's body is dangerous. Let us hope in my lifetime that we will begin to be able to discuss that, and the damage those people who assert deadly notions about sexuality bring to bear.
Mary Raftery's and Eoin O'Sullivan's book, "Suffer the Little Children", deals with the comprehensive way in which the Department of Education set about covering its tracks. I was spokesperson for the Labour Party ten years ago when the commission was being established. It is to his credit that Deputy Micheál Martin, then Minister for Education and Science, read what files he could discover on Daingean. He described, for example, how Donogh O'Malley, who did not live to see it happen, pushed for the founding of the Kennedy committee. That committee of 11 members met 69 times but did not produce a very great report. However, it produced a file on Daingean, which contained an account of a child being flogged at midnight on a landing. The Departments of Justice, Health and Education each had a representative on the Kennedy committee. The young man who was taking notes for the committee became worried and asked the Secretary of the Department what he should do. The two Sir Humphries wrote to each other. One said he feared that including the account in the report would embarrass the Minister because it was something for which he had responsibility. He suggested that if there was agreement that the punishment had stopped in Daingean, the incident need not be included in the report. He went on, crucially, to add that the worst thing would be for the incident to go into the realm of public discourse and upset the public.
Not far from that time, the Secretary of the Department of Education, Dr. Ó Raifeartaigh, visited and had tea with Fr. McGonigle, who was in charge of the reformatory. Dr. Ó Raifeartaigh said, "Such is the spirit of dedication on the part of the staff, religious and lay, that one's principal feeling on leaving is that it is good to know that such people exist". He went on to say how enthused he was by the particular reform of regular visits of the Irish Countrywomen's Association to teach dancing to the boys. The members of the ICA loved the lessons but, as Mary Raftery points out, the experience of the boys is not recorded.
The Departments of Justice and Education colluded comprehensively at the most senior level in the suppression of information which might have been in the public interest. This rolls on to the issue of the treatment of the survivors at the Redress Board. I remember going to the committee meetings and I watched carefully as they tailored the manner in which one could establish some kind of responsibility. It was proposed that evidence should be limited to the physical building of the institutions where abuse took place. It was proposed that responsibility should be confined to the person in charge of the institution, the person in charge on the actual day when abuse took place or the person who actually carried out the abuse. Later, in the court hearings, unless one was part of the goldmine industry which was making money over on the other side, a simple mistake in a person's name could be used as a further source of trauma.
There is evidence of an institutional collusion that was deep, continuous and sinister in terms of its relationship between church and State. We must ensure that the construction of a form of collective apology is not used to dilute the responsibility of those who are perpetrators of sexual and physical abuse. It is important to bring to account those who were aware of such abuse and those who covered the perpetrators rather than bringing them to account.
I have sympathy for those working in the circumstances which existed in institutions. My argument, so far, is about cover up, secrecy and institutional collusion. General society was at fault. The people who had been through such institutions were at the back of the church and not at the front. They were treated differently in their parishes. They were pariahs. Dr. James Good describes, for example, how the allocation went. On page 211 of Volume lV of the Ryan report he says of Greenmount industrial school in mid-1955:
Babies born in the home for unmarried mothers at the Sacred Heart Convent, Bessborough, normally stayed there for two and a half years with their mothers. [He does not say if there was a screen between the mothers, as was the case in some institutions.] Between the age of two and a half and ten they lived in a junior industrial school, generally Passage for boys and Rushbrook for girls. On their tenth birthday, the boys were usually transferred to Greenmount or Upton. At age 14, they were out of books and usually worked in the bakery or at shoe repairs. At 16, they were released to farmers, for whom they worked as labourers, or to take up employment in the army, industry, domestic service or the trades.
It was much worse than that. Because of the stigma attached to their experience, which the State had made possible, they were now not participating normally as citizens. A tale related to me was of one such agricultural worker, working in the fields with other casual labourers. When the farmer's daughter was bringing milk to them at the end of the day in the field, she served the milk to everybody but threw it at him. His attempt to disguise his past in the school was being blown. I met these people in England. That is why it is important to eliminate all the obstacles to those who want to open up the Statute of Limitations or extend the remit of what should originally have happened.
The Ryan report states there was physical abuse in 90% of the institutions and sexual abuse in more than 50%. Yet, the Department used every resource it could, when we were establishing the legislation, to make sure that physical abuse could not be included. The suggestion was that there was a body of guidance on jurisprudence and law for the handling of sexual abuse but not for the handling of physical abuse. The truth is that it was all about money. That is why it is necessary to revisit this.
I have referred favourably to the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Micheál Martin, who made information available in May 1999. However, I disagreed with him when he suggested that the discovery of the independent rights of the child was late in Ireland. That is not true. Ireland ratified the European Convention on Human Rights on 26 February 1953. One of the Henchy judgments established as fact that Ireland was bound, on signature, by the principles of the convention. It did not enter municipal law until 2003. I expect this report to bring Ireland to Geneva to be questioned about breaches of the convention. Article 3, under which no one shall be subject to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, was breached. Deputies should read the Ryan report and arrive at their own conclusions in this regard. It is also clear the convention was breached in the case of the rape of children. In every judgment under the convention rape is regarded as a form of torture.
With regard to the failure of states to fulfil their responsibility, the convention describes as torture any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as intimidating or coercing him. This occurred in the institutions. We should also note the importance of the special stigma attached to this issue, which returns us to events in the Daingean institution. When asked the reason for the approach adopted there, the head of the institution stated it was found to be more humiliating. This crime, involving an institution assisted by the State, is a special category under the convention.
Those of us who were on the streets yesterday heard about those who, through forced labour, made rosary beads and so forth. Did they have a choice about whether to make rosary beads? Did those in the Christian Brothers institutions have a choice about whether to put pieces of metal into instruments that would be used to hit them? These practices also qualify under the convention. In signing the convention in 1953 the State clearly assumed responsibilities. It comprehensively failed to live up to the spirit of that to which it committed the Irish people.
Where do we go from here? My colleague, Deputy Burton, will speak of the amendments required in legislation. On the property side of the issue, let us have no evasion or fraud and let us not invoke any notion that there is some greater demand on the resources of any of the religious orders. Any older person in any religious order is entitled to the same treatment as any citizen of the State. While none of them should be short or in penury, none of the orders should stand in the way of the victims of abuse getting that to which they are entitled, namely, justice, be it in terms of the punishment of the perpetrators or the provision of an independent resource which will enable them to put their lives back together.
As a non-practising sociologist, I do not want to hear that therapy is a substitute for justice. Therapy, care, training and education are necessary but so too is compensation. We must review the law and the cases decided in the redress board to ensure people are treated fairly. If we had done so, Parliament would not have degraded itself. To issue a universal apology and then fail to deliver would be the worst outcome of all.
As Deputy Higgins stated, I will speak on what Parliament needs to do. A number of issues need to be addressed and I hope the Government will agree to address them. The Residential Institutions Redress Act must be amended as soon as possible to remove the confidentiality and gagging clauses which hang over those who went before the board. While they may have received some compensation, a penal regime of secrecy applies with regard to everything that occurred before the redress board. I and many other Deputies have met and spoken to many people who went before the board who were traumatised - to the point of being almost suicidal - by the harshness of the adversarial system they experienced, which included cross-questioning by legal teams appointed by the State and, more specifically, the religious orders.
The gagging clauses must be removed. Some of those who appeared before the redress board wish to write plays and poems about their experience, while others would like to carry out academic research into their experience. They are effectively gagged by the penalties for breaking the harsh confidentiality clause, which are a fine of €2,000 or six months in jail on summary conviction in the District Court or €25,000 or two years in jail on indictment. These severe penalties must be removed. I am not a lawyer but gangs of lawyers inside and outside the House who work in the service of the State must find a way to lift the gag as soon as possible. Achieving this will help set free the adults who, as children, were placed in residential institutions. Many are still children in some respects because their experiences and suffering prevented part of them from being able to grow up. Removing the gagging clause is one aspect of providing recompense.
A second issue arises regarding the committal procedures people underwent. While I welcome the formal statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that it is his belief that the committal orders and procedures and records in the District Courts do not amount to convictions, this is not the case in the minds of many people. Addressing this issue is not only necessary for the people in question but also for their children, grandchildren, wives and partners. The State must find a way to raise the bar by formally recognising that those committed to residential institutions were not criminals and do not carry any taint arising from committal proceedings. As the Minister indicated, this may tax the ingenuity of lawyers. The legal profession can, however, produce a solution and the Minister can go further than the statement he made today. The British, for example, spent 70 years or more finding a formula to expunge the stain that applied to the young soldiers who were shot at dawn because they were deemed to be cowards during the First World War. We must find the imagination to do the same for those who believe they carry some taint or stain because of the committal procedures.
It has been suggested that the documentation acquired by the Ryan commission may be destroyed. The destruction of vital and irreplaceable records would deny information to future scholars, journalists, researchers and the victims and their families, including their children and grandchildren. We must also bear in mind those who victims who made lives for themselves abroad, whether in England, the United States or elsewhere, and whose families may wish to research their history. It would send the wrong message to victims of abuse that the Ryan commission report constitutes the end of the road and the State has done enough and wishes to draw a line in the sand and move on. Such a decision would do immense damage to Ireland's international reputation. How would we justify such an apparent cover-up at the end of a prolonged and tortuous investigation? Alternatives are available. The Ryan commission reports must be deposited within our archive structures, having due regard to those who wish to remain anonymous and those who wish to use the records available to the commission. The House must devise a means of settling this issue.
I will speak briefly on the financial settlement and what can and should be demanded of the religious orders. The estimated cost to date of providing redress is between €1 billion and €1.3 billion. These figures, which were provided on different dates by the Comptroller and Auditor General, have not been disputed by the Department of Education and Science. It has been widely agreed by all parties in the House, both in the initial discussions and subsequently, that responsibility should be shared equally between the religious orders and the State, which has a duty in this regard. This means the religious orders need to contribute a further sum of between €500 million and €700 million. This must not be done by means of counselling or other services run by the orders. The people who were in the institutions need to have the dominant say in how that money is distributed to help in their further healing and recovery.
Court settlements are running at the rate of approximately €300,000 to €350,000 for those who have gone to the High Court. The higher settlements in the case of redress, the amounts of which we are not aware exactly, seem to be approximately €65,000. People were the victims of appalling and serious crimes that have done them bodily and mental harm, that has lived with them all of their lives and in some cases has affected their children and grandchildren. The compensation must have regard to that.
On the question of impunity and immunity, Deputy Michael D. Higgins spoke about the international conventions. The principle of the International Convention on Crimes Against Humanity, which is what these crimes constitute, is that the international community never will recognise the notion of impunity, that is, that one can be safe to carry out certain crimes because the state or states will protect him or her. Equally, there can be no immunity from prosecution. There are some cases where those involved who were the perpetrators of these dreadful crimes are very old, but old age does not diminish or wither the crimes. This is another matter the State and its law officers must address.
On the responsibility and the guilt for savage cruelty and savage sexual abuse, what is so wrong about what is emerging from the religious orders under freedom of information and was outlined in "States of Fear" is that they sought all the time to look for indemnity, and indemnity carried over into a kind of immunity and into a kind of impunity from being legally attacked over what their members had done. That also needs to be addressed.
I hope this debate is part of an ongoing process of reparation and recall by everybody about what happened and what was done in the name of religion and government but lest we forget, we still have no understanding as a society as to why so many children in this country were committed to institutions. People mark it as happening from after the Famine and because of a seed of Jansenism and extremity in the Catholic church that was probably only matched in recent times by people like the Taliban in Muslim countries.
We had what Senator Harris, in an article he wrote in the Sunday Independent some two weeks ago, referred to as a kind of toxic cocktail of nationality, land and religion, as described by Daniel Corkery. That produced a culture of cruelty, secrecy and denial. I hope we are moving away from it.
The children who were detained in adult mental institutions are not referred to in the Ryan report. Perhaps in some ways the only people who have captured the enormity of what has been done here have been our artists. I think of Sinéad O'Connor acting as the Virgin Mary in "The Butcher Boy", the notion of the appearance of Our Lady in accordance with, if I may term it, Catholic mythology and stories, appearing as a point of hope in an otherwise horrific life.
