Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 November 2005

11:00 am

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad the Seanad is holding a debate on this important report. First, I wish to pay tribute to those who came forward to speak to the inquiry to outline the appalling abuse they suffered. Their fortitude in recalling the past and bringing it to light has done a great public service for the people of this country and for the Government and Parliament. They laid the facts in public view and allowed the tribunal team to produce a fine report which outlines what we must do in the future to prevent the repetition of this type of conduct.

The courageous people who spoke about their experiences have offered both the inquiry and the country a disturbing but crucial insight into the nature and scale of the problem and the lasting trauma it can generate. We must remember that the events that occurred in Ferns have affected the families of both the victims and those against whom allegations were made. I hope that, in this debate, the feelings of all those people are taken into account.

I also pay tribute to Mr. Justice Murphy and his team. It is accepted on all sides that they have done an excellent job. The report is of a high intellectual quality and is practical and sensible in its conclusions. It carefully outlines the nature and purpose of the inquiry the team was asked to conduct. The report contains an interesting review of the relevant literature on the subject of child sexual abuse. It also deals with the legal and managerial structures not only of the diocese of Ferns but also of the relevant health and police authorities.

The Government accepts the recommendations of the report in full. The Government, and I on its behalf, condemned in the strongest possible terms the abuse of authority by those who perpetrated these acts in the diocese of Ferns and those who failed to prevent and deal with those who perpetrated these acts. This was a gross dereliction of duty in the protection of children. The Government and the country are appalled, shocked and dismayed at the extent of these allegations. However, our duty in the Oireachtas and in the Government is to ensure that proper child protection practices are in place and operate to the highest achievable standards.

I have taken a number of steps to ensure that the recommendations are implemented by all the bodies concerned and by the wider community. I have requested confirmation from the Episcopal Conference that the recommendations of the Ferns Report will be implemented both collectively and individually. I have also requested confirmation that the framework guidelines are in place in all dioceses. Archbishop Brady, in response to my letter, indicated to me that the individual bishops will communicate with me and liaise with the Health Service Executive at local level.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has finalised his proposals for the establishment of a commission to investigate the handling of complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy operating under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. Due to the sensitivity of the subject and because of the child protection implications, the Minister also consulted with me about the drawing up of these particular terms of reference.

In addition to the inquiry into the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, paragraphs (vii) and (viii) of its terms of reference empower me to refer to the commission any Roman Catholic diocese in the State that has not established the structures or may not be operating the procedures set out in the 1996 guidelines, or any similar document, satisfactorily. Paragraph (viii) also empowers me to refer to the commission the question of whether any particular diocese is not satisfactorily implementing the recommendations of the Ferns Report.

In any event, I intend to request the commission of inquiry to check and assess this issue following the completion of the work of the Health Service Executive. It is important that the people are given the assurance that the recommendations of the Ferns Report have been implemented, not just by the Health Service Executive, in which I have great confidence in this matter, but also by the commission of inquiry. I will ask the commission to confirm this in an authoritative manner upon the conclusion of the Health Service Executive's work. I am not saying I will not invoke any of the many other powers granted to me if required to do so. In such an event, I will notify the tribunal of any diocese which falls within the terms of reference.

The Health Service Executive has been requested to make contact with the individual bishops in the Roman Catholic Church as a matter of urgency, to monitor child protection practices and ensure compliance with the recommendations of the Ferns Report. I have also requested the Health Service Executive to launch a nationwide publicity and awareness campaign on child sexual abuse. The National Children's Office will assist the executive in ensuring the campaign targets, and is relevant, to children and young persons.

I welcome the statement by the church authorities that they intend to introduce an interagency review group, along the current Ferns Report model, in all areas. This is one of the crucial recommendations of the Ferns Report. The interagency review group is a simple device where the bishop, or more often his delegate, must liaise on a regular basis with the relevant representatives from social services and An Garda Síochána. Such review groups must exist in every diocese. Members will often have heard the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform explore the intricacies of Canon Law in this area. The key practical solution to this is that all information must be shared with the civil authorities at the earliest stage possible.

The interagency review group's function is that when any information points a finger of suspicion, the assessment of that information is not made through Canon Law but is brought to the attention of the relevant civil authorities. They, in turn, will make an assessment about it with the bishop ordinary or his representative. If this system is not in place, we will be having these arcane discussions about Canon Law for some time to come. A practical device on the ground is needed to ensure information is assessed at the earliest possible stage and appropriate action is taken. This was the key recommendation of the Ferns Report. From reading the report, one sees how that particular agency assisted Bishop Walsh in his apostolic administration of the diocese of Ferns.

I have requested the Health Service Executive to convene meetings of this group and to record and maintain its records, in line with the inquiry's recommendations. The Health Service Executive is to report as soon as possible after initial meetings with the bishops have been held and liaison arrangements have been put in place. The Department of Health and Children embarked on an in-depth study of the Health Service Executive's powers regarding third party child sexual abuse. This will be followed by legislative proposals as required.

Two distinct legal issues were raised by the Ferns inquiry. The first was whether the Health Service Executive had the power to investigate any case of third party child sexual abuse. Prior to the publication of the report, I was concerned that there would be any doubt about the powers of the executive in this regard. Some doubt was cast upon it by a careful reading of the report. I immediately sought the advice of the Attorney General on this point. He advised me that it falls within the executive's statutory remit to investigate such matters. That said, further clarification is required and legislation will be introduced to ensure this. However, I do not want Senators to be under the illusion that we do not have that power at present.

A second recommendation of the report surrounded the question of what concrete action the Health Service Executive can take following an inquiry where the abuse was alleged to have been perpetrated by a third party. Where such abuse takes place within a family context, the ultimate option is to take the child or children into care. However, when the abuse has been alleged to have been perpetrated by a third party, there is no effective sanction available to the Health Service Executive to address the matter. The report recommends that in such cases, the executive should have power to seek an order to restrain a named individual from having unsupervised access to children. This is a far-reaching recommendation but I agree with its principle. However, it requires some elucidation which will take place with an appropriate amendment to child care legislation.

I have already announced a national review of compliance with the children first guidelines by State bodies and NGOs, to be driven by the National Children's Office in partnership with all relevant Departments. The children first guidelines were published in 1999 and it is essential the Government can stand over its own procedures in protecting children.

Several recommendations contained in the Ferns Report fall within the specific responsibilities of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The report recommends the Legislature should consider the introduction of a new criminal offence relating to engaging in conduct that creates a substantive risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child or failing to take reasonable steps to alleviate such risk. This is not an offence that will be directed at the perpetrator, which is already on the Statute Book, but an offence directed at an individual creating a substantive risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child. This is a far-reaching proposal but the Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have accepted it in principle. An appropriate amendment will be introduced on Committee Stage of the Criminal Justice Bill to address this recommendation.

The report recommends that legal aid, irrespective of means, be available to both complainants and priests against whom allegations are made where the cases are not determined by the criminal courts. Members who have read the report will have noted that few cases lead to a criminal conviction or even proceedings. In many cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions may not be satisfied that the quantum of proof available is sufficient to pass muster in a criminal trial. There may also be an unwillingness on the part of witnesses to put themselves through the trauma of full-scale criminal proceedings. Whatever the reason, not all of these matters end up in the criminal courts. An appreciable number has gone before the civil courts. As Senators are aware from the report, there were settlements for undisclosed sums in various cases. The report wisely took the view that those who wish to invoke civil proceedings should get every assistance from the State in doing so. Hence the recommendation on legal aid. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform accepts the recommendation in principle but he believes it requires further examination. In particular it is not clear whether it can be restricted to victims of clerical sex abuse as distinct from victims generally. He is examining the legal aid provisions with a view to giving effect to this recommendation.

The report also made recommendations that documents relating to child sex abuse should be given legal privilege. This recommendation is under examination by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in consultation with the Attorney General.

