Broad welcome for Andrews' decision
There was a broad welcome today for the decision of the Minister for Children to refer the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne to a commission investigating clerical abuse in the Dublin archdiocese.
However, the Government also came under fire for failing to publish the report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSC).
Fine Gael children’s spokesman, Alan Shatter, said Barry Andrews' decision to refer the Diocese to the Commission confirmed fears about the manner in which child sexual abuse allegations were dealt with by the Bishop of Cloyne.
“It is appropriate that this should now be referred to the Commission of Investigation. However, the Minister’s inaction and failure to publish the report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic
Church since July, despite its gravity, raises serious questions about his handling of this matter," he said.
“The Minister’s action today also cannot distract from the scandalous failure of the Government to ensure that the State properly complies with its obligations of child protection and to apply the Children First
Guidelines on Child Protection of 1999.”
Labour TD Séan Sherlock welcomed the Minister's decision, saying he believed Mr Andrews had no alternative.
"I believe that it is also essential that the Dail should be given an early opportunity to debate the NBSCC report, as soon as the House resumes later this month. The state has the primary responsibility for ensuring that children are protected from sexual abuse and that when abuse does take place it is properly investigated and appropriate action taken," he said. "The Dail is also entitled to an explanation as to why the Minister failed to take any action on foot of the NBSCC for the six-month period in which the report was in his possession."
Cardinal Seán Brady also welcomed the measures announced by Mr Andrews, and said he realised the extent to which many people felt "let down and angry".
"I am conscious that current events concerning the handling of allegations by the Diocese of Cloyne have brought further anxiety to victims of abuse. These events have also brought into question the efforts of thousands of volunteers and trained personnel who are fully committed to implementing best practice in safeguarding children within the Church," he said.
"Today’s developments raise important issues for those with responsibility for safeguarding children in the Diocese of Cloyne. However I am heartened by the Minister’s recognition that strides have been ‘taken in recent times in the diocese to improve the manner in which child protection matters are handled."
Children's charity Barnardos, while welcoming the decision to refer the Diocese of Cloyne to the commission, expressed disappointment at the report's limited scope and said Ireland had a long way to go with regards to child protection.
Norah Gibbons, Barnardos’ director of advocacy and central services said there was "limited value" to the report. "There is little to be gleaned from a report that is unable to look at the discrepancies between policies and procedures and practices on the ground, as Minister Andrews himself recognised. While welcoming the Minister’s referral of Cloyne to the Dublin Archdiocese Committee we would urgently call for this report to be time limited and prompt in publication.”
Ms Gibbons called for new legislation to allow for the mandatory reporting of child abuse to statutory agencies such as the gardaí and HSE.
“Mandatory reporting is key to ensuring that every single person takes their responsibility towards child protection seriously and in preventing people deciding to plough their own furrow rather than acting in the best interest of children,” she said.
"The Ferns Report recommended that the legislature consider introducing a criminal offence applying to anyone who wantonly or recklessly engages in conduct that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child or wantonly or recklessly fails to take reasonable steps to alleviate such risk where there is a duty to act. Such a measure would obviously be welcome in relation to prioritising children’s best interests and requiring the timely reporting of any allegation of child abuse.”
The ISPCC said it was “extremely concerned” about the findings of the report and the fact that the audit was unable to obtain all the information initially set out.
“Over the last number of years, child protection has had a higher public and political profile than ever before. High profile cases, investigations and inquiries have highlighted the gaps in our child protection systems that need immediate action and attention,” the charity said.
It also called on the Government, those who work with children and young people, and the Irish public to ensure that interagency co operation and best practice are implemented nationwide.
“While the individuals who failed to adequately report in these cases, have a lot to answer for, the Government needs to lead the way we respond to allegations of child abuse. The only way to ensure that people take responsibility is by having mandatory reporting through putting Children First on a statutory footing,” said the ISPCC’s director of services, Caroline O’Sullivan.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said it was "perplexed" by the Minister's statement.
"While we broadly welcome the Cabinet’s decision as conveyed by Minister Andrews, we are perplexed by the fact that his statement includes HSE recommendations not to refer any diocese to the Dublin Commission, including Cloyne," chief executive Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop said.
"The HSE’s recommendations come as a result of what is called an analysis of a questionnaire sent to all Dioceses and a separate review of the Diocese of Cloyne. On further reading we learn that all the Dioceses have not completed section five of the questionnaire which makes up the bulk of the information about the actual cases.
"If the Cabinet’s decision is to refer the Diocese of Cloyne to the Commission of Investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese, then why not refer all the other dioceses?”
In a statement this evening, the Diocese of Cloyne said it accepted the findings of the HSE report and noted the cabinet's decision to refer it to the commission.
Bishop John Magee would "give every possible cooperation to the Commission in carrying out its task", the statement said.
"As also outlined in the report the diocese has already appointed a new child protection delegate, accepted in full the recommendations of the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) and reached agreement with the HSE as regards the need for ongoing collaboration with the HSE in refining child protection practices," the statement said.