Dáil Éireann - Volume 655 - 22 May, 2008
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000: Motion.
Deputy Seán Haughey Deputy Seán Haughey
Deputy Seán Haughey: I move:
That Dáil Éireann approves the draft Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 (Section 5) (Specified Period) Order 2008, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 21 May 2008.
The extension is required to allow the commission to fulfil its statutory mandate to publish its report during the specified period. The current period expires at midnight tonight, 22 May 2008.
As obliged under the Act, the Department consulted the commission on the timeframe for the extension of the current specified period. The commission, which is independent of the Department in its functions, has requested an extension by eight months to the end of January 2009 to allow for completion of the report and to make the necessary preparations for its publication. Under the terms of section 5(5) of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, an order to extend the term of the commission must be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Since the Taoiseach’s apology of 11 May 1999 to the victims of abuse in childhood a series of Government measures have been introduced for the redress of abuse. These measures include the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the setting up of a financial redress scheme for victims of abuse and the establishment of a statutory redress board to administer such a scheme, the provision of counselling and the education finance board.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was formally established in May 2000. The broad terms of reference are to afford victims of abuse in childhood an opportunity to tell of the abuse they suffered to a sympathetic and experienced forum; to establish as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of the physical and sexual abuse of children  in institutions and in other places during the period from 1940 to the present; and to compile a report and publish it to the public on the activities and the findings of the commission, containing recommendations on actions to address the continuing effects of the abuse and actions to be taken to safeguard children from abuse in the future.
As one of its core functions, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse provides those who were previously silenced with an opportunity to relate their accounts of childhood abuse to an experienced and sympathetic forum. For some people this therapeutic role is all that they require of the commission, while for others their wish is that their allegations are inquired into. To ensure that the two strands can be accommodated, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 provides for two committees, the confidential committee and the investigation committee. This has ensured, on the one hand, the right to confidentiality of those who want only to access the therapeutic role of the commission and, on the other hand, rights to natural justice of persons accused of abuse.
The confidential committee has provided a forum for 1,090 victims of abuse to recount their experience on an entirely confidential basis. The purpose of this committee is to meet the needs of those victims who want to speak of their experiences but who do not wish to become involved in an investigative procedure. The confidential committee is in the process of completing the final draft of the committee’s report and the report and its conclusions will be presented to the board of the commission.
The investigation committee has been investigating complaints and allegations made to it. It has the power to compel persons accused to attend before it and to produce any documents it requires. Therefore, the investigation committee is facilitating victims who wish to recount their experiences and to have allegations of abuse fully inquired into. To date, part of the investigation committee’s activities have included: full hearings for 252 people — 545 people were interviewed by documentary junior counsel and 41 had both an interview and a full hearing.
The investigation committee has also held public hearings into a number of specific institutions. Evidence has been submitted to the investigation committee at public hearings in relation to the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Health and Children and the Irish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children. Currently most of the hearings and interviews have been completed but the investigation committee may hold further hearings if it deems it necessary to complete its work. This committee is in the process of writing its report. While no further hearings are planned, the commissioners are working hard to review a very large body of oral and documentary evidence which will form the basis for the report. On completion, the commission will publish its report directly to the public. This is an important feature of the independence of the commission. The report of the commission will be based on the reports of its committees.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act provides that in its report the commission may identify institutions in which abuse occurred and the people responsible and make findings in regard to the role and responsibility of management and regulatory authorities. The report, however, following the recommendation of the commission, will not make findings on any individual case. The commission in its report may also make recommendations relating to measures to alleviate the effects of abuse on victims. The publication of the report will not represent the end of the commission’s operations. There are other functions to be performed, which statutorily can continue after the specified period has lapsed. These include settlement of all third party legal representation costs, management of discovery documentation held by the commission, the carrying out of any work related to post-publication of reports and management of the commission’s general shut-down.