The report contains a number of recommendations relating to Garda procedures. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has forwarded a copy of the report to the Garda Commissioner who will consider it and take on board its recommendations. The Government has decided to refer the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions to see if any other matters relating to criminal proceedings may arise.

Responsibility for services for the care and protection of children rests with the Health Service Executive. The services available to children who are victims of sexual assault, and to their parents, include professional services such as medical and nursing, social work, child and adolescent psychiatry, clinical psychology and family support services. For adults who suffered abuse as children, the national counselling service is now well established throughout the country and is in a position to make every assistance available.

In 1998 a working group to review child abuse guidelines was established to prepare revised guidelines aimed at improving the identification, investigation and management of child abuse. The revised guidelines, Children First, the national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children, were published in 1999. Approximately €9.5 million has been provided for the implementation of these guidelines. The HSE has used this additional funding to create the infrastructure necessary to support full implementation of the guidelines. This has included the appointment of implementation officers, training officers, information and advice officers and additional social work and administrative staff. A national review of these guidelines is under way.

The first Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, was appointed by the President in December 2003. The Ombudsman for Children has a function set down in legislation to advise any Minister on the development and co-ordination of policy relating to children. One of her crucial functions is to deal with complaints made by or on behalf of children and to promote the welfare and rights of young persons.

The publication of the Ferns Report brings the debate on mandatory reporting into focus. A draft White Paper on mandatory reporting of child abuse was prepared in 2000 and was circulated to all Departments. There have been significant developments since the preparation of the White Paper, for example, investment in the implementation of Children First and child protection services, the appointment of advice officers in the HSE and the extension of child protection guidelines to education, sporting and other sectors.

The purpose of Children First is to create a culture where mandatory reporting takes place. To some extent it has addressed the problems which gave rise to the calls for mandatory reporting. The Oireachtas also enacted the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998 which has allayed people's fears of being sued. In view of the comments and observations made in the preparation of the White Paper and in consultations with the Attorney General, it was clear that there were complex legal issues which needed further consideration.

We must be careful about the use of the term "mandatory reporting". Everybody would agree with the principle that reporting should be mandatory and that there should be a culture at every level, whether in the school, workplace or wherever adults interact with children. Where there is a suspicion of abuse it should be mandatory to report such suspicions. Those who call for mandatory reporting do not just call for that, however, but for the creation of a specific statutory offence, a criminal offence on the part of those who do not report. Many professionals argue that in creating that offence those who have an urge to confide information will become more reluctant to do so. A perusal of the Ferns Report shows just how many complainants do not want An Garda Síochána to become involved. If a regime of mandatory reporting is introduced to criminalise those who do not wish under any circumstances to report there will be problems. That is one of the complex issues that has given rise to a reluctance to introduce mandatory reporting.

The report does not recommend mandatory reporting to that extent but goes close to it by recommending a specific offence. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is to bring forward proposals to criminalise any person who "wantonly or recklessly engages in conduct that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child". That offence would criminalise the principal of a school, a bishop or another senior officer of the church who stood by while abuse was taking place. In the Ferns Report, of course, the brave principal did not stand idly by.

While the debate on mandatory reporting has resumed with the Ferns Report, the report contains within its recommendations a possible solution in the creation of the offence of reckless disregard. That sets a standard with which professional people working in this area would not be uncomfortable but which preserves the necessary element of confidentiality for the victim, who must take centre stage in our consideration.

I and the Government would like the culture of mandatory reporting to be established but not on a legislative basis. People are now more readily prepared to report concerns about child abuse to the relevant authorities and to pursue those authorities to ensure that the complaint is dealt with. I do not see the advantage of criminalising an individual for keeping their word to another individual who does not want a complaint to be taken any further. Enough damage has already been done to such an individual without their being concerned that the person they have entrusted with information could be the subject of criminal proceedings. It is a difficult issue and my mind is open but that is my provisional conclusion.

Garda vetting is a subject which has been canvassed in recent years. The vetting unit itself was only established a few years ago and in the initial rollout applied to the area of unsupervised access to children in the health sector and some limited categories in the education sector. I have been concerned about this for some time. In 2004, I persuaded the then Minister for Finance to sanction the additional staff required to provide a comprehensive service to all employers seeking information about employees who will have unsupervised access to children, as well as to voluntary organisations in the same position. The Minister made the necessary sanctions prior to his departure in July 2004.

I announced in September of that year that the Garda vetting service would be made available to all sectors and appointed an implementation group comprising representatives of the various Departments and containing the chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Mr. Paul Gilligan. I am grateful to the implementation unit for the work it has done. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform decided that the unit should be decentralised to Thurles where the building has been secured and where the new staff will commence duties in a matter of days.

The next focus will be on expanding the operations of the vetting unit from its current levels on a phased basis. The education sector is of particular importance in this regard where our initial target is to ensure that from the new academic year all new entrants into the sector obtain the negative clearance from the vetting unit. Following that, all the existing staff in the Department of Education and Science will have to be vetted. Difficult questions can arise about those who work voluntarily in schools, are involved in the management of schools or assist with sporting activities and all these matters are now under detailed examination in the Department with a view to the full implementation of the scheme.

Garda vetting is also important in the child care sector, for youth organisations and voluntary organisations generally. They too are liaising with the implementation group to examine how universal vetting can be extended in the particular sectors. As a word of caution, the fact that a person has not committed a criminal offence does not provide a guaranteed clean bill of health for that person. Employers must check references and exercise great care. A handful of those referred to in the Ferns Report have emerged with a criminal record, and none would have had one at the time of their relevant employment. We should be careful not to see Garda vetting as a panacea for this particular problem.

The State has a duty as part of any robust child protection system to ensure that the basic facility is available. Computer technology is available to the Garda Síochána, of which the PULSE system is a good example. The vetting unit accesses information from this unit and makes it available. The establishment of a vetting unit is only a basic beginning to the development of a robust system of child protection. The legislative structure will have to be examined further down the road. The implementation group is progressing the recommendations of the working group on Garda vetting, examining in particular the exact sequence of the phased roll-out. The report of the working group can be viewed on the Department's website.

The working group on Garda vetting investigated possible changes to law. The issue of soft information, which falls short of a criminal conviction but points the finger of suspicion at an individual, arises here. In many jurisdictions, data banks and registers of this type of information are being amassed. Difficult legal issues surround the collection and dissemination of this type of information, the indemnification against disclosure and the maintenance of a national criminal record system by the Garda Síochána. These matters are being examined by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as well as my Department.

The working group on Garda vetting recommended that the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children could explore the possibility of the development of non-Garda, employment related vetting registers to provide information on those previously dismissed, suspended, moved or made redundant from posts for harming children or vulnerable adults in the health and education sectors. Priority has been given to the extension of the Garda vetting services, but discussions on these proposals must take place between relevant Departments. This could result in legislation. There are complex legal issues involved, particularly on the release of so-called softer information such as allegations and complaints. We must work out legislation carefully in consultation with the Attorney General. An implementation group is examining recommendations and will put forward proposals.

The Ferns Report has had a major effect on the country as a whole. My job, as well as that of the Government and of the Oireachtas is to protect those within our society who cannot protect themselves. This is also the job of local communities and the whole of society. Shortcomings have existed in this regard in the past, but with the measures I announced as a result of the Ferns Report and the developments that have occurred under successive Governments over the past 15 years, we have gone a long way in protecting our children. We cannot be complacent and must continually strive to put in place better safeguards to ensure that the levels of abuse outlined in the report can never recur.

In the words of the Ferns inquiry team it is essential that "there will be mechanisms and procedures in place which will enable victims promptly to report the abuse in the confidence that they would be believed and the certainty that appropriate action would be taken to terminate the wrongdoing". It is the Government's duty to ensure that proper child protection practices are in place and in operation. This is a key element of the objectives that must be met to ensure that the shocking and appalling events described in the report are addressed fully and, as far as is humanly possible, prevented from happening in the future.

