Thursday, 21 May 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 - Second Stage. It is proposed to take No. 1 at the conclusion of the Order of Business. Spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes, and Senators may share time.
The country is reeling since yesterday from the revelations contained in the Ryan report. It is hard to look at the pictures in The Irish Times today of the institutions in question and to read and listen to the words of the victims. If it is hard for us to listen one can only imagine what it was like to experience the physical and sexual abuse, the ongoing trauma and the inability to escape from it. People were kept as prisoners and there was a complete failure by the State and everybody to put children's rights to the front. As all reports today state, there was endemic physical and sexual abuse. It was totally horrific.
One is left speechless at the sheer horror of what these many hundreds of Irish children endured over a very long period. The protection of abusers seems to have been at the heart of what was going on. One can take any page from the report, as a number of radio programmes did yesterday, and quote from it:
Sexual abuse was endemic in the boys' institutions . . . physical abuse was common . . .the Department of Education failed in its duty again and again . . . the reformatory and industrial schools depended on rigid control by means of severe corporal punishment and the fear of such punishment.
I ask that the Ryan report be put down for debate at the earliest possible opportunity. What is really important is that it has been published and we can hear these voices through the report. Many legal actions were taken to prevent publication of the report in the course of its ten years. There is still a considerable level of denial and resistance and a refusal to acknowledge what took place. On the website of the commission we can see the legal attempts and delays which were put forward to prevent this from emerging. When the banks recently took the types of decisions they did and the public was outraged, there were calls for the Garda to go in, and we saw a police raid, as it were. What is documented in the report must be followed up by the Garda, the State and everyone in the most rigorous manner. I remind the House that two weeks ago the Seanad discussed the fact that the Ombudsman for Children could not get the details she wanted from the HSE. Yesterday, we spoke about 254 children who were in adult mental health institutions instead of getting the type of care they needed. We talked about the Monageer report with its blacked out recommendations, and this was just in recent weeks.
There are continuities in the protection of children in this country and there is still denial of the need to put children's rights at the centre. Until that situation changes, children will continue to be abused. This was abuse on an horrific scale in a wide range of settings. It was not just about isolated institutions in Letterfrack and Artane. The confidential report says regarding adults who spoke about their abuse as children that it was widespread, occurred in 161 settings, in primary and secondary schools, hospitals and foster care, and involved volunteers visiting those institutions.
While we do not have time on the Order of Business to discuss the many issues in the report, there are issues about justice and implementing the recommendations. When a Minister comes to this House next week to discuss this report, we should have a Cabinet response.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we discuss the Ryan report today, if at all possible. I listened to the Leader's reply on it, but I believe this is an urgent issue.
Senator Fitzgerald's point is crucial. This covers the whole of our community and follows logically from one step to another. The problem two weeks ago with the Ombudsman for Children was that she did not get some information from the HSE. The reason the executive did not give the information was that it was supposed to have come from Cloyne. The reason it did not was that the church authorities would not give all the information and sent their lawyers chasing the HSE. That is what we need to look at.
It is not just the churches, although I shall come back to that. There is the clergy and the churches, the State, politicians, the Judiciary and the media. All of us have questions to answer. We have provided an enormous carpet under which all of this was swept and hidden. We need to look at the common bonds. I want to put on record where I believe an enormous element of the problem lies - I know what my phone is going to do after this - namely, with the pervasive influence of those secret, shady, sinister, right-wing Catholic organisations that have been in the middle of this all my working life.
I can give the House chapter and verse and name the people who stood in the way of the Stay Safe programme, mandatory reporting, sexual education programmes in schools and I could go on. These people did the same here in education in some of the high offices of State and managed to carry the day. They have escaped in the course of these reports and I certainly believe they have much to answer for. There are people in this and the other House who can back up what I am saying.
A former Minister for Education, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, sat in a room with me when we saw them at their worst, having a go at us on the Stay Safe programme, and that is 25 years ago. Inside this House more than 20 years ago we raised issues concerning mandatory reporting after Kilkenny, Mayo, etc. to ensure teachers, social workers and gardaí would have to report, but it never happened. All these things ended up in culs-de-sac when they were reported. The information was to be found in many places and yet it never flowed out of those culs-de-sac. Excuse me if I have a curl in my lip when I think again about all that spurious, specious argumentation being put about by these groups about destroying the innocence of young people at a time when they were being destroyed and wrecked and their lives, not just their childhood, was being taken from them in these institutions.
We have a great deal to answer for. I would like this investigation to go further to see where these influences were brought to bear on the Department of Education and Science, other Departments, Governments, media and on the church to ensure this thing was never dealt with when it should have been.
