Wednesday, 28 May 2008
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000: Statements
Seán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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On Thursday last, both Houses of the Oireachtas approved the draft Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 (Section 5) (Specified Period) Order, 2008. Under the terms of section 5(5) of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, an order to extend the term of the commission must be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.
As obliged under the Act, the Department consulted the commission on the timeframe for the extension of the current specified period. The Commission, which is independent of the Department in its functions, had requested an extension by eight months to the end of January 2009 to allow for completion of the report and to make the necessary preparations for its publication. The extension was required in order to allow the commission to fulfil its statutory mandate to publish its report during the specified period. The previous period expired at midnight on 22 May 2008.
Since the Taoiseach's apology of 11 May 1999 to the victims of abuse in childhood a series of Government measures have been introduced for the redress of abuse. These measures include the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the setting up of a financial redress scheme for victims of abuse and the establishment of a statutory redress board to administer such a scheme, the provision of counselling and the education finance board.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was formally established in May 2000. The broad terms of reference are to afford victims of abuse in childhood an opportunity to tell of the abuse they suffered to a sympathetic and experienced forum; to establish as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of the physical and sexual abuse of children in institutions and in other places during the period from 1940 to the present; and to compile a report and publish it to the public on the activities and the findings of the commission, containing recommendations on actions to address the continuing effects of the abuse and actions to be taken to safeguard children from abuse in the future.
As one of its core functions, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse provides those who were previously silenced with an opportunity to relate their accounts of childhood abuse to an experienced and sympathetic forum. For some people this therapeutic role is all they require of the commission, while for others their wish is that their allegations are inquired into. To ensure that the two strands can be accommodated, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 provides for two committees, the confidential committee and the investigation committee. This has ensured, on the one hand, the right to confidentiality of those who want only to access the therapeutic role of the commission and, on the other hand, rights to natural justice of persons accused of abuse.
The confidential committee has provided a forum for 1,090 victims of abuse to recount their experiences on an entirely confidential basis. The purpose of this committee is to meet the needs of those victims who want to speak of their experiences but who do not wish to become involved in an investigative procedure. The confidential committee is in the process of completing the final draft of the committee's report and the report and its conclusions will be presented to the board of the commission.
The investigation committee has been investigating complaints and allegations made to it. It has the power to compel persons accused to attend before it and to produce any documents it requires. Therefore, the investigation committee is facilitating victims who wish to recount their experiences and to have allegations of abuse fully inquired into. To date, part of the investigation committee's activities have included full hearings for 252 people, with 545 people interviewed by documentary junior counsel and 41 had both an interview and a full hearing.
The investigation committee has also held public hearings into a number of specific institutions. Evidence has been submitted to the investigation committee at public hearings relating to the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Health and Children and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Currently most of the hearings and interviews have been completed but the investigation committee may hold further hearings if it deems it necessary to complete its work. This committee is in the process of writing its report. While no further hearings are planned, the commissioners are working hard to review a very large body of oral and documentary evidence which will form the basis for the report. On completion, the commission will publish its report directly to the public. This is an important feature of the independence of the commission. The report of the commission will be based on the reports of its committees.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act provides that in its report the commission may identify institutions in which abuse occurred and the people responsible and make findings in regard to the role and responsibility of management and regulatory authorities. The report, however, following the recommendation of the commission, will not make findings on any individual case. The commission in its report may also make recommendations relating to measures to alleviate the effects of abuse on victims.
The publication of the report will not represent the end of the commission's operations. There are other functions to be performed, which statutorily can continue after the specified period has lapsed. These include settlement of all third party legal representation costs, management of discovery documentation held by the commission, the carrying out of any work related to post-publication of reports and management of the commission's general shut-down.
The commission, during the period of its existence, has been the recipient of a very large body of extremely confidential and sensitive material. Consequently and in accordance with section 6 of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, it will have to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for the making of as complete a record as is practicable of the proceedings of the commission and the committees. It will also be charged with making arrangements for the custody or disposal of the documents provided for the commission. The time and complexity involved in the completion of these tasks should not be underestimated.
Expenditure for the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse from inception to the end of 2007 was €43.7 million. At this point, it is estimated that an additional provision in the region of €45 million to €55 million may be required to meet remaining overall costs of the commission to the end of 2009. The 2008 allocation of €18.1 million will meet part of this liability. This is a tentative provision, given that the commission has yet to receive and assess a large volume of third party legal costs.
