Minister does not rule out statutory inquiry at later stage
REACTION:A STATUTORY inquiry into child abuse could be considered “if it fulfils the purpose of protecting children” once ongoing investigations are completed, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has said.
Fianna Fáil called on the Government to establish an independent inquiry with full statutory powers into child abuse in dioceses around the country.
Ms Fitzgerald said a comprehensive picture of how child protection was being practised by the Catholic Church would be provided by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church’s ongoing review of dioceses and religious orders and a HSE national audit.
“If there is a need, if we feel that it fulfils the purpose of protecting children, we can examine whether we need to do something on a statutory basis,” she said.
The board’s chief executive Ian Elliott yesterday said he was not in favour of a statutory inquiry. Such inquiries tended to be slow, costly and “tell us what we know already”, he told RTÉ’s Six One news.
Ms Fitzgerald has received the national audit into protection policies, procedures and practices in each Catholic diocese by the HSE. It is expected to be published shortly subject to Cabinet and legal clearance.
She said she was shocked at some of the findings published yesterday, and was critical of the management of allegations of abuse and the alleged offenders.
“In effect we see child protection best practice being simply ignored right up until 2011. To think that such a culture and mindset continued to exist among sectors of our society until as recently as 12 months ago is bitterly disappointing; it is deeply worrying and it is quite simply unacceptable.” Ms Fitzgerald said she appreciated the publication of the reports was likely to serve as a “very painful reminder” to many victims of abuse, and urged them not to suffer in silence.
“I would encourage anybody affected by past abuse, not just in the dioceses and orders subject to today’s review, who have not previously come forward to know that they can still do so in confidence and with an assurance that they will be treated with the sensitivity deserved.”
She would discuss the findings of the reviews as they related to the educational sector with Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on health in the Seanad, Marc MacSharry, said there had been a “drip-feed” of information through a series of “isolated” reviews with differing terms of reference over years. “What further evidence does the Government need to warrant a statutory inquiry?
While audits by the HSE and the church’s watchdog are important, they are not enough in isolation.”
Sinn Féin spokesman on children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the reports highlighted the need for constant vigilance to ensure the protection of children.
“These reports are a further indictment of the gross neglect of the Catholic Church authorities regarding the protection of children. Priests against whom allegations were made were still being moved to different parishes as late as the 1990s, and the Bishop of Clonfert, who moved these priests, states that he was unaware, even at that late stage, of the true nature of child sex abuse.”