Yesterday I met Andy Smith, who was a Workers' Party councillor on Dublin City Council, who lives close to here. He now writes poetry about his experiences. One of his poems speaks of:
The Big Men in their Long Black Frocks,
Behind the High Dark Walls of Daingean.
I still hear the cries of the beatings, the torture and the pain,
I still see the faces of the sorrowful young boys,
Behind the High Dark Walls of Daingean. ...
When they release us,
Back onto the Streets of Dublin - Illiterate,
Not able to read or write,
No confidence in ourselves,
All alone and no one to help us.
Many people made that journey and made something of themselves, their children and their grandchildren, and of that they must be very proud. Like many others who listened to what happened yesterday, I both cried and felt immensely proud of the people who were on the platform that they survived, and their survival will ensure that future generations will not forget this story.
I am pleased to be able to speak on this important report. It is probably the most important report that will come before the House in the lifetime of this Dáil or, indeed, many Dáilanna.
I offer my support and condolences to all the victims who have suffered as a result of time spent in institutional care in this country. It is very little in terms of what the victims have suffered, but like all Members, I want to state publicly that I am disgusted and annoyed by what I have read and learnt about the suffering which these victims underwent as a result of being incarcerated in residential institutions.
Yesterday I attended part of the march of survivors outside the Dáil, and to listen to what the victims had to say could not but move and affect one in the most profound way. I was especially struck by the spontaneous applause for various speakers when they spoke about their time in various residential institutions.
I spent the past week to ten days reading the Ryan report and the litany of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and overall neglect that the victims suffered is harrowing in the extreme. To perpetuate that sort of abuse on any human being is intolerable, but to have it done to children is vile. We must remember that this was done in institutions that were funded, and supposed to be supervised, by the State. Their lives were hell on earth. I am ashamed that such behaviour was carried out on defenceless children.
It is imperative that all of the recommendations and conclusions outlined in the Ryan report are implemented. The victims must be supported in every possible way, be it by counselling and emotional support, practical help in terms of housing and other methods of reintegration into society, and financial assistance, to help reclaim their lives. I am acutely aware that everything we must do will never make up for the damage inflicted through no fault of their own on those abused victims, but we must still do all in our power to help and support them.
I also want to look at how the State can learn from the litany of abuse that this report outlines and do the best we can to ensure that our children and those entrusted to the care of the State are protected. In this regard, I am particularly conscious that much of the residential care provided by the State is to people with intellectual disability.
People with intellectual disability are as vulnerable as children and as a general practitioner who worked in this area, I am conscious of this vulnerability. I am aware of the considerable strides that have been made in this area in recent years and I am also aware, from my travels around the country meeting front-line staff, of the tremendous dedication and support that is provided in institutions all over the country.
At present, nobody can be employed to work in a residential care setting without Garda clearance. This vetting procedure is vital and goes a long way to prevent paedophiles and physical abusers gaining access to the most vulnerable in society. However, this vetting will only show up people who have come to the attention of the Garda Síochána. The worry is that somebody will be employed who will have access to children or persons with intellectual disability and that such a person may have a latent propensity to abuse. Yesterday, we all learnt of the horrific case of the nursery worker in the UK who is currently in police custody for suspected abuse of children. The same could occur in Ireland because sick individuals with the propensity for abuse will always be with us. As a society, it is imperative that we be aware of this fact and take steps to prevent it.
The implementation of Children First, the guidelines on the protection and welfare of children, is essential. In all institutions that care for people with intellectual disabilities, two adults must always be present when the children and adults with intellectual disabilities are being cared for. This would have a cost implication but it must be implemented if we are to pay the report our full attention instead of just lip-service. Many residential institutions follow this process, but all must do so if the most vulnerable are to be protected from the ravages of sexual, emotional and physical abuse. External vigilance must be the order of the day.
I commend the courage of every victim of residential institutional abuse. As a Deputy, I am sorry for what happened to them while they were in the State's care. Our country failed them at their moment of need. We must ensure we do not fail anyone currently in residential care.
I have listened to various speakers during the day. They have been universally apologetic and concerned that this situation occurred within a wider community in which people either did not shout "Stop" or were not heeded when they did. I am sure people tried to shout "Stop", but their voices were not heard.
A new Deputy discussed her role as a teacher and how, through her teaching, she has always known of how young people can be brought forward and helped through acclaim or words of encouragement. She spoke the truth. During my years of teaching, I would often encounter young pupils who, for one reason or another, had not had many chances in life. They arrived at secondary school and found coping or fitting in difficult. If particular care was provided to the young girls with which I dealt, however, or if a particular warmth was displayed, they would blossom as people. It was always a source of great delight to see young pupils advance in that way, pupils who could find strength in knowledge and eventually be glad they played games and made friends among their school fellows. It was encouraging for a teacher. Bright students will always advance because they not only have themselves to rely on, but they have warm and encouraging backgrounds. Other students, however, could find advancing extremely difficult.
Contrast this with young children. I was horrified to read about a child of nine months of age. Another child aged 18 months was sentenced. How could one sentence a child of that age? The child was taken from its mother. Perhaps she was a widow, could not afford to keep her children or so on. The child was sentenced to something that I do not know what to call. The child was brought up without a modicum of love or encouragement.
Only a few Deputies have not reared children. When one has reared children in a favourable background, one knows they respond and advance in their motor movements, intelligence and every character aspect because they have been given love. The institutions' children were sent into a large abyss without love, warmth, encouragement or self-pride. Day after day and night after night, there was no end to the misery. Often, the night brought further misery, as we know from the reports on sexual abuse. Children were huddled under blankets. I do not know how anyone survived. Like many Deputies, I spent 40 or 45 minutes listening to survivors outside Leinster House. I do not know how those men and women even had the courage to name their institutions, recount what was done to them or get through it all. Mr. Justice Ryan did a good job. There is no doubt about that, given that we are debating his report.
I taught for many years before entering public life. I will give credit to the INTO, which wanted to introduce a programme called Stay Safe when I was at the Department of Education. The INTO visited me at the Department. The scheme was a good one whereby young children in primary school would be alerted to things that could threaten them or be wrong for them. The Department responded and Stay Safe was introduced on a pilot basis before being rolled out to many schools. However, the programme is still not in every secondary school. After returning to the House, I tabled a question on this matter, but I was told the roll-out figure was 75%. Why is it not in every school? It should be, since it is a properly established and monitored scheme whereby young people are alerted in a non-threatening way to the dangers they may confront and for which they should watch out. I have discussed the matter briefly with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. The Department should go about its work and ensure the programme is introduced into every school.
I will tell an aside, which tells its own tale in another way. After our agreement in May to introduce the Stay Safe programme and its initial implementation the following September, I met people at a clinic in my home office for a few hours one Saturday. I hate the word "clinic", but that is what everyone calls it. Six buses drew up outside, from each of which a large contingent exited. They rang the doorbell and my late husband Enda - whom I dearly miss for many reasons, this included - met them, brought them in and so on. They told me they had come from County Cork to protest at my house about the Stay Safe programme. I have never forgotten that incident. Those people were parents. In my head, I could never come around to understanding why they did not want the programme. I see Deputy Stanton nodding. They painted me as a Jezebel of some kind or another, a red witch prepared to destroy children by introducing the programme.
In our discussions, we pay tribute to those who have gone through their own valleys of hell, but the issue is not over for young children. In 50 years' time, will Members of the House, in whatever shape it may be, discuss the lack of support for children in care or some other aspect of children's lives? Will they still be asking where is the referendum on the rights of the child.
This idea brings me around to a second phase of my life, one that has a bearing on our debate. Before I do so, however, I wish to discuss the Ryan report's chapters, which were particularly horrifying and distasteful. Women were incarcerated as forced labour in the Magdalene laundries. What was their sin? They became pregnant and had a child. That was their sin.
Can one imagine the situation? Women who perhaps had very deprived childhoods and found a measure of love in some shape became pregnant. Such women were taken into so-called Magdalene laundries and were made to work over steamy iron presses. Anybody who has collected clothes from a dry cleaners knows the smell of the chemicals used in them. Many women were incarcerated in such places and made to work in hot, fetid atmospheres because they had a child and were deemed, from then on, to be "dirty" women. Imagine the mentality which saw that as a heinous act and incarcerated women. This sort of thinking about sexual matters and women is prevalent enough in these times, even in echoes of past times.
I have the honour of chairing a committee on the constitutional amendment on children's rights. I am convinced that until the amendment is written in English and sent out to the people to vote on, we will not ensure children have their rights. In all countries of the world, there is always an opportunity for the powerful to subjugate the weak. There are revolutions in various countries and there are countries in which democracy does not flourish. Why is this the case? It is the case because a powerful elite has sought to subjugate a weaker group of people.
That is what happened in the lives of all the young children affected by this issue, that is, powerful people sought to subjugate them, by hardship, providing scant food, showing them absolutely no love and subjecting them to sexual and physical abuse. It happened because some people enjoyed the aphrodisiac of power and the ability to wreak power on a person who is weaker, in this case a vulnerable child who was much smaller than they. What mind took delight in that? It is very difficult for us to understand, but we have to.
We have a wonderful committee which is examining all of these matters. I foresee that, throughout the land, all of these horrors and many others, such as the Roscommon incest case which unfolded some months ago - I understand there is more to follow on that - and many others, some published and some not, will be revealed. One thinks of the children of the young family in Leitrim and what they had to do regarding incest by their own father.
Until we get the wording of the constitutional amendment correct and put it to the people, we will not address this issue. There will be many people, worthy by their own lights, who will seek to ensure that does not gain credence throughout the land. I started my political life in dealing with children through the Department of Education and Science and schools. Now, in the ebb tide of my life, when I was so lucky to get back into the House - it was fortunate and took hard work and I thank the electorate - I will again be dealing with young children, and the most vulnerable of children.
Until we are able to say children have rights as individuals, and not just those already allowed for within a family or the right to education, which is proper, but the right to be respected for her or his own character, imagination and creativity, we will not address this issue. All of this must be acknowledged. The rights of children should be put into English which can be understood and this should be put to the people of Ireland.
I want to hear no comments from people who think children are now well looked after. In the main that is the case, and many have loving family backgrounds. We all know that. However, there are still opportunities for the powerful to prey on the vulnerable and that is what we must guard against. I hope out of all the words we will all say today and tomorrow in this House will come a sense of purpose that never again will we read a report such as the one we are discussing. That is my wish and aspiration.
Nothing could prepare one for the horror that lies in the volumes of the Ryan report, which, in institution after institution, list appalling accounts of destroyed lives. A whole generation of children experienced some of the most inhumane and barbaric atrocities perpetrated against human beings in the last century. This report shames us all, our society and those who were in charge of it during the period in question. The litany of abuse detailed in the report brings shame on us all and on our society. We must commit ourselves to ensuring it can never be repeated.
I have spoken on a number of occasions in the past on the role and functions of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. I have spoken at length on the situation of those children who were in residential care during the years in question and have been ignored by the commission. Sadly, there has been no change in this regard.
There are two specific categories of children in residential care who remain in the shadows and the Government has sought resolutely to keep their experience out of the public domain. One group comprises those children in State residential institutions who were used as guinea pigs in vaccine trials without their consent. The Government has used the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse as a fig leaf to ensure their experience is swept under the carpet and that we never receive answers to the questions raised about the prevailing medical ethos of the 1960s and 1970s.
Separate sets of trials were carried out on children in State homes, the first from 1960 to 1961 and the second and third in the early 1970s, which continued until at least 1976. I understand there may have been a later trial but I do not have the details. The first trial which took place involved 58 infants in institutions around the State, between December 1960 and November 1961, the report of which was published in the British Medical Journal in 1962.
The institutions involved include Bessborough in County Cork, St. Peter's in Castlepollard, Dunboyne in County Meath, a mother and baby home, St. Patrick's, on the Navan Road in Dublin, St. Clare's in Stamullen in County Meath and Mount Carmel industrial school in Moate, County Westmeath, to name just a number. They were involved in the first clinical trial that took place.
