Joint statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D., and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Ms. Frances Fitzgerald, T.D., on the publication of the Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne
13 July 2011
We want to acknowledge, first of all, that this report has been possible only because of the willingness of victims to tell their harrowing stories to the Commission.
Chapter 27 sets out the devastating effects not just of the abuse itself But of how, when victims came forward, their complaints were treated. We fully accept the Commission’s conclusion that no action can totally alleviate the anger and hurt suffered by the victims and share the hope that the publication of this report may, in some measure, assuage the hurt and anger justifiably felt by them. We hope too that they will take some comfort from our determination - clear from the measures we are setting out today - to do everything we can to make sure the State is doing all it can to protect children. And, on behalf of the Government, we express our deep sorrow to them, and all victims of this terrible abuse, for any past failings on the part of the State and its agencies.
We express our gratitude to the Commission for the work they have so sensitively and painstakingly carried out.
Findings in relation to the Church
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this report is that it is not dealing with terrible wrongs committed in the distant past; instead it examines how the Diocese of Cloyne dealt with complaints made from 1996, the year in which the Catholic Church put in place detailed procedures for dealing with child sexual abuse. It was because of concerns that these guidelines were not being properly implemented that the Commission was asked to extend its work beyond the Dublin Archdiocese.
The report finds that, contrary to repeated assertions on its part, the Diocese of Cloyne did not implement the procedures set out in the Church protocols for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse; the greatest failure by the diocese was its failure to report all complaints to the Gardaí; no complaint (except for one complaint in 1996) was reported to the health authorities until 2008; the response of the diocese to complaints and allegations of clerical sexual abuse was inadequate and inappropriate.
The report also contains strong criticisms of some of those in positions of authority in the Church in the diocese.
All of these findings are, of course, deeply disturbing. But they are compounded by the fact that the Commission find that the Vatican's response to the Church guidelines was entirely unhelpful, giving comfort and support to those who dissented from the guidelines. We want to say as clearly as we can that this approach, when the State was entitled to rely on assurances about the operation of the guidelines, was wholly unacceptable.
We note that the report does point out that improvements have taken place in Cloyne since 2008.
Findings in relation to State agencies
While the Commission considers that most Gardaí who were involved in investigating the complaints outlined in the report carried out their tasks well and did so while treating the complainants with compassion and dignity, the Commission are very concerned about the approach adopted by Gardaí in three cases.
Despite the Commission's conclusion that the response of the Gardaí was generally adequate and appropriate, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence has discussed the Commission's findings with the Garda Commissioner who shares his concern at some of the findings of the report in relation to the Garda handling of a small number of cases.
The Commission concludes that the response of the health authorities was adequate and appropriate, given the information available to them and what are referred to as their limited powers. However, the Commission raise issues about the powers available in relation to the extra-familial abuse of children. It identifies the problems with the handling of so-called soft information in the absence of legislation. The Commission comment on the circumstances surrounding delivery of a report relating to Cloyne to the Office of the Minister for Children (OMC). The Commission’s view that the OMC was overly concerned about the delivery to it of this report was, in hindsight, accepted by the OMC in its evidence to the Commission. The Commission accepts that the OMC did act in good faith. The report also raises issues in relation to the maintenance of legal privilege over legal advice provided by the Attorney General to the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
The context for a response
It is, of course, primarily a matter for the Church to answer a number of the criticisms made in the report. The Government fully recognises the separation between Church and State. But it is incumbent on the Governmentto make sure that the safety of children is not put at risk by the behaviour of any organisation, especially organisations which, because of the role they fulfil, have access to children. That obligation is all the greater where an organisation has a history of abuse by some of its members and where there has been a failure by many in authority to address it
The report raises specific issues which clearly call for an immediate response. But if we do not go beyond that and make fundamental changes to the way we approach the issue of child protection then we should prepare ourselves for publication of more reports of this kind in years to come. It is right that we condemn as strongly as we can the failings set out in this report. We should emphasise too our deep regret and sympathy to the victims of this awful abuse. But those things alone amount to little more than rhetoric unless, once and for all, we embark on a comprehensive course of action to make sure that the State is doing all it can to safeguard children.