I thank Senators for approving this resolution by supporting the motion last week. The benefits in supporting this motion are clear. We have enabled the commission to finalise its statutory mandate, we have provided the legal basis through which the Government and this House have previously decided that the commission would report and we have provided the opportunity for a regrettable episode in Irish history to be recorded fully, accurately and fairly. We have also allowed for the commission inquiry to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
The publication of the report, containing the findings and recommendations of the commission, is an essential part of the service which the Government can render to our society. However, while Irish society as a whole can benefit from its work, let us not forget that this is primarily a commission for the victims of abuse. The work of the commission and its public report is an opportunity for them to receive the type of respectful and sympathetic hearing to which it is entitled. I thank Senators for recognising the significance in supporting this motion and their approval of it.
I thank the Minister of State for his presentation. We in Fine Gael are delighted to be able to support the work of the commission and the extension of time required to complete the report.
This episode of child abuse, which went on for years in the 20th century in our country, is regrettable. It went on in our institutions and involved people in positions of authority. My concern is that we would now examine what we have in place to safeguard children of the present and future. We are concerned that the commission should report on the past — the report should be published as early as possible — but we must also think of today and tomorrow.
We must protect and monitor children in institutions and schools working with those in positions of trust. Vetting must be more comprehensive and we must not fail again. In that regard I will focus in particular on the Children First guidelines. As the Minister of State rightly said, the commission provides for two committees, which is a very good brief, namely, the confidential committee and the investigative committee. The confidential committee has heard from 1,090 victims of child abuse. We need to know from the report if those victims were satisfied with that process because that is the very least we owe them. Society owes a debt to victims of child abuse. They have been let down by the very institutions set up in the State to take care of them.
Regarding the full hearings for 252 people, my hunch is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. I am sure many more people suffered from child abuse than those who had the courage to come forward. We know from recent statistics that one in four were and are victims of child abuse. That is a staggering figure. A recent Irish National Teachers' Organisation report shows that 25% of all teachers in the Republic have made a complaint of concern about either neglect or sexual, physical or emotional abuse. That is the range we are looking at with the Children First guidelines.
The Minister of State said he needed a projected €45 million to €55 million to enable the commission complete its work by the end of 2009. Will he clarify when responding if those moneys will be forthcoming from the Government? I ask that question given the reneging on promises in other areas. This commission is welcome, however, for the sake of truth and we must move on that.
Last night I spoke to a teacher who was quite formidable in that she was one of the people involved in the rollout of the Children First guidelines. She was charged with that responsibility on behalf of the State and the Department of Education and Science. The national guidelines were written for all professionals involved with children — teachers, nurses, gardaí, etc. Teachers' only duty is to report to what is called the designated liaison person or the deputy designated liaison person in their schools their concerns or suspicions that some form of child abuse may be taking place. Generally, the liaison person is a senior member of staff; in many cases it is the principal but not necessarily so. Each of those groups issued a further set of guidelines giving guidance to their staff in conjunction with the Children First national set of guidelines.
I have a number of concerns, the first of which is that the guidelines are not mandatory. That makes one think differently about one's work. It would be a major decision for our nation to have mandatory guidelines and the next step would be to have a debate on whether to make the Children First guidelines mandatory.
I did my Master's degree in education in Connecticut, in the United States. At that time I was teaching in New York State. I was trained in the area of child protection, as part of that Master's programme, in a way that the guidelines were mandatory. I had a mandatory responsibility to report any suspicion or evidence I had of neglect. When I returned to the school in New York where I was teaching — this was 15 years ago — that awareness and training made me view differently the children in my class. I felt fearful that I might neglect some form of abuse, and cases of neglect were reported by me and other colleagues who did that course as a result of that heightened awareness.
We do not have that type of training here yet but it must happen in a broader sense in terms of whether we should move down the mandatory route. Last night I spoke to my colleague who was involved in the rollout of the Children First guidelines. She believes schools are concerned because the school is the only group that would see the family every day they may have reported——
——and be aware of the lack of staffing at Health Service Executive level to follow up on the problems.
