State must step in to protect children, says One in Four

 

CHILD ABUSE:THE CIVIL authorities should assume full responsibility for the protection of children because self-governance in the church and other sectors “clearly has not worked”, One in Four executive director Maeve Lewis said yesterday.

Ms Lewis said it was clear from the response of Pope Benedict XV1, Cardinal Brady and the church to the latest disclosures that they did not intend taking responsibility for their failures to protect children from sexual abuse. “It is time for the Government to step in.”

Child protection guidelines Children First should be put on a statutory footing, obliging every Irish citizen to report concerns about children at risk to the civil authorities, she said. Legislation should be also enacted to allow “soft information” about sex offenders to be shared by appropriate agencies.

Ms Lewis also said the Garda investigation into the Murphy report should be extended to all dioceses and criminal proceedings instigated where appropriate.

The children’s referendum should be held this year and child protection social work teams should be properly resourced, she added.

“We must put in place a child protection system that draws on the recommendations of all the inquiries stretching back to the 1970s,” she said.

“The authority of the State must be extended to every organisation operating within the country.

“Self-governance clearly has not worked either within the church or other groups such as Swim Ireland.”

One in Four, which provides psychotherapy and advocacy services for the victims of sexual violence, noted that the first anniversary of the Ryan report was approaching.

“To date, none of its recommendations have been implemented,” said Ms Lewis.

“The Government’s response has been wholly inadequate, and it is surely time now for Taoiseach Brian Cowen to take charge and keep Irish children from harm.”

Meanwhile, there was further criticism of Cardinal Brady yesterday from a woman who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

Bernice Donoghue, who was abused over a four-year period at her home and in her school by Fr Smyth, said yesterday it was time people began to take responsibility for their inaction on preventing child abuse.

“He might be an excellent priest for all I know. I haven’t been in a Catholic church since I was 16 years old. He may be a very good man. But the fact is what he did was criminally negligent and it caused further children to be damaged,” said Ms Donoghue, who suffered flashbacks and a breakdown years after she suffered the abuse.

Calling for the cardinal to resign, she said there was a “culture of obedience” within the church and society, which stopped people from stepping up to the mark on child abuse many years ago.

In an interview on RTÉ Radio, Ms Donoghue described yesterday how Fr Smyth abused her and her sisters for the first time at a lake while they were on holiday.

He later turned up at their home and their school to continue the abuse between 1969 and 1973.

“It was ideal. Children in togs you can put your hands where you need them and want them very easily.

“From day one this was his way – friendly kissing, hugging, cuddling and it would progress from there. It is very hard for a child to be able to deal with this,” she said.

Ms Donoghue, who first outlined her story in an open letter to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin published in The Irish Timeslast month, said she suffered a breakdown in 1991 because of the abuse.

She said she suffered panic attacks, weight loss and couldn’t leave the house.

Her experience was one of the sample cases used during the criminal trial of Fr Smyth.