The decision to set up a separate Department of Children and Youth Affairs was a clear recognition that this is an area which has not in the past got the attention or priority it deserves. And our approach to protecting children will be underpinned by a Constitutional amendment on children’s rights.
We are today bringing forward a comprehensive range of measures which are designed to address not just the type of problem highlighted by the Commission's report on Cloyne but provide the foundation for an immeasurably strengthened system of child protection.
Pursuing the perpetrators
We cannot lose sight of the fact that evil men carried out these acts of abuse and that there can be no greater priority than bringing them to justice.
When the report was received it was referred to the Garda Commissioner and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Garda Commissioner has appointed an Assistant Commissioner to examine the report to see whether, in addition to action already taken, any further action can be taken against the abusers referred to in it.
The Gardaí are also setting up a special telephone line which victims of this type of abuse, or anyone who has information about it, can contact.
Following the publication of the Dublin Archdiocese report an Assistant Commissioner was appointed to examine it specifically in relation to how complaints were handled and investigated by Church and State authorities. That examination is concluding and a number of files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That examination will now be extended to the report into the Cloyne diocese.
The failure to report cases of child sexual abuse to the Gardaí is the central difficulty identified in the report. The State, for its part, is determined to have legislation in place which ensures that such failure to cooperate in the future will have consequences.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence is today publishing the Heads of the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Intellectually Disabled Persons) Bill. This will make it an offence to withhold information relating to the commission of a serious offence against a person who is under the age of 18 or an intellectually disabled person.
For some time work has been under way in consultation between the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on drafting the heads of a National Vetting Bureau Bill, which will provide a statutory basis for the vetting of applicants for employment and employees working with children. The legislation will provide for the establishment of a National Vetting Bureau for the collection and exchange of both 'hard' and 'soft' information for vetting purposes. This Bill is being given priority and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence expects to be able to bring Heads to Government for approval before the end of this month. He intends to refer these to the Oireachtas Justice Committee while work continues on drafting the legislation.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has received Government approval to place the revised Children First National Guidelines on a statutory basis. This will make compliance with the Children First National Guidance a statutory obligation and will ensure greater protection of children by strengthening the existing system for reporting and responding to suspected child abuse.
It is intended to place a statutory obligation on every organisation working with children to protect and safeguard those children when in their care; including statutory, private, community and voluntary organisations.
The legislation will underpin the provisions in Children First. This includes a requirement to share relevant information and to cooperate with other services in the best interests of the child. The legislative requirements therefore extend beyond reporting of suspected abuse and entail a more broad-based approach to the safeguarding of children.
Putting Children First on a statutory basis has been sought for many years, and is a recommendation of the Implementation Plan for the Ryan Report. In progressing this legislation, the Government has agreed that a range of sanctions will be developed to address any failure to comply with the Children First provisions.
Guidance and compliance
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will later this week publish revised Children First Guidance designed to strengthen current arrangements for child protection.
It is important that every possible step is taken to ensure that there is full compliance with Children First. In addition to the proposals to make compliance a statutory obligation, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will be overseeing an implementation framework which will set out the responsibilities of each Government Department and sector working with children. It will include strong emphasis on inspection and the need to provide demonstrable evidence that the Guidelines are being properly implemented across all sectors. In the case of the health sector, the Minister proposes to extend the remit of the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to include oversight of the HSE’s Child Protection Services, including the operation of Children First. HIQA will have standards in place by the end of the year, and inspections of the HSE’s child protection services will begin in early 2012.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has requested the HSE’s recently appointed National Director for Children and Family Services to write to HSE staff setting out the HSE’s responsibilities in relation to child protection and compliance with the revised Children First Guidance, including in relation to extra-familial abuse. The strong legal advice to the Government is that section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 provides sufficient powers to the HSE in relation to its ability to investigate third party or extra-familial child sexual abuse. This position will be set out for staff by the National Director in order to ensure that there in no uncertainty on this matter within the HSE. In addition, the National Director has developed an associated Child Protection and Welfare Practice Handbook to support the implementation of Children First. The two documents will provide clearer direction and support to front line staff working with children. They will clearly set out the respective roles of the statutory agencies responsible for child protection, including the HSE and the Gardaí, in relation to the handling of complaints of child sexual abuse and are designed to achieve consistent practice across the State.