In a debate of this type on the Ferns Report, my function is to outline the position of my Department, other Departments and the Government. Senators will avail of this opportunity to air other issues that strike them in the report. I do not seek to confine debate to what I have discussed in my introduction. It is important from the Government's point of view to place on record the practical action that is being taken. The report will give rise to a substantial national debate on other issues and I look forward to hearing the comments of Senators.

12:00 pm

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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I apologise because I must leave after I speak, as the Joint Committee on Health and Children, of which I am a member, is meeting for a presentation by the MRSA and Families group. The Ferns Report is truly shocking. Unfortunately, every institution of the State is seen to fail miserably in it — the Department of Education and Science to some extent, the old health boards, the church authorities, the political establishment and even the Garda. Nobody can look on the Ferns Report with any sense of joy or pride, as every group involved has serious questions to answer.

It is important to put on record that clerical sexual abuse accounts for a minority of sexual abuse overall. Most sexual abuse occurs within families or within a wider family circle. The impression should not be given that such abuse only takes place in churches or specifically by the Roman Catholic Church. We should all ask, while acknowledging that these events occurred, whether such acts are still occurring or will occur in the future. What steps are being taken to ensure that people do not have to wait so long to report such events and receive proper treatment when, rather than if, similar events occur in future?

Recently I was asked on radio if I thought the report would be the end of the matter, and I replied that it definitely would not be. As long as there are human beings, there is a danger of such cases arising. The challenge for parliamentarians is to ask how to deal with these matters when, rather than if, they arise. Will we really learn from the Ferns Report? The recent inquiry into the Dublin archdiocese will make even more grim reading.

The arrogance of the church authorities is breathtaking. When people reported the abuse to the relevant church authorities, be they the bishop or vicar general, they were dismissed, despite an act of bravery that none of us can imagine. I read in The Irish Times yesterday a report of a lady abused by a priest in Dublin. When she informed the relevant church authority, she was forgiven for tempting the priest initially and told to forget about the incident.

I heard an interview recently with a teacher from the Ferns diocese whose school manager was Fr. James Grennan. The interview restored my faith in human nature, which could come into question on reading the Ferns Report. The teacher emerged well in the report from what was a difficult situation. It is easy for us now to argue that his actions were correct, but he may have taken a different action, or inaction, at the time. The children in his class presented him with devastating news and his challenge was to react to it. His position was compromised as his boss was the priest abusing the children.

Deputy John Gormley yesterday spoke in the Dáil about the issue of separating church and State in schools. As a former primary teacher I agree with his statement. I have severe reservations about the church still playing an active role in primary schools. We are in a multicultural society, and even when I taught three or four years ago there were children from many different religious backgrounds in my classes. One of my pupils was a Jehovah's Witness and when I taught religious education she was sent to the library to read, although she was free to stay in the class if she wished. There were insurance implications for this case. In future, if a child from a different religious background leaves the class when religious studies are being taught, for example, and an accident occurs, there may be an interesting court case regarding who is responsible for the child in question.

I have reservations about children automatically being confirmed at 12 years of age. This is a difficult sacrament to understand and a child should not receive it just because of his or her age; if a person is 12 years of age and ready, he or she should receive it. This is equally true if a person is 20 years old or 25 years old before he or she feels ready.

The church should be moving away from a hands-on approach in primary schools. We must allow for the fact that we are a multicultural society. I am not advocating that the church has no role in schools as its role is needed. Were it not for the church, lands and buildings would not have been available to us in many cases. However, we must move on. Many priests are so stretched in terms of workload that they do not have any time to put into schools and have opted out of becoming chairmen on boards of management.

Priests should not automatically be the chairmen of boards of management. It is often the case now that priests decline this position because they do not want the responsibility and the position is being given to parents or teachers. This is healthy. Otherwise, there would be a clear conflict of interests, such as occurred in Ferns, where unfortunate allegations of sexual abuse against a parish priest, a man who happened to be the board of management's chairperson, were proved true. In theory, when there is a problem in a school, one should go to the board of management but how could one do so if the person complained about is its chairperson? We must be cognisant of this and take appropriate steps.

I once attended an interview for a job, which I thankfully did not get as I honestly did not want it. I answered questions put to me and an old parish priest who was a member of the board asked me about my views on a recent statement by the Pope about the Catholic ethos. I resented that question as I was going for a job in a school not a seminary. If I could get across a Christian ethos in my classroom, I was not doing a bad job. If I had wanted to become a priest I would have gone to a seminary or elsewhere. There was much arrogance on the part of priests in the past when they arrived at schools and barged into classrooms to ask children questions without knocking on doors or checking with teachers. This practice is on the way out but priests must realise that the days of their having significant power are over.

Many priests are doing fantastic work but a handful have unfortunately given the priesthood a bad name. The church authorities have serious questions to answer and I am unconvinced that they will take on board all of the issues raised by the Ferns Report. The inquiry into the Dublin archdiocese revealed that Fr. Ivan Payne received £30,000 from the then archbishop, Cardinal Desmond Connell. When RTE was about to publish a story on money from the archdiocese being used to pay off a victim, the archbishop's reaction was to threaten to sue RTE. He subsequently pulled out of this action but he strikes me as not being in a position to listen and learn.

The church authorities have much to learn from this episode, in which there seems to have been a systemic failure. They have let down the ordinary, hardworking and decent priests who do good work in parishes and with families at times that are invariably difficult. They are not getting the acknowledgement they deserve. It is very easy to be critical of priests but I feel sorry for them as people only approach them when they want something. One rarely hears of someone calling into a priest to see whether he is okay. They are usually called upon at times of bereavements, funerals, weddings or christenings but are forgotten after the event. They have very lonely lives. As a practising Catholic, I would have no problem in priests being allowed the option to marry. From what I hear of problems in the church, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There will be more stories similar to that of Bishop Eamonn Casey, stories of priests having relationships with people, which would contravene Canon Law. However, most ordinary people would be quite happy for priests to have relationships if those involved were consenting adults.

The church must face up to significant issues. It has fallen from a very high moral position in society and will eat humble pie in the coming months and years. This is a pity as we are witnessing a large decline in the number of people going to mass and holding to the Christian faith, which is not good for society. I am a member of the Sub-Committee on High Levels of Suicide in Irish Society and there is a clear indication that, as faith in Ireland has diminished, suicide rates have increased. I will not link the two but faith is a factor and it is important that society has a faith. This news is turning people away from the church, which is not necessarily good. The church should come clean and take the appropriate steps to ensure that we will have a healthy church in the State. It should not bury its head in the sand.

Does the Minister of State have any information on instances of sexual abuse in other churches or religions in the State? This is not just applicable to the Roman Catholic Church. Other religions have grown significantly in the State. Recently, the Taoiseach reported an Islamic school to the Minister for Education and Science for teaching too much religion and not concentrating enough on the rest of the curriculum. Are procedures in place to monitor the rise in new religions to ensure this does not happen therein and that we are not here in ten years making the same statements about them?

The Minister of State's speech was quite good and his background as a barrister was evident. Concerning specific timeframes, the Minister of State spoke about new legislation being introduced on foot of the Ferns Report and an undertaking to carry out an in-depth study of the Health Service Executive's powers followed by legislative proposals as required. Will this be one month, six months, a year or two years away? Guidelines were previously issued but it is the implementation of guidelines that is difficult. Guidelines on child safety were introduced in the mid-1980s but we find ourselves debating this issue in 2005, which clearly proves the guidelines did not work. Changes to the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998 and the Sex Offenders Act 2001 have been recommended but they have still not been made. The Minister of State referred to a number of amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 but we need to establish a clear timeframe in respect of when they will be debated and new legislation will be published.