I agree with the previous two speakers and share their sadness at the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. Without question, it is the most shameful episode in Irish history. I was listening yesterday to a number of radio stations on the Internet. They were based in the UK and it was, quite rightly, the lead story, as it was on Sky News. One heard the harrowing accounts of people who suffered abuse at the hands of those evil monsters. For example, one victim, who was at the centre of the documentary, "Dear Daughter" in 1996, said last night that she was terrorised and brutalised from the age of three weeks to 17 years and ten months in an institution. It is appalling, sickening and disgusting. One empathises with Senator O'Toole's passionate contribution about the right-wingers, the extreme head-bangers who stood in the way and provided obstacle after obstacle when people tried to get the truth and when the victims of this horrid and evil abuse attempted to get some type of closure on the issue.
It is not good enough for an organisation such as the HSE, an agent of Government to put obstacles in the way of someone such as the Ombudsman for Children. Neither is it good enough for a number of the recommendations in the Monageer report to be blacked out. If we have learned anything, surely it must be that the first duty of the State is towards those victims. We need to ensure this never happens again and, critically, that these evil monsters and the people who tried to protect them end up in jail where they belong.
I have two other issues to address. One is the ever-falling interest rate. The ECB rate fell again last Thursday week to 1%. I reiterate my call to the Leader to bring the Minister for Finance to the Seanad and try to get agreement on behalf of the thousands of young couples and others who are locked into fixed-rate mortgages. People are paying 4.9%, 5.2% and higher in interest rates because of the advice available about fixed rates when they applied for mortgages two or three years ago. They now find themselves being penalised when they try to change to variable rate mortgages. In some cases people are being quoted €12,000 or €14,000 to break their agreements. We all know that is not going to happen because these people are cash strapped. Will the Leader invite the Minister to address the House so that we can argue that since he has guaranteed the banks using taxpayers' money, there should be some quid pro quo?
My other point is that many people have found themselves on the dole queues in recent times and, unfortunately, there will be many more before the year is out according to the forecasts and expert advice that is available to us, which we have no reason to question. A great many people have information technology, IT, experience and there are plenty of opportunities, apart from challenges, presenting at this time. Many people would prefer to be in training programmes and earning money as opposed to hand-outs from the State. They need, to quote Deputy Eamon Gilmore, to get a hand up. The Government needs to expand its job creation and protection policy, which is clearly lacking at the moment. There are hundreds of thousands of people in America and Australia who can boast of Irish lineage, such as the John F. Kennedys, Ronald Reagans etc., whose families have emigrated over generations. As historical records were burned in the Custom House in the early part of the previous century, thousands no longer have the information available to them if they wish to trace their family trees. I suggest that instead of job creation, protection or training initiatives, we should give people with IT experience an opportunity to go into the parishes, which have very good records going back to the middle of the 19th century, research this type of information and market it in a way that produces jobs, high quality information and extends a great service to the Irish diaspora and the many millions who claim Irish connections. In that context I call for a debate on job creation and job protection in terms of new initiatives that would get the unemployed to come back into the workplace.
I add my voice to those who have expressed horror at the findings of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. I do not want to understate or belittle in any way the very serious institutional abuse by adding that I believe a great deal of abuse is happening outside the institutions as well. We could well have a debate on how people might be persuaded to come forward about current abuse, not only in institutions but outside them, for example, within families. Such victims should be offered support and assured they will get the level of help they need once they come forward.
Today, the Dáil will debate the issue of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This is an ongoing and difficult condition which causes people to die at a young age. However, the quality of life of people who have the condition could be improved because opportunities for this are being developed in Newcastle. I ask the Leader to mirror the discussion in the other House and arrange for a debate on Duchenne and other forms of muscular dystrophy. People are dying, having enjoyed only a short life although measures are available to slow the progress of the disease. We must discuss this issue.
On previous occasions, I raised the issue of ordnance survey maps showing Londonderry and Doire but not Derry. It has been brought to my attention that the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has sent refusals of applications for jobseeker's allowance to people who, while they may not live in the Twenty-six Counties, their families come from here and they have had many interactions across the Border over many years. These people have received letters containing sentences such as: you came to reside in Ireland in 2009, having lived outside Ireland all of your life; your centre of interest is not Ireland; you have no links or family ties in Ireland; your immediate family resides outside Ireland and; you do not have an employment record in Ireland.
In a post-Good Friday Agreement context, if those words were written by someone other than a Department of our Government we would be quick to reject the assertion that people who live on part of our island have no connection whatsoever with Ireland. I ask that we look at the language being used in these letters and in other official documentation. How many other Departments are using similarly offensive language on behalf of the Irish people?
