State failing to learn from child abuse lessons of past, says Minister

Flanagan says agencies will be obliged account for response to disturbing Traveller case

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan cited the case of Traveller James O’Reilly who was jailed on Monday for 20 years for raping and sexually abusing his sister and seven daughters. File photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan cited the case of Traveller James O’Reilly who was jailed on Monday for 20 years for raping and sexually abusing his sister and seven daughters. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has acknowledged that the State “has not learned the lessons of the past” in dealing with child abuse in Irish society.

He signalled in the Dáil that State agencies will have to answer questions about their response to the case where eight women were abused and raped over a 23-year period.

Mr Flanagan cited the case of Traveller James O’Reilly who was jailed on Monday for 20 years for raping and sexually abusing his sister and seven daughters.

The Dáil was also told that domestic abuse is as significant as gangland crime for the number of homicides amid calls for a minister to be appointed with responsibility for dealing with domestic violence.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan noted comments by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris that in the last three years “the rate of homicide for domestic violence is in the 2:1 proportion” with homicides for gangland violence.

“So this is a problem as significant as gangland violence and still, however, I don’t think the State is responding adequately to it.”

Opening a debate on the measures taken to protect victims of domestic violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minister paid tribute to the “tremendous bravery” of the eight women in the O’Reilly abuse case for coming forward.

He quoted one of the women, Helen O’Donoghue, that “we were thrown to the wind” which he described as shocking. And he said “the State has not learned the lessons of the past”.

Several Traveller groups and abuse-survivor organisations had called for a review of the State’s response. And in a statement after the case the women asked if the abuse would have been allowed continue if they were members of the settled community.

“I believe there are questions to be answered,” said Mr Flanagan. “I expect that this will be done in due course by the appropriate agencies.”

He cited several cases “all of which resulted in inquiries and all of which were supposed to have drawn a line under these horrific events of child abuse”, including the Kilkenny incest case, the Kelly Fitzgerald inquiry, the Sophie McColgan case and the Roscommon case.

Mr O’Callaghan said the State had not responded adequately to an issue that is as significant as gangland violence. But he said the programme for government contained a section on the epidemic of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in this country.

And he believed the prospect of a minister of State to deal with sexual violence, discussed in the coalition formation talks, is “potentially a good idea because part of the problem is that responsibility is spread over a number of departments and must extend beyond justice”.

Domestic violence

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny said the Oireachtas last year passed the coercive control legislation. But he added that “there’s been no training for anyone in any of the services around that”, for gardaí, nurses or Tusla in identifying or dealing with coercive control situations. “It has just been ‘pass the legislation here’ and that’s it.”

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said there was just one domestic violence refuge in all of Cork. “That’s one refuge for the whole of Cork city and county.”

It can accommodate six families “but now due to social distancing requirements that is down to two”.

She said that reports to gardaí of domestic violence were up by 25 per cent but “this shamefully inadequate refuge space has been reduced by 66 per cent”.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith warned that the appointment of a minister of State would just “hive it off” and “creating another job is not going to deal with this pandemic”. She said the first step was to create refuge provision.