Last week, in another debate involving the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, I stated that 50 cases of neglect were reported by gardaí to the HSE West. The social worker there told me she did not have anybody to open those files. Her words to me were, "Children are suffering. There is no doubt". What do we intend to do to protect our children today and tomorrow? Where will we take it from here? Schools are concerned that they do not have the support from the HSE and the social workers. It is not the fault of the social workers. They are hard-pressed professionals.
Another case that comes to mind is the 50% of reports made in Galway, for example. There were more than 1,500 cases of neglect last year, more than 750 of which were from the non-national community. We need a rollout of training and information to explain that certain types of behaviour, chastisement and abuses are not acceptable in this country. That is of major concern.
I welcome the commission's work but I put in the caveat that we must also look to the future. There must be a full rollout of training on the Children First guidelines——
——to all teachers in all schools, not just the deputy liaison person, and in the colleges of education because the rollout is patchy at best. To that degree the Department of Education and Science and this Government are failing the children of the 21st century.
She is obviously an expert in this area and had far more to say than I had intended to say.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I want to make two points. The fact that the work has not been done on time should not discourage us in the future from ensuring time limits are put in place. There is a danger that if we do not impose time limits the period for the work will extend. I support the measure but we should not be discouraged by that aspect.
When Senator Healy Eames asked what was in place now my attention was drawn to the scandal of the non-availability of social services to children outside normal business hours. I am aware of some cases where gardaí found instances of abuse, took the children into care but had nowhere to place them after hours because the social services close at either 5 p.m. or 5.30 p.m. on week days and are not available at weekends. The only place they can keep those children to protect them is in the local garda station. That is not right. I use this opportunity to encourage the Minister to determine what can be done to avoid the scandal of the non-availability of social services for children suffering abuse after business hours and at weekends.
Senator Norris asked me to raise another point although I am not sure I understood it entirely. He is of the impression that Church of Ireland institutions were not included in these areas. I am not sure if that is the case, and I do not know if he was clear on it either, but he asked me to ask the Minister to ensure that Church of Ireland institutions are included in these areas. I thank Senator Healy Eames for sharing her time and allowing me make those two points. I appreciate the opportunity to do so.
I regret that any of us have to talk about a commission to inquire into child abuse. None of us would have wanted to stand over any regime, particularly State institutions, that would have facilitated people to abuse children sexually, physically, psychologically or emotionally. The key form of abuse that comes to mind is sexual abuse but that is not the only form of abuse.
I have asked a number of times in this House for a debate on bullying and abuse in the workplace. Bullying is not a behaviour perpetrated solely by children but if an innocent person is accused of bullying that is one of the worst things that can happen. There have been situations where people have had their lives devastated by claims of abuse and, after years during which their lives were destroyed, those who made the claims withdrew them and revealed that they were invented.
However, despite these caveats I believe that sexual abuse, in particular, is as bad as murder. Those who commit sexual abuse on children damage those children for the rest of their lives. An abused child is never the same child afterwards and will not become the adult that he or she would have been had it not been for the interference. It may sound strange to say that murder is equal to abuse, but if the child were dead he or she would not have to endure the memories and the difficulties caused by the abuse. Physical, psychological and emotional abuse have serious implications as well.
I agree with Senator Quinn about putting time limits in place. I have never known a tribunal that had time limits, or one that finished its work on time, yet we should aspire to keep within such limits where possible. I am not against the suggestion of an additional eight months in the present situation. In 2000, the inquiry was to have been a two-year process. In 2002, another three year extension brought it to 2005 and a further three have brought it to the present. We would like to think that the eight month extension is the last. I say this because the people involved are not as young as they were. It is important for them to have taken their courage in their hands and to re-live their experiences. While the process has been private, the recommendations and the publication of the report will once again open up a great deal of the past for them. It has taken much bravery for people to come forward and over 1,090 have done so.
There are two aspects to consider. One is that there are people who wish to tell their story but do not want it to go further. The other concerns those who come forward in order that issues be dealt with. When we consider the numbers involved it is easy to understand why it has taken so long to get to where we are now. The fact is that those people have had the opportunity to come forward, whether for the full hearings, as 252 people did, or the 545 who spoke to junior counsel or the 41 who presented by interview and full hearing. It is an enormous volume of work and has involved different Departments.
