New abuse claims to be examined

Tue, May 24, 2011, 01:00

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has asked members of the force to investigate if charges can be brought against Irish missionaries and priests who are alleged to have abused children while working outside the State.

The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit has been asked to examine an RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme which aired last night and highlighted several alleged cases of abuse by Irish religious working in Africa.

Gardaí are liaising with the Health Service Executive about child protection issues arising from the presence of a number of the persons identified in the programme in the State.

Minister of Justice Alan Shatter today said the reports left him with “a sense of revulsion at the unspeakable catalogue of abuse against children” and that Mr Callinan shared his concern.

“While the behaviour took place abroad, we have a solemn duty to do all that is within our power to ensure that perpetrators of this predatory abuse of children are brought to justice wherever it takes place,” he said.

The Irish Missionary Union said it condemned “unreservedly” incidents of abuse or inappropriate behaviour at home or abroad resulting in children or vulnerable adults being abused.

“Ever since the extent of the evil of child abuse has come to light in recent years, the Irish Missionary Union has worked tirelessly in raising awareness among our members and our co-workers in mission of the reality of child sexual abuse and the havoc it wreaks on people’s lives, whether at home or abroad,” the union said in a statement responding to the programme.

The union said it would intensify efforts to promote good child safeguarding practice where it serves and “root out this evil that has cast such a deep shadow over our efforts”.

The Department of Justice said that the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act 1996 allows persons to be tried here for sexual offences against a child which are committed abroad in some circumstances.

Mr Shatter said investigations into matters which occurred outside the State were very difficult and that he did not want to raise unrealistic expectations about what could be achieved.

“But I believe that people are entitled to be reassured that we are doing everything open to us to counteract this evil wherever it takes place and that the examination which the gardaí will be undertaking should offer that reassurance,” he said.

Support group One in Four said it has been inundated with calls from Irish people and Africans living in Ireland over the programme.

Executive director Maeve Lewis welcomed Mr Shatter’s announcement that he has referred the matter to the Garda Commissioner but called for an independent inquiry with the power to compel witnesses and records.

Ms Lewis called on the Minister to extend the terms of reference of the Murphy commission to the missionary orders. “We also call on the Irish Missionary Union to ensure that rigorous child protection guidelines and training be put in place in their member congregations in the developing world,” she said.