The ultimate responsibility of the State is to protect its citizens, particularly the vulnerable. The Ferns Report proves that the State, including the Department of Education and Science, Garda authorities, the then health boards and thechurch authorities failed those who were most vulnerable. We must learn how to move forward. I was amused when I listened to Deputy O'Donnell speaking in the Dáil about the bad deal that was struck by the State in 2002. Fine Gael raised the issue of the outgoing Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, striking a deal with the religious orders at the time. While I might understand his haste in terms of enabling compensation to be paid to victims of sexual abuse, a wider view was needed to ensure the State and taxpayers got a good deal and religious orders were not let off the hook in terms of fulfilling their responsibilities. Could the Minister of State clarify how much this deal has cost the State so far?

It has been my experience that, in other instances of children being abused in institutions — not necessarily by religious orders — the redress process has been slow. People are called before the redress board and offered a sum of money, which they can either accept or reject. If they accept it they are paid straight away. However, there can be a long delay. I am aware of one case of a lady who was dying from cancer. While I telephoned repeatedly and explained her medical situation to the board, there was no rush to pay her. She had obviously waited 30 or 40 years for this payment, perhaps even longer. It is important that, after establishing the redress board and paying compensation to victims, everything is done as quickly as possible bearing in mind the long period involved in seeking the compensation.

I welcome the Ferns Report. It is a wake-up call to everybody involved. We must take cognisance of it, especially in terms of the management of primary schools. The church authorities must reflect on their exact role and, given their decreasing numbers, I am sure many of them would be willing to move away from the primary sector and concentrate on their religious role.

The fact that teachers must teach religion is an issue. Some primary school teachers refuse and as far as I know they are entitled to do so. It can cause problems locally. Senator Norris raised the issue of teachers of different sexual orientation having difficulties in schools. That issue must also be addressed. It should not be held against someone applying for a job in a school. I have severe reservations about being asked questions on a religious ethos at a job interview. That is not the role of a teacher and it is time that society moved on.

Photo of Camillus GlynnCamillus Glynn (Fianna Fail)
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Whoever coined the phrase that fact is stranger than fiction was indeed a wise person. The Ferns Report makes horrendous reading. The fact it is not a pro-active measure but a reactive measure makes it all the more horrendous. I have always held the view that Christianity is a good concept. Like the song, it is a good song. We are discussing the singers, not the song.

There can be no hiding place in society for people who abuse children, whether they are priests, doctors, nurses, nuns, brothers, vets, swimming coaches or sports coaches of any kind. One of the better aspects of this report is the fact that a number of young people came forward and told of their experiences. When one discusses children in this context, one means people who have had their childhood stolen. That of itself has serious implications because not alone did it cause severe mental suffering to the victims, but also to their families. We must also consider the families of the accused, who did not send them out to perpetrate those grossly indecent acts.

Many of the victims have found their way into the psychiatric services. A number of them are part of the parasuicide or suicide statistics. Many of them entered relationships in adult life that broke down because of the background of abuse. We must stand up in this forum and say "Well done" to the victims because as Senator Henry can confirm, and as I learned from my training, one of the first steps in the right direction from an experience such as this is to be able to confront the experience and talk about it.

The most annoying revelation of the report is that despite the facts, the church tried to brazen it out in many cases. That is totally unacceptable. I can state that prior to this being made known, I was informed by my brother in Canada that the situation there and in the United States is what we have here now. As Senator Browne pointed out, evidence suggests that certain abuses have taken place in other denominations. It also contains a clear message on considering who should have access to children, whether they are teachers, caretakers or cleaners. I need only remind the House of the example from across the water of the two little girls murdered by Ian Huntley. How did he slip through the net? He did so and he had a track record that was not shining. Somebody slipped up. There can be no hiding place whatsoever for someone who abuses children.

I agree with Senator Feighan that every strata of society must be examined in the context of child abuse, whether it is hospitals, colleges or convents. Any place where children are, inside or outside of the home, must be monitored and examined. If abuse is taking place, the appropriate action must be taken. What a pity we are discussing reactive and not pro-active measures. It would be marvellous if we were discussing pro-active measures.

The one word that looms large in this debate is "trust". Trust was breached by people in whom it was placed. I remember from my time in the primary school sector when a teacher was discovered to be abusing children. What happened? Was the problem addressed? It was not. Comparable to a draughts board, the piece was moved to another square.

Much of what the Minister of State said is welcome. We should compliment those who compiled the Ferns Report. I will be as measured as I can on this occasion. I have a particular aversion to child abusers, rapists and people who abuse and beat up old people. I will not call the individuals involved "people". I do not think "animal" is an appropriate word either. I suppose my limitations in the English language preclude me from finding the right terminology to describe them.

The Ferns inquiry identified more than 100 allegations of child abuse made between 1962 and 2002, against 21 priests operating under the aegis of the diocese of Ferns. Six of the priests died before any allegation of abuse was made against them. Three more died subsequent to the allegations being made. The nature of the response by the church authorities in the diocese of Ferns to allegations of child sexual abuse by priests operating under the aegis of that diocese has varied during the past 40 years. These variations reflect in part the growing understanding of the medical professions and society in general of the nature and consequence of child sexual abuse and, in part, the different personalities and management styles of successive bishops.

In certain circumstances, "mismanagement" rather than "management" is a more appropriate term. Between 1960 and 1980, it would appear that Bishop Donal Herlihy treated child sexual abuse by priests of his diocese exclusively as a moral problem. He penalised the priest in respect of whom the allegation was made by transferring him to a different post or a different diocese for a period of time but then returned him to his former position.

That was an outrageous situation. If ever there was an example of whistling past the graveyard — in this case the graveyard was on both sides of the road — this is it.

By 1980 Bishop Herlihy recognised there was a psychological or medical dimension to child sexual abuse. His decision in 1980 to send priests, in respect of whom allegations of abuse were made, to a psychologist was appropriate and broadly in accordance with the understanding then evolving. What was wholly inappropriate and totally inexplicable was the decision of Bishop Herlihy to appoint as curates priests against whom allegations had been made and in respect of whom a respected clerical psychologist had expressed his concerns in unambiguous terms as to their suitability to interact with young people. BishopHerlihy disregarded the professional opinion of people who were well placed to make such a diagnosis and recommendation. Equally inappropriate was Bishop Herlihy's decision to ordain men who were clearly unsuitable into the priesthood when he knew, or ought to have known, of their propensity to abuse children.

In the view of the Ferns inquiry — it is also the view of Roderick Murphy SC, now Mr. Justice Roderick Murphy, as expressed in his 1998 report on child sexual abuse in swimming — where a credible allegation of child sexual abuse is made against an employee, or other persons acting under authority, it is the responsibility of the employer or superior to require the employee to step aside promptly from any post or position in which he has access to children. This is not rocket science but common sense. Regretfully in this case and in other cases, common sense was far from common. Bishop Comiskey accepted that this principle was equally applicable to the exercise by a bishop of his authority under Canon Law in respect of priests of his diocese. Furthermore, it was recognised that in the case of diocesan clergy stepping aside from a position in which there was unsupervised access to children, it necessarily entailed stepping aside from the active ministry entirely pending the investigation of the allegations. In my time as an officer of the Midland Health Board it was the case that if a person was deemed to have committed an inappropriate act or a grossly unprofessional act, he or she was suspended on pay pending an inquiry. That person was not permitted to continue to perform professional duties. I fail to see the reason this did not happen in this case as it is well-established practice in general employment.