Two or three years ago, while channel flicking late at night, I came across a movie, "Song for a Raggy Boy". The end credits confirmed that this horrendous movie was based on real life experiences of children in the institutions we are discussing now. The film crystallised for me the suffering and utter despair endured by these children. It is a credit to the indomitable human spirit that they saw any reason to get up in the morning. How they found the will to live and survive amazes me.
While the Catholic Church found its unique, heinous and very special version of the culture of the time in carrying out horrendous acts on these children, that culture existed across all of Irish society. It was acceptable to visit physical violence on our children. It happened in our schools and our homes. Let us be honest. How many of us had school principals who asked us, every September, to gather sticks so he or she could choose the most suitable one for visiting violence upon the children? Every one of us should be ashamed of that and held responsible for it.
For all the hand wringing and soul searching we will engage in over the next number of weeks, only one reaction is appropriate from legislators and citizens. We must ensure this kind of abuse can never happen again. As we go to bed tonight, children across the country are crying out for that same help and feeling that same despair and loneliness. We are still not reacting to their calls. Last year, the ISPCC received 600,000 calls from such children. Only half of them were answered. Can we, as a Government and as legislators, be proud of this record? We can not.
This is the single biggest wake-up call this nation has ever received. It is a call we must answer. History will judge us by our reaction to this call. Shame on every one of us, as parents, citizens and legislators, if we do not answer this call as it deserves to be answered.
I abhor the kind of anti-clericalism which seizes on atrocities such as this. However, as one born and reared as a Roman Catholic, I ask is there something special in the religion of my childhood that allowed this systemic abuse. At first glance, it would appear there is. Although there was a large proportion of Protestant children in institutional care in the Republic, abuse of them was very rare. I remember reading in the Cork Examiner how when Protestant children would get out of orphanages in Kerry, local Protestant shopkeepers would look after children when they were on the run.
In Northern Ireland, institutional abuse of Protestant children was very rare, apart from the Kincora incident, and almost unknown in Roman Catholic institutions. There is not something inherently bad about Roman Catholicism but there is clearly something inherently bad about Roman Catholicism's relationship with the Irish Republic.
Under British rule, these abuses were not practised in Roman Catholic institutions and Protestants did not practise them. The responsibility belongs to the Republic as a whole. I will not rehearse any political indignation but I challenge the assumption that this cover-up is new.
Daniel Corkery said Irish identity was made up of land, religion and nationality. These three factors operated in this abuse. Most of the Irish Christian Brothers I knew came from rural Ireland. They came from the tradition of the cover-up of the Great Famine. The fact that strong farmers survived the Famine and spailpíns died was covered up. In west Cork they talk about the descendants of Famine victims. The victims of the Famine are all dead and the descendants are in graves. The victims of the Famine in the Skibbereen area were all people who looked after their turnips. The complicity of the Famine has been covered up. A few landlords cannot grow, transport and export grain. The rural bourgeoisie was involved in the Famine.
There was a cover-up of the brutality of the War of Independence and the Civil War. We covered up pogroms against Protestants. We are very good at covering up things which touch on the national question. I have no doubt that every brother and priest involved was a devout nationalist. Indeed, that was part and parcel of the thing. The relationship with the Republic, its professional classes and the republican ethic concerns me. Ministers for Education, politicians, barristers, lawyers, doctors and the entire Irish professional middle class, who all professed republicanism and all wanted a united Ireland, turned a blind eye. It is ironic that if we had never left the British Empire and if the Treaty had never been signed, whatever else we might have suffered, these innocent victims would never have suffered. Our promise to cherish the children of the nation equally turned out to be an empty one.
I say these things as a warning. There is a deep brutality in Irish nationalism. It came up most recently in the Provos punishment beatings of children in Belfast ghettos. The problem is not simply in the Roman Catholic Church. It is in the republican ethic itself.
The most chilling and damning words on the front page of The Irish Times this morning are "systematic" and "endemic". They tell the whole story. This was known to many people in authority. In the Church, responsibility goes right to Rome, where a report detailing the systematic and endemic sexual abuse of children gathered dust for 60 years.
I respectfully disagree with Senator Harris, to an extent. The Protestant section of this society is not exempt, except by whitewash. I attended an up-market Protestant boarding school where sadism was rampant and someone very close to me had his life destroyed by this sadism. It is extraordinary that the Protestant churches should be so completely excluded. I feel great compassion for the victims but I also feel compassion for the many decent, good and self-sacrificing members of the clergy who are now tarred with the same brush, in the same way that we as politicians are tarred.
