Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Ó Caoláin slams totally discredited indemnity deal between Education Dept and the Religious

1 October, 2003

Speaking during statements on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in the Dáil today Sinn Féin leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD rejected Minister Dempsey's earlier accusation that those who were critical of the Government had offered no alternative. Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "We did not have to" as "the Government itself had the alternative." Deputy Ó Caoláin described the agreement reached

between the Department of Education and the Religious, against the Department of Finance's 50/50 liability recommendation, as "one of the most extraordinary agreements ever entered into by any Government."

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The resignation of Justice Laffoy from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse must rank as the most serious breakdown of any inquiry ever established by this Oireachtas. I say this because like the issue of contamination of blood products, and unlike some of the other tribunals, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse deals with matters of life and death, the health and well-being of thousands of our citizens and a system of deplorable abuse amounting to a catalogue of crimes carried out over decades. The system of abuse claimed the lives of many children; we may never know exactly how many children died of neglect and ill-treatment in these institutions.

"Our first and last concern should be the survivors of abuse and, indeed, the memory of those who did not survive. There are many living survivors who are so marginalized and damaged by their abuse that they will never be able to avail of the Commission or the Redress Board. We know that many of them ended up homeless on the streets of London and other foreign cities. Our focus now should be to see that the debacle which has been created is sorted out, that the lessons are learned and that we move forward.

"In her resignation letter to the Government Justice Laffoy revealed that the Commission had "never been properly enabled by the Government to fulfil satisfactorily the functions conferred on it by Oireachtas". If that charge is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, it means that the Government has thwarted the purpose of the Oireachtas in setting up this inquiry. Adequate resources were not provided. The review process initiated by the Minister for Education has caused delay and confusion and we now have a chaotic situation with the work of the Commission effectively shut down.

"Justice Laffoy resigned because she said the reviews made her position untenable as it was unclear if the remit of the Commission was going to change and its work had been stalled by the uncertainty created by the reviews.

"There is no new legislation yet and it will take until next spring for this to be sorted out as the Christian Brothers have taken a court challenge to the Commission which will go to the Supreme Court next spring. The government is using this as an excuse for delay - in the meantime the Commission is in limbo. In other words a complete mess has been created.

"Confusion has been added to since the resignation of Justice Laffoy by the floating of ideas by the Minister for Education and Science such as the hearing of sample cases by the Investigation Committee, the withdrawal of this idea, and then the floating of the proposal to summon alleged abusers to the Confidential Committee. Most survivors have expressed opposition to these proposals.

"As I said when I spoke at a survivors meeting in Liberty Hall last March, this is not a matter of euros and cents, it is a matter of justice and rights. At that time I also described the deal done by Minister Michael Woods with the religious orders as disgraceful. Everything we have learned since reinforces that description.

"In his opening statement this afternoon Minister Dempsey stated that those who were critical of the Michael Woods deal offered no alternative. We did not have to. The Government itself had the alternative. The Department of "Finance recommended a 50/50 approach to liability between the Church and the State. Yet that recommendation was ignored and Minister Woods went ahead and concluded one of the most extraordinary agreements ever entered into by any Government.

"At the Education Committee on Monday the Minister attempted to separate the issue of the resignation of Justice Laffoy and the now totally discredited indemnity deal. But in justification of their conduct in this debacle the Minister and the Taoiseach have cited the cost of the entire process - a cost added to hugely by their decision to allow the religious orders off with only a fraction of the liability which they should bear.

"My colleague Councillor Larry O'Toole attended the meeting of survivors here in Dublin last Sunday. It was a pity that neither the Minister nor his party were represented there to hear both the real concerns and the deep anger among survivors. Survivors have challenged the role of the Department of Education and Science and they want to see real progress and real justice done. And that, as legislators, is our demand too. " ENDS

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