Compliance by the Catholic Church
The report makes the point that continuing external scrutiny is required to ensure that the improvements which the Diocese of Cloyne has made will remain in place. In our view that holds equally true for all Dioceses. A
stark lesson of the report is that the State needs to be sure that all children in contact with the Catholic Church or engaged in Church activities are properly protected and that the Church is complying with State guidance.
The report represents a challenge to the Church to assure the public that its child protection policies are fully and consistently implemented, in line with Children First. It is with regard to this challenge that the response of the Church will be judged.
Clergy of the Catholic Church will, of course, be subject to the changes in the law being announced today. In addition, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the National Director for Children and Family Services, Gordon Jeyes, have had preliminary discussions with representatives of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSC). The purpose of these discussions was to assess the progress of the NSBC in their national review of Church dioceses and religious orders and to determine what steps might be taken to expedite the review and ensure that it is effective.
Following these discussions and her consideration of the Cloyne report the Minister for Children and Youth affairs has requested the National Director to engage directly with the NBSC on a programme of action designed to ensure that the Catholic Church is responding properly and comprehensively to all child protection concerns, and to report formally to her in this regard.
Both Ministers are aware that data protection considerations have been referred to in the Board’s 2010 Annual Report as raising difficulties for access by the NBSC to the necessary information needed to carry out its role in assuring appropriate child protection practices are operated in all dioceses. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has consulted with the Data Protection Commissioner, arising from the publication of the Annual Report, and has been informed by the Commissioner that it is his understanding that the advice provided by his Office is sufficient to satisfy all concerned that the Board’s work can proceed in a manner that does not breach the rights of individuals under data protection legislation. The Minister has communicated this opinion to the NBSC and trusts that this allows for completion of the Board’s national review.
In the light of the report's identification of shortcomings in how some members of An Garda Síochána dealt with cases examined in the report, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, having consulted the Garda Commissioner, is asking the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to examine the report and consider whether any further action is warranted on its part in respect of its contents.
Following publication of the Dublin Archdiocese report, the Garda Síochána Inspectorate was requested to carry out a comprehensive review of Garda arrangements for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. While that work has been completed, it has been agreed with the Chief Inspector, Kathleen O'Toole, that prior to publication of their report, they would be given a chance to review it in the light of the findings in the Cloyne report. This review is expected to take only a matter of weeks.
Support for victims
Publication of a report of this kind inevitably evokes painful memories for those who have suffered dreadful abuse of this kind. This, in turn, gives rise to a need for additional counselling services. The HSE, at our request, has put in place a dedicated helpline to deal with calls for such services. We would also like to pay tribute to the work of organisations in the voluntary sector which are assisting victims at this difficult time.
The Commission’s report on the Diocese of Cloyne (which has been redacted in accordance with a High Court Order of 8 April) follows its report on the Archdiocese of Dublin, the bulk of which was published in November 2009, with further portions published in December, 2010. A brief supplementary report on the Archdiocese is being published today.
The State is obliged to ensure that similar non-cooperation in the future with requirements for the protection of children could not happen without consequences. Work is underway to ensure that the Catholic Church, like all other organisations working with children, is now complying fully with child protection guidance. Failure to do so in the future will be met with an unforgiving attitude on the part of the public and sanctions, as are now proposed to be incorporated into law, on the part of the State.
It is considered that the issue of further investigations should be reviewed on completion of the HSE’s audit of dioceses and the national review by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, both of which are underway, and when the response of the Church to the Commission’s report can be fully evaluated.
We hope that all those who have suffered as children from the unspeakable evil of sexual abuse, be it by members of the Catholic clergy or otherwise, can mark this day as one where their plight was recognised not just by words, but by deeds designed to stop children suffering in the same way in future.