What about the judges? Children, trembling, terrified and clearly physically injured, routinely turned up in front of the judges of the State and not one of them ever asked a question. The judges are as guilty as anyone else in this State and we are guilty too.
I remember what Senator O'Toole was talking about and the debates about the Stay Safe programme. Those people were in this House as well. I listened to them talking about protecting the family against children. It was disgusting and repellant and it is disgusting, repellant and obscene that still we have a situation where the churches, the very people that are indicted in this report, are exempt from the operation of the equality law. They are not equal with the rest of us and they are placed above the law. How can anyone tolerate that the people who visited this on the innocent children of the country are exempt from equality law?
The bullying and psychological torture of young people is still going on and is facilitated by us. Christ and Caesar are still hand in glove in this place and we are guilty of it. For that reason I not only support and second Senator O'Toole's amendment, but propose a simple amendment of my own, that we take No. 29, motion 9 and allow ten minutes for it. The motion, in the name of Senator O'Toole and I, simply states: "That Seanad Éireann, in the light of the Ferns Report [and the Cloyne report, the Laffoy report and now today this unspeakable revelation], requests the Government to re-examine the exemption of the churches from the operations of equality legislation." We should do so today in a ten-minute statement and we need not even take a vote but simply pass the motion. We are not condemning anyone or prejudging the issue. We are calling for it to be re-examined. If we do not do so today the House stands in contempt and in dereliction of its duty to the children of Ireland.
I agree with the calls for a debate on the report at the earliest opportunity. The report is harrowing and reflects certain aspects of Irish society dating back to the 1930s. There are 70 years of history in the report that is chilling and heartbreaking and on which we must act.
The reality is that in Ireland until recently there was a certain exemption in people's mind's eye for certain people in authority. Given such exemption, there was a mistaken and misappropriated belief that certain people, because of their position, were inherently going to do the right thing. Of course, that ignorant misapplication of authority has now proved to be the undoing of many a young life. I suggest the debate, whenever it takes place, should examine that misapplication of authority. In other words, we attributed a virtue to those who should have been following the Christian values when in fact they did not deserve it. That remarkable misapplication of trust is something for which any of those who crossed the line in such a severe manner can never be forgotten. It is all the worse because many of them were specifically in authority and claimed to follow the Christian virtues.
I recognise that it many not be possible to hold the debate today. I trust and hope that this will not be misrepresented in the media, as was the case with a previous debate that we refused. That is what occurred in respect of the debate on the Adoption Bill. We did not refuse; the Minister was not available on the day. However, it was misrepresented by a member of the Opposition and it was suggested that we did not want the Minister in the House, which was not true. We seek this debate at the earliest possible date.
I join other Senators in expressing my dismay about the recent report. It is clear that our children have been done a great disservice by the State. It is something of which many of us would have been aware from our school days. We witnessed institutionalised criminal activity taking place in many of our institutions and there was a policy at the time of "spare the rod and spoil the child". We must learn from this report.
I refer to Senator Cannon's statement to the effect that many children to this day are not getting the support they need. The report is harrowing in its account of the past victims of these institutions but let us not forget the children of today who are suffering in schools and institutions. We must ensure we put the necessary resources in place as soon as possible because many of them will try to contact with helplines and we must ensure their voices are heard. I second Senator Norris's amendment.
I join colleagues regarding the comments on the report. Words cannot describe the profound sadness and anger elicited by the contents of the report, the testament it bears to the broken lives of those left in its midst and the heroes who had the courage to speak to the inquiry. I have no doubt there are people who are too broken and debilitated to have been in a position to put their stories on the record for the inquiry and the report is equally significant for those people.
I join other colleagues in calling on the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House as soon as possible. Given the experience which Members of the House bring to this area, any such debate should have several specific purposes. These include identifying what must now be done for these people to ensure that in moving on they have the best quality of life, identifying how we implement the recommendations, and, very importantly, keeping in mind that the abuses were perpetrated on a very vulnerable group of children.
There are still vulnerable groups of children today, some of whom are not in a position to ring hotlines or contact someone for the purposes of seeking help, whether these be children with disabilities, children in the care of the HSE or non-national children in the care of the HSE. We should also use this debate to identify what we can learn from the report and how we can apply this to ensure the best possible protection for those vulnerable groups of children now in our care.
There have been some excellent contributions and I echo the calls for a broader debate on the issue because of what may result. Everyone in the Chamber represents different generations and we all understand the apathy and complacency attributed to the abuse that took place when we were growing up. In many cases we did not quite comprehend the significance of it and what effect it would have on people because we were detached from it. In my professional life as a doctor I have been peripherally involved in some cases, which often do not strike home unless one is centrally involved.