The background to subsequent clinical trials which took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s was due to a great upsurge at the time in the number of severe adverse reactions in children who received the three-in-one DTP Trivax vaccine, manufactured by Wellcome. The 1973 vaccine trial involved an institution and a comparative control group outside that institution. A total of 116 children were involved, comprising 59 from the community and 57 from two children's homes in the Dublin area. The children in the community were given the normal commercial vaccine and those in care were used as guinea pigs for the new trial vaccine that was being studied at the time.
The trials beg a number of questions which remain unanswered. To date, however, no answers have been forthcoming. The Government referred the issue to the Laffoy commission but it was subsequently challenged in the courts. As a result, no worthwhile information has come into the public domain on what occurred in those institutions, even though State employed medical personnel were involved in administering the vaccine trials. We are now told that there is a threat hanging over whatever records are available and were made available to the commission and that they might be destroyed. The Government, and numerous previous Governments, have turned their back on those children. Those who were used as guinea pigs have not received answers on why they were used, why consent was not sought, what type of concoction was administered and for how long that went on in State institutions.
The other group of children to which I wish to refer is one that is currently in the State's care. I refer to children who arrived here from outside the European Union. A shocking 23 unaccompanied children have gone missing from State care since 1 January 2009. Twenty of those children are still missing. It is a gross dereliction of duty by the Government and the State that has resulted in those children evaporating into thin air. Since 2000, some 486 children put into Health Service Executive accommodation were placed in care by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána. To date, 25 of those vulnerable children remain missing, yet the Government has failed to put measures in place to protect other such children. It is clear that some of those young children have been coerced or enticed from State care into lives of depravity and prostitution. There is strong evidence to suggest that HSE hostels are little more than grooming grounds for those seeking to prey on vulnerable children.
That is a child abuse scandal of tomorrow and clearly shows that nothing has been learned from the scandals of the past or from the litany of abuse outlined in the Ryan report. The Ryan report frightens us to the core. We must ensure that such abuse never happens again. We do not need any more words, we need action. The Government must act immediately to end the practice of placing children in hostels by the authorities of the State without proper care, supervision and standards. The lack of same in the past and the dereliction of duty by those working on behalf of the State allowed the exploitation and abuse of children in the past. We must ensure that does not happen in the future.
Joy Imifidon is one such child. She is a 17-year old Nigerian girl who the Garda picked up in a brothel in County Kilkenny last summer. She came before the courts last July and was charged with failing to produce a valid passport or other form of identification. Detective Garda Liam Maher told the court: "We are worried that she may be a minor and a victim of human trafficking." That was endorsed by Judge William Harnett who stated: "This is a young person who is very much at risk. I am not letting her out of custody while she may still be at risk and unless she has some chance of finding a safe place." She was remanded in custody to Mountjoy Prison. She came before Carlow District Court on 15 August and was placed in the care of the HSE on a 28-day interim care order. She subsequently disappeared from care and, to date, has not even appeared on the Garda's missing children's website. She is just one example of those children who have been found in vulnerable situations and placed in care by the State who have subsequently disappeared from that care, only to be exploited again.
I welcome the publication of the Ryan report, which investigated the catalogue of abuse that took place in institutions, not least because for the first time since being elected two years ago, I am aware of the sombre air among Members, our staff and the staff of the Houses. For the past two years we have had debates and arguments about the economy and other issues that are supposed to be important. It is heartening that we have agreed a joint motion. We have heard expressions of emotion from all sides of the House. What has been said must be taken in good faith and that will be the case if the recommendations are followed up.
I salute the people who have come out to insist once again that the nation, the church and its congregations, and the Government Administration, acknowledge the injustice perpetrated on them as children. It has taken almost 70 years to uncover, expose and put at the heart of Government business the catalogue of institutional cruelty, abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children placed in institutions where they should have been safe. The abuse was mostly ignored by the Department of Education and Science, the church and the people. Despite the vision of the men and women of 1916 who wrote the Proclamation of Independence to "cherish all the children of the nation equally" and despite the fact that so many of us have heard stories of abuse of children in care, we - the people, the church and State - failed to listen and speak out to ensure that those people in need of care were cherished, nourished and educated without terror or physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
The publication of the Ryan report brings with it an essential commitment from everyone involved, namely, the community, the church, the nation, and the Government to ensure that the truth is told of the reign of terror, exploitation and abuse that existed in Christian child care institutions for abandoned children and reformatories. We must take it in good faith. We must also ensure that people who have lived through those circumstances are given the support and justice they need to heal the past and create a better future. We must also ensure that from this day on the children and people at risk are minded, supported and protected from further abuse or exploitation.
Since the foundation of the State, it has been the responsibility of the Government to ensure that all vulnerable children are not abandoned when help is most needed. That has not been the case and is not the case. This week, as every week, there is a lack of support services, or inadequate services, for those children at night or at weekends. The social services are doing a good job. Today's Irish Examiner focused on the report on the adequacy of child care. That does a service to the system, but unless the report is acknowledged and dealt with, it will have been futile. Most crisis calls are handled at night by the Garda because the HSE has decided for budgetary reasons against hiring the necessary social workers to provide 24-hour cover. Front line services are left to willing but untrained personnel in the Garda and an anonymously funded private holding centre that might be some distance away from where the crisis has arisen. In the spirit of the Ryan report, given that a poverty of resources is no longer an acceptable excuse, will the Department of Health and Children now put on the Cabinet agenda the commitment to a fully staffed 24-hour front line social service facility for at-risk children instead of the unsafe and anonymous arrangements that are in place currently?
One can get a fireman to put out a fire in one's house. One can access an emergency doctor. One can call a plumber in an emergency. The Garda operate at night. However, if a child is in need of emergency help, the only solution is to go to the Garda station. Despite the best efforts of the Garda, they will never be able to cope adequately in such a situation. That is evidence of a poverty of the spirit.
I question the priorities of the Government. I do not want to do that but I have no choice. I also question the priorities of the Department of Health and Children, which puts the budget for front line services at the bottom of the list. The adequate funding of those services must be on the Cabinet agenda so that we, as a nation, do not leave the same legacy of abandonment of vulnerable children resulting in adults who are hurting coming to this House to seek justice in 20 or 25 years' time. If we have learned anything from the horrific catalogue of cruelty, tragedy and shame uncovered by the Ryan report, it must be to ensure that from now on, no call for help from a child will go unanswered.
We have seen the catalogue of denial by the institutions and the failure of the State and its agencies - the Department of Education and Science and the health boards. That failure has resulted in carnage of the bodies, hearts and minds of so many children. Today, we cannot allow this denial of the needs of our children at risk. We must have the political will and drive to ensure that the National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children are underpinned with legislation to ensure we leave a legacy for a new generation that children will not be at risk.
It has been stated that for whatever reason children were in the past not born equal. Can we say that today they are? I do not believe we can. While I do not wish to criticise the Ryan report or any of its recommendations, I believe a truth and reconciliation commission, on the lines of the model used in South Africa, should be established here. This would assist in the truth coming out and in our revisiting the legislation with regard to redress, compensation and the manner in which the trust is to be set up. This is hurtful process.
Members will be aware of the work of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. When chairman of the council, I opened an exhibition of the graffiti, art, advertising and slogans of both sides of the divide, an exhibition that went all over the world. The exhibition, which was silent, allowed people to confront their enemy in a gallery situation and was very effective. Some of the exhibits, paradoxically - not the most vilified or hateful ones - are now cherished as a reminder of a time no one wishes to go back to. I ask that a truth and reconciliation commission be established.
The Ryan report refers to a dark and dangerous time in our history, a time when our society was closed and when society, the Government and the Dáil of the day deferred to a dysfunctional church which was unquestioned and ruled completely. That, I put to this House was a dangerous situation, the results of which are known today.
The Dáil was weak at that time. I am not sure if this Parliament is much stronger today than it was then. We need to examine the role of the Dáil. No organisation - religious, State or private - should be above the law or beyond scrutiny. It is our job to scrutinise on behalf of the people. I believe this House is limited in terms of how it carries on its business and that we need to change that.
I have read only part of the report. I was sickened by what I read and could not finish reading of the unspeakable horrors, the stuff of nightmares, contained therein. I believe criminal charges should be brought against those involved, if possible. What happened has had a major impact on the people concerned and that such impact can continue for generations. While therapy and counselling services are important, therapy is not, as Deputy Higgins stated, enough. I agree also with him that justice is important.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the reaction of the Ombudsman for Children to the Ryan report. The ombudsman makes a number of points which I believe we should take on board, including that there is currently no independent inspection of residential centres for children with intellectual disabilities in Ireland, which is not good enough. Deputy Naughten stated - this is repeated by the ombudsman -that children who have come to Ireland from other countries and who are here alone without a parent or adult to look out for them are accommodated in private hostels operated outside of the regular child care system. Known as "separated children", they receive sub-standard services despite their vulnerability. It has been widely reported that more than 350 of these children have gone missing from care since 2000.
The ombudsman also maintains that boys aged 16 and 17 years continue to be detained in St. Patrick's institution, a prison, despite the enactment of legislation in 2001 which committed the State to removing all children from the adult prison system. Conditions, the ombudsman maintains, in St. Patrick's institution have been widely criticised by national and international bodies. That is the current position. This information was published only last week by the ombudsman by way of reaction to the Ryan report when published.
The ombudsman also points out that large numbers of children considered at risk have not been allocated a social worker; a significant number of schools in the country are not implementing the Stay Safe Programme, which aims to develop children's ability to recognise, resist and report risk situations or abusive encounters. In many of these cases, it is the registrars that are preventing this from happening because they are afraid that the innocence of children will be somehow damaged, which is rubbish.
The ombudsman states that we still do not have an independent child death review mechanism in Ireland. When children in the care of the State die there is no independent review of the case outside of the coroner process. That is what the ombudsman had to say last week. I say to the Minister of State opposite that this demands urgent action. We need to listen to the Ombudsman for Children, one of the most important offices established in this State. That office needs to be resourced and listened to as it is the ombudsman who is listening to children, which is what did not happen in the past. Had it happened, we might not be here today discussing this report.
I would like also to refer to an issue raised by Deputy Naughten, namely, the vaccine trials. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, who was Minister for Health and Children at the time speaking on the issue in the Seanad stated: "We do not know whether your rights were protected all those years ago. We just do not know but we believe it is important for you and for the wider society to move Heaven and earth to find out and we want to do it in a forum which has the power to investigate, to compel witnesses and to publish its findings without fear or favour to ensure compensation is made, if that is required". The Minister stated that the Government did not know who was responsible for safeguarding the rights of children at the time. That process did not go ahead. I have been contacted by a number of people concerned about this. While I assume that the pharmaceutical companies paid money to trial the vaccines on the children in these institutions, as we do not have the full facts we do not know if that is the case. The children were used as guinea pigs for vaccine trials, the consent for which was not, most of the time, sought from or given by their parents, which is another abuse that needs to be investigated. The Government appears to have lost the will to investigate this issue further.
Very often, when children are vulnerable they drop out of school. Youth and out of school services is the Cinderella of this sector. These are the children who need help most. I implore the Government to put more resources into youth services and out of school youth services which is an area where one often comes across children who are vulnerable and who need help right now.
I have been a Member of the Dáil for more than 30 years. The Ryan report contains the saddest litany of shameful abuse ever debated during my time in this House. What we have before us is a catalogue of crimes against children to which our only reaction can be utter revulsion.
In many ways, we are discussing our domestic policy. While it is true that children were not consigned to the gas chambers, it is evident that they were condemned to exist for many years in institutions in which they were starved, beaten, abused, humiliated and, above all, treated as less than human beings. In many ways, that attitude resembles the Nazis' approach when they established the gas chambers. We must ask how this was allowed to happen.
I am aware the representatives of each of the religious institutions and the Taoiseach on behalf of the State have said "mea culpa". However, each of us, as representatives of society, must also expressly say "mea maxima culpa" because I do not think these events could have taken place without the knowledge of society. There is a danger in excoriating the religious congregations and the State for what happened while ignoring the responsibility of society as a whole. We cannot fob off to the religious orders and the Department of Education and Science our responsibility as a people who knew, or should have known, about what was happening but ignored or acquiesced to abuse. It is easy for us to shovel the orders and the Department into the dock and find them guilty without acknowledging the attitude of society. Why, for example, did girls go the Magdalen laundries? They went because they had nowhere else to go.
