Taoiseach denies rift with Gormley over handling of clerical sex abuse


COWEN RESPONSE:TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen has rejected suggestions that he is at odds with his Cabinet colleague Green Party leader John Gormley over the handling of the clerical child sexual abuse crisis.

Speaking to journalists in Washington yesterday, Mr Cowen said: “It’s a matter for me to indicate my own views in relation to these situations. There is no discrepancy. The State’s position is that there is equality before the law.”

The Taoiseach was being asked about Mr Gormley’s description yesterday of Cardinal Seán Brady’s involvement in investigating paedophile priest Brendan Smyth in 1975 as “a case of evil triumphing while a good man stood back”.

Mr Gormley also said he would have no difficulty with gardaí investigating the circumstances in which two children were asked to sign oaths of secrecy during a church inquiry into the Smyth case in 1975.

Mr Cowen declined to associate himself with Mr Gormley’s comments, but would not concede either that there was any difference between the Government partners on the issue.

The Taoiseach said Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern had spoken for the Government last year in the wake of the Ryan report, when he said that in future a clerical collar would provide no protection from the law being enforced.

“The question of equality before the law is a fundamental principle, and we have to make sure that whatever way issues arise that they are dealt with, regardless of what the circumstances may be,” the Taoiseach said.

Asked if the Cardinal should consider his position and what leadership he himself was giving on the matter as Taoiseach, Mr Cowen replied: “The leadership I’m giving is clearly that it is important that the State maintains its space and the Church maintains its space. It’s not a question for the State to get involved in Church matters, nor for the Church to be involved in State matters.

“As Taoiseach of the country I want to make it clear that this is an important issue, that we have arrangements in place for child protection . . . and that there will be equality before the law in respect of everything.”

Speaking in Dublin, Mr Gormley said there were conflicting views on whether a criminal offence might have been involved in the 1975 church inquiry but he would have no difficulty with gardaí investigating the matter.

Asked if Cardinal Brady should resign, Mr Gormley said: “It is a matter for the Church authorities and, indeed, for the cardinal himself. I suppose in many ways it is a case of evil triumphing while a good man stood back from a situation. I suppose it is a matter for the Church authorities themselves and Cardinal Brady and his own conscience. He will have to deal with that.”

Mr Gormley said it was clear that none of those involved in the inquiry had reported these matters to gardaí and an “evil character” like Smyth was able to continue his abuse for many years.

He also said no decision had been made yet on extending the Murphy inquiry to other dioceses or on whether issues such as children signing oaths of secrecy should be included in any new terms of reference.

He said the important thing was for the survivors of abuse to be satisfied with the terms of reference when they are decided.

Mr Gormley was speaking before the screening of an environmental film at the Light House cinema in Dublin’s Smithfield.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Cardinal Brady should consider his position in light of the revelations. Mr McGuinness, who is in Washington for St Patrick’s Day, said: “I think the situation that the Catholic Church is facing as a result of these recent revelations places it in a very grave position indeed.

“I am a Catholic. I do my best to practise my religion, and I think that many Catholics throughout the island of Ireland will be absolutely dismayed at these latest revelations and I do think the cardinal should consider his position.”