Cross-Border abuse inquiry may be ‘very challenging’, Fitzgerald says
Minister says priority is to ensure those against whom allegations made do not pose threat
Minister for Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed that a cross-Border inquiry into sex abuse allegations against paramilitaries is being considered by the Government. Photograph: Collins
Minister for Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed a cross-Border inquiry into sex abuse allegations against paramilitaries is being considered by the Government but cautioned setting up such an inquiry could prove “very challenging.”
Ms Fitzgerald stressed her priority is ensuring those against whom allegations have been levelled do not continue to pose any type of threat to children either in the Republic or Northern Ireland following revelations by Maíria Cahill.
“It would be challenging but it is certainly under consideration,” said Ms Fitzgerald speaking at University College Cork where she attended a ceremony at which some 845 people received certificates of Irish citizenship.
“The most important point is that if anybody has information about people who have abused children or people who have travelled from one part of the country to another and are currently putting children at risk, we need to have those names.”
“Both the PSNI and the gardaí (need to be informed) so I would appeal to people if they have information to give it to the gardaí. They are the people who should have this information if we are to protect children.”
Ms Fitzgerald refused to be drawn on media reports that Sinn Féin has passed six names to the Sinn Féin child protection officer in the wake of the controversy following allegations by sex abuse survivor, Maíria Cahill and that these have names have in turn been given to the gardaí.
“I wouldn’t comment on the details of people who have given information. Obviously there are varying reports in our media today but the point I would make again is that if people have information they ought to give it to the gardaí.
“It is clear from Regina Doherty and Maíria Cahill for example...they have both publicly stated that they have given information,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
Ms Cahill alleges that she was raped by an IRA member in 1997 and forced to attend a republican-style court along with her alleged abuser. She also claimed child sex abusers were moved by republicans from Northern Ireland to locations south of the Border.
Meath Fine Gael TD, Ms Doherty told the Dáil earlier this month that she has information about eight IRA members who faced abuse allegations and were facilitated by Sinn Féin in moving to the Republic.
“Any information given to the gardaí will be investigated. It will be a priority to investigate and the big point is that if people have abused previously then there could currently be children at risk. And we want to protect those children,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“But it would not be appropriate for me, as Minister for Justice, to comment on where information comes from whether it is a political party or an individual or people who were previously involved in paramilitary activity.”
“But I would urge people with information to come forward and help protect children, “ Ms Fitzgerald said.
She highlight some of the challenges a cross-border inquiry into abuse by paramilitaries could face.
“We need to focus on the immediate risk -clearly there is cross-border co-operation in the area of child protection where the information is already. What is important is that there is north-south co-operation.
”I met with (Northern Ireland Minister for Justice) David Forde on Friday and we had a detailed discussion in relation to this. We absolutely both emphasised the importance of reporting and that both police forces will respond immediately to information.”
“There is already co-operation between our social services both north and south. We did not rule out the possibility of a north-south inquiry. But that would be challenging for legislative and other reasons.”
“It depends where the (abuser) is at the time - clearly that is part of the challenge if there were to be prosecutions. Normal rules apply as to where a case will be heard. I would make it clear that it will be challenging (in terms of) legislation, different jurisdictions, different approaches.
“For instance we have the ‘withholding legislation’ which makes it a criminal offence for anyone to withhold information about child sex abuse. But there is slightly different legislation in the north. That is all part of the matters under consideration.
“We need to focus on the immediate risk (to children). Clearly there is cross-border co-operation in relation to child protection. We will be having a meeting on December 5that the ministerial conference and no doubt this will be a topic for discussion at that,” she said.