For some people, the sympathetic or empathetic ear has been important and it is what they sought. I believe that the most important thing is the lessons we have learned. We must understand that such abuse is potentially still going on, as go on it must, when we consider what life is like today. People are working and must leave their children, who, as latchkey children must fend for themselves. It is not necessarily the fault of parents who may be trying to pay their mortgage. There is so much going on, including the pace of life, a new society, people coming from different cultural backgrounds who have different understandings of how to discipline children, some of which we do not accept. We must show people from other locations that our forms of corporal punishment have disappeared. I speak as somebody who was in Nigeria for a year, and I remember some cultural traits. Certain groups of people there branded their children at birth, actually slit them, to show to which tribe they belonged. Those are the kinds of issues to be addressed. We do not have to go into the issue of female genital mutilation. Multi-culturalism is fine, but as long as people from different cultures are living here we must put forward our views on how we expect children to be looked after and respected.
I refer to some issues that were brought up in the Dáil and I know they will be discussed in this House also. One in four teachers in primary schools have made disclosures about or allegations of abuse to the HSE and we have heard how that organisation has been able to deal with that situation. When people present as potential suicide risks I believe it must be borne in mind that in the past some suicides occurred because of previous abuse. I do not put every such person in the same category. When a teacher or a person in any responsible role comes forward and identifies an issue it is critically important there is someone available to take up the mantle and deal with the problem.
My next comment may be considered a sexist one. Deputy Alan Shatter, a member of the other House, observed that more than 150 social workers in the child care services of the HSE are currently on some form of leave, many on maternity leave. Far be it for me, as a female, to raise this issue but it is important and pertinent to consider what occurs with numbers of people working in different sectors, whether they be gardaí, health or any other professionals. If a female garda is pregnant, she is on desk duty for the greater part of nine months and is then on maternity leave. That amounts to a year, possibly 18 months, where the worker, statistically speaking, is present but in reality is not. Some 150 social workers are on leave, though not necessarily on maternity leave. We must look at the statistics of people actually in work, not merely those who are paid for work. We should continue to increase the numbers and take into consideration the issue of gender, because in any given profession a certain number of people will be off work for the most justifiable and normal reasons.
The issue of existing legislation was also raised. That is related to the point I made. We know, regardless of our walk of life, that the law is there. The law must be amenable to implementation, however, and so it is important that people be there to enforce it.
Recently a young child in England was discovered to have starved to death. It is incredible to think such a thing can happen in this part of the world in this day and age. I do not wish to concentrate on teachers but I know that people who work with children are being vetted. That is right but there was a time when it was difficult to get people vetted as speedily as they were needed in whichever service they worked. That might have been an issue with the community organisations concerned, be it football or such like. I understand that the Minister for State has introduced vetting for young teachers coming through college. It is important that others coming back into the profession, perhaps after working abroad, would also undergo this process.
We must try to find a way for people who have suffered abuse to come forward. Why does it take 20, 30 or even 40 years before people have the confidence, or feel enabled to come forward and say that they have been abused? If we could find the key to that I believe we would also find a key to understanding suicide. The Council of Europe published a report some weeks ago in which one of the key statements made by the rapporteur was that adolescents tend to commit suicide because of a fear of failure or because of failure itself. I said that I did not believe this and that my belief was that adolescents may commit suicide because of an inability to communicate, whatever the reason that may be. Perhaps they could not communicate their fear of failure or their sense of perceived failure to someone who might have helped. This is as applicable to the issue under consideration as it is in the issue of suicide. There are many young people in the Visitors Gallery. If any of them are in trouble how might we get them to talk to someone? If they did do so, how can we be sure that the person they have talked to can operate on a level that will yield the required results?
If we examine the role of the HSE as it works with the Department of Education and Science we find many instances where the two bodies are blaming each other. They must come together and decide what is to be done. A very simple example concerns the predicament of a music therapist in Scoil Íosagáin in Buncrana. The National Council for Special Education says the matter is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive and the HSE says the Department of Education and Science is responsible because the case arises in a school.
Those who stand over rapists or abusers and say they know them better than the judge who has just convicted them, perhaps after the perpetrators have admitted guilt, are not being helpful. Those who have been involved in abuse have been perceived as pillars of society. Any other pillar of society who states he or she knows an abuser better than the judge, thereby seeking a lenient sentence, is not doing anyone a service.