The report sets out in detail the difficulties experienced by Bishop Comiskey in securing the removal of diocesan clergy under his aegis from particular posts held by them. In almost every case, significant periods elapsed before the bishop could persuade the priest in question to vacate his position and undergo the assessment and treatment suggested by the bishop. In no case did the bishop persuade or compel the priest concerned to stand aside from his priestly ministry. This is a clear example of a policy of procrastination. The inquiry does not underestimate the difficulties encountered by the bishop but it expressly criticises his failure to stand aside from the ministry those priests against whom allegations had been made and in respect of whom information was or should have been available to the bishop. This information was available and I question the reason decisive action was not taken.

Subsequent to the appointment of Bishop Walsh as apostolic administrator of the diocese of Ferns in April 2002, more effective steps were taken to ensure the protection of children. I commend the bishop concerned. All outstanding allegations of child sexual abuse were reviewed by the administrator in conjunction with a new advisory panel. In addition, the bishop appealed to members of the public to come forward to the diocese, the Garda and the health board with information about any allegation or suspicion of child sexual abuse not previously made known or which had been disclosed and had not been satisfactorily investigated or dealt with. There was a very significant response to that appeal. There were clearly two situations. One bishop was doing his job, carrying out his ministry as ordained while another clearly did not.

There can be no hiding place for anybody who has not discharged their responsibilities to the people who will be our leaders tomorrow and will be tomorrow's parents, politicians and carers. This is to do with the formulation of the personalities and persona of those young people who will be the pillars of society in the years ahead. Anybody who did not take the appropriate action to protect the most vulnerable in society, our children, has a very serious question to answer. There can be no hiding place for them from the full rigours of the law.

In April 2002, 11 priests against whom allegations of child sexual abuse had been made were still alive; three have been excluded from the priesthood by direction of the Holy See and seven have stood aside from active ministry at the request of Bishop Eamonn Walsh. The eighth priest is advanced in years and is in retirement. The Garda Síochána and the health board are advised from time to time as to the whereabouts of the priests who have stood aside and the circumstances in which they live and this is an important provision. The Garda and the health board are satisfied that the arrangements made in respect of those priests provide an appropriate measure of child protection. This speaks for itself.

The church has had many crises in the past. It was mostly under attack from without; on this occasion it is attacking itself from within. I thank God for those good priests, nuns and brothers and above all, for those who are good bishops. We should all spare a thought for them. The Ferns Report deals with the exceptions rather than the rule, for which we should be thankful.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Norris.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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That is agreed.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I cannot say I welcome this report because it is utterly appalling. Senator Glynn is correct to say that the effects of child sexual abuse on a person last forever. I do not think repayment can do them lasting good but the recognition that wrong was done to them does seem to be the one thing we can do. While I welcome the Minister of State's decision to investigate the Dublin diocese, I regret to say I do not think Ferns and Dublin are the only places with serious problems.

Under the Constitution the churches in this country are permitted to order their own affairs and that is as it should be. However, when the authorities within the church neglect their duties to the most vulnerable people in their flock, we must speak out and take immediate action. Attention has been drawn to the situation of the power of the bishops within the church. It is time to question whether it is right that this power should stand over an area as serious as education.

A survey on the views of the Irish public on education was undertaken in 2004 by the Department of Education and Science. It is surprising that approximately 60% of the people within that survey said they would welcome interdenominational education. Some would prefer religious education within the school but a very high percentage would prefer no religious education within the school. This issue needs to be addressed separately from the report. Sacramental duties can be carried out outside school time. Religion can still be taught in schools and it is now on the examination curriculum. Within the Church of Ireland and the other reformed churches, sacramental education takes place outside the school. I hope this will be a subject of future debate.

I strongly support Educate Together, an organisation which should receive much more financial support from the Government than is currently the case. By promoting multidenominational education, it caters for the wishes of a large section of the community. Educate Together urgently requires more State aid.

One of the most serious aspects of the Ferns Report is the section dealing with former Monsignor Ledwith, who we learn later was involved in the sexual abuse of children. This is significant because for the ten years between 1985 and 1995, the then Monsignor Ledwith was president of Maynooth College, the most important Irish institution for the training of priests. This begs the question as to what type of training on sexual matters priests studying in Maynooth at the time received from this man.

I listened with dismay to the Vincent Browne programme last night as a moral theologian from Maynooth appeared to suggest, as he did in an article in The Irish Times earlier in the week, that the bishops may not have understood that child sexual abuse was a crime. It is beyond belief that he should make this suggestion or suggest that Vatican II was somehow responsible for making sexual sins a form of emotional aberration. I query that anyone should teach theology of that nature nowadays.

With regard to Monsignor Ledwith, I was dismayed to read the response of the bishops to whom complaints were made by six senior seminarians, as they are described in the report, as well as the senior dean of Maynooth College, Fr. Gerard McGinnity. Cardinal Daly, one of the surviving bishops, indicated in his statement to the inquiry that it was entirely untrue that any seminarian had mentioned homosexuality to him in connection with Monsignor Ledwith. He also stated it was not credible that he would have ignored allegations of homosexuality when he was already investigating the issue in Maynooth College. The Cardinal added that if the issue had been raised with him, Monsignor Ledwith would never have been appointed president of Maynooth College.

Unfortunately, I have found that the Cardinal's memory is not always clear. As a former member of the National Forum on Peace and Reconciliation, I recall that the late Tom Fox asked the Cardinal whether the Roman Catholic Church had not been foolish to forbid Roman Catholics to enter Protestant churches, even for funerals, baptisms or weddings. In reply, the Cardinal stated he could not remember those times. I am 20 years younger than the Cardinal Daly yet I can remember them. Bishop Casey cannot remember any of the events in question either but he has his own problems.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I believe the bishop does remember them.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I do not believe Bishops Herlihy and Comiskey should be the only individuals singled out for criticism. The issue must have been discussed with all the bishops when it first arose because they took out insurance at the time to deal with it.

On the Health Service Executive and legislative changes required to ensure third parties can take a more active stance, it is unfortunate that legislation passed by this House relatively recently precludes people from being more active. I encourage the Minister of State to ensure legislation is introduced as soon as possible making provision for the crime of wilful endangerment of children.

The Minister of State will have a little laugh when he learns that at the time the South Eastern Health Board was not in a position to investigate gross abuses against children, I was having considerable difficulties with it regarding a book on women's health published by the then Department of Health. On the basis that the part of the book dealing with breast feeding also featured a small section on contraception, the health board decided it was unsuitable for distribution, notwithstanding the fact that it was produced by a Department. Rather than preventing adult women who could make decisions for themselves from reading a book, the board should have been addressing what was happening to children who had been disgracefully abused.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I am grateful to Senator Henry for sharing time with me. This is not a pleasant occasion or one on which anybody should gloat. While nobody relishes the distress of a great institution such as the Roman Catholic Church, it is important that matters such as those addressed in the Ferns Report be exposed. I express my sympathy on this occasion to the many decent priests and members of religious orders and to the few good and decent bishops, including Bishop Willie Walsh, a remarkable and saintly man, Bishop Eamonn Walsh in Ferns who appears to be doing a good job, and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of the Dublin diocese, a decent, honourable and fair man.

The Ferns Report is devastating. The kinds of comments being made and the attitude shown by the Roman Catholic Church demonstrate that the church has not changed — let us be honest in this regard — and that the issue goes to the top of its hierarchical structure, which the report examines. It gives me no great pleasure to cite as an example the late Pope John Paul II who, following the departure of Cardinal Groer of Vienna from his position as a result of a series of accusations of molestation of seminarians which later proved to be correct, wrote a letter to the Cardinal to console him while maintaining a stony silence towards the victims. The current Pope is sheltering a person — he enjoys diplomatic immunity in the Vatican — who established a seminary in Mexico and is wanted by the authorities there. Events such as these indicate where the source of the trouble lies.

If one examines the appointments made in the Catholic Church over the past 25 years, one finds that people were appointed to senior positions on the basis of their rigid orthodoxy in doctrinal matters and their reactionary attitudes towards modern developments in the understanding of human sexuality. While no church has ever told the truth about human sexuality, the worst offender in this regard is the Roman Catholic Church.