I accept the Deputy's correction; they were sent there. They were ostracised by society. The girls concerned had in general become pregnant. No middle class children were sent to reformatories or industrial schools. Those sent were the marginalised children of the poor and those who were regarded as sinners. In many ways, they were regarded as less than human by church, State and society.
It is interesting to note that these children were fought over. Quotas were established for these schools because payments accompanied the children. I discovered an interesting letter dated 10 September 1937 in which Bishop Casey of Skibbereen chides the Department of Education for discriminating against the industrial school in Baltimore. Four days later, a report was sent to the Secretary General of the Department by the official concerned, who wrote that he could not see how effect could be given to the bishop's wishes to have Baltimore favoured to the extent indicated without inviting protest from other senior schools. He pointed out that, from 1 September to 31 October 1936, 21 transfers had been made from junior to senior schools in Cork city and county, of which 11 were sent to Baltimore, four to Greenmount and six to Upton. According to this official, the figures revealed that instead of being discriminated against, Baltimore had the best of the deal. These children were treated like cattle.
Exactly, they were accompanied by headage payments. In a letter dated 18 September, the Department apologised for the delay in responding to the bishop and expressed hope that its explanation would satisfy him it was faithfully observing the promises made on the occasion of his visit to deal as sympathetically as possible with the claims and circumstances of the Baltimore school. This letter was written despite the criticisms against the school made by a doctor in the Department, Dr McCabe, who was a very good woman.
Dr. McCabe consistently reported that accommodation at the school was overcrowded and its equipment poor. At one time she noted that medical records were not kept and added the cryptic comment, "perhaps too revealing". She reported that the children's clothes were tattered and torn and that they lacked shoes except in winter. The Department knew about conditions at the school, therefore, but did nothing. Former residents of the school spoke about their hunger.
What are we going to do about the Ryan report? When will its recommendations be implemented and who will monitor them? Have we matured as a society in dealing with the vulnerable? What is our attitude to gays and lesbians, travellers, coloured people and other nationalities? Since 2000, 486 children have gone missing from asylum hostels, of whom 425 remain unaccounted for. Should we accept that? If they were Irish children I am sure there would be a stink and a storm but just because they are not Irish we accept the situation. These hostels are not properly examined and State inspections of accommodation in which unaccompanied migrant children are placed have yet to commence. According to a report by Shane Phelan in the Irish Independent, almost one in five foreign children placed in the HSE's care goes missing and is never found. We must absorb the lessons of the Ryan report by ensuring the horrors it describes are never inflicted on anyone in our society again.
Dara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my time with Deputy Margaret Conlon and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Martin Mansergh.
Dara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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The horrors outlined in the Ryan report and on the airwaves, as well as the events described by Deputy Kenny this morning, are wretched. One cannot imagine how hard it must have been for the children who suffered these nightmares. I agree with Deputy Jim O'Keeffe and others who have described what happened as a holocaust.
I reiterate the Taoiseach's apology to every person who marched yesterday or who survived institutional abuse. I hope to gain strength from what they have experienced. We owe it to these people to ensure this abuse never happens again. For those who died without having their stories told, we must ensure the perpetrators of this abuse pay a price for the damage they have done. The systemic failures and the State's co-operation in these events must be exposed and addressed. If necessary, we must investigate the records of this House for interventions by Members which may have supported this system.
I welcome the commitment made in the motion to review the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. The redress board has not satisfied survivors and has in many cases adopted a confrontational attitude. We must make it more co-operative. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, has begun work on an implementation plan. Deputy Stanton's remarks on the Ombudsman for Children and after-school services should be considered in the context of that plan. Lives and opportunities were taken from these people. The mental abuse they experienced in dealing with physical and sexual abuse can never be quantified. Their needs must be met through the implementation plan.
We will never see it again but we must ensure we have procedures in place across every institution of the State, in our care homes, hospitals, schools, youth clubs and every area in which we entrust the care of children. We must ensure that in 20 or 30 years there will not be a debate in this House exposing something happening now unbeknown to us. If it were to happen again or if anything reminiscent of the scale of this were to happen again then the words expressed in this House today and tomorrow would be untrue and would fail the survivors and the country.
Ireland has been considerably diminished by what has come out and by the activities of so many people so many years ago but which is having such an impact on peoples' lives today; by the cover-up to hide those activities and the systematic manner in which that cover-up was organised across so many pillars of the community. We owe it to the survivors to ensure that we listen to them and give those who did not tell their stories a chance to do so and provide them with a forum for their frustrations and annoyances. Many who did not get involved in the Ryan report deserve a chance and deserve to be heard. I hope that in the implementation plan the Minister of State will have ideas on that.
This House is often criticised for engaging in party politics but the manner in which this motion was agreed and will be passed on an all-party basis is a testament to the shared ambition of all of us here and in the other Chamber to ensure that this does not happen again and to ensure that the horror outlined in the report and more vividly by people speaking about it, does not happen again. The 166 of us here and the 60 Members of the Seanad owe it to the people in the Visitors Gallery and those they represent that as well as combining to vote on this motion we combine to ensure that everything in the motion is delivered, the resources are allocated, the laws are changed and a cover-up never happens again. This motion is only a start. We will be measured on how we progress and deal with it in the days, weeks and years to come. That is the true extent of our response as a Parliament. The people of the country whom we represent expect no less and we must give that united response and continue to do so.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the House on this very important issue and I welcome the support of all parties for the taking of this motion and the way we are united in dealing with it. As other speakers have said, I believe this is the worst atrocity ever visited on our country and in global terms it is probably the worst atrocity ever visited on children. It is a litany of horrific abuse visited on young innocent victims. No one heard their cries, felt their pain or listened to their pleas for help. Instead, many who tried to voice concerns were told that little children should be seen and not heard. Given this, children were afraid to speak. They were afraid of the consequences that might result from what they had to say and of not being believed. The State did not cherish them equally and the congregations and the State failed in their duty of care. For that we are truly sorry.
As a mother and a teacher I can fully appreciate the very vulnerable position in which children are placed while in the care of what we deem to be responsible adults. The fact that these victims had no responsible adult representing their needs at any stage is shocking and indefensible. To think that children were left without something as basic as food is horrifying, not to mind the countless other abuses directed at them on a daily basis. These people were entrusted with young children and they abused that trust at every level and at every opportunity. It cannot be denied that the Department of Education at the time overlooked glaring problems and deferred to church authority. This should not have been the case and the reason it was allowed to continue was down to the simple turning of the head approach taken by too many in a position to change these dreadful acts to care for vulnerable children.
With all the information in the Ryan report it is extremely important that we have learned from the disastrous mistakes made by institutions in the past. We must take the right steps to ensure that crimes of this nature cannot be overlooked or pushed to one side again. The commission has carried out a thorough investigation and I want to salute the many courageous witnesses who came before it to tell their stories; for them it was a very difficult and traumatic experience but it was very necessary in allowing them to move on if they could do so.
I share the view of my colleague, Deputy Beverley Flynn, that all victims should be afforded the opportunity to tell their story. We owe them that chance to tell their personal story for their personal healing to begin. The victims in this report can never be forgotten and justice must be carried out at the highest level. The people involved in these heinous crimes must be identified and brought to justice like any other criminal would be and no one should be allowed to have the luxury of anonymity. They cannot be allowed to simply slide under the radar because crimes were not conducted today or yesterday. That is not an appropriate defence. The people we must continue to listen to are the victims, for these are people who for far too long were left without a voice.
As public representatives of the people, we must ensure that all of those responsible who are still alive are brought to justice. The religious orders also have a moral obligation to step up to the plate and ensure that they pay a substantial contribution as reparation for the heinous crimes committed because while the abuse may have stopped the memory and the scars remain. These children were robbed of the chance of living a normal life and for that we are all sorry.
I must pay tribute to the many good people who serve in religious life. They have a true vocation and have made and continue to make a real difference in the lives of many. These people should not be criminalised by the actions of some of their members because they too are suffering following the reign of terror and abuse visited on innocent children. Many of these children had suffered enough in their short lives through the loss of a parent or being separated from their families. They never asked to be born, they were brought them into the world and then we neglected and abused them.
Yesterday, outside the gates of this House I heard some of the contributions being made. They were distressing and heartbreaking but worst of all was the vision of the little shoes being left at the gates of the House with white ribbons and flowers. Anyone with a shred of feeling and emotion could not but be moved by the sight. We must never forget the wrong that was done and we must ensure that this is a watershed that is never allowed to happen again. The sight of grown men and women weeping on our streets yesterday will live with us forever. Many felt they had died in childhood as their innocence was taken away from them. Yesterday, we witnessed them finding their voice and they will not be silenced again.
It is almost exactly ten years since I spoke in the House to outline the reasons behind the Government's decision to establish the commission to inquire into child abuse. I said then, "We want the commission to carry out its work without fear or favour and to go wherever it feels it must go to get at the truth". We committed to giving the commission the time, resources and powers it required to finally lay out for everyone in this society the comprehensive and irrefutable truth about how so many of our most vulnerable citizens were failed for so long.
This was to be a unique inquiry which could not fulfil its objectives if it attempted to operate like a traditional tribunal. Its work would be for nothing if it was distracted by endless legal technicalities or limited its findings to finely-balanced generalities. Now that the Commission has published its final report we can see that its work has not only been valuable and comprehensive but goes much further.
This is a report of major historical significance. It poses a great challenge to us all because one of the things we do worst here is history. The realities of adversarial politics and the constant desire to demonstrate superior empathy are bad routes through which to approach the need of every society to understand its history.
The sheer scale of this report, the stories it tells, the forensic detail with which it reconstructs a systemic nightmare, and the many ways in which society failed to intervene mean that it is neither possible nor desirable to try to address it all in one short speech within a limited debate. It is incumbent upon every Member of this House not only to read the report but to take time to understand it.
The proper role for this debate is to see it as a beginning of our work, with further significant time being required to consider both immediate and long-term issues raised in the report. I would like to concentrate, therefore, on the background to the report and its most important findings regarding the industrial school system.
Mr. Justice Ryan and all of the members and staff of the commission deserve our thanks. We should also thank Ms Justice Mary Laffoy for her defining contribution in the early years of its work.
There can be no doubt, however, who deserves the main credit - the survivors who would not let our society continue to ignore the inhuman abuse which has been inflicted on so many. In particular, I would like to acknowledge three people who were directly responsible for the decision by Government not only to acknowledge and apologise for the abuse but also to establish a forum for the full story to be brought out.
Christine Buckley, Bernadette Fahy and Carmel McDonnell-Byrne are remarkable people. In early May 1999 I met them in my Leinster House office as part of the work of a special Cabinet sub-committee on abuse, of which I was chair, which was preparing the package of measures later announced by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. The sub-committee, whose members included the current Taoiseach, was eager that we would hear directly from survivors.
What I will never forget about that meeting is their very first words: "Minister, we want you to believe that these things happened to us. Do you believe us?" It is still shocking to me that at the end of the 20th century, survivors of an institutional system so horrific that the word "abuse" is inadequate felt the need to ask to be believed.
We should never forget that the revelations of their treatment in Goldenbridge, contained in the programme "Dear Daughter", were not only not properly accepted but were at times aggressively disputed. They sought and failed to receive the public acknowledgement to which they had a right. The official response was a disgrace and their treatment caused direct distress to the all too many survivors who shared their childhood experiences. The concern of survivors at that time was that the public outrage at the contents of the "States of Fear" documentary would be short-lived and that the culture of excuses and disbelief would return.
The Government did believe them, and I told them that very clearly. That was the reason the official apology was so important and also why we decided that a process was required which would ensure survivors never again had to struggle to be believed.
In the period immediately after the official apology there was a rush of survivors contacting counselling services. It was a very emotional and traumatic time for everyone involved. There were many cases of individual survivors coming to the Department of Education and Science offices and asking to talk to someone. That was often the first time they had told anyone about what had happened to them. Even their families did not know.
