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Children First must be fully resourced - Ó Caoláin

9 November, 2005


Sinn Féin Health spokesperson and Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has urged the Government to fully resource the Children First National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children.  Speaking in the Dáil during statements on the Ferns report today he made a number of recommendations that he said “need to be implemented urgently if this scourge is to be taken seriously.”

Deputy O Caoláin said, “This report reveals a clerical establishment that wilfully ignored what can only be described as an epidemic of abuse.  It reveals a picture of rogue clerics preying on successive generations and being facilitated in this by the church authorities.  What emerges is an attitude on the part of the Church that sees children as objects rather than human beings.  They were objects of temptation for so-called ‘weak’ priests.  The little action that was taken was about helping the priest to resist ‘temptation’ - the children were irrelevant.  The perceived precedence of the Church’s reputation over all other considerations led to untold suffering.

“I would make a number of recommendations that need to be implemented urgently if this scourge is to be taken seriously.

“The 'Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children' need to be fully resourced and implemented so that all the agencies covered including the Garda Siochana, the Health Service Executive, schools and voluntary organisations are enabled to fulfil the role outlined for them.

“For every 1 staff member working with children in this country there are at least 20 volunteers.  Garda vetting must be made available to the voluntary sector as a matter of urgency. 

“The basic child protection awareness module delivered to trainee Gardai in Templemore is grossly inadequate given the key responsibility they have in the area of child protection.  A comprehensive child protection training package should be developed and delivered to all Gardai as a compulsory part of their training.

“The numbers of Children First Information and Advice Persons in the HSE's and their resources should be increased to ensure that the child protection training they are delivering to staff and volunteers working with children is available to all who need it.

“This Report exposes the extent to which the power of the Church in Ireland was used to destroy the rights and the lives of children. For too long that power went unchallenged by the state. Indeed it was enchanced by the state which abandoned so many children into the hands of the abusers. The lessons must be learned and action must follow.” ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

Children First must be fully resourced – Ó Caoláin

This report reveals a clerical establishment that wilfully ignored what can only be described as an epidemic of abuse.  It reveals a picture of rogue clerics preying on successive generations and being facilitated in this by the church authorities.  What emerges is an attitude on the part of the Church that sees children as objects rather than human beings.  They were objects of temptation for so-called “weak” priests.  The little action that was taken was about helping the priest to resist “temptation” - the children were irrelevant.  The perceived precedence of the Church’s reputation over all other considerations led to untold suffering.

The authority enjoyed by the church at the time was something that was valued not just by that institution but by many other conservative forces in society as well.  The inability or unwillingness of the Gardai to take action on this matter is a case in point.  At one stage an allegation of the most appalling abuse carried out on the altar against young girls preparing for their first holy communion ran into a brick wall because the file disappeared, not the witnesses or victims mind, just the file.  I would seriously question how the disappearance of a file, containing witness statements, could cause such a serious investigation to fail.  Surely in a matter of this gravity the taking of statements for a second time was not too much to ask in order that children could be protected.  I note also that the Garda responsible for the disappearance of this file was subsequently honoured by he Vatican for services rendered.  It would be most useful if the Church could clarify the circumstances and reason for this honour.  Until they do the suspicion must be that the attitude of cover up stretched right into the heart of the Vatican, possibly even emanating from there.

I don’t intend to go into individual cases here.  However it is worth mentioning the case of Sean Fortune to illustrate the processes at work.  Here we have a priest who had been identified as a predatory paedophile before he was even ordained, yet he was ordained.  Throughout his time in the priesthood the most vile allegations followed him around like a dark cloud.  The dogs in the street knew what he was yet he continued on with all the air of a man that considered himself untouchable.  And well he might.  Time after time his bishop ignored the reports that were reaching him and allowed him to continue to wreak havoc with young lives in the diocese.  So much so that at least two of his victims were driven to commit suicide.  In these circumstances those that knew and did nothing are as culpable as the abusers themselves. Perhaps even  more so.

Abuse is something that was perpetrated in all areas, in the home, in schools, at social events indeed anywhere the abuser could find a victim.  But make no mistake about it, child sexual abuse is not confined to clerics. While the Ferns Report is indeed shocking, it reflects but the tip of an iceberg that lies deep in Irish society and beyond.

I would make a number of recommendations that need to be implemented urgently if this scourge is to be taken seriously.

The 'Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children' need to be fully resourced and implemented so that all the agencies covered including the Garda Siochana, the Health Service Executive, schools and voluntary organisations are enabled to fulfil the role outlined for them.

For every 1 staff member working with children in this country there are at least 20 volunteers.  Garda vetting must be made available to the voluntary sector as a matter of urgency.

The basic child protection awareness module delivered to trainee Gardai in Templemore is grossly inadequate given the key responsibility they have in the area of child protection.  A comprehensive child protection training package should be developed and delivered to all Gardai as a compulsory part of their training.

The numbers of Children First Information and Advice Persons in the HSE's and their resources should be increased to ensure that the child protection training they are delivering to staff and volunteers working with children is available to all who need it.

This Report exposes the extent to which the power of the Church in Ireland was used to destroy the rights and the lives of children. For too long that power went unchallenged by the state. Indeed it was enchanced by the state which abandoned so many children into the hands of the abusers. The lessons must be learned and action must follow.

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