I recognise the same dead hand of apathy and complacency is with us today as much as it was 30 years ago.
It is still there. If a person presented at a Garda station this morning to make a complaint about abuse or something else that was wrong, the garda on duty would probably suggest that the person go away and come back in a week because that garda did not have the expertise and the person who did was unavailable but that an appointment could be made. Anyone with the slightest cop on who understands such cases knows that such a person would walk away and would be unlikely to come back if that were the response from the first person he or she met in authority. Such people would believe they had been let down as a result of what they had seen and what had taken place in their own lives in recent years.
I call on the Leader to hold that debate in the House as some of the contributions made have been fantastic. I would very much welcome a broad debate on the issue. We have a great opportunity to learn from our collective experiences. I urge the Leader to have that debate immediately, or as soon as possible. I would love to hear more of what Members have to say on the issue.
I endorse the points raised by other Senators. I would love for us to have this debate today, I am so ashamed of what has taken place. My stomach curdled today when I read the horrific accounts in the The Irish Times. I thought of myself as a child and realised the abuse was going on when I was growing up and wondered whether my parents or society knew about it.
This is a major issue that affects all of us. I am ashamed of the culture of silence that went on around us while this physical, sexual and emotional abuse was being carried out. Yet, awareness of it never penetrated society. Why was that? I was a teacher for many years, but I did not know about it. We should have come across it somewhere. There is a bigger issue. Not alone must we discuss the abuse, we must discuss society. We have a responsibility to look first at ourselves and our role. Of course those in authority are to blame. I am ashamed I was a Catholic and this was going on around me and that religious institutions behaved in this manner, because they had the power to do so.
We have the power. Society should have the power to deal with this. I hope that when we have this discussion, we talk about other issues such as the breakdown of marriage and whether physical, emotional and sexual abuse is going on currently. Who knows what is going on this morning as we are discussing this issue in the Chamber? This is a huge issue that will not be mended overnight, but we must all play a part in its repair. I would love if we could accommodate Senator Norris and have the Minister here for a debate and statement on the issue today.
I accept that, but it is up to the Leader. I am ashamed to have to stand here as a legislator, knowing that we, successive Governments and the religious authorities have let Ireland down. It is time to call stop. It is time to deal with broken marriages and child abuse. We must find a way out of this situation and create a better society.
I welcome the thoughtful contribution made my Senator Harris. I also echo Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on Mr. Justice Seán Ryan's report, repeating the call I made yesterday.
As a practising Catholic I feel sorrow and shame because some of those who officially represented the values of the gospel in which I believe failed to live that gospel in the way they treated children and in the way they failed to prevent and punish evil doing among some of the members of the orders running the institutions. They failed to rise up against this and on some occasions exemplified the cruelty of the times. This is a day to focus on those who suffered in these institutions, not everybody, but a very significant number. This should be our sole focus. There will be another time to make the points that this is not the full story of the church's good work in Ireland nor the full story about the legacy of the religious orders. This is the very sad, tragic and despicable side of the story.
I was intrigued by the comments of Senators O'Toole and McCarthy. No doubt, there were head bangers around in the 1970s and 1980s and various campaigns. I would encourage them, because I am interested in what they have to say, to use their Seanad privilege to give us chapter and verse on that. It is important to distinguish between people who feared certain programmes, however mistaken they may have been, and people who would willingly place children in danger. We need to be careful of being too general. Let us get specific and avoid blackening whole classes of people.
The immature relationship between the church and the State is part of the story. However, we should all be conscious - I know we all are here - of the current failings of our State with regard to the protection of the most vulnerable children in our society and the fact that Children First is patchy in its implementation. We should be conscious too of the failure of other states. I think of the case of Victoria Climbie, the child who was abused so badly and whose social workers failed to intervene due to a politically correct fear of being seen to be hard on minorities. This happened in Britain. Therefore, abuse is not just a story about religious orders or Ireland.
Undoubtedly, there is something we must reflect on and learn from about power and about that immature relationship that existed between religious and State authorities where there was not sufficient responsible oversight so that evil doing was rooted out in time. As a result of that failure, much more evil doing happened and that is the great tragedy of all of this. At all times let the dignity of the person be at the front and centre of our policy choices and let us focus on that most of all at this time.
I agree with many of the comments expressed regarding the revelations of the Ryan report. There is no doubt it exceeded even our worst fears. All of us will endeavour to get behind the report and try to understand in some small way the terrible suffering through which these innocent children were put. These children were already deprived of a normal, loving family life and then placed into a brutal regime, for the most trivial of reasons. These were innocent youngsters and should not be thought of as children who had to be put into that type of institution.