In the years since then the number of survivors actively involved in support groups has increased significantly. The culture of denial has been confronted head-on and, as we saw yesterday on the streets of this city, there is no question where public support lies.
As I have mentioned in the short time available to me, I am concentrating on the report in so far as it concerns the industrial school system. Of the many fundamental issues raised by the report I would like to address two particular questions which have great social and political significance: how this could have happened and, once the institutions were closed, why it took so long before the truth was acknowledged.
I do not propose to spend time repeating the findings of the report. The stories of the survivors and the substance of the record are powerful enough. What they show us is that this is not about occasional failings, rogue individuals, funding or the prevailing international standards of the time. The scale and nature of the abuse was systemic. It was unique to Ireland and our society and politics looked away rather than confront it.
In our culture we often like to spend our time finding someone else to blame but the full picture of this abuse is so horrific and the failure to stop it so inexcusable, it represents a great national shame. This was a system which actively sought to institutionalise children. It reflected a cold and inhuman approach to basic social difficulties and to the impact of poverty. Once the children were taken from society, they were confined to institutions which claimed the mantle of Christian charity but delivered a hellish reality. It is not just that the State and wider society did not show even a basic interest in the welfare of these children. Any attempts at oversight and accountability were aggressively opposed.
How could this happen? How could a republican state, which remained democratic at a time when so many others became totalitarian, allow this to go on for decades? The only reasonable way to interpret both the findings of the report and wider historical work is that a faith which was so important in former times to the protection of national identity became grossly distorted. It manifested itself in powerful pressure for institutional obedience and deference. This was damaging for society in general but was much worse when it came to the State abdicating its duty of care to thousands of children. The State was willing to stand back and essentially allow the orders free reign. It only rarely and generally as a result of the determination of an individual made any form of intervention.
The Church, as an institution, simply could not bring itself to admit error and time after time put the avoidance of scandal ahead of basic human rights. It actively resisted any attempt by the State to play a role beyond that of committing children and providing funds. How can anyone even begin to understand a mentality which once went as far as to complain that not enough children were being taken from their families and institutionalised?
The political system itself consistently failed as well. At no stage was the welfare of these children a major political issue for Government or Opposition, and the record of this House shows a general disinterest. There were no election debates about the industrial schools. There were no posters and no manifestos.
However, and this is a point which can often be missed, the biggest failure of all was a societal failure. It was a collective failure which put institutional interests above human rights. It was a collective failure to show no interest. It was a collective failure to refuse to shine a light on a dark corner of Irish society.
The report has brought an end to the excuses about resources or a few bad apples. This happened in our country because it was let happen. The individuals who abused children formed part of a wider system and society which allowed it to happen. The new State, created through the desire of many generations to shape their own future, achieved much of which we can be proud but we must also include within our history the harsh truth outlined in such detail in the commission's report.
That the full truth has finally come out is to be profoundly welcomed but it leaves behind the question of why it took so long to come out. The industrial schools system was effectively closed in the 1970s. While it was not closed because those involved accepted its failures, however, those failures were none the less evident. As the report shows clearly, literally thousands of people knew what had happened either because they were survivors or because they were involved in the system.
Why did we have to wait for survivors like Christine Buckley, Bernadette Fahy and Carmel McDonnell-Byrne to campaign in the face of disinterest and disbelief? Why did we have to wait for the work of Louis Lentin, Mary Raftery and Eoin O'Sullivan? Why was it not until 1999 that a Government was willing to apologise to the survivors? In trying to explain that it is worthwhile to examine the work of the Kennedy Committee, what it was trying to achieve and how its report was received.
The 1960s was a period of great change here and around the world. In public life a number of great innovators and reformers held office and overturned policies which were constraining our society and economy. Among these figures Donogh O'Malley stands out. Soon after he became Minister for Education he decided he would end the industrial school system. To achieve this he created the Kennedy Committee. While it was nominally a representative group, he principally chose members whom he could trust to propose major reform.
One of the constant questions over the years has been how a committee could have spent so long examining such a corrupt system and not have outlined the abuse or held people to account for their behaviour. In a meeting with the surviving members of the committee I asked that question and was told that their focus was on the future, not the past. More importantly, the act of questioning the system itself was viewed as radical and met constant opposition. They were generally faced with cold opposition when looking at existing institutions. At one point the newly appointed Minister, the late Mr. Brian Lenihan, had to personally intervene to ensure they had proper administrative support. When they demanded the end to severe physical punishment in one institution the response was slow, uncomprehending and hostile. When they published the report it was not welcomed by a system which was concerned only with its own status and resources. Once, at a meeting about the report in Kilkenny which some members of the committee were obliged to attend, it was made very clear that it was viewed as anti-religious. One contributor said, "we have been damned with the faint praise of secular administrators". Such incidents show that one of the main reasons there was no acknowledgement of abuse was that the underlying institutional arrogance was still very strong. It also shows why the change in child care policy, while very significant, did not go even further and took far too long to implement.
Two other factors were at play also. It is well known that a society which has participated in a great trauma can wait decades before confronting issues of fact and responsibility. At some point this becomes untenable and a new generation demands the right to know about its history, not with vague generalities but with hard truths. While there are no exact parallels, one may recognise similar factors today in former dictatorships such as those of Chile or much of former Soviet Europe.
Moreover, the most important part of exposing the truth, hearing the stories of survivors, was actively hindered. Countless individuals suffered in silence, believing that people would think worse of them if they were aware of what had happened in their childhood. The places to share and support were absent and the fear of being labelled a liar was constant. The damage imposed by being unable to discuss suffering often multiplies its impact and this, tragically, had an immense impact on survivors. It takes almost unimaginable strength to come through these ordeals and to be willing to discuss them.
In effect our society attempted to ignore the past and move on. It was not understood that this is simply impossible. There could be no moving on without confronting the past. It is not possible to build a society which vindicates the rights of its children without accepting how these rights could be violated on such a scale and for so long. This is why the commission was so necessary and why its report is so significant.
We will have much time in the months ahead to discuss the detailed policy implications of the report. As I have stated, I also acknowledge the finding of the report on other issues, especially more recent failures. For now, the most important thing we can do is understand what was allowed to happen in our country to so many of our weakest citizens.
When outlining the objectives for the commission a decade ago I stated to the House:
Throughout the work of the commission, and probably well beyond it, further horrific cases of abuse will come to light. More and more difficult questions will be asked and our concept of our society will be challenged. If we try, we can make this a healing process which will bring us closer to maturing as a society.
The commission has now completed its work and it is now down to us as a society to complete the healing process and to finally move on.
Coming from Wexford, unfortunately, I know more than I would ever wish about abuse. The levels of abuse and depravity have shocked even the most indifferent. The response of the 18 religious orders has not lent any sense that the remorse is genuine. The line, peddled by some, is that some people are claiming to have been abused because they are in it for the money. There is nothing more distasteful for those who have been violated by these unholy men and women. How could any person in charge of children do the despicable things that were done? Truly people can be evil but at what stage did the authorities say, "Stop"? At what stage did the State accept its responsibility for its action or lack of action to prevent what took place over many decades? I thank those who were brave and who exposed the criminality of the evil ones. Doing so eventually ensured these appalling acts stopped and other children were no longer abused.
I cannot imagine the damage, physical, emotional or psychological to so many people. It is hard enough to become a fair minded, rounded, good person within a loving family environment. How hard it must have been to finally leave the hideous State and religious environment and to move on and develop and evolve as adults and form relationships with others?
As a parent with two young children I can only commit to giving every support to ensure this abuse never takes place again. The State has abdicated its responsibility towards its citizens because the deal between the State and the 18 religious orders is, perhaps, the most corrupt in the history of the State. Given the meeting of tribunals for decades that is quite a statement. I am not anti-religious for stating as much; quite the opposite. The deal flies in the face of all Christian values ever preached. It must be scrapped totally and, whatever the outcome, the religious orders must accept it.
As a result of the actions of these monsters the finest citizens in the country who volunteer for many organisations throughout the land are in fear of being with a child on their own. It is no longer politically correct. Whatever one does, one should not get caught with a child on one's own. These monsters have also damaged the future bonds between children and adults.
From time to time an image sticks in the mind. Yesterday, the image of so many people carrying small shoes will stay with many of us forever. The reason is those small shoes remind those of us who were not abused at what stage some children were first brutalised. I feel only shame for what has taken place. What can be done? The answer is to deliver justice for those violated. A criminal prosecution must take place for those who violated the young.
I refer to another matter of abuse, although not on the same scale as that referred to in the Ryan report. Nevertheless it is institutional abuse in our schools. Many exceptional members of the clergy have had a remarkable impact on children in sport, education and many other spheres. Sadly, evil flourishes when good men and women chose to do nothing. This silence enabled too many additional acts of violence and sexual abuse on children.
The current position ensures there is a gap between the State and the employer of teachers which continues the abdication of responsibility. The religious in our country have no confidence in the abilities of its flock. The vice grip upon the important decisions is nothing short of appalling. The structure of boards of management guarantees that the State is not liable and guarantees that the religious will maintain full control over important decisions. The Louise O'Keeffe case shows nothing has changed and that the Department still holds the mindset of keeping a gap between it and the people, and that if something takes place, someone else will be responsible. However, in the decades to come the State will be responsible.
The current entente between the unions, the Department of Education and Science, the Government and the religious must be amended. Allow the people freedom to participate in boards of management without shackles. Allow people of our country to decide on the vital issues within our schools. We must change the relationship between the State and the religious. It need not be cancelled but it must be changed and there must be a belief in the ability of the people to do the right thing.
My educational experiences are broad. I am a former chairman of Wexford Vocational Education Committee, a former member of the board of management of Gorey Community School, the largest school in Ireland, and a current member of the board of management of Ballythomas national school, which I attended as a child and which my children now attend. It is a school with fewer than 100 pupils. However, I have had a terrible experience with a national school, not the school to which I referred, where institutional abuse has occurred in recent years. This abuse was emotional and psychological. The board of management did its best but was blocked from doing anything. The Department of Education and Science which conducted a whole-school evaluation, swept everything under the carpet because that is what it does. The patron believed nothing could be done due to the employment rights of the person in question. Unfortunately, abuse continues. I have reported the matter to relevant authorities and still nothing has happened. My final advice to parents when I could do nothing was to remove their children from the school. Our children have our blood running through their veins; nothing should be left undone to ensure their safety. If the same standard that applied years ago had been applied then, so many others would not have been interfered with.
Having attended yesterday's march outside the Dáil, listened very carefully to the speeches and witnessed at first hand the deep concerns, emotions, hurt, anger, wrongs and, as the Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, said, the need for healing, which was so strong there yesterday, we are all at one as Members of the Oireachtas in seeking to resolve this issue and get justice for the people who have been so grievously wronged. The State must ensure that this can never happen again. The most important point is that the appalling lessons that have been learned must never be allowed to be forgotten.
I come from a family where three of my uncles were Christian Brothers. All of them entered the Christian Brothers at the age of 14 to 15. A car came to Kerry and off they went to Dublin to the novitiate. They taught all their lives as Christian Brothers and I always believed they were very fine people - which they are. However, the way the order dealt with the training of such young people led to calamity and the awful, evil lives led by many of the Christian Brothers and other religious. Taking young people into monasteries at such a young age meant they never had any proper social development. They never had normal friendships with members of the opposite sex and they never had proper emotional or sexual development. This led, in my view, to the deep and appalling frustration and evil that grew in many of those in the orders, who destroyed forever the good name of all those fine people who worked in the religious institutions and orders and gave their lives for their beliefs.
The findings of the commission into child abuse are appalling. It describes sexual abuse as "endemic" and that beatings were "pervasive, severe, arbitrary and unpredictable". The institutions were a holdover from Dickensian times.
In Ireland, the schools' inhuman conditions seem to have been something of an open secret. In Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt recalls with horror the prospect of being sent to the Christian Brothers' school at Glin, whose staff was well known for "starving and beating" their charges. Such stories must have been just as well known in the halls of the Government. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, numerous observers remarked on the neglect and abuse suffered by students. I have been reading the account on http://www.paddydoyle.com/a-history-of-neglect/ . I wish to put on the record of the House some information from that website:
1944 - P. Ó Muircheartaigh, the Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools reported that "the children are not properly fed," which was "a serious indictment of the system of industrial schools run by nuns - a state of affairs that shouldn't be tolerated in a Christian community", where there was "semi-starvation and lack of proper care and attention." The Resident Managers of Lenaboy and Cappoquin industrial schools, both Sisters of Mercy, were dismissed for negligence and misappropriating funds, despite Church resistance. However, there were no other changes to industrial schools.
