Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Táim anseo anocht le ceist agus cúis an-tromchúiseach a ardú, maidir le scéal atá sna meáin le cúpla seachtain anuas maidir leis an iar ceannasaí ar Chumann na bhFiann agus Coláiste na bhFiann, Dómhnall Ó Lúbhlaí, nach maireann. Bhí cláracha ar TG4 agus ar Raidío na Gaeltachta agus ar RTE le seachtain anuas a léirigh go raibh daoine ag déanamh líomhaintí go ndearnadh ionsaithe gnéis orthu fad agus a bhí siad faoi chúram Domhnall Ó Lúbhlaí.
I raise a very serious issue involving Dómhnall Ó Lúbhlaí, who is deceased and who was previously involved with Cumann na bhFiann and Coláiste na bhFiann. Allegations have been made that individuals were sexually abused by Dómhnall Ó Lubhlaí. These allegations date as far back as 1955. A number of questions need to be answered on this issue. The matter was brought before the courts on two occasions but in 1992 the case fell apart, reportedly because some of the evidence to be heard in court was not available at the time. The case fell apart on that technicality. At least four or five individuals have come forward and the 1992 case cited 53 occasions of abuse. This is a serious matter because the organisations concerned promoted the Irish language and gave access to large numbers of young males and females. I note that it was announced today that the Garda Commissioner intends to launch a full investigation but I am not satisfied that it will cover all issues arising.
It is important the Garda Commissioner has an internal investigation as to what happened in the Garda Síochána regarding this case. It is also important any other allegations made against this man are brought into the public domain so as to see the extent of the abuse.
The State itself has questions to answer. Last night a former Minister for the Gaeltacht said he was told of an allegation concerning the man in the 1990s but did not go to the Garda. Instead he made civil servants in his Department aware of it. It is not clear what happened to these allegations. Civil servants in the then Department of Education were also made aware of other abuse allegations. Did any Department or other State body act on these allegations or fail to act?
Any investigation into this matter will have to be much broader than just the Garda Síochána looking at its response to the allegations. How independent can such an investigation be? An independent outside review would be much more suitable in this case.
If this abuse had been happening since 1955, how was it allowed to continue and how were so many people allowed to be abused? An investigation is the only way to resolve these questions. It is important to ascertain what role different civil servants, gardaí and the then Attorney General played in all of this. I was informed the court case fell apart around the time there were difficulties in the Attorney General’s office which led to the fall of a Government and we were without an Attorney General for a year. Did this have any bearing on how long it took to bring these cases to court?
I urge the Senator to be more prescriptive when tabling his Adjournment requests. There was no reference to what he raised in the Chamber. He has abused his privilege in naming persons in the Chamber when he did not refer to them in his request. The Chair did not have prior notice of a reference to an individual; it only had reference to a school.
I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who regrets that he is unable to be present due to other business. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Senator for raising this important matter.
The reports in recent days and weeks concerning allegations against the person in question are of great concern. They echo in many ways those which have come to light in other situations where persons have abused their positions of authority and trust to harm children. We have learned from those instances and transformed our child protection arrangements. However, this is not to say that we can simply draw a line under the past. Where there continue to be further lessons to be learned, we should endeavour to do so, so as to give further assurance that our children can safely and happily engage in educational, sport and recreational activities in the wider community.
The Minister's first concern is, of course, with victims of abuse. He encourages anyone in any situation who has been abused to come forward to report their concerns and to avail of the counselling which is available from the Health Service Executive, HSE, or one of the voluntary groups working in this field. He would like to express his sincere sympathy with all those who have come forward concerning the allegations in this particular case. He hopes they will be able to benefit from the assistance which is available. The HSE national counselling service can be accessed free of charge in all regions and is staffed by highly qualified counsellors.