I wish the groups involved with the commission well. I hope the process has offered some comfort to victims and I trust it will lead to the empathy, sympathy and action that are required.
The Labour Party supports this motion. I accept that the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has requested an extension of eight months to the end of January 2009. My party views this request favourably.
In many ways, this matter concerns the extension of the commission's period of inquiry. The substantive debate on the need for the inquiry into child abuse took place around the time of the enactment of the legislation in 2000, and also during its amendment in 2005.
There are two aspects to the extension of the timeframe. Will it lead to some victims not receiving justice? I do not believe so. The second aspect concerns the cost. The Minister of State indicated a figure of €45 million to €55 million. In the context of bringing the process to completion, it is worth spending that money.
Through the commission's ongoing work, a great many people who had previously remained silent have had their cases heard and, when they wished, investigated by both the investigative committee and the confidential committee. The Minister of State said the latter committee provided a space for over 1,000 victims to testify, in a fully confidential manner, to what they had undergone. Given that the investigative committee is in the process of writing its report based on the large volume of oral and documentary evidence received, which will be presented to the public on completion, we are agreeable to allowing the extension requested by the commission.
I hope and trust the commission's work can be completed in a timely and satisfactory manner. Society will gain from the publication of the report and, most importantly, the victims of child abuse will have been given the chance to have a humane and respectful hearing. Given the importance of the recommendations the report will disclose, it should be completed and published as a matter of urgency. I hope the commission will not seek even more time.
I welcome the Minister of State, who must work with a new Minister and Taoiseach. I wish him well in his role of dealing with problems associated with education.
We are here today purely to sanction the extension of the period in which the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse can complete its work and fulfil its statutory mandate. It has done a great job. It was established purely to inquire into child abuse, be it physical or sexual, to set up the financial redress scheme for victims and to provide counselling. The education finance board was set up to facilitate that process.
The commission was established to help those who wanted to tell their stories and outline how and why their abuse occurred. This was not easy for any victim and I compliment the commission in this regard. From knowing some of the people who had to listen to the stories, I understand the importance of empathy and putting victims at ease. This was not very easy and the staff have done so very successfully. I know some of the victims who told their stories and understand they were very pleased after they had done so. It made them feel good. They wanted no more than the therapy that telling their stories afforded. That is important and I am glad the commission got it right.
I am glad the investigative committee allowed the commission to bring the accused to heel. This is probably why there was a delay. There was so much documentation to take on board. The investigative committee has the power to confront the accused with the details outlined by the victims, which is very important.
It is well worth the cost of extending the commission's timeframe to allow it to produce its report. When it is published in eight months, I ask the Minister of State to ensure that society at large understands what happened since the 1940s. We must realise there was a different society in the 1940s, characterised by institutions. There was a way of life that was protected and physical or sexual abuse was nearly the norm in those days. The abuse was not condemned. Society will not tolerate it ever again. The commission will have to ensure it sends out signals to this effect.
Many Senators asked how we can ensure society will not tolerate abuse in the future. As a counsellor I dealt with problems in the education system and learned the importance of creating the home-school links and understanding how families work. It is a question of following through and putting in place appropriate infrastructure such that the gaps that exist after 4 p.m. are not left wide open. The commission and Department will have a duty to ensure the existence of such infrastructure and a network. The commission must take on board its documentation and publish its report, after which it will finalise its work on investigating the sexual and physical abuse of the past.
Let us not forget that society and infrastructure have changed. There are more dysfunctional backgrounds and dysfunctional families nowadays and there is human trafficking. We must deal with these issues on a larger scale. The problems are more visible than they used to be and it should therefore be easier to tackle them.
I congratulate the former Taoiseach on establishing the commission and on apologising to the victims in respect of the atrocities perpetrated on them. We must look to the future. The commission, when it publishes its final report, should send out a very strong signal to the effect that abuse will not be tolerated by society and that the Department of Health and Children will put in place guidelines for educationalists and health officials to ensure the protection of our children.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to approve the motion to extend for a further eight months the investigative period of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.
This debate is taking place because it is necessary under the Act for both Houses of the Oireachtas to approve the order to extend the commission's term. While the Green Party is happy to do so, the order provides Members with another welcome opportunity to discuss child protection. A debate was held in the House recently, which was attended by the new Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, in respect of serious concerns regarding child protection that arose from a recent "Prime Time Investigates" programme. It is fitting that Members should have another opportunity to discuss the issue today.