1945 - Secretary to the Department of Education wrote to the Secretary of the Dept. of Finance to denounce the "grave situation which has arisen regarding the feeding and clothing of children in industrial schools" due to "parsimony and criminal negligence".
1946 - Community pressure in Limerick, led by Councillor Martin McGuire, on the Dept. of Ed forces the release of Gerard Fogarty, 14, from Glin Industrial School after he was flogged naked with a cat of nine tails and immersed in salt water for trying to escape to his mother. A call for public inquiry into industrial schools was rejected by Minister of Education. Thomas Derrig because "it would serve no useful purpose".
Other voices were raised too. From the international stage came a famous Irish priest, Father Flanagan who visited Ireland in 1946. I will quote what he said and the response he received:
He was dismayed at the state of Ireland's reform schools and blasted them as "a scandal, un-Christlike, and wrong." And he said the Christian Brothers, founded by Edmund Rice, had lost its way.
Speaking to a large audience at a public lecture in Cork's Savoy Cinema he said, "You are the people who permit your children and the children of your communities to go into these institutions of punishment. You can do something about it." He called Ireland's penal institutions "a disgrace to the nation," and later said "I do not believe that a child can be reformed by lock and key and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child's character."
However, his words fell on stony ground. He wasn't simply ignored. He was taken to pieces by the Irish establishment. The then Minister Justice Gerald Boland said in the Dáil that he was "not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanagan said while he was in this country, because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them."
Fr. Flanagan was a devout Catholic, a man whom Catholics and non-Catholics world-wide had deemed a hero. He was the Mother Theresa of his day.
Despite that, the Irish Church and the Irish authorities felt comfortable ignoring Fr. Flanagan, ignoring the fact that he was considered to be an expert in the matter of providing for the education and upbringing of boys who were otherwise considered to be "lost causes."
When he arrived back in America Fr. Flanagan said: "What you need over there is to have someone shake you loose from your smugness and satisfaction and set an example by punishing those who are guilty of cruelty, ignorance and neglect of their duties in high places... I wonder what God's judgment will be with reference to those who hold the deposit of faith and who fail in their God-given stewardship of little children."
There were plenty of voices then and plenty of strong voices at the top of the Department of Education and from those involved in child care in other countries who commented on what happened. Yet we allowed it to happen, and it continued to happen. Some of us worry that it may still be happening today in some institutions.
Today this House is showing that it is united on this motion and there is no political division. We have a purpose to ensure that this never happens again. The healing process is very important. I call on the Catholic Church, the Vatican, the Christian Brothers and the other congregations, to release their records of this time so that we can see exactly what was happening in these institutions. The whole truth must come out in the open and there must be total transparency. We must know why it was allowed to happen, why this evil was visited on these thousands of people whose lives have been marked forever. As a Parliament and a country all we can do is make reparation to them in a humble and a contrite way and make sure this never happens again.
This report is the most important report ever to be debated in this House. It contains the most horrific evidence of abuse of children throughout the country over a period of decades. It is important that the report brings into the open the terrible brutality of the monsters who perpetrated such horrible deeds of abuse on children who were sent into these institutions for what should have been care. It is worse still that the repeated failure of the State, which had responsibility for putting these children into these institutions, abandoned them without any further interest in their care. As a society that allowed such abuse as is recorded in the Ryan report, we must take a share of responsibility for the abuse perpetrated on the children in care in these institutions run by the religious orders and the Departments of State who had responsibility for the provision of care.
Were it not for the courage and honesty of the survivors of this institutional abuse, who came forward to tell their stories, many of these abused persons would have been remembered only as our disappeared children. We now must come to terms with this level of abuse. Although institutional care belongs to a different era, many of the lessons to be learned from what happened have contemporary implications for the protection of vulnerable people in our society. There still is abuse of children in our country even if not to the same extent, or institutionalised.
We will compound the shame of past deeds if we fail to act now to ensure that no child can ever again be treated in the same way. We must be totally honest about situations in which many vulnerable children still find themselves; about the lack of family support in times of difficulty and about the inadequacy of child protection and services for children. We must find the resources now to show we are serious about responding to children's needs. It is important that we ask the Minister to ensure that the assurances given by the Taoiseach today in the House are carried through. He stated:
The Government accepts all the recommendations of the commission and is committed to their implementation ... I want to make it clear at the outset that the Government's priority is and will continue to be the needs of survivors.
It is important that this statement should offer a guarantee that funds and resources and personnel will be made available to those who need them.
With the experience of the past and the information now available, we must ensure that no future commission will find Ireland to be a place that fails to value childhood or to respect and protect children. We must adopt a response in which the survivors of abuse are recognised as having an absolute entitlement to properly resourced counselling and support services.
Many abused persons have clearly stated that their concern is not about compensation but about getting people to believe them in the first instance and then to believe their stories. It has been shown clearly that not being believed was the most hurtful experience of all for the abused person. These people must have access to proper services.
We must show our urgent commitment to have an immediate referendum on the rights of children. Why has the Government refused repeatedly to bring this about? The Government must also respond urgently to the call by the commission for the national guidelines on child protection be put on a statutory basis, and deal with all agencies, public and private, which fail to comply with the implementation of standards and responsibilities for all persons who work with children.
Furthermore, we must put in place immediately an inspection process which is independently operated and comprehensive in its application. At present we do not have such a facility although the Ombudsman for Children has repeatedly requested this. We have neither standards nor inspections. This lack was highlighted in the report and the failure of the Department of Education and Science in this area is a cause of serious concern.
In a summary of the conclusions, the system of inspection by the Department of Education and Science was found to be fundamentally flawed and incapable of being effective. One of the most serious findings was that inspectors rarely spoke to the children in these institutions. What kind of inspector would go into any one of the 50 institutions for which he or she had responsibility and not speak to one of the children inside it? In what frame of mind would such an inspector have been? This was the case despite the fact that inspectors must have been aware of the cruelty under which these children were living.
The position of the inspectors was compromised by a lack of independence from the Department. Here again, as a nation we must have shame. The Government of the time, its Ministers and the Department bowed to the church's authority. They were afraid to report and that is an indictment on all of us today. I still see evidence that this remains the case today.
The inspector was not supported by a regulatory authority which had the power to insist that changes be made. There was a statutory obligation that one inspector had responsibility for 50 schools. Inspections were not random or unannounced. School managers were alerted in advance when inspections were due. Again, that situation is replicated today. Nothing has changed and I doubt it will unless there is a firm commitment by the Taoiseach - which he gave today - and by other Ministers. The very same practices are happening in institutions for the elderly. These are told in advance when there will be an inspection so that everything can look right. When the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, visited a hospital in Galway, all the people on trolleys were pushed aside and there was a clear gangway for the Minister. Things have not changed to any great extent and it is important that the undertaking given by the Taoiseach today is implemented in full and with total commitment to the guarantees he gave.
It is said that stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage; the meaning being that the free spirit is never captured. However, reading these reports it is clear that is not the case. Children, adults, and people of all ages with special needs in this country were kept in institutional cages in the dark and were punished repeatedly and abused to an appalling extent. It is horrifying. It is even upsetting to read or to listen to accounts of what took place.
Can one imagine what it was like, if one had been the age of some of the children involved? They could see themselves as having done nothing wrong but, for one reason or another, they were institutionalised in a place in which they had no friends but very many enemies. Can one imagine what it was like for them to wait on a nightly basis for the predators and then to see some of those predators parade themselves afterwards in an exalted fashion, receiving recognition for what they appeared to embody? Can we imagine now what it was like for those children and young adults, having to go through that and then try to reconcile themselves with society and with life afterwards? It was appalling.
As a former member of the Eastern Health Board who was accustomed to making visits, as were other Members of this House, I am amazed that visiting committees and groups were not able to detect anything of what was going on, even without confirmation or corroborative evidence. It had to be visible and possible to detect. Of course, the old games did and do prevail. Hide everything at the moment of inspection. As Deputy Ulick Burke well knows, astute inspectors should be able to see past all that. All the tricks have been tried before. One thing is certain. Unless justice is done in a meaningful way, this kind of thing will continue. It will probably go on anyway but we must try to do something to bring it to a halt.
This is not purely an Irish phenomenon but, unfortunately, exists across Europe. This sadistic, appalling, sick, cynical and constant abuse of those who are under the power of those in authority continues - in our next-door neighbour jurisdiction, the UK, in more recent times and throughout Europe, in Austria, Belgium and various other countries. In our instance it spread across the country in a network. It appears it was accepted and acknowledged that this was the right way to treat people in care. It was a kind of Darwinism on the rampage.
What must happen now is that justice must be done and be seen to be done. It does not matter where the people are who committed these atrocities, they must be judged by our justice system on what they have done and must pay the price. We cannot hide from the fact that as long as these atrocities have been committed and the people who committed them are still around - many are although some have passed on - justice must be done. Otherwise, we will be seen to have failed in our job. Once it becomes known that a particular situation prevails and once we know about it, but do nothing about it, we are culpable. It is as simple as that. Our entire system becomes corrupted by what follows denial of that nature.
There was a massive failure of our system in the past. Just the other day, I spoke to an elderly man who intervened in the case of a child in one of our industrial schools in the late 1940s or early 1950s when the child was being beaten mercilessly by a member of staff. This elderly man was a young man at the time and intervened, but for his trouble and pain he was prosecuted, fined and bound to the peace. That is how society dealt with the issue then. Unless we do something about the situation now and fine, prosecute and punish those who carried out abuse, we will have failed also. There is no use in condemning the system of the past unless we do something now to bring it to a halt.
Vulnerable people always seem to become victims, whether they are poor, young or old. When people entrusted with their care fail in that duty of care, those vulnerable people always seem to be abused. Whenever they attempt to stand up for their rights or raise their hands, nobody wants to believe them. The reason for this is it is more convenient to ignore them. Sadly, we do not seem to have learned from the awful mistakes of the past. The reports go back over years and decades, but the same thing is happening today. Children are being abused at this moment. There has been institutional failure in the cases of children who were being abused in the past three to seven years. I have raised this issue repeatedly with various Departments, but the first response is always a brush-off. Nobody wants to know or respond because it might upset some of the institutions and might be difficult to prove.
The issue of proof and the lack of or need for it is important. There have been situations where children have been taken away from their natural parents and been institutionalised on the basis of false information and have become victims thereafter. It is important that every case be investigated, but every effort must be made to ensure that proof is obtained and that justice follows.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this issue. I regret we could not address the Ryan report in the format originally proposed yesterday. The postponement of the discussion from yesterday's business was regrettable because it served to render the victims of abuse once again in doubt as to this House's commitment to them. Let me state irrevocably, nothing could be further from the truth.
I am glad of the opportunity to discuss this issue because this report and scandal are a cancerous stain on Ireland's history. I join with the Taoiseach and the Deputies from both sides who spoke already in expressing my distress at the contents of this report and the unimaginable pain inflicted upon hundreds of children. I welcome the Taoiseach's and the Government's unqualified apology. As a Deputy, I wish to add my apologies to all the victims, especially any who currently reside in north Dublin.
A gesture must be made on behalf of all the Deputies and citizens of the State, a gesture that will illustrate for the survivors of abuse the depths of remorse and sadness we all feel for what has happened to them. The idea of a memorial as first mooted first by former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, could be a good way to illustrate the Government's further intention. A memorial would also allow the public to remember those victims who have since died through suicide or ill-health. It would forever remind us that, alive or dead, these people's lives were over on the day they were dragged into these institutions. However, the State's repentance must not stop at a memorial. Victims must know that the State will use every facility at its disposal to seek full justice for them.