It is important that this Chamber highlight two of the conclusions reached in the report, both of which I will cite. On page 22, the report states: "The Expert Group was unanimous in its view that homosexuality is not a factor in increasing the risk to children". This is not what the church is saying. It is trying to dislodge everything by organising a witch-hunt against gay people, including in seminaries in the United States. The second conclusion is made on page 36, which states: "The Expert Group was unanimous in its view that the vow of celibacy contributed to the problem of child sexual abuse in the Church".

I honour Deputy O'Donnell for her courageous speech in the Dáil yesterday and regret that she was subjected to sniping partisan attacks from other parties, including the Labour Party, which should know better. The Deputy made an important statement. Both Houses have a responsibility in this matter. It has been stated that the Catholic Church does not have a special position in Ireland and is neither above the law or exempt from its provisions. That is most definitely not the case because the Houses recently passed legislation giving the church exempt status. Will the Minister of State please ask his colleagues to re-examine this issue, particularly in regard to the equality legislation, on which the various churches approached the Government and were granted exemptions from its operation? As a result of this decision, decent people like me can be fired from their jobs by the managers of schools — priests — simply on the basis of their sexual orientation. This is not tolerable and I am no longer prepared to be part of a group whose citizenship is defined as second class.

I find it astonishing that while people such as me are considered unfit to teach children, others who serially molest children in the most nauseating way escaped punishment, although their crimes were known. Senator Henry is correct on this matter as I also heard the Vincent Browne programme last night. At least Father Twomey was being honest when he stated his belief that the bishops did not consider child sexual abuse a crime. How extraordinary. On what planet were the bishops living?

I was also astonished to read Father Twomey's article in The Irish Times and have written a letter to the newspaper examining his piece because he appears to argue that Vatican II and liberal and progressive priests and theologians were responsible for child abuse. If one looks at those involved in these cases one will not find one progressive or liberal theologian among them.

I do not wish to go through all the cases, but they are horrendous. Boys left bleeding went to their mothers too ashamed to explain what had happened, after which they committed suicide; it is awful. One priest, when hearing a young girl's catechism, stuck his tongue in her ear and fiddled with her. I wonder whether those people believed in God at all. Even if I had that impulse, I would be terrified to act upon it, and I regard it as a blasphemy against everything that Christianity or any other religion would hold dear. It is a very painful matter.

I never realised that I had encountered Fr. Sean Fortune. However, I recently saw a clip from a programme on which I had appeared —"Prime Time" or some such thing. I was attempting to make a dignified case for changes to the criminal law on homosexual behaviour but was vehemently abused by a person in a Roman collar who, with a smirk on his face, did his very best to put me back in my box. It was Fr. Sean Fortune, who at that very time was routinely attacking children.

We must address this. I say again to the Minister that he should examine the equality legislation. We have surely gone beyond the time when decent people like me cannot be teachers. It is, of course, a question of behaviour. If someone displayed a gay rights poster or tried to talk to unprepared young children about such complicated issues, that would be wrong, and those responsible would deserve to be reprimanded and disciplined. However, that should not happen merely because of people's lifestyles.

Among what I found most shocking, which clearly contradicts the notion that the hierarchies were unaware of the abuse, is the fact that, in 1984 in the United States, there was the case of Fr. Gilbert Gauthe in Lafayette, Louisiana, which received a great deal of publicity. A committee was established by the church and produced a document entitled, The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy, Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner. The first matter on the agenda was to take out insurance. I find it morally devastating that the response to the knowledge that children were routinely being attacked was to protect material assets. That does not seem to me a very spiritual way of handling the matter.

In the executive summary of the Ferns Report, the authors refer to Bishop Herlihy, saying that he penalised a priest in respect of whom an allegation had been made by transferring him to a different post or diocese. I would not call that penalising him, I would call it rewarding him. We now know that when people were found to be at this evil work, they were transferred to a place where they happily went to play again, doing exactly the same thing.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator's time is almost over.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The behaviour is inappropriate. I have great respect for many of the traditions of all the various churches. People say that only 4% or 5% of abuse cases relate to the clergy, but that is statistically anomalous, since for that to be representative of the general population, one would have to have 200,000 priests in the country, and we do not have that many. There is a particular problem in this case, and I commend to the Minister the courageous words of Deputy O'Donnell.

There is still a great deal of doublespeak. One of the problems of the Roman Catholic Church in particular is that it has both a political and a spiritual face. It is not appropriate that the Papal Nuncio should be the doyen of the diplomatic corps here. Neither is it appropriate that Cardinal Ratzinger should issue statements instructing democratically-elected politicians what way they should vote on certain matters concerning sexuality, a matter about which the church has always lied. Those many honest voices within the church who tried to tell the truth were ruthlessly marginalised. I have only one more point to make.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator has exceeded the time.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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One must be equal in such matters. I do not believe that there is quite the same degree of sexual molestation in the Anglican Church, for example, but there is a devastating history, which has never been examined, of violent physical abuse of children in Protestant schools, including those that had expensive boarding sections. People's lives were destroyed, and no one ever opens his mouth, since it is almost as if the Protestant churches were a reserved matter, like the white deer in Mallow deserving special protection.

Let us have this debate right across the board, examining all such matters. Let us tell the truth but protect all citizens. We must re-examine those malign provisions in the equality legislation, which go against everything to do with the concept.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this important debate. During a series of statements such as this, striking a balance is difficult. On the one hand, we have all the selfless and significant work done by the church in Ireland over the centuries. On the other, we have the most awful treatment of vulnerable children at the hands of some members of the clergy and a failure on the part of the institutional church to deal with it. To appear to concentrate or focus on either element can be construed as, deliberately or otherwise, underestimating the importance of the other. In the few minutes available to speakers, it is difficult adequately to address the two.

However, we must not forget that we are speaking about what happened in Ferns. The report reveals more than 100 allegations of child sexual abuse made between 1962 and 2002 against 21 priests. I need not recount the horrific details therein. However, the stories behind those numbers are as awful as they are criminal. Difficult as it is to read them, as a society we are a great deal better for their having been revealed.

In that regard, we must commend the Government for establishing the inquiry in 2003. More importantly, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the retired Supreme Court judge, Mr. Justice Francis D. Murphy, and to Dr. Helen Buckley and Dr. Laraine Joyce. Their work, particularly the non-statutory inquiry, has been outstanding. I was glad to hear that victim representative groups, for example, the One in Four organisation, have welcomed the report. Such groups have not always universally welcomed action taken to uncover past events and it is testimony to the work of Mr. Justice Murphy and his team that those who need to be served feel so served by the report.

The accounts of what happened to victims of clerical abuse form the dark heart of the report. What can we say to them, and how can we begin to address their needs and what they have been through? We cannot do so. However, they can at least know this much now: we hear their stories, believe them, and commit ourselves to doing all we can to prevent this ever happening again. Abuse is a singularly awful phenomenon, and its effect is devastating for all involved. Why do women not report domestic violence or, if they do, later withdraw their complaints? Why do we see reaction by a family as a unit to terrible destructive acts? We know that it is the wrong thing to do and often the unit knows that it is wrong. However, society has failed people and victims suffer.

I spoke of the difficulty of striking a balance. However, I feel strongly about my next point, which should be taken in a broad context. I am personally inclined to overreact to abuse when dealing with those who abuse others.

I have, however, great sympathy for the many good priests who have now themselves become victims of the church's action and inaction because they perceive the hierarchy has failed them.

It is particularly difficult to analyse such terrible abuse when it comes to the church, an organisation so trusted, respected and revered in Irish society. We must remember, as must the church, that it is subject to the law of the land. When I was in the Army, I was subject to military law but that never took precedence over State law and the same applies to Canon Law. There must be no ambiguity on this point.