In this debate I wish to touch on the lessons that have accrued from the experience of setting up the commission, allowing it to carry out its work and, as it enters its final phase, allowing it to complete its report and make the necessary preparations for its publication. First, I refer to the expenditure on the commission. No one questions whether the commission provided a highly valuable function in investigating the abuses that occurred in institutions in Ireland between the 1940s and the present day. Moreover, it listened to the victims of childhood abuse who wished to recount their experiences, both for the therapeutic purposes of so doing and because it had the function of investigating fully all allegations made to it, except when a victim did not wish for an investigation.
The final stage of the commission's work will be to publish a report on its findings. The business of compiling such a report, to reflect accurately all the testimonies, documentation and so on that were made available to the commission during its existence, will constitute a significant body of work. The report should make clear and adequate recommendations in respect of such institutional abuse and deficits in the State's child protection system that will enable safeguards to be put in place to ensure that such situations never recur within the State's institutions or within State bodies.
As a result of the commission's findings, it is expected to make a number of recommendations on the issue of child protection. One such recommendation should make clear the system that is required in respect of reporting allegations. It has emerged from the commission's inquiries that there is an absolute need for a clear and statutory basis on which to report allegations of abuse. This does not simply refer to the residential institutions at which, in the main, the commission directed its attention. The issue must be broadened and, as other Members have mentioned, schools, for example, must be examined. I refer in particular to primary schools for which clear and official guidelines are required on reporting abuse. Moreover, sufficient training must be provided for staff members in such schools for so doing. One should not simply consider that the appointment of a single individual within a school with responsibility for this area means the issue has been catered for. Adequate training for staff is highly important in primary schools in particular, as well as in secondary schools.
Another issue that has arisen regarding schools concerns the vetting of teachers. This matter has been raised in the Dáil with particular emphasis on substitute teachers. While I understand that at present, more than 1,000 substitute teachers work in primary schools, the system to vet such teachers is non-existent. Such issues must be examined because the work of the commission and the highlighting of other issues by the media have led to the realisation that there is an absolute need for a strict vetting system for those who work in close proximity to children in a number of different sectors.
The Green Party hopes the commission's recommendations will help to put in place such a system and the Minister should act quickly on the basis of its recommendations. It is expected that the recommendations, or at least the commission's report, will be available in early 2009. The Minister should publish the report because of the work and expense that has gone into it. Moreover, its contents and the commission's recommendations should be made publically available because they will contain many lessons for everyone.
I also wish to comment on the model of the commission because it carried out highly important work and was structured in a manner that probably ensured that the functions and remit given to it were fulfilled properly. One of the ways in which this was achieved should be replicated in other such commissions set up by the Oireachtas in future. As the Minister of State noted, before the commission's formal establishment the Government set it up on an administrative basis in May 1999. Its first objective was to consider the broad terms of reference provided to it to ascertain whether they required refinement. Thereafter, the commission recommended to the Government the powers and protections it would require to do its work effectively. This is a very good model for the establishment of any commission. Moreover, the powers it was given enabled it to do its work. It had the protection that a court would enjoy, including privilege for witnesses and their compellability, discovery of documents, taking evidence on oath and offences for failure to co-operate or for obstruction.
While it is estimated that the expenditure on the commission up to the end of 2007 was €43.7 million, it also is estimated that an additional provision of approximately €45 million may be required to meet its remaining costs. Although the commission's work is extremely important, this is a substantial amount of money to spend. Therefore, I repeat it is important to get value for money. Whatever recommendations may be produced in the commission's report should be published and the Minister should act speedily on them. Lessons have been learned regarding the arrangement that was made with the religious institutions involved. Were the Oireachtas to set up a similar body, it is unlikely that the circumstances in which it would be set up would be similar in future. However, there have been learning opportunities for the State in this regard and in future, one should seek to make satisfactory arrangements to ensure the State is not writing a blank cheque when it establishes a body such as this. On behalf of the Green Party, I support the extension of the commission's term.
At the outset I welcome back to the Chamber the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Seán Haughey. I congratulate him on his re-appointment as Minister of State and on his retention of his previous brief. This is not a surprise because he is doing an outstanding job there, particularly in respect of lifelong learning.
