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Ó Snodaigh calls for enquiry in every Diocese

1 December, 2009 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD


Speaking in the Dáil this evening on the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh called for an enquiry in every county in the state as he believes that child abuse Catholic Church was not confined to Dublin.

He said:

“The Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin exposes glaringly how the most powerful men in the Catholic Church in the Dublin diocese conspired to protect abusers of children. Especially damning is the conclusion that the State authorities facilitated the cover-up and allowed the Church to operate beyond the reach of normal law enforcement. Senior Gardai, up to and including the level of Commissioner, repeatedly turned a blind eye to crimes of clerical sexual abuse.

“They colluded in crime in depraved sexual attacks, in an abuse of power and influence, they perverted the course of justice, they protected the guilty. They, the paedophile priests, the bishops, archbishops and Gardaí who protected them, I believe and many others believe are culpable in the deaths by suicide of many, many abused children or later adults whose lives were destroyed by the paedophiles and their protectors. Remember we are talking about children.

“I am calling for an inquiry into each and every county, because I believe that child sexual abuse on the systematic scale we have read in the harowing report from Judge Yvonne Murphy was not just confined to the Dublin diocese or to the Ferns Diocese as in the case of the Ferns Report, that it was widespread and was visited on children in every diocese. I believe that society owes it to those it failed to protest in the past, to expose the wrong done to those children and ensure that every step is taken to pursue the perpetrators and those who failed or purposely refused to carry out their duties to protect children and to investigate and prosecute criminals.

“It represents a gross betrayal of generations of children by powerful people in clerical and State authorities.” ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s Dáil speech follows:

Statements on the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin 1/12/09

Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Affairs

The Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin exposes glaringly how the most powerful men in the Catholic Church in the Dublin diocese conspired to protect abusers of children. Especially damning is the conclusion that the State authorities facilitated the cover-up and allowed the Church to operate beyond the reach of normal law enforcement. Senior Gardai, up to and including the level of Commissioner, repeatedly turned a blind eye to crimes of clerical sexual abuse.

They colluded in crime in depraved sexual attacks, in an abuse of power and influence, they perverted the course of justice, they protected the guilty. They, the paedophile priests, the bishops, archbishops and Gardaí who protected them, I believe and many others believe are culpable in the deaths by suicide of many, many abused children or later adults whose lives were destroyed by the paedophiles and their protectors. Remember we are talking about children.

I am calling for an inquiry into each and every county, because I believe that child sexual abuse on the systematic scale we have read in the harowing report from Judge Yvonne Murphy was not just confined to the Dublin diocese or to the Ferns Diocese as in the case of the Ferns Report, that it was widespread and was visited on children in every diocese. I believe that society owes it to those it failed to protest in the past, to expose the wrong done to those children and ensure that every step is taken to pursue the perpetrators and those who failed or purposely refused to carry out their duties to protect children and to investigate and prosecute criminals.

It represents a gross betrayal of generations of children by powerful people in clerical and State authorities.

This report is a reminder of the truth of the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The hierarchical and totally male dominated structure of the Catholic Church gives bishops virtually absolute power in their own dioceses with the ultimate power residing in the Vatican. This has been a recipe for disaster for anyone – and especially any child – who finds him or her self a victim of abuse by clerics.

The Report puts it in very clear terms:
“The Dublin Archdiocese’s pre-occupation in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State.”

The Report makes clear that the bishops in Dublin ignored the Church’s own rules on abuse and states:

“The authorities in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the religious orders were all very well educated people. Many had qualifications in canon law and quite a few also had qualifications in civil law. That makes their claims of ignorance very hard to accept. Child sexual abuse did not start in the 20 th century.”

The report strongly refutes the claim of the Archdiocese and other Church authorities that they were on a ‘learning curve’ prior to the late 1990s in relation to clerical abuse of children. This was a convenient date for such a claim because it was in 1994 that the extent of this abuse began to be realized by the public with the Brendan Smyth case. The claim of a ‘learning curve’ was a lie because senior clerics as far back as Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in the 1950s, and almost certainly long before him, were well aware of these cases and were covering them up. This was a cover up on a scale never seen before. This report shows the extent the perpetrators and their masters were willing to go to cover-up to "protest the reputation of the institutions and the reputation of priests". Why would we believe that this cover-up did not extend beyond Dublin. It did and will only be exposes by other Murphy Reports into the other dioceses.

All along, as the Report states, there was little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child or for the welfare of other children who might come into contact with the priest. All four archbishops in the period covered by the report – McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara and Connell failed to report knowledge of child sexual abuse throughout the ’60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

It is shocking that the archdiocese actually took out insurance in 1987, such was the extent of their knowledge of child sexual abuse in their church and the potential financial cost to them. The Report states that the taking out of insurance “was an act proving knowledge of child sexual abuse as a potential major cost to the Archdiocese” and “inconsistent with the view that Archdiocesan official were still on a ‘learning curve’ at a much later date or were lacking in an appreciation of the phenomenon of clerical child sex abuse” .