 The commission, during the period of its existence, has been the recipient of a voluminous body of extremely confidential and sensitive material. Consequently and in accordance with section 6 of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 2000, it will have to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for the making of as complete a record as is practicable of the proceedings of the commission and the committees. It will also be charged with making arrangements for the custody or disposal of the documents provided for the commission. This in itself will not be an easy task.
Expenditure for the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse from inception to the end of 2007 was €43.7 million. At this point, it is estimated that an additional provision in the region of €45 million to €55 million may be required to meet remaining overall costs of the commission to the end of 2009. The 2008 allocation of €18.1 million will meet part of this liability. This is a tentative provision, given that the commission has yet to receive and assess a large volume of third party legal costs.
I request Deputies to approve this resolution by supporting the motion. By doing so, Deputies are enabling the commission to finalise its statutory mandate. By supporting the motion, Deputies will provide the legal basis through which the Government and this House have previously decided that the commission would report and will provide the opportunity for a regrettable episode in Irish history to be recorded fully, accurately and fairly. By supporting this motion, Deputies will allow for the commission inquiry to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
The publication of the report, containing the findings and recommendations of the commission, is an essential part of the service which the Government can render to our society. However, while Irish society as a whole can benefit from its work, let us not forget that this is primarily a commission for the victims of abuse. The work of the commission and its public report is an opportunity for it to receive the type of respectful and sympathetic hearing to which it is entitled. I commend the motion to the House.
Deputy Brian Hayes Deputy Brian Hayes
Deputy Brian Hayes: As the Fine Gael spokesman on education, I welcome the briefing I have been given by officials at the Department of Education and Science when this matter was first brought to my attention on Friday last. Clearly, there was a view within our party that we would support the motion as a means of bringing to an end the work of the commission and ensuring that it could complete its report, put it into the public domain as soon as possible and bring to an end this sorry saga which started when the Taoiseach first apologised on behalf of the country in 1999. Any contribution we make in this debate will be marshalled towards ensuring the full publication of the report as soon as possible. I wish the commission well in this regard.
When the motion is passed, as I assume it will, and when the eight-month period is established, it will be important to send a very strong message from this House to the effect that the report should be published once completed. The period covered in the investigation dates from 1921 to 1980 and, therefore, many of those who made a complaint could be dead. It is crucial, therefore, that the report be published immediately when the commission completes its work. This would offer some comfort to those who made very serious complaints to the commission over the past eight years or so.
The Minister of State has already given us information on the dual work of the commission, which involves the confidential committee and the investigative committee. Over 1,090 people have made direct complaints to the confidential committee and 252 have made complaints to the investigative committee, part of the work of which is in public session.
 It is crucial to the integrity of the commission and the investigative process that the commission’s recommendations be circulated in the public domain as soon as possible given the age of those who had to make complaints over the past seven or eight years. While the investigation is judicial, most of the commission’s work has been in private. This model of investigation is very useful in dealing with such sensitive issues to the satisfaction of the victims who were abused over a long period.
It is fair to say that the response to this issue since 2002 by the previous Government was found wanting. I refer specifically to the decision taken by Ms Justice Laffoy in 2003 to resign from the commission because of the failure on the part of the Department of Education and Science to co-operate with the commission she was chairing at the time. She put on the public record very serious deficiencies on the part of the Department at the initial stage of the commission’s work and referred to its co-operation, or lack thereof. Ms Justice Laffoy was hampered in her work.
The fundamental flaw was that the commission was under the aegis of the Department of Education and Science when it should not have been, given that the Department had a contractual relationship with the 18 institutions and religious orders for the placement of children over the period under investigation. Considerable mistakes were made in 2002 and 2003 and I am glad that we have been able to make progress since the appointment of Mr. Justice Ryan and the amendment of the standing orders of the commission in 2003.
Very severe mistakes were made by the Government in 2002 and this holds true even if one ignores the indemnity agreement. This agreement, given its content and the sum of money provided, was possibly the worst the State has ever negotiated between it and the 18 religious congregations. Over the course of the next few years, we will look back on this period in our history with much shame and regret.