Much has been made of the role of money in this whole process and in the original indemnity agreement reached following the establishment of the redress scheme. I do not believe that the 253 people who gave evidence to the redress scheme's confidential committee were motivated by money. To accuse victims of this now is to once again rob them of their dignity. In approaching the redress board, victims, above anything else, were looking for acknowledgement of their experience. There is no doubt the payment of monetary compensation was a helpful aid in the course of their lives, but I believe that first and foremost in the minds of survivors is relief that their experiences have now been laid at the feet of the religious orders.
This is not to say that the various orders involved in this appalling abuse should not continue to pay in financial terms for the crimes for which they are responsible. The State must continue to pursue the orders to seek more funding for it to use as it sees fit to help survivors. I welcome the idea of the establishment of a trust which will administer any funds recovered from the congregations. In addition, the State must and will continue to consult with survivors, who know more than anyone how best any additional funds can help them.
Once an assessment is made of the orders' assets, we must move quickly to determine what amount will be sought from them. We must pursue the orders through the correct channels and due process must be undergone. However, this should all be done while conscious of the struggle in which every survivor of institutional abuse is engaged every day. Simply put, we need to deal with this swiftly and satisfactorily, so that these people can get on with their lives in the full knowledge that every single option was explored and exploited for their benefit, to make up for what happened to them.
We need to move past apologies and quickly start making amends. So where do we go from here? The option is open to provide more compensation to victims. Funding should also be funnelled into a counselling service that is completely separate from the religious orders where survivors can be provided with unconditional support. We cannot imagine the litany of mental health problems with which these brave people have been left. Survivors were also left with a litany of physical complaints, arising directly and indirectly from their abuse, such as alcoholism, drug abuse etc. Funding could also be ring-fenced to provide general medical support for these complaints.
A major concern I have, which not been given much mention, is the new generation of people who have been indirectly affected by the vicious abuse suffered by survivors. I speak of the children of the children whose lives were ruined in the hallways of these institutions and schools. The children of survivors have also lived under the shadow of abuse that took place in Artane and Daingean etc. and it is naive to imagine that these children have not also been affected and damaged by the abuse suffered by their parents. Similar services should be offered to them.
Constructive services, such as literacy programmes and educational opportunities, should be offered to those whose education was crippled by the abuse they suffered. Every effort should be made to provide them with the opportunities of which they were robbed. Furthermore, we must reach out to those who have emigrated because the pain of remaining in this State is too painful. These people are living out their lives in agony in foreign lands, having been tormented throughout their childhoods.
We must also channel resources into ensuring that abuse of this level, or any level, should never be inflicted upon or suffered by our children again. I am assured that the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is working hard to reform our child welfare and protection system. I welcome the intention to ensure the uniform application throughout the State of Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children 1999. Could I suggest any additional resources contributed by the orders be put towards the cause of ensuring this does not happen again? Perhaps the State could use these resources to provide an after-hours mental health service.
For my education, I was fortunate to be a day pupil at St. Vincent's CBS in Glasnevin, Dublin 9. There I was gifted with a wonderful education, a love of sports, in particular hurling and Gaelic football, and a healthy respect for men and women of the cloth. Since the publication of the Ryan report, I have searched my memory for any hints of abuse during my time in St. Vincent's. Like many of us who were taught at religious schools, I feel the inevitable guilt that I was not aware of, and therefore could not stop, any abuse which may have been suffered there. I comfort myself by remembering the decent and honest men who taught me and I pray to this day, that no abuse was conducted there. We will know, I suppose, if this is the case only in the fullness of time.
We must spare a thought for the many teaching clerics who have dedicated their lives to the education of Irish children, as well the priests and nuns working in the community today. I can only imagine that their disgust and shame mirrors that of every citizen in Ireland. As I stood yesterday in Molesworth Street among those who were marching in solidarity with the victims of this abuse, it struck me that any future contribution made by the religious orders must extend further than mere monetary terms.
Deputy Shatter was correct in suggesting that the orders must, without hesitation, submit all documentation to gardaí who are investigating these matters. The orders should not be concerned with issues of confidentiality and privacy. Their priority should be identical to that of this Government, justice for victims.
There is a moral obligation on the orders to be submissive to the State in this matter. The State, in turn, must use every tool at its disposal to bring to justice the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. As Deputy Beverley Flynn said earlier, neither age nor incapacity should protect abusers from being prosecuted and challenged. They have not been challenged to date. Quite the opposite, they were closeted and protected by their orders. On their actions becoming known, instead of informing the Garda and the Department of Education of cases of abuse, abusers were instead shuffled from school to institution and back again so their actions could remain undetected. They and their actions were hidden.
As Deputy Higgins stated passionately, there was a huge level of collusion perpetrated by the congregations and, to a certain extent, by the contemporary courts. There is evidence of institutions contacting judges to appeal to them to send children their way, so they could avail of the capitation funding available. Children were put to work mending shoes and doing laundry, often at the expense of their education. This was child labour and while orders may in some cases deny knowledge of abuse, they certainly made money off these children. It is time for them to pay up.
It offends me that the orders' initial reaction to the Ryan report was to close ranks, defending themselves and hiding behind the indemnity agreement. Like everyone else, I listened to the radio throughout the day many orders announced their intention to co-operate with the Government. As the stubborn resolve of religious order after religious order crumbled that afternoon, it occurred to me that the congregations could have done this earlier. What had they to gain by holding back their contrition? My disgust at the congregations' defensiveness was second only to my disgust at their actions. The attitude displayed in the aftermath of the report's publication has resulted in a new wave of disrespect among a generation of people for whom the institutional abuse was previously an abstract idea.
Similarly, co-operation must be given in the provision of documents to victims who remain uncertain about their family histories. It is difficult to imagine that there remain individuals who are unaware of basic information in relation to their families, their siblings' fates or their own place of birth.
I want to echo the Taoiseach's comments in relation to Mr. Justice Ryan. He has done the victims of abuse a great service. He and his teams need to be thanked, as do those who came forward to tell of their experiences. Mr. Justice Ryan has opened up this torrid history, not only to millions of Irish people but also to billions of people across the world. The ramifications of the Ryan report will be far reaching. Never again will the public doubt or deny the claims of victims of abuse. All preconceptions about the behaviour of those responsible for the care of children have been challenged and a new level of awareness of the potential for abuse has been adopted by our population.
I urge every citizen to cease trying to imagine the various acts of physical and sexual abuse inflicted on these children. Instead, I ask that everyone reflect on the idea that many of the victims mentioned in their evidence the "kindness" bestowed upon them by certain nuns and priests. This kindness did not come in the form of an innocent cuddle or a supportive chat. The kindness to which these children looked forward was not being beaten to a pulp, not being touched or not being left out in the snow and hosed down with freezing water. For them, kindness meant not being touched, just for one day. I find this idea more distressing than I can say and I remain thankful that my time with the brothers was one of innocence.
I will conclude by reading a poem written by an anonymous abuse victim under the pseudonym Jaker Ray, of Dundalk. The Story of Me and Many More, A Child After the Before. I am the day - whose light will not bright I am the night - whose darkness will not light I am the tree - whose root is dead I am the flower - without a head I am the fish - whose fins will not breathe I am the bird - who will not eat seed I am the scab - that just will not heal I am the neural - that just cannot feel I am a smile - that remains frozen I am a choice - that horror had chosen I am a year - without a season I am a reason - without a reason I am a whisper - that cannot vibrate I am a scream - that cannot migrate I am a prison - whose cell will not open I am the cell - where inside it is so choking I am a house - that has no foundation I am a country - without a nation I am the hell - that is my centre I am the heaven - that has no banter I am Christmas - without its infant I am a gift box - without its present I am the present - that is now past I am the past - that is now present I am a heart - without a soul I am the secret - never told I was lost - could not be found I was frightened - no solace around I am a curse - no man can swear I am the abused - no one was there I done no crime - I served a dictum I done no wrong - I am a victim I was the wrong - that never was right I was defenceless - I could not fight I was that child - who was un-nurtured I am the man - who is still tortured I was a brain - with little education I was a being - with little validation I am the love - that suffered rejection I am a failure - under closer inspection I am a tear - that does not cry I am laughter - that does not fly I am a face - that puts on a show I am a body - I prefer no one to know I have a secret - I have to hide I am an expert - at all this and besides I am A past child abused - a man confused Just one of many - that were used To those of you - who escaped this ordeal If you were I - this is how it would feel I was a happy child - once before Till he took me behind "closed doors" Scared me into keeping our secret What he had done - to me in secret Since than I just gave up hoping That life's door would ever again open I am young - or I could be very old I am but one - of this story told Yes see, I was a child abused & that's a title I didn't choose & the man I walk around as today Still hides his BIG secret away In the recesses - of his being Where it will be - never seen Even if you get near me, real close You'd never guess, I was a victim of "Child Abuse" But like many more - I am and I was Inflicted with this life virus - this curse And there's no disease in life that's worse Than being a victim of "Child Abuse" PS Can I point out, just about here, that I really died in my ELEVENTH year! (RIP)
I join my colleagues from both sides of the House in expressing my revulsion and horror at the happenings outlined in such stark detail in the Ryan report. This report has opened the eyes of many people to what was not known to exist in such fearsome detail. The brave ladies who called on Deputy Micheál Martin's office ten years ago deserve the thanks and praise of the nation. Their bravery and the bravery of those who have told their stories publicly in recent years is an example to our society of what matters. That is the whole truth and something one need not fear because the truth, which is always a cleansing agent, is important for the soul of the nation.
The scale of the abuse which took place was horrendous and unknown to us. Responsibility lies not only on the shoulders of those who perpetrated acts of abuse but also on the shoulders of those in authority - church and State - who were aware for years of the wrongdoing of the perpetrators but chose to ignore it. That responsibility remains on all of those who are still alive, who should be made pay for their irresponsibility or criminal acts. The many perpetrators and their superiors who have died will have had to answer to their god.
At long last, the broader church, through the cardinal and the archbishop and other bishops, have acknowledged responsibility for what took place over years. I regret, however, that they did not take this step many years ago as to have done so would have saved the reputation of many good members of the religious orders, brothers, nuns and sisters, who have had to endure a great deal of unjust taunts in recent years. The religious orders consist of more good people than bad.
Those who chose to ignore abuse may have greater responsibility than those who perpetrated it. The State has finally accepted its responsibility in the matter, which was not one-sided. The State also has a responsibility to the survivors and must help to lift the psychological, financial and sexual burden they have borne for many years. The victims of abuse require counselling and other forms of assistance. It is incumbent on the Government and the entire machinery of the State to help the survivors, many of whom are in the late stages of life, to find peace before the end of their days. As has been noted, the repercussions of abuse percolate through society and the families which have been burdened by it. It is important, therefore, that all those affected receive help.
One of the lessons we must learn from the Ryan report is that human nature does not change. Abuse has occurred for centuries and we are all aware of cases from media reports of cases of children being abused by people in sports clubs, youth clubs and so forth. It is vital, therefore, that procedures, guidelines and safeguards are in place to ensure people, young and old, are aware of the dangers. As Deputy O'Rourke noted, the Stay Safe programme should be taught to young children in primary and secondary schools. Given that many children do not receive guidance at home, it is imperative that the State intervenes to ensure children are advised of the dangers in the world outside.
I commend the many brave people who brought into the public domain information about the horrendous physical, psychological and sexual abuse carried out in the not too distant past. Ireland has been consumed with materialism in recent years but having had our eyes opened to the scale of the abuse that took place, this knowledge may bring home to us the true priorities in life. I join colleagues in congratulating Mr. Justice Ryan on carrying out such detailed work.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is difficult to adequately express in words the sadness and shame I felt on reading the Ryan report, which highlights one of the darkest and upsetting periods in our history. As a citizen, I feel ashamed that we, as a nation, could allow the perpetration of widespread, long-term abuse on some of our most vulnerable young people while in the guardianship of the State.
As Deputy Michael Ahern stated, great credit is due to those who were willing to speak about their personal experiences and bring information about them into the public domain. Given the private nature of their experiences, it must have been difficult for victims to speak out about such events in an open manner. In publicly discussing their experiences, they have, however, done the country a service in showing how people can set aside their humanity and behave in the most awful manner.