What galled me most as I read the disturbing accounts of the abuse contained in the report, taht in many cases there was no sense of remorse, of having done wrong. These abusers and their protectors were the very ones who would lecture us the public about morality and wrongdoing. These same twisted perverts were given the signal by their archbishops in Dublin over the years, by the impunity or blind eye turned to the crime of raping children, the signal 'carry on regardless' to all paedophiles in or out of the priesthood.

Hard questions must be asked of the insurance company involved in this, Church and General. What was the extent of their knowledge? Why were all the files shredded? Will there be a Garda investigation of the role of this company?

Will there also be accountability regarding the role of the Gardai themselves? The Report tells us that a number of senior Gardai, including the Commissioner in 1960 regarded priests as outside their remit. Essentially they bowed down to the hierarchy at terrible cost to the children the Gardai and the State generally were supposed to protect.

Anyone, including Gardaí, found to be complicit in the cover up of child abuse must face the full rigours of the law.

The Government must take immediate action in response to the Report’s finding that the legislation governing the role of the HSE in dealing with child sexual abuse is inadequate and that there is a need to clarify that role. It is of great concern, as the Report states, that the HSE has given the impression to the Church authorities and the Gardaí that they can do more in the area of child sexual abuse than they actually have the power to do.

It is also of major concern, as highlighted in the Report, that the HSE does not properly record cases of clerical child sexual abuse.

The Government must immediately rectify the situation, again highlighted in the Report, where the Child Care Act 1991 does not sufficiently clarify the powers and duties of the health authorities.

Like the Ryan Report, this report must also serve to prompt the Government to act urgently to protect vulnerable children today.

The recent closure of the special care facility at Ballydowd raises huge concern over child services in this State. This centre is only nine years in existence and cost €13 million to put in place yet it had to be closed because of its unsuitability for the troubled children who have been held there.

It is extremely worrying that the HSE has presided over a facility in which, as HIQA has stated, there were ‘not enough staff to run the unit consistently and safely’ . How could this have been allowed to go on?

The HIQA National Children in Care Inspection Report, which included the report on Ballydowd, is a severe indictment of State failure to protect children. It highlights ‘serious deficits in standards aimed at safeguarding vulnerable children, including lapses in vetting procedures for staff and foster carers working with children’.

These are issues that my colleague Deputy Ó Caoláin, our party’s spokesperson on Children, and others have repeatedly raised in Questions to the Minister for Health & Children and at the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children.

We also have the scandal of children going missing from State care. The recent Ombudsman for Children Report revealed that a total of 454 children went missing from state care between 2000 and 2008. These are foreign national children who are in Ireland without a guardian. In many cases the children are not reported missing to gardaí. Nine hostels were inspected in the Ombudsman for Children report but only two were registered and seven found to be unsafe and unclean. In some hostels children were left overnight with little or no adult supervision.

The Minister for Health & Children Mary Harney who has ultimate responsibility, and the Minister for Children Barry Andrews who has direct responsibility, must explain in detail how children have been let down yet again in this way by the State. They must act with urgency to bring the care of vulnerable children up to standard or else we will have more Ryan Reports and Murphy Reports in years to come, only this time they will cover the present era.

The woefully inadequate state of our child protection services has been repeatedly exposed. There are insufficient social workers and other front-line workers and support systems in place. The HSE knows of cases where children are in grave danger but the services are not in place to make the interventions required. The nightmare of child abuse is not sadly a thing of the past. It is happening every day. Most of this abuse takes place in the family home. If the services are not in place then the State today will be just as culpable as it was in the past when it conspired with the Church to cover up the abuse of children.

There are a whole range of measures that must be taken in the light of the Murphy Report, but also in light of the Ryan Report, the Ferns Report, the Monageer Report and the recent HIQA Report that I have mentioned. These include:

Updating of legislation and clarification of the role of the HSE with regard to protection of child from abuse.

A full 24-hour on-call social work service for vulnerable children and families.

The delivery of the promised referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution.

Address the need for truth and justice and recompense for those abused in institutions, both residential and non-residential, not covered by the Ryan Report, including Finglas Children’s Centre, Scoil Ard Mhuire in Lusk, Trinity House, Trudder House and Madonna House, as well as the Magdalen laundries and institutions established after 1970.

A Commission of Investigation or another form of credible inquiry to investigate all matters relating to the conduct of Michael Shine in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Implementation of the Children’s Ombudsman’s call for a child death review mechanism, in light of the deaths of at least 20 children in State care during the past decade, deaths which are now the subject of an internal HSE inquiry.

We have heard calls for the resignation of those bishops found culpable in the Murphy Report. I support those calls. But much more important is the need to reform the way our education system is managed. These bishops and others are so-called patrons of schools which are funded by the State. Many parents nowadays have their children baptized primarily to ensure that they can get into primary schools where Catholic Church baptismal certs are required. That is a disgrace and highlights the need to complete the separation of Church and State, especially in education.

The State pays for education through capitation grants, teachers’ salaries and other funding but the vast majority of primary and secondary schools are not under democratic control. They are predominantly under the patronage of Catholic bishops and in the ownership of the Catholic Church. It is a legacy of the era of Church power and control that allowed the abuse highlighted in this Report to happen.

We must move to a democratically controlled education system, truly representative of the community, respecting the rights of people of all religions and none and totally child-centred.

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