I have a deep respect for the clergy. I was educated at the Farranferris diocesan college in Cork, a sister college to St. Peter's in Ferns. While I boarded there for five years, I was not aware of any impropriety. I have nothing but gratitude for the priests and would never undervalue the work of the men and women who educated me and many others by attacking the institutions of the church.

Having said that, the fact that a church in 1987 took out insurance to protect the financial assets of individual dioceses and seemingly took no preventative action to curtail or preclude what was happening is deeply disturbing. As a result, the betrayal of the trust given by people to the church must have some consequences as we look to the future. While we should not throw out the baby with the bath water, the special relationship that existed between the Catholic Church and the State must be looked at now in an objective and unemotional manner. We must work towards a point of appropriate connections between the State, professionals competent in these awful areas and the church. There must be a newly defined and constituted act of partnership between these three groups. The clergy, bishops and church do not comprehend the complex issues surrounding clerical abuse. Part of the problem in the past is that the bishops felt they were capable of dealing with that abuse but they were wrong. The move from protecting offending priests means embracing a partnership approach and working with professional partners, specialists in dealing with abuse and abusers.

The State in many instances was no better equipped or no more effective at dealing with abuse and allegations of abuse in the past. Nevertheless, the findings of the 2003 working group on child protection, chaired by management consultant, Ms Maureen Lynott, spelled out what is needed. This debate must be issue driven and must not revolve around individuals or individual cases. We must adopt a professional approach. It is unhealthy and unacceptable for a church to make its own decisions in these matters. In the past it engaged in a process in a state of fear of exposure and repercussions. Compounding the church's inability to deal with this awful phenomenon were organisational deficiencies. Many people believe that Archbishop Brady is the CEO of the church in this country. That is not the case, each bishop is supreme in his own diocese, answering only to Rome. This is a structural deficiency, an organisational flaw that would not bear up in any other sector. The church must address this problem.

We must move forward and ensure a better, safer future for children. This will depend on education, awareness and support. Moving forward does not mean ignoring the past but learning from it. How do we, as a society, learn from this experience? Abuse warps families, communities and organisations. Education, awareness and support must permeate all of these, not just to deal with and prevent abuse but as a means of preventing the destructive repercussions of abuse — addiction to alcohol or drugs, depression and suicide. Abuse is a terrible phenomenon so thoroughly destructive that it is impossible to deal with all the facets in a way that does them justice in a few minutes.

We must remain balanced. We must look forward while acknowledging and learning from the past. There are major repercussions for the church, State and society. It is easy for us to criticise the church for what it did and failed to do but can we honestly do that and ignore what the State and society did or failed to do? If we want honesty in looking at the past, we must equally have honesty and truth in the present and future.

It is easy to say that we should remove the church's authority from our schools. This may or may not be appropriate, but in saying so, let us be honest and acknowledge that for many years, it suited the State and society to stand back and have no responsibility in the provision of school management. The State delegated its responsibility for years in the education, health and welfare of the less fortunate in society.

We should all hang our heads in shame when looking back — the church, the State and society. We did not listen, care or intervene. The State and society are not exonerated in this report and must bear some guilt.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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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.

1:00 pm

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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We normally say we are glad to be hear to speak on a particular motion but I am not glad to be here. I thank the Minister of State and his officials for coming to the House but this is a dreadful day for Ireland. This is an issue we must face up to but the ritualistic comments we make do not have any meaning in a debate such as this.

The Minister of State, in his submission, outlined clearly the various items of legislation already in place since the 1990s, the appointment of the children's ombudsman and various other matters which will form the bedrock of more legislation, directives and intervention. However, at least we moved in the 1990s, not knowing the awfulness of what was going on in the Ferns area. I suppose we had an inkling but we certainly did not know the enormity of its awfulness.

I read the Ferns Report on the day it came out and it was shocking. If one set out to write a novel containing the miseries in the report, one could not do it because one's mind could not comprehend that people in responsible positions would behave in that awful way. They treated young people as play-things to be used and then discarded because they wanted to fulfil their pleasure at that time.

We all know there are very good priests, brothers and nuns but it is appropriate to repeat it. There are such very good people who are in utter pain as a result of these revelations. At the same time, there are many of them who are not. The Ferns inquiry is about the church, gardaí, the community and the public at large because in many cases there was a reluctance to push forward with the claims. There was a major reluctance to report the matter to gardaí. The judge and his team are to be commended but we must understand that this was a small area and people may have been related to or known the gardaí, but we have gone past all of that now. If there was to be one recital it would be bad enough but the report recites so many abuses over such a period.

While the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Health and Children will act through legislation, there are many other ways to help. One is the Stay Safe programme for schools, which I instigated. I do not wish to boast, but to explain it. In 1991, as Minister, I had a thorough discussion with the INTO, the chief psychologist and the then Secretary of the Department of Education. I was vaguely aware that things were happening amiss. We created the Stay Safe programme but it is not taught in every primary school. In the Dáil this week the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, in response to a question, said she would like parents to come to like and respect the programme, to which I say "fiddle-de-dee".

Stay Safe should be taught in all schools. It replaces what Senator Feighan said mothers used to teach their children about not talking to or going anywhere with strangers. It empowers primary school children to keep themselves safe. The curriculum was drawn up securely and I am astonished that it is not taught in every school. We should not wait until people come to like the programme. How silly.

When we introduced the programme there was uproar in many bishoprics. One Saturday afternoon two bus loads of people came from County Cork to my house where I was holding a clinic. They brought huge posters calling me all sorts of names. I received several letters from bishops and parents saying the programme should be cancelled and that I was on the road to sodomy. I was not on the road to sodomy but others were. Many of these people are still walking proud in society because of their importance.

The recent furore over the Mater Hospital cancer drug tests in which women taking the drug were advised not to become pregnant centred on the use of the word "contraceptive". Are we living in the real world? I wonder if the bishops think people do not understand the word "contraception" or do not use contraception. Thankfully, the Mater Hospital saw sense and the cancer trials are going ahead. That small issue showed the huge distance between the church and the people it represents. Surely the day is gone when one could not utter the word "contraception" in case one was damned forever.

There has been much talk about education. Many primary schools have opened up their boards of management and have a lay chairman. However, few people want the job, which is laden with responsibility, in-fighting over appointments and parental complaints. It is inaccurate to say that every school board has a priest as chairman. On the contrary, many priests do not want to be chairman of a school board.

In the past I have dealt closely and harmoniously with Educate Together, the multidenominational school organisation. Pupils of those schools receive religious instruction outside school hours but within the school environment. This is a good system and I call on the Minister to give decent funding to the multidenominational schools. Educate Together has told us it has insufficient funding to run as it hopes. It is clearly non-denominational, democratic, accountable and open. I give these examples to show how one Department could begin to put its own house in order in a non-legislative way rather than giving us platitudes. It should promptly compel every primary school to teach the Stay Safe programme and give proper funding to Educate Together.

The church must show a human face. People go to a priest when they are in trouble but the relationship often lacks warmth. I spoke in this House of the heinous way the church treats divorced people. A churchgoer who divorces and marries again cannot obtain a church blessing. According to the church one is living in sin, although one is living by the law of the land, if not that of Rome. The church treats a divorced couple as pariahs and outside the Pale, and there is no warmth. I repeat the awful story of a couple that was refused a marriage blessing by three churches. Father Brian D'Arcy of the Vincentians agreed to bless the couple's marriage after the civil marriage ceremony. If the order priests, who are subject to Canon Law but not the orders of the local bishop, can give such a blessing, why should all churches not do it? It is unforgiving for a church to refuse to bless a second marriage.