Regardless of what we do about the past, it is crucial that the State updates the law on child protection and that the Dáil ensures the Government is held to account regarding the prosecution and resourcing of child protection policy. Considerable mistakes were made in the past and terrible injustices were suffered over many years. It is crucial that we have in place, and have confidence in, a system of child protection that ensures neglect and abuse, where they occur, are highlighted immediately and appropriate action is taken.
Given the comments of Deputy Shatter on the Order of Business today, the comments of many individuals and the work of “Prime Time” over the past two weeks, it is evident that there is insufficient confidence in the existing regime of child care protection in the State.
During Question Time with the Minister for Education and Science yesterday, I raised the issue of the vetting of teachers who work with children in the education system. The Minister confirmed that in excess of 1,000 untrained substitute teachers are working in the system daily, yet there is no means whatsoever by which to vet them and assess their standing in terms of child protection. There is a fundamental legal loophole over which the Department has presided. There are no vetting arrangements whatsoever for untrained substitute teachers, yet we talk about the extraordinarily scandalous abuses of the past. This is unacceptable. The Department has known about this problem for many years. Of the 55,000 teachers currently working in the system, how many have been vetted by way of the procedure over which the Minister of State and the Department allegedly stand and support?
I am aware that the vetting procedures are working well in respect of new recruits to the teaching profession. Once a teacher is trained in college, he or she is subject to a vetting procedure. However, what about the teachers who may have been out of the country for a long period and who return to this jurisdiction to teach in our schools? Are there guarantees that there are no difficulties with this cohort? The vetting procedures over which the Department  allegedly stands are not working and are utterly deficient in offering assurances and guarantees in respect of child protection.
I am glad I have the opportunity to refer to a conference organised last weekend by the Irish National Teachers Organisation. It addressed the question of how a teacher, principal or board of management should report alleged abuse and deal with the issue when it arises in the school setting. Let me put on record some of the findings of the survey commissioned recently by the Irish National Teachers Organisation. One in four teachers in primary schools has referred an allegation or made a disclosure of child abuse to the Health Service Executive. This is an extraordinary statistic. Nearly 25% of teachers have made that complaint. However, fewer than half of the primary teachers charged with reporting allegations of child abuse to the HSE have had any training and of those, 70% indicated it was inadequate. Designated officers, the vast majority of whom are school principals, are being asked to take responsibility in a school setting for both reporting allegations or potential problems of child abuse and taking responsibility for the establishment of such regimes within schools. However, such officers have not been given adequate training and support from the HSE or the Department of Education and Science. It is unforgivable that such a situation should obtain within Irish schools. Great responsibility has been given in legislation to the designated officers, the vast majority of whom are principals, but they are being asked to do a job for which they have not been properly trained. I await with interest the Minister of State’s response at the conclusion of this debate. The Department of Education and Science has a specific responsibility to co-ordinate the activities of the HSE in the country’s 4,500 schools to ensure those designated officers are given the requisite support, hands-on help and proper training for those designated officers.
Reference was made in the course of the aforementioned conference last weekend to difficulties that are arising in respect of the issue of child protection with some newcomer children. I refer in particular to cultural differences and what the parents of such children consider to be acceptable levels of punishment and discipline. Given the new multiethnic school system that we have and the extraordinary opportunities for this country that come with it, arising from teachers’ observations I suggest there is an issue regarding the appropriateness of discipline and action taken by some newcomer parents to this country. There is an absolute responsibility at school level to ensure parents who come from different cultures to live in Ireland must become aware of what is and is not acceptable in respect of punishment of their children or the standards applied in Ireland. This only can be done through information, inclusion and by the Department taking responsibility through the school system to ensure the inculcation in all children and parents of what we consider to be acceptable standards of behaviour by parents towards their children, thus ensuring that such standards will apply.
