O'Keeffe apologises for failure to protect victims


Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe today apologised to the thousands of victims of child abuse in church-run institutions, saying the Department of Education had failed them.

At the end of a two-day Dáil debate on the Ryan report, Mr O’Keeffe said the suffering could have been avoided had the State done its job properly.

TDs agreed an all-party motion pledging to cherish all the children of the nation equally, with Green Party leader John Gormley saying the time had come for a children’s referendum.

Mr O’Keeffe said: “The report clearly shows how the Department failed to protect these children for whom it had a duty of care.

“Had the Department done its job properly, thousands of children would not have suffered the way they did. We failed them.”

The Minister said the report supported the stories of those who attended the institutions and highlighted their pain and suffering.

“The report lays bare the reality of life in these institutions — the neglect, the fear, the abuse experienced daily in an environment which, in the main, didn’t even provide them with their most basic of needs,” he said.

“I commend all victims for their bravery in coming forward to the Commission and divulging the most painful and traumatic events of their lives.”

Quoting the US author James Baldwin, Mr O’Keeffe added: “Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.”

Mr Gormley said the debate had come decades too late and called for a referendum on the rights of the child.

“I believe that possibly the greatest monument we can leave is enshrine children’s rights in the Constitution through a referendum and constitutional amendment,” he said.

“We have been talking about and debating this issue for more than four years in this House. The time for debate I believe is now over.

“I would urge all parties in this House to find consensus through the work of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, which is due to report in September.”

The debate in the shocking report was delayed by two-days after Fine Gael tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government following the local and European election

It got under way yesterday with Taoiseach Brian Cowen claiming the Ryan report was the gravest ever published in the state’s history.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said it shamed us as a State and a society.