People find the pomp of the church off-putting. The priests march up and down, take their hats on and off, shift their vestments and blow incense. It is patriarchal and unwelcoming. The church is all-male. It allows female servers — how marvellous — because they are in an ancillary, subservient role. They trot up and down and hand items to the priest.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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There were no servers until recently.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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It was a significant breakthrough. One is pleased to see little girls serving at the altar. I hope they have always been safe.

One wonders about chastity. I am aware of studies that say that celibacy is not a factor in child molestation by the clergy but I wonder about that.

I do not offer any excuse for such behaviour but I wonder whether it would be better to have married clergy. One must also wonder whether the situation would have been different if there were women priests. Women get parish council roles or take responsibility for gathering money and other good deeds. They are also permitted to administer the sacrament of communion. It is not a great deal. When there is more involvement by the laity in the running of church affairs, even setting aside the question of female clergy, it will be a better day for the church.

This report is not the end of the road. Senator Feighan spoke about the inquiry to take place into events in the diocese of Dublin. I understand the commission of inquiry that has been set up will have the power to call for investigations into other dioceses if evidence in this regard becomes apparent. I am sure such evidence will emerge and that this will be an ongoing process. I would be delighted to say that everybody has had a rude awakening as a consequence of the revelations in Ferns and that nothing similar will occur in the future. The reality, however, is that there will always be good and evil in every aspect of life. Those forces have been in contention since the beginning of time. Will this be a fairy story in which good will triumph and no more evil will be perpetrated? I do not believe so because such an outcome is not realistic.

The struggle must go on and the Ferns Report represents a significant rebuff to the forces of evil within the church. An important issue is the chasm in accountability in that a person who does not get redress from the church in Ireland must then go to Rome. It is a long way from Rome to here, and an arduous route for those who have raised legitimate issues here to seek judgment and redress. Many of us are Catholic and it is good that we can express our worries and fears in a forum such as this. This State is republican in ethos and, as such, it should demand that every person be treated equally.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the publication of the Ferns Report and compliment those responsible for its compilation. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is to be commended on taking a proactive stance in the aftermath of its publication. It is hoped that the inquiry into events in the Dublin diocese will be completed in 18 months. What of the other dioceses, however? Let nobody be fooled that abuse is not widespread. One might contend that some small dioceses have had only one or two cases, as published, but the hidden reality is that there are far more. Those who believe abuse is or has not been widespread are deluding themselves into a false sense of security.

As a consequence of such abuse, the lives of many young people have been destroyed. Victims may get on with their lives but there is no denying the hurt and pain they must endure. Nobody who has not experienced it will ever understand such pain. Any person reading the fourth chapter of the report can only respond with revulsion and anger.

I have formed a particular idea after reading the report. Will the Minister of State investigate the relationship between abuse, from whatever source, and suicide? Why is suicide such a major affliction in this State? Those most likely to die through suicide are young adult males. There must be some connection with the incidence of child abuse. I ask the Minister of State to allocate whatever resources and expertise are necessary to examine this matter. Such an approach might represent an initial step in finding some answers to the tragedies endured by so many families. If the incidence of abuse is seen to have been a factor in such tragedies, we must pursue an investigation.

There is no doubt that there has been some degree of denial and cover-up in the past three decades. The report mentions cases where somebody was assigned to "keep an eye on" a priest who was known or suspected to have sexually abused a child or children. In one such instance, the person assigned this responsibility was not informed of the reason the priest in question required supervision. There was always somebody withholding information. I concur with Senator Henry's observations regarding the comments last night on a television programme that other clergy may not have known of the activities of their abusive colleagues. I cannot understand how adults of academic standing could be unaware of what was involved in child sexual abuse. It seems clear there was some level of endeavour among the hierarchy to conceal what was happening.

All of us must commend Fr. Gerard McGinnity. His efforts to assist the young seminarians who asked for his help exacted a great personal cost. His efforts were stamped on at every juncture by those, including some in the highest ranks of the hierarchy, who wished to prevent any investigation of his concerns. Individual bishops and other religious people decided that abusive priests should be moved around to other ministries. Fr. Sean Fortune, for example, was sent to a new position in Westminster. He might not be known there. No report was sent to the new bishop who had taken him into his diocese about the background and the circumstances under which he was transferred. That was endemic throughout the country.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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It was routine.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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Indeed. I saw it occur myself when a religious person who was head of a boys' school in England was taken back into a diocese in this country in the full knowledge of the fact that there were certain difficulties. The nature of the difficulties should have been obvious to anybody. However, they were put aside. The person was brought back to minister in a parish. As soon as he arrived the same thing recurred. He was taken from one parish and put into another, obviously where somebody could keep an eye on him. When people in authority in the church have the attitude that a person can be moved from one place to another where somebody can keep an eye on him, it demonstrates an unwillingness to face the reality that something should have been done with him initially.

There has been much discussion about the boards of management of schools. I hope the Minister of State, along with the Department of Education and Science, will immediately initiate a complete reappraisal of what has happened with these boards in the past. We must learn from the mistakes. There is no longer a place for the dictatorial position of the religious on boards of management. Usually the parish priest is considered the only person capable and worthy of the position of chairman of the board of management of a national school. Something must be done about this.

Consider the structure of the boards of management of schools. I was once a member of a board of management. There were always those on the board who were known as "safe hands" to represent the trustees or the bishops. These were model people who were put there for a reason. They would not rock the boat in the event of difficulties arising.

According to the report, a cleric was taken from the staff of a vocational school and put on the board of management of a national school in the parish to which he was transferred. That was irresponsible and the person who did it should have to answer for it.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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He was put in both positions but he was removed immediately from the vocational school.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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That reinforces the Senator's point.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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The bishop was asked to remove him from the board of management but failed to do so.

Some of the psychiatric and psychologists' reports in the Ferns Report are unbelievable, particularly the contribution and statements of Dr. Ingo Fischer to the inquiry. They lack any degree of credibility.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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I do not know if it is fair to comment on persons.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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He is mentioned in the report.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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He is not in a position to reply.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I will refrain from using names. He is not the only one. The only reason I mention him is that I had the pleasure of attending a seminar at which he was present many years ago. I wondered if it was the same man, given the total lack of responsibility, as portrayed in this report, in his efforts and endeavours. He is mentioned in the report.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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No allegation is made against him in the report, a Chathaoirligh.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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That is correct.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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I agree but I hesitate about mentioning people.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I yield to your ruling, a Chathaoirligh. In one instance an eminent person was clearly put in place because he was a personal friend. Again we see the "safe hands" attitude.

We are talking about the failure of the Department of Education and Science and the failure of the Garda in some instances. The health board was probably one of the statutory bodies that did vindicate itself to some degree. However, in all instances what screams from the report is the fact that people were in denial. They refused to accept what happened. People in authority pushed the matter sideways to ensure it was forgotten.

I complimented the Minister on taking a proactive attitude towards this report. His work to date is commendable. However, I ask him and the Minister for Education and Science to take immediate action with regard to the boards of management. What is happening with these boards, and what happened previously, cannot be allowed to continue. There must be a reappraisal of the boards.

I urge them to do whatever is necessary to investigate the link with suicide, particularly with regard to the group I mentioned. In addition, it is important that the vetting which has been mentioned so often in the past few days is implemented for all, both religious and lay personnel, who are involved at any level with children. Ultimately, it is inevitable that the churches will lose out dramatically for a period. That is evident from the younger generation and it is no wonder.

In the communications the bishops have with the Minister they must be up front in providing information. I am certain that this is latent in all the other dioceses, probably proportionate to the populations. When one considers that this applies to 3% of the religious, how much more does it apply to lay people? There is something there and it must be removed. It is a cancer in our society and I hope all the resources necessary will be provided by Government to remove it.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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I call Senator Lydon. The Senator has 15 minutes.

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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With just a minute available, might it not be more appropriate to wait until next week?

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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I agree.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.