Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 November 2005

12:00 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House for these difficult statements on the Ferns Report. We should thank Mr. Justice Murphy and his team for a thorough report. That report caused deep anger. The graphic accounts, which I did not particularly want to read, and the actions of perpetrators, particularly Fr. Fortune, leave me speechless. These people enjoyed a lot of trust and were in positions of responsibility. We have talked about teachers, trainers of football teams and boy scout or girl guide leaders being vetted by gardaí but there were many priests in the Wexford area who abused their position feeling they could get away scot free.

It reminds me of the bad old days. Only 20 years ago, Britain was the dumping ground for Ireland's social problems. Thousands of young women took the boat to England for an abortion. People knew when a young girl went to England to spend time with her aunt what was happening. Generations of children never knew their fathers because they were separated and had gone to work in Britain, coming back at Christmas and on special occasions. Law breakers used to be told by gardaí that they would be prosecuted if they did not go to Britain. That was compounded some years ago when a judge said he would send a young offender to prison if he did not go to Britain. There was a time when we could not get contraception in this great country of ours, when we had to cross the Border to Enniskillen to get it. We have a lot to answer for.

We should thank the service and the people in Britain for putting up with our problems for many years, and perhaps we should apologise to Britain for the way we have used that country as a dumping ground.

Homosexual acts were illegal in this country and homosexuals were treated as second-class citizens. They were not allowed teach and most of them had to go to the United Kingdom. In terms of what defined Ireland at the time, there was a close relationship between the church and the State and people who were all-powerful. People were licking the altars of the church, so to speak. They could be seen following religious processions in every small town yet they were doing people harm. I am not talking about the majority of them but some of them were acting in that way. That was the way life was then.

When I was about 12, I remember my mother, who was a very quiet, inoffensive lady, taking me aside, as I am sure did most mothers at the time, and saying, "Watch out for him". The people she was talking about were not sex offenders but we were warned to steer clear of certain people. I do not believe, however, that any parent told their child that a certain priest was a sex offender. It just did not happen. We have grown up but perhaps we have much to learn in that regard.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by these allegations and the churches have a lot to answer for. We all know they did not respond in the correct way. They kept their heads down, just as did people in society, when they should have taken the lead. Once again, as a society we did not confront our problems. We shoved them aside and that is what the Catholic Church did, which was wrong.

There are very good priests. Members of the missions were in my town two weeks ago when this story broke. They were very frank and apologetic and said this should never happen again. In times of crisis I always find that people have the capacity to forgive but they also have the capacity to get on with life and ensure these abuses never happen again. The missionaries said that when this news broke they discussed it when they went home. They wondered how they could face the people at the missions that night but when they arrived at the missions the place was virtually full. There was an enthusiasm and a forgiveness on the part of people. They understood and they went away with a pep in their step. What happened was wrong and action should be taken against the perpetrators but we have to move on because there is also much good in the church.

What happened in Artane and other industrial schools was wrong and we are right to expose those issues. I commend the marvellous work done by Mr. O'Gorman of the One in Four organisation. The members of that organisation have been very proud and brave but we have let them down. As Senator Minihan said, they have been let down by the State, local politicians, gardaí, the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children, and Education and Science, and, most importantly, the church. Transferring abusers from one post to another, or leaving them in positions of authority, was wrong. There was a view that they were above the law and there was a wilful neglect of young people. Our responsibility for the future is the protection of young people. That responsibility lies with the State. The Government and all political parties have that responsibility, and that must be recognised by all of us.

Many of the instances of abuse investigated in the Ferns Report relate to the 1960s and 1970s but I cannot believe some of them relate to 2002, which is only three years ago. Perhaps we have not grown and we have much more to learn. I welcome the fact that there will be an investigation in the diocese of Dublin but I fear what might come out of that investigation. As a politician it is my responsibility to seek the truth but from a human point of view I almost do not want to know what the truth has in store. We must all ensure these events do not happen again but every case must be investigated.

I pay tribute to all those who outed those who committed these evil deeds. I hope we can move on and that the systems will be put in place to ensure they will never happen again and that, most importantly, our children will be protected. Senator Norris was correct when he said that boards of schools and so on were discriminatory in the way they approached minorities and people with a homosexual or lesbian background. It must be recognised now that because people are homosexuals does not mean that they pose a risk to young people. We have grown up as a society in that regard.

Whatever needs to be done, I know the Minister of State will ensure that the proper safeguards will be put in place. I am very concerned about what may come out in the future but we must deal with it and ensure these abuses never happen again.


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