Minister planning law to prosecute people who fail to report child sex abuse
POLITICAL REACTION:LEGISLATION which will make it an offence for people aware of child sexual abuse to withhold this information from gardaí is due to be enacted later this year.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, who announced the upcoming legislation in the wake of the publication of the Cloyne report, also expressed the State’s “sorrow and profound apology” for any failings on its part in relation to the revelations contained in the report.
He strongly criticised the Catholic Church’s handling of allegations of clerical abuse in Cloyne, saying the findings “could not be starker or more disturbing”.
Mr Shatter said it was “truly scandalous that people who presented a public face of concern continued to maintain a private agenda of concealment and evasion” by failing to operate guidelines on how to handle cases of the sexual abuse of children.
He was also strongly critical of the Vatican, which he said had been “entirely unhelpful” in its stance that the guidelines were “merely a study document”.
Commenting on the involvement of the papal nunciature, the Minister said: “It is unfortunate and unacceptable that, in circumstances in which the public in this country were given an assurance that particular guidelines would be complied with, that another state, and essentially the ambassador in Ireland of another state, should have in any way interfered with that and confused the message.”
Mr Shatter published proposals for a Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill, with a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment for those who fail to report an arrestable offence against a child or vulnerable adult.
Mr Shatter said no “legal grey area” would exist in relation to the legislation. He indicated that the laws would apply regardless of the internal rules of an organisation, for example in the case of patient-doctor confidentiality or, regarding priests, the seal of the confessional. The legislation will, however, include provisions to safeguard victims of abuse, meaning they cannot be prosecuted for withholding information.
It is also the Government’s intention to put Children First guidelines, to be published on Friday, on a statutory footing.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the “most horrifying aspect” of the Cloyne report was that “it is not a catalogue of failure from a different era . . . This is about Ireland now.”
“We now know that, up until three years ago the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Cloyne represented a danger to children. We cannot say with certainty that the same is not true in other dioceses around the country.”
Ms Fitzgerald said audits of every diocese in Ireland, as indicated by the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church, should now take place and should be published. While the board had indicated it had come up against data protection objections, she said this had been investigated by the Data Commissioner who said no such issues existed.
She said the remit of the Health Information and Quality Authority would be extended to include oversight of the Health Service Executive’s child protection services.