Seanad debates

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Ferns Report: Statements (Resumed).


11:00 am

Liam Fitzgerald (Fianna Fail)

I welcome the Minister of State and compliment him on the time he has given to this debate both here and in the Lower House. I note that he has attended this House since the debate began. I agree with a number of matters raised by my Opposition colleagues. This is not the first time references have been made in a report to child sex abuse by members of the clergy. We have already seen the report on residential institutions in which some extremely unsavoury references appeared. There is a difference in this case, however, in so far as the Ferns Inquiry will be acknowledged as a watershed. It is the catalyst that shattered the hitherto unmentionable taboo of paedophilia. In the past, people adopted a hush-hush approach and did not want to accept there was such a thing, let alone talk about it. That is why the Ferns Report marks a watershed in changing attitudes both in rural and urban areas, whereby people are facing up to the reality of paedophilia. Not alone is the subject being discussed, but action is also being demanded because people realise paedophilia may be part of a behaviour pattern of some individuals, albeit an unacceptable one.

The report confronts the last remnants of complacency in our society regarding this heinous crime. There was a great deal of complacency and denial based on a refusal to accept this was happening. There was a veil of secrecy over it for years. As a society we have no choice but to confront this evil crime. The report marks the beginning of a new maturity in relations between church and State.

I am horrified at the nature of the findings in the report on clerical child sex abuse in Ferns. Even allowing for the social structures of those decades, it is difficult to understand why there was such an inadequate response, in some cases no response. In other cases there was outright denial and alleged destruction of evidence by the church and health authorities, and the Garda Síochána.

I sympathise with the victims of the abuse and hope they will find healing as a result of this inquiry and the Government decision to refer the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was imperative that it be immediately referred to the DPP and I support that action. The Government's swiftness in that regard will be asignificant part of the healing process for the victims.

I sympathise too with the thousands of priests, brothers and nuns throughout the country who have led exemplary lives and are shocked and horrified at the revelations in the report. I make no apology for saying this. I know many priests, nuns and brothers who have made a significant contribution to this State, in the education of this and previous generations. Some people hammered the Taoiseach for saying that without them we could not have afforded the education. Not alone is that true but in my case, living in a fairly isolated rural region, and for many others, it would have been extremely difficult to avail of second level education. There were two religious orders located in my small rural community in the foothills of a mountain.


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