The Ryan report documents a shameful catalogue of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect which was permitted to continue for decades. Earlier today, a man named Andy Smith related to me his experiences in the Daingean reformatory school. People descended to committing acts of depravity and while we would like to believe we are above such behaviour, I am not sure that is true. In the right circumstances people are able to set aside their humanity without difficulty.
The abusers were sheltered by a culture of silence and denial and children who spoke out were disbelieved and accused of telling lies. I listened to Mr. Michael O'Brien, a victim of abuse, tell his story on the "Questions and Answers" programme and was struck by his honesty and bravery. His account of the abuse perpetrated against him as a young boy drove home to me and the entire nation that there are people among us who still live with the horrors inflicted on them. Nothing can make up for the abuse suffered by Michael O'Brien, Andy Smith and many others like them. Nothing will ever take away the nightmares they have and the fear and emotional problems they endure. We must do everything in our power to ensure some measure of justice is granted to them.
While I understand the indemnity deal concluded in 2002 cannot be reopened, the religious orders must act on the commitment they gave to establish an additional fund to compensate victims of abuse. It was disappointing, to say the least, to learn that in some cases the religious orders had not met the funding commitment they gave in 2002. They must act without reservation to prove they are genuinely committed to helping those who were seriously mistreated in their care. Apologising is the easy part; apologies must be sincere, genuine and backed up by action.
The Government also has a pivotal role to play. We must show our commitment to the victims of abuse and future generations of young people by implementing immediately the recommendations of the Ryan report. Appropriate structures and resources need to be put in place to ensure the safeguarding of children and we must always remain vigilant in this regard to ensure that we do not come remotely close to allowing anything like this happen again.
My school days, like those of Deputy Kennedy, were pleasant. I have pleasant memories of Willow Park and of Newpark comprehensive school. All children should be entitled to happy school days and happy memories of school. It is essential that as a society we ensure that our children feel safe and happy going to and coming home from school.
We must accept that these abusers could not have acted as they did were it not for the systemic failures of the State and church in meeting their responsibilities. I would ask that we closely examine our care system to ensure that the needs of our children are the priority. Supervision, transparency and, as Deputy Michael Ahern stated, openness must be always at the forefront in our child care system.
It is a wonderful experience watching my children going to school happy. Education must be about the enjoyment of learning. They come home happy and they go to school happy.
I commend the Taoiseach and the other members of the Cabinet on their actions so far and I welcome the proactive approach they have shown by meeting with both the victims of abuse and the religious orders. These meetings were a step in the right direction but it is important that the momentum is not allowed to wane. We must maintain this momentum because this issue is just too important to be sidelined.
Trust in the religious orders has been severely eroded, not only because of this report but because of other reports of abuse that have come to light in recent years. However, I want to take this opportunity to put on record that while some individuals in the religious orders took part in this abuse and many others are just as guilty, in my opinion, as they allowed it happen by standing by and not intervening, we must recognise that there are good people who have dedicated their lives to making a difference for younger people and their community and it must devastate them to read this damning report on their peers. We cannot tar everybody with the same brush. During the summer I was in the Gambia where I met with an Irish bishop of the Holy Ghost order who was continuing to make a significant difference to his adopted community.
Archbishop Martin stated this week that Pope Benedict XVI was visibly upset by accounts contained in the Ryan report. I am heartened to hear that the Pope has urged justice to be done for all the victims. I sincerely hope that these words will not ring hollow over the coming months and years. Both church and State now have an opportunity to right the wrong that has been done and if we act accordingly, we may also at least be able to hold our heads up in years to come and state we did all we could to make up for the horrors suffered by countless young people.
Yesterday's march of solidarity saw thousands of people gather outside to show their support for the victims of these abuses. The dignity with which they conducted themselves was astounding. I only hope that we can follow their example of honesty and bravery and ensure that the right action is taken now.
I wish to share time with Deputy Rabbitte.
Following on from the previous speaker, one positive action the Pope could take would be to instruct his flock that complaints of sexual abuse be automatically referred to the Garda or the relevant police authority. That is something that could be done immediately.
It struck me that the people who have been to the forefront of bringing this horror to our attention call this the Irish holocaust. I sat and thought about that for a while. Just after the Second World War a study was done in Germany on how people could allow such awful things to happen to their neighbours - the people they worked with, the people they went to school with, the people they met every day, in some cases, the people they were married to, and those their children played with.
The study concluded that it is quite easy to do this if people are dehumanised. First, one takes away a person's first name so that one addresses him or her with his or her formal second name and then one groups people as if the group has no personality, as, for instance, in the case of the Jews, but in this case the Irish poor. Once you start talking about people in those terms it is quite easy to do anything to them. They are less than human and, therefore, it is okay. Like the mangy dog, once one dehumanises someone one can simply do what one likes to him or her and it does not impinge on one's consciousness, and that is what happened here.
I listened to every speaker here today. They keep speaking about this awful thing that happened to all our children. It did not happen to all our children. It did not happen to the children of the middle classes. It did not happen to the children of the educated classes. It happened to the children of the poor.
On asking why did someone did not shout "Stop", who was there to shout "Stop"? I can still remember my mother telling me about the terror there was when the cruelty man came to the street. There was terror because this man had the power to take people's children. Despite the fact that one was poor and one's children may not have been dressed to perfection, they were very much loved, and we forget that sometimes. These children were taken from women who never got over it.
For a number of years, although not recently, I went on a Saturday morning, usually once a month, to the Daisy Café in Notting Hill in London to an afternoon meeting of people who had escaped from Ireland having been in institutions. How they escaped, and how they got through that hell of the boat and the train and did not get picked up by further perverts, and perhaps people who wanted to put them into prostitution and all sorts of things, always amazed me because they did not have an education, confidence or the wherewithal to protect themselves. What they had was the survival instinct because that is what they are - survivors.
All those people wanted to do was talk. One woman told me does not know when her birthday is. Imagine not knowing that. All I ever do when I think about these matters is close my eyes and imagine it happening to one of my children or grandchildren. That is all one has to do to know what it must have felt like. Those groups supported one another, and they did survive. Maybe they did not have the lives they could have had but they survived; they survived because they had one another and they clung together.
The niece of one of those involved in that group wrote to me. As I do not want to identify him, I will leave gaps. She wrote:
I am writing with regard to my nephew, ..., to briefly recount my memories of the short time that he spent in the family household ...
[His] mother ... is only 11 months younger than myself. We were very close to one another, so I was terribly shocked, as were all the family, when she became pregnant at ... [a very young] age. I never knew what had happened to her, or who the father of the child was. I just remember missing her during the two years that she went away ... to have her baby.
Approximately two years later the girl returned with this woman's nephew and came to live in their house. The letter continues:
He was a lovely child and I was very relieved to see my sister. We loved her child, as I did all of my other siblings. I helped [her] to care for him. We were:a large family, but no child in our home was ever cold, hungry or unloved.
Although I do not know why it came about, I was actually at home the day that the police sergeant, accompanied by another official unknown to me, came in from [the town] to take [him] away from the family home. It was a heartbreaking moment, but in those days it was very hard to speak out against any authority. I felt desperate at what had happened, that he was taken away from all of us, while [his mother] was out of the house working. It just seemed that we had to accept the situation and get on with our lives.
Over the years I often wondered what had happened to [him], but as it was such a traumatic experience for [his mother], it was never discussed openly. Yet I often wished that I had tried to trace him while I was young.
Just before Christmas in 2005 I had the opportunity to meet [him] again, after more than half a century had gone by. To meet such a kind and gentle person was a true pleasure, yet I felt so sad and angry when I discovered the life that he had lived as a child growing up in the orphanages in Kilkenny and Cork. Also, to read certain comments recorded on documentation from those times, that the reason [he] was removed was because he was found wandering and destitute is particularly outrageous to me.
This story has been repeated time and time again. Were I to tell the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, the young girl's age when she had her baby, he and I would know that she is still alive. Certain people should be included in the redress scheme, namely, the women in the Magdalen laundries. Women still live in the one in Cork because they are so institutionalised that they cannot live independently.
Mothers and fathers, including those who are still alive, were deprived of their children. What we did was outrageous, but not all of us did it. Those parents had no part in institutionalising their children, nor did the poor, but people outside the religious orders played a definite part, namely, the local sergeant, the community nurse, the local magistrate of district justice, the local busy body-----
-----and the dreaded cruelty man, who came in and decided that the children of the poor were lesser beings than those of the middle class and the rich. We should be considering such people. An entire group of people outside the schools also had a responsibility.
I am struck by the at-risk register, which resulted from a case with which I was dealing. I would like to take a look at the current register to see who was on it. I could nearly guarantee the House that they would be the children of the poor. I know of no social worker who would be prepared to put his or her neck on the line and take someone on in court over the at-risk register.
Whistleblowers need to be protected more and we need to keep talking about women in the Magdalen laundries and the mothers, fathers and siblings of the children in question, people who were traumatised, as this letter makes clear. People who feel justified in complaining so as to ensure that children are protected should be protected by the law. The Government has buried the whistleblower legislation in committee and refuses to let it pass all Stages. We can do something.
We can be as sympathetic in the Chamber as we like, but we are still treating the children of the poor differently than we treat the children of other classes. We definitely treat Traveller children differently. In 20 years' time, will people knock on our doors and ask us whether, thanks to the Ryan report, we knew that other children were being treated badly? We know, but we choose to ignore the issue.
When opening this debate, the Taoiseach told the House that the report of the Ryan commission made grim reading. He stated:
The catalogue of horror and terror that was visited over many years on children in the care of religious congregations, placed there by the State, is appalling beyond belief. It is made even more appalling, if that is possible, by the fact that those who perpetrated the abuse had promised to uphold and practise the gospel of love and belonged to congregations founded to serve the very noblest ideals.
I agree with the Taoiseach's summary. That these crimes against helpless children occurred is appalling beyond belief. That they were committed by people dedicated to the religious life, that they could continue for several decades without intervention by the State is appalling beyond belief. That children were half-starved and driven to desperate measures because the religious congregations wanted to turn a profit is appalling beyond belief.
We are not dealing with individual instances of deviant and outrageous behaviour. As the Ryan report makes clear, abuse was the culture of these institutions, not the exception. In the boys' institutions, sexual abuse was endemic. As regards physical abuse, the Taoiseach stated: "Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from". Whereas physical beatings were not systemic in girls' schools, girls suffered intolerable regimes and were subject to predatory sexual abuse. Where children mustered the courage to complain, they were at best ignored or, at worst, humiliated and told that they had brought it on themselves. Where inspections took place, like those carried out by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in our meat plants, the management was tipped off in advance.
If the rest of us feel shame, there must be people still alive who were alerted to these horrors when they were still serving in their professional lives and who did nothing. Similarly, some clerical authorities were told and did not want to know. Worse, it is plain that, in some cases, they were complicit in covering up. The Department of Education and Science has much to answer for. Its political masters who bent the knee with such alacrity to the ecclesiastical authorities of the day also have much to answer for. Irrespective of whether there was political collusion, it is clear from the Ryan report that the Department's officials did not investigate complaints, but sought instead to protect the religious congregations. As long ago as 1946 when Father Flanagan, an enlightened priest normally resident in the United States, did his famous tour of this country, his outspoken criticisms were condemned in the House as intemperate and unfounded.
In his address the Taoiseach properly highlighted the "disturbing level of emotional abuse by religious and lay staff in institutions". He stated: "Witnessing abuse of co-residents, seeing other children being beaten, seeing the humiliation of others and being forced to participate in beatings had a powerful and distressing impact, while separating siblings and restrictions on family contact were profoundly damaging for family relationships". There are depraved people in every society, but they are not put in charge of children in every society. In Ireland, we put them in charge of our most vulnerable children and then we forgot about them.
How did church and State in the land of saints and scholars collude to leave little children at the mercy of the monsters who ran these residential institutions? At a minimum, there was wilful neglect. At worst, in Joyce's phrase, Christ and Caesar were hand in glove to rid society of a problem that we did not want to address. As Deputy Kathleen Lynch mentioned, no one shouted "Stop". Virtually no one even asked questions. We did not want to know. We turned a blind eye to the slavery and worse in the Magdalen laundries. We turned our backs on the residential institutions that housed problems about which we did not want to know.