Those people who perpetrated these terrible acts have not only done terrible damage to these young lives, but they have done terrible damage to the good name of Ireland, to the religious orders and the church to which they professed loyalty. They wanted to have a vocation and to be fully part of that type of life. One is reminded of the fate the founder of the Christian religion described would await those who scandalised little children in any way. I find it impossible to understand how anybody set out to dedicate their life to that religion and then prostituted - in every sense of the word - the very basic tenet of that religion.
I agree with Senator Mullen that we must first think of the victims. One can only imagine what they have suffered for several decades, when they felt they were absolutely and utterly ignored. Very often, their plaintive pleas were not even heard or acknowledged. We have a report now and some feel that is progress, but others feel it is not. The fact that some of the victims were not allowed into the press conference yesterday tells us something. It would have been possible to get a bigger room. Those victims should have been a central part of the conference.
I agree with the point made by Senator Norris that as a result of what has happened, all those who did good in religious orders are now painted with the same brush. I know we will all look back over our childhood to see if we can remember something that was inappropriate at the time. I was a pupil of the Irish Christian Brothers, but in all my life I never noticed anything that was inappropriate and never heard anything being said against them. When we had a reunion of Christian Brothers' pupils, they came from all over the world to express their gratitude. While it is not for today, it is important we have balance.
Today we must concentrate on the victims. One of the most telling pictures I saw in the paper were the little gravestones of young people who had died while they were in these institutions. One can only imagine, never understand, the trauma they suffered. I compliment Mr. Justice Ryan and all those who sat on the commission. There is no doubt, they have done something vital. We must, once and for all, try to eradicate this from the Irish system. We must not only ensure it does not happen again, but go beyond that and legislate in such a way as to ensure it cannot ever happen again.
This is a harrowing and powerful debate. The Seanad can be proud of the work of it is doing this morning. I the dreadful contents of this report can be debated in great detail in this forum over the coming weeks and months. I have listened with interest and awe to the powerful contributions that have been made by my colleagues. I was very impressed with the historical analysis that was given by Senator Harris. When we consider the manner in which the children of this nation were dealt with, as outlined in the report that was published yesterday, we can safely say the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was quickly subsumed into the valley of the squinting windows. Rather than "cherishing all the children of the nation equally", we decided instead to control the children of the nation brutally. The Republic became the cover-up capital of the world. That veil of secrecy remains in place, to some extent. As Senator Cannon said, we face a huge challenge if we are to deal with this report and seek justice. We need to deal with the fact that children in this Republic continue to be abused and terrorised. We must accept that some of them are malnourished, hungry, frightened and fearful. That is our challenge. As well as offering justice to the victims of the past, we need to safeguard the security of children today. I look forward to a full debate on this dreadful report at an early stage. I concur with what Senator Mullen said about the great work that is being done by many Christian people, including priests and brothers. It is a shame that the behaviour of a minority, perhaps a large minority sadly, has infected the good name of many decent people who are involved with the church. I am sure we will debate these matters on another occasion. This morning, we must simply acknowledge the pain and suffering of the victims and promise that it will not happen again. I accept that such commitments were made and broken in the past. As a nation, and as a House of the Oireachtas, we should not break our word ever again.
I would like to outline my vision in this regard. This was a problem of social class. I would like to take this opportunity to call for the crimes that these young people were supposed to have committed, stealing a bar of chocolate for example, to be expunged. In the years in question, the district judges came from a superior class in society. We had a much more defined class structure when these things were happening. The district judges had the audacity to condemn little children and people in their early teens to industrial schools. How dare they? I would like to call for these supposed crimes to be expunged immediately. The people who committed the abuses that were exposed in the report published yesterday will not pay for them, whereas the children who were deemed to be guilty of minor offences - I am sure 99% of them came from poor families - continue to have those puny crimes on their records. I am calling for these crimes that were committed by these poor children to be expunged from the records. I am ashamed and embarrassed of my country. For people of my generation - I was born at the end of the Second World War - nothing could be worse than how the Nazis in Germany treated the Jews. The abuses perpetrated by men and women of the religious orders were just as bad as the actions of the SS men. It is shocking that people who were supposed to be carrying out Christ's work could treat children in such a manner.