I will be brief because much of what I had intended to say already has been covered and I will confine myself to one or two points. I support the extension of time for the commission to complete its important work, which must be brought to fruition. I commend the Opposition in both Houses on the positive approach it has taken to this issue. While reading the Official Report on the Dáil debate on this matter, I was struck by the compassion, humanity and practicality of all the contributions. I include the contributions made in this House today by Senators Ryan and Healy Eames. The horror of child abuse and the manner in which all decent people recoil from it unite people, who will work together to ensure they can afford the maximum protection to young people.
I was delighted to learn today that the report will be published and made available to the public. Clearly the report will inform the Government on whatever future steps it will take to minimise child abuse and afford maximum protection. I may be repeating sentiments already expressed when I say the commission's work is retrospective and will teach us to deal with the problem in future. The report will not solve all of the problems and, pending its publication, we still have no idea what goes on in society. We do not know the individual horrors young people may be experiencing as we have this debate in Leinster House. That defenceless young people should be subjected to attack and abuse will touch everyone to the core.
This matter hits the headlines now and again when situations like the recent one involving that monster in Austria come to light. It is difficult to understand how such humans exist but abuse goes on at a wider and more subtle level. I am no expert in this area but I would say parental abuse of children is the most difficult to detect. It takes place in the home, it involves family, it is secretive and one wonders how much ever comes to light.
There is, of course, institutional abuse and schools are regularly mentioned in this regard because teachers work in loco parentis. Teachers have huge responsibilities that, in the main, they discharge exceptionally well. In this regard I compliment the teachers' unions because they have been proactive on this issue and as recently as last week the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, held a conference on how teachers can detect and report abuse and manage complaints. It has been stated that one in every four teachers has had an allegation of or has had to report child abuse. I taught for 20 years and was not especially involved in such detection, though I was part of a team in a school with an effective mentoring process. School chaplaincies have been very good in this regard, although bishops do not have as many priests at their disposal as they had and many chaplains are now lay people. The area has been diluted. These people have experience and my colleague, Senator Ormonde, as a counsellor, had the necessary conviction and passion to address this matter. One cannot beat the human element provided by the caring professions.
Teachers are vetted, except for untrained substitute teachers as Senator de Búrca mentioned. I spoke to some friends of mine at the weekend, including two school principals, and they are the designated officers for this matter in their schools. They feel inadequate and without proper training. It is less a matter of resources and more a matter of experience and training in how to handle these situations. They take these matters seriously. What level of vetting is applied to other professions that interact with young people, including the medical and clerical areas? I am aware of vetting in the teaching profession but I am not aware of it in other areas. I commend this motion to the House.
Seán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Senators asked a number of questions I would like to address. I thank them for their constructive contributions, for agreeing to this motion by the deadline of 22 May and for postponing the discussion until today. I have listened carefully to their points in this debate. The commission's final report is expected to be finished in November 2008 and published by the end of January 2009.
Many Senators rightly focused on what is happening today and procedures for the future of child protection, despite the fact that this motion deals with the past, and I welcome this focus. The primary statutory responsibility for child protection lies with the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the role of the Department of Education and Science is to provide guidance and support to schools in implementing child protection policy, apply proper child protection procedures and refer any allegations received to the appropriate authorities for investigation. The Department of Education and Science has issued child protection guidelines to all primary and post-primary schools. In February 2007 the Department of Education and Science issued revised internal guidelines on procedures which have been circulated to all persons employed by the Department. The guidelines were based on the Children First document, the national guidelines of the Department of Health and Children. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide direction and guidance to staff in dealing with any allegations or complaints of abuse made to the Department. It goes without saying that the Department of Education and Science will conduct a review of its procedures in light of the publication of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the review of Children First — the national child protection guidelines, and in the event of the ratification of the children's referendum. An ongoing review is under way in this regard.
Child protection guidelines have issued to primary and post-primary schools on the handling and reporting of child abuse, in line with the Children First policy document. The Department has provided training to designated liaison persons on the implementation of the guidelines. Child protection issues have been examined as part of a range of measures that include the Stay Safe programme.
Regarding making guidelines mandatory, on foot of the recent report known as the McElwee report an interdepartmental group has been established to consider its recommendations, including the recommendation to place the guidelines on a statutory basis. It will report its findings to the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews.
