Dáil Debate on Cloyne Report, 20 July 2011 Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence

Last Wednesday I published the Cloyne Report, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and I set out the Government’s response. On that occasion, I said it was difficult to read the report and avoid despair.

My feelings have been strengthened by the reactions of victims and their families in the week since the Report was published. Sadly, some of the victims are no longer with us, but their families have spoken. We owe a debt of gratitude to the victims for their courage in telling the Commission of Investigation about their experiences of abuse and what happened afterwards when they came in contact with those in authority who were in a position to take action which would have made a difference to their plight and that of others.

I share the Commission’s hope the Report’s publication may to some degree alleviate the hurt and anger they rightly and naturally feel.

We should also pay tribute to the work of all those individuals and organisations that have supported them.

I acknowledge the contribution of Judge Yvonne Murphy and her colleagues on the Commission of Investigation. They have delivered a report of clarity and carried out their difficult task sensitively and meticulously. The victims had to relive painful memories and the Commission members had to help them to relive these memories in the least distressing way possible, while at the same maintaining a professional approach. They succeeded admirably in doing this.

The Report’s findings are unambiguous.

It is severely critical of the Diocese of Cloyne. The response of the diocese to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse in the period from 1996 to 2008 was totally inadequate and inappropriate. Specifically, Church guidelines were not fully or consistently implemented in the diocese. Primary responsibility for this lies with the bishop who the Report describes as ineffective and the vicar general charged with investigating complaints against priests of child sexual abuse who did not approve of the procedures set out in the church guidelines, in particular, the requirement to report to the civil authorities. The diocese failed to report all complaints to the Gardaí. Out of 15 complaints in the period that should have been reported, nine were not. In two of these, the subject of the complaint was a minor at the time the complaint was made. After reporting complaints against one priest in 1996, the diocese did not report any complaints to the health authorities again until 2008.

Furthermore, it did not put a proper support system in place, as mandated by church guidelines, nor did it operate an advisory panel which was independent. The panel’s documentation was inadequate, and the diocese did not properly record and maintain information on complaints of child sexual abuse up to 2008.

The Report describes as quite extraordinary the failure to read and take heed of the 2004 McCoy report on the diocese’s procedures and processes, which showed that the diocese was not implementing required procedures. The diocese did not carry out proper canonical investigations, nor did it comply with the 1999 Child Care Guidelines. It is appalling that those who presented a public face of concern had a private agenda of concealment and evasion.

The Commission found that, in 2008, the diocese had started to follow the procedures set out in the church documents, and it is satisfied that the diocese now has an independent advisory panel. It commends the diocese for its efforts in training both Church personnel and the laity in the area of child protection and for recruiting risk assessment specialists in 2009.

Particularly disturbing is the Commission’s finding that the Vatican’s response to the Church guidelines was entirely unhelpful, describing them as "merely a study document". This gave comfort and support to those who dissented from the guidelines. The Vatican’s intervention and the letter sent by the Papal Nuncio undermined not only the obligation of dioceses to comply with the  Church’s own Framework Document, but also the application of the State’s Child Care Guidelines.

Rightly, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has pursued this matter with the Papal Nuncio. We await the Vatican’s official response.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and I are taking a twofold approach. We are responding to the immediate problems identified in the Report and, importantly, we are introducing measures which will help to establish the system of child protection children need and deserve. We cannot depend on the undertakings of others to correct failings and introduce robust and effective structures of protection. The Cloyne Report irrefutably confirms that some who, in the past, gave such undertakings acted in bad faith.

It is important to remember that the people primarily responsible for the abuse at the centre of the Report were the abusers themselves.

The Garda Commissioner has appointed Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne to examine the Report and determine whether further action can be taken against the abusers referred to in it. The Garda has set up a special telephone line which victims of clerical abuse, or anyone who has information on abuse, can contact. (That number is 01 666 3612).

Following the publication of the report on the Dublin Archdiocese, Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney was appointed to examine it, specifically in relation to how complaints had been handled and investigated by the Church and State authorities to determine whether there had been criminal behaviour. A number of files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the examination will now be extended to the Cloyne Report.

After the publication of the Dublin Archdiocese report, the Garda Inspectorate was requested to carry out a comprehensive review of Garda arrangements for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. I have agreed with the chief inspector, Kathy O’Toole, that in the weeks prior to the publication of its report, it will be given a chance to review its findings in the light of the Cloyne Report.

Most regrettably, the Commission was very concerned about the approach adopted by Gardaí in a small number of cases. Following consultations with the Garda Commission, I have sent the Report to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to examine it as a matter of urgency and see whether further action is warranted. That examination is taking place.

I repeat to the House the apology I gave last week on behalf of the State for the Garda’s failure in three cases detailed in the Report. These failures should not have occurred.

It is important to note that the Commission’s overall conclusion was that the Garda response to the cases covered by the Report had been generally adequate and appropriate. A number of complainants were highly complimentary about the way in which Gardaí had dealt with their complaints.

I am also determined to deal with the deeper gaps which underlie the Report. Last week I published detailed legislative proposals for a Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill. Deputy Calleary proposed that my proposals be considered by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and I have no difficulty with this proposal. What I am proposing will, make it an offence, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, for a person who has information that could help in the arrest, prosecution or conviction of an offender, for a serious offence committed against a child or vulnerable adult, not to pass that information on to the Gardaí, where he or she knows that information could help. We have already done substantial work on this in consultation with the Attorney General and her Office, and I intend that it will be a Government legislative priority to have it enacted in the autumn. Its enactment will enable the Gardaí and the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate and prosecute those who conceal and fail to report to the Gardaí sexual offences against children. The legal position will be clear.

We have to ensure insofar as possible those who come into contact with children do not present a danger. There is widespread agreement that we need to make it possible to disclose what is called ‘soft’ information where this is necessary to protect children. The need for legislation in this area was most recently highlighted in the report published by the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children which, in September 2008, called for the necessary legislation to be published by the then Government by the following December. Unfortunately, the Government failed to meet that commitment and the legislation was not published during its lifetime.

I am working to bring proposals to the Government next week setting out the Heads of a National Vetting Bureau Bill to place the vetting of persons working with children and vulnerable adults on a statutory basis. The vetting of persons for certain employment positions is available on a non-statutory basis. The Bill will provide a legislative basis for existing arrangements in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee and the disclosure of ‘soft’ information for the purposes of child protection.

Following Government approval the Heads of the Bill will be furnished to the Attorney General’s office with a view also to its publication in final form and enactment in the next Dáil session. As part of the Government’s new approach to legislation, the Oireachtas Justice Committee will have the opportunity to consider its content and to propose in September any constructive amendments or additions, and to contribute to the Bill’s developmental process.

I am determined to ensure that the Church and State do what is necessary to protect our children from those who sexually prey on them or physically abuse them. I am determined that those who work with children and those who recruit others to do so, in either the public or private sector, in commercial or voluntary organisations, behave with awareness and responsibility and in the best interests of children. I am determined to ensure that those who know a child has been assaulted or abused will be required to report such offence to the Gardaí and that there will be consequences for their failing to do so. I am determined that children will not be put in the way of harm to be preyed on by those already known to have harmed a child. We cannot correct past wrongs perpetrated on our children but we can take action to prevent, insofar as is possible, the wrongs of the past being perpetrated on our children in the future. Let us on all sides in this House join together in clearly stating, that in addressing and bringing to justice those who perpetrate child sexual abuse, the era of "mental reservation" is over and the laws of this land will prevail and be applied.

ENDS