I remind the House that 5,300 children are currently in the care of the State. Some of them are in foster homes or partly fostered, others are awaiting adoption and others are in residential institutions. Believe it or not, 16 of the 21 recommendations made in Mr. Justice Ryan's report relate to children in the care of the State who are in institutions. Mr. Justice Ryan went to the trouble of setting out 16 recommendations on how children in residential care should be protected. I have compiled documents on child care, ageing and ageism and suicide prevention. I have said on many occasions in this House that this is a great country for publishing reports and putting them on shelves, but we are hopeless at implementing them. I ask my colleagues in Seanad Éireann to demand the implementation of Mr. Justice Ryan's report. It should be followed through until its aims have been achieved.
Like Senator Bradford and others, I have been impressed by the well-founded and eloquent contributions that have been made in this House today. I am proud to be a part of it. As everyone has said, the revelations outlined in Mr. Justice Ryan's report are appalling and shocking. I join Senators O'Toole and Norris in calling for a debate on this issue today. We could set ten minutes aside. A Minister would not have to be present. Perhaps the Leader will agree to that. We could have a fuller debate with the Minister when time allows. For some time now, it has been shocking for us to realise that so much damage was inflicted on young people in this country in years gone by. The number of people in religious orders who inflicted it was quite small, thankfully. We have to realise that in those days, people got into positions of authority without being properly vetted. I hope the climate is much different today. I think it is. A great deal of good education was provided by some of these orders. I refer to the Christian Brothers, the De La Salle Brothers and the Presentation Brothers, for example. We do not want that to be totally overlooked. The perpetrators of these foul deeds were not dealt with. There was a culture of cover-up. We have seen it in banking, politics and business in recent times. It has infected all strata of Irish society, sadly. I would like to think we have got rid of it, but I cannot say we have. Human nature being what it is, we have all been affected by original sin, so to speak. I would like to add my voice to the many good, strong and trenchant contributions have been made today. I ask the Leader to facilitate a short debate on this matter today, as requested by my colleagues, and to arrange a more substantive debate as early as possible in the weeks to come.
I am happy to support the call for a debate on Mr. Justice Ryan's report. First and foremost, I would like to lend my solidarity to all the victims. I hope we will learn from this episode. Equally, we should acknowledge the good work carried out by many of the people, and the agencies of the State, that were charged with looking after children in the care of the State. I agree the report published yesterday should be a catalyst for change in the way we go about our business. While I accept that many of these victims ended up in care after allegedly committing crimes as children, that was not how all of them ended up in care. Some of them were placed in these institutions as a consequence of a variety of social, domestic and family issues. In some cases, it was in the best interests of the children involved to be in care. We should be fair and honest about this. Many children were rightly removed from circumstances in which they were at risk. I hope some of them were placed in an environment in which they were not at risk. We should not be blinkered in our vision in any form or fashion. There is a broad range of issues here. In addition to child abuse there is abuse of elderly people in our society. People spoke yesterday, as I did last week, about vulnerable people being placed in care. The finger points at us to outline what we are doing about resources for care and what legislation is in place. We must be prepared to grasp the nettle and make the tough decisions on these issues and stand over them.
I have asked the Leader for clarification on a separate issue. I understand that the Health Service Executive is changing the administration of the medical card system. We are led to believe that this is being done to save money and improve organisation but the medical card administration section is being brought to Finglas, contractual staff are being brought in to do the work and the existing medical card officials, who do the work parochially and with whom people interact about their applications, are being assigned to other duties. This is another mistake whereby more money is being spent on administration than on the social supports required within the HSE.
I hope everyone will be allowed to speak today and I strongly recommend that the Leader extend the time for the Order of Business because everyone should have an opportunity to express their abhorrence of what occurred over a long period in our society. I commend the Ryan report and very much regret that the victims were excluded from its launch yesterday. It was a shoddy launch that did not allow the victims to be given the report in a dignified way, and was an extension of their bad treatment.
The industrial schools were more like concentration camps than training camps. They were run by boot boys. It is appalling and horrible to think of the way innocent children were abused at those schools and we all stood idly by. Neighbours must have known what was going on. Lay people were also involved and they turned their heads. One brother who was not performing properly received a standing ovation when he came into his room because he had broken a child's jaw. It had been said that he was too soft. When we were in school in the 1950s the threat hung over every child that if he did not attend he would end up in an industrial school. We all experienced the gross physical punishment in Christian Brothers' schools. That is a fact. The leathers were probably made in Artane to allow the brothers to beat children. We were terrified.
I did, however, meet brothers of the highest calibre. It is easy to condemn but we must recognise the others such as one who meant a lot in my area, Brother Paul O'Dwyer, now deceased. He was exemplary in everything he did for us. Many brothers in the schools were top class. Let us be clear that there were two types of brother. We at least had secure family situations. I knew brothers who abused other boys who had stammers and destroyed their lives. Their parents tried to defend them but it was impossible to defend or help them at that stage. There were many types of abuse.