The Minister has received a preliminary report from the Garda authorities concerning the criminal investigations which took place. As has been widely reported, in 1997 a criminal investigation was instigated into allegations of instances of sexual abuse committed against various children and young persons. The person in question was arrested in connection with the offences in February 1999. A file on the allegations made was submitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, who directed that the accused be prosecuted for numerous counts of sexual offences. A prosecution was initiated in March 2000 when the accused was arrested and charged before Mullingar District Court with 56 counts of buggery and indecent assault. The case was subsequently listed for trial in Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court for February 2002.
The Minister is advised, however, that judicial review proceedings were taken before the High Court by the accused for reasons related to delay in the bringing of complaints. He understands that arising from these proceedings, the prosecution fell. The Senator will appreciate that the bringing of prosecutions and their management is a matter for the direction of the DPP, who makes independent decisions having regard to the circumstances of the case in question. The Minister has no role in this process and, quite properly, is not in a position to explain decisions of the DPP.
More recently, arrangements had been made by the Garda with a further injured party to take a statement but this had not taken place prior to the person in question's death. Gardaí are continuing to liaise with this injured party. Concerns expressed by another person were also under consideration at the time of the death.
The course which these investigations could have been expected to take is, of course, no longer available. However the Garda Commissioner has informed the Minister that he has directed that a review be carried out of the procedures surrounding the handling of the complaints against this person, and subsequent investigations, to see if any lessons can be learned in that context. The HSE is also to review any contact made with it. The Department of Education and Skills is reviewing its records to establish if child protection concerns were raised with the Department concerning the person in question and if so what steps were taken on foot of this contact.
We know only too well how, in the past, such arrangements as were in place to protect children often, in fact, failed miserably. The Minister would like to emphasise the fundamental changes which have taken place in recent years to the way we approach the issue of child protection. We now have revised the Children First guidelines which are to be put on a statutory footing by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. These set out excellent standards and procedures involving vetting of staff, reporting of allegations to the authorities and training to support this process. These guidelines are complemented by the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, both introduced by the Minister, Deputy Shatter. Moreover, the arrangements for interagency working at all levels have been strengthened, supported by the ongoing reform of children and family services in the HSE and the work to establish a child and family support agency. An Garda Síochána also has in place a new and comprehensive policy on the investigation of sexual crime, crimes against children and child welfare.
It would be unrealistic to think that abuse will never occur but these new arrangements mean that we can have far greater confidence in the systems in place to prevent it, to make sure that it is effectively investigated where it is discovered and, ultimately, that offenders are held to account and the rights of victims vindicated.
On behalf of the Minister, I thank again the Senator for raising this important issue and will certainly share the points he has made with the relevant Ministers. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, again expresses his sympathy with all those who have been affected. We all regret greatly the dreadful experiences they endured. It is the Minister's view that it is incumbent on any organisation which may have been used by a person to facilitate their evil deeds to examine carefully how this may have occurred to ensure its procedures will not allow it to recur. For the present, the Minister believes that the reviews which are under way should be allowed to proceed and their results considered carefully, so that we may see what lessons can be learned to further strengthen child protection arrangements.
I welcome the news that there will be reviews by the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills into this matter. Will other Departments also be involved, in light of the statement by a former Minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht last night that he was approached on this and spoke to officials in his Department about allegations of abuse? This issue might extend further. The HSE, the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and any other Department or State agency which funded any of the organisations for whom the person involved worked should also conduct investigations and the Minister should bring all this information back to the Houses so that we can examine it. I thank the Minister of State for his response on this issue. It is important that this be fully and frankly investigated and that the victims be supported at this difficult time.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and on behalf of the Minister I thank him for his remarks. I will share the Senator's views with the Minister and he will share them with other relevant Ministers and the points raised will be addressed. Everyone has a deep appreciation of the harm that has been caused by the abuse of children and there is enormous popular support for the steps that have been taken to put comprehensive and robust protection arrangements in place. If there are lessons to be learned in this case by the agencies of the State and any private bodies involved, it is imperative that they be learned. The Minister and his colleagues are determined this will be the case and that is the reason the reviews mentioned are taking place. I reiterate the Minister's expressions of sympathy for all of those affected. He hopes they will be able to avail of the counselling services on offer.