Senator Quinn and others mentioned out-of-hours services by social workers. In this regard the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, has placed on the record his appreciation for work carried out by social work teams and management. These individuals are hard working and dedicated and routinely deal with cases that are becoming ever more difficult, complex and intractable. Regarding social work provision, I am aware that social work out-of-hours service proposals are under consideration by the Health Service Executive. The Minister of State with responsibility for children will examine these in the context of the Department of Health and Children to see how the service can best be introduced nationwide. Notwithstanding this move towards a national approach, there are a number of out-of-hours service arrangements in operation to partially cover the service around the country, for example, dealing with homelessness in Dublin. I accept what Senators have said in this regard.
Regarding the child welfare and protection policy unit, child protection is a key part of the agenda of the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for children. More than €240 million in additional funding has been provided since 1997 in the areas of child welfare, family support and child protection. An extensive programme of specialised residential provision for a small number of children and a range of other child welfare and family support services have been put in place in recent years. The HSE informs me it has created more than 300 new social work posts since the start of 2005.
Senator O'Sullivan and others mentioned vetting, and special arrangements for newly qualified teachers are co-ordinated through the Teaching Council. Existing teachers are currently not vetted but the Department is working with the appropriate authorities to consider how best to put arrangements in place as the roll-out of the Garda vetting unit expands. Irrespective of the position on vetting, where facts are brought to the attention of a school, it must be vigilant in checking references and probing any gaps in records.
Senator Quinn mentioned Church of Ireland institutions. Section 4 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 sets out the criteria which must be met in order for an institution to be considered eligible for inclusion in the Schedule of the Act. The religious ethos of an institution is not one of those criteria and has never been considered by the Department of Education and Science in deciding whether an institution should be included. However, it does appear that 19 non-Catholic institutions are mentioned in the Schedule, five of which have a Protestant ethos.
I thank Senators for their contributions and for their support of this motion.
I thank the Minister. Everyone is of one mind here in that our overall aim is to protect the children of today and those of the future.
I am pleased to hear that the interdepartmental group is considering the proposal to make the Children First guidelines mandatory. Does the Minister of State plan a full roll-out, as he promised at the outset, of the Children First guidelines for all teachers and not just the designated liaison person or deputy designated liaison person at each school? I do not know whether any of us mentioned sports clubs; I omitted to do so. What type of training are we providing in this regard? Such clubs take responsibility for children at later hours in the evening. How will we reach the non-national community, particularly parents who have their own ways of chastising children that are not acceptable to us in this country?
The Minister of State mentioned the interdepartmental aspect of this work and that the Departments of Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform were involved. However, there may be a case for including the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism also, as many young people participate in the areas of arts and sports. Has that Department had any input into the guidelines on child protection?
To return to the issue of the ability of children to communicate their difficulties, I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that music and arts therapies are not professionally recognised in this country although they are in every other English-speaking country in the world. Arts therapies, such as art, drama or music therapy, are recognised for their ability to facilitate communication by people at risk who may not be able to communicate through words. Is the Minister familiar with music therapy and will he lend his support to increasing the use of these therapies? These are not community music groups but clinical interventions which in most other countries involve multi-disciplinary teams.
Seán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Senator Keaveney raised this issue on the Adjournment recently as I delivered the reply on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science. That reply is on the record of the House. I will contact the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, to see what progress has been made. The Senator made a good case for music therapy when I listened to her previously. I will investigate the progress that has been made in this regard.
I emphasise that the Department will conduct a review of its procedures in light of the publication of the report we are debating today. The review will include the Children First guidelines and any other issues arising from the possible ratification of the proposals in the children's referendum.
The issues raised by Senator Healy Eames were considered in the McElwee report and are now being considered by the interdepartmental committee. The Garda vetting unit is a relatively new operation. In my previous role as Minister of State with responsibility for youth affairs I had a lot of contact with that group, which is doing extremely good work. The different categories of staff for the vetting unit are gradually being installed.
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That is my understanding of it, although the Teaching Council also has a role to play in this regard. I can check this for the Senator to be absolutely clear.
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Senator Ormonde asked whether the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism has had any input into the interdepartmental group. I will check this for the Senator. My understanding is that it would be involved, but I will clarify that.