It was a horrible era in Irish life. It was a hidden, secretive period when all these situations were brushed under the carpet and ignored by everyone, including the Judiciary. One person wrote to a relative in the Judiciary to ask him to send more pupils to his school because it needed more money. That was the type of internal activity that was occurring. The State handed these children over.
In the circumstances it would be only fair and appropriate that the Leader would extend the time. This is very important. I do not mind whether there is a Minister here or not. We do not need a Minister here to express our views on this situation. We are all involved. It is not the responsibility of any particular Minister. All those Ministers who stood idly by are dead. If they were not they should be on trial, no matter what side of the House they came from.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, McCarthy, Keaveney, Cannon, Harris, Norris, Hanafin, Hannigan, Corrigan, Twomey, Ormonde, Mullen, Ó Murchú, Bradford, Mary White, Coghlan, Callely and Leyden all expressed their shock and horror. I have been a Member of this House for a long time and have never seen one issue dominate the entire Order of Business. The seriousness with which colleagues have treated this matter has been unprecedented to my knowledge. Colleagues have given various responses to the Ryan report on the abuse of children, their suffering, horror, torture and to the hard work and endeavour by Mr. Justice Ryan and his team over ten years to bring this report to this point, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, who commissioned the report and the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, who apologised for the scandalous behaviour that took place. Senator Fitzgerald pointed out the 161 settings and Senator Mary White said that there are 5,300 young people in institutional care at present-----
All these matters and issues must be dealt with and we have got to show a lead as legislators in introducing regulations for the protection of children for the future. All morning as colleagues spoke in the strongest, most forcible and passionate way the thought went through my mind that the report brings us up to 1990. What is the situation from 1990 to today? It has been pointed out that we discussed the Adoption Bill here for seven days so we gave all the time that was necessary for Senators to make their views known.
We must deal with this report. Young boys who for the smallest of reasons, maybe mitching primary school for a few weeks, were placed in these institutions and to their horror have experienced lifelong suffering. Of course there was class distinction as Senators Harris, O'Toole and Ó Murchú pointed out, because it was a terrible time, during the Second World War and after, the early 1960s and 1970s, in the main when this happened. These are experienced commentators in their own fields, apart from being Members of Seanad Éireann who have given their views to the House.
Senator Norris proposed an amendment to the Order of Business and in principle we have no difficulty with the sentiment of his motion No. 9 on the Order Paper. I propose that next Wednesday we will deal with this report. I will meet with the leaders of the various groups after the Order of Business this morning to get an agreement from them on the time required for us to deal with this report starting next Wednesday. I can assure the House that there will be no time limit on colleagues who wish to make their views known on the report. At the start of the contributions next Wednesday I intend that we will take No. 9, the amendment proposed by Senator Norris and his colleagues.
It is hard to deal with anything else on the Order of Business this morning but Senator McCarthy raised matters regarding fixed rate mortgages. Up to 20% of mortgage holders may have fixed interest rates. Next Tuesday afternoon and evening we will have statements on the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, as requested yesterday. The issue raised by the Senator could be discussed then because financial issues will be under consideration in the House. The Finance Bill will be taken in the House next Thursday. I agree with the sentiments of the Senator regarding mortgage holders with fixed interest rates.
With regard to upskilling and the family tree, as we all refer to genealogy, in the 1980s when there was no employment, the bishops in the dioceses, to be fair to them, took on one or two staff in every parish to put together the data on births, deaths and marriages which date back to 1820 and 1830 in most cases. The Senator's suggestion in this regard is worthwhile and we will see how we can make progress thereon.
Senator Keaveney expressed serious concern over young people at risk and especially young people who are dying. I will certainly have no difficulty in passing her strong views on to the Minister. I will consider her point on Ordnance Survey maps referring to Londonderry and Doire but not to Derry and all the issues in respect of which she has practical experience.
Senator Callely expressed his sheer disappointment over the centralisation of the medical card system. Every Member of this House believes it is not a good move by the HSE and we all wish responsibility would be returned to the dedicated hard-working staff in all the old health board areas where every two counties had perhaps one person looking after the medical card system who, in many cases, knew many of those applying. Centralising the system will certainly not make it more efficient; it is a step backwards.
On the basis that the Leader has gone a considerable way towards accommodating me and has indicated that if at all possible, he will allow ten minutes at the beginning of proceedings next Wednesday, I will withdraw the amendment. We will be watching for that and I hope it will be possible. Otherwise the Government's inaction will be very badly regarded by the people. There will be other ways of resolving the matter but doing as I propose would be very important and positive.