As I noted at the outset, Fine Gael supports the motion and wishes the commission well. Crucially, however, the victims of this extraordinary scandal of child abuse are people who now are in their 60s, 70s and possibly 80s. From their perspective, this issue must be brought to a conclusion and the report must be published. Most importantly, recommendations for the future must be learned as soon as possible.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn Deputy Ruairí Quinn
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I do not propose to take up the 15 minutes allotted to me. This is a net point in respect of providing the necessary statutory time to enable the commission to complete its report. I endorse the comments made by my colleague, Deputy Brian Hayes. While I do not propose to repeat them, anyone who reads the Official Report should note that I endorsed fully his remarks.
As recently as two days ago, I received an e-mail from a principal of a primary school in the inner city area of my constituency. She had been informed by a suicidal parent that the parent  was of a mind to kill both herself and her three children. The principal had reported this to the relevant section of the HSE, which is akin to throwing a ball into a haystack. Effectively, this bewildered principal, who has 25 years’ experience, who I know personally and who I regard as a professional in every respect, had sent out a cry for help on the basis that she did not receive the required response. If the Minister of State wishes, I can provide him with the details. While this obviously constitutes sensitive information, I wish to bring this matter to his attention formally because I have formed the impression that the Department of Education and Science and the HSE do not even know their respective locations. I have formed the impression that the Department of Education and Science has no proper connection with what used to be the health boards and what is now the impenetrable HSE, the operation of which makes the KGB look like a transparent organisation.
Although the motion under discussion is concerned with the past, one must have regard for what is taking place at present. I refer in particular to those issues to which Deputy Hayes referred in respect of newcomers and different standards. I no longer support the view of multiculturalism which I did in what may have been more benevolent or tolerant ways. People who come to live in our society must live by our mores with all the diversity that allows. However, I do not find acceptable the abuse of women and children as being part of the culture of those who have come from another part of the world and who have chosen to settle in our society. Such abuse, masked as some sort of cultural mores within a sub-group is not acceptable, regardless of whether it occurs in traveller communities indigenous to this society or among people who come from outside this society. Children are highly vulnerable in this regard.
While supporting the motion and expressing the hope the report will be published as quickly as possible, I wish to notify the Minister of State that while this motion pertains to looking into the past in respect of historic abuse, the present also must be examined. I will be happy to make the information to which I referred earlier available to the Minister of State.
Deputy Mary O’Rourke Deputy Mary O’Rourke
Deputy Mary O’Rourke: Like the previous speaker, I do not intend to use all my allotted time. I fully support the request from the Minister of State for an extension of time. This already has taken place on previous occasions. The work being carried by the commission’s two committees is extremely important and adequate time must be granted to allow it to carry out its remit. Those who simply come to talk in a therapeutic sense and those who come to go further with their cases must be allocated the fullest time to be listened to in the confidential committee and the investigation committee. Those who wish to go further must be given time so a full investigation by the committee and its members into what has happened to them can be engaged in.
As I heard the Minister of State speak this morning, I thought of how short the timespan is for people. One looks back to 1999 and recalls the then Taoiseach’s apology and the great uproar the matter correctly occasioned in people’s minds, in newspapers and in public opinion. I know of people who, when the stories of those years emerged, have been obliged to work themselves up to establish how they would go about their business. I was amazed by how many wanted to come and be therapeutically listened to but who did not wish to be involved in further investigation. In many cases, their lives had gone on and changed and while they would never lose their sense of revulsion and, frequently, their sense of self-blame for what took place, they still did not wish to go any further.
I think of the 1,090 victims of abuse who brought their experience to the confidential committee on an entirely confidential basis. It was a wonderful service to give them and they in turn availed of it. However, in so doing, one wonders how much more dreadful it must have been for them as they went into their abuse and relived it. How awful to bring back the ghosts of  the past and all that happened to them. It must have raised questions about how they now would cope with what would become a changed and altered life.
I note the Minister of State’s remarks on the holding of public hearings into a number of specific institutions. Members have seen sight of and have heard of them. I also understand the commission will publish a report. I am glad that report will be published as soon as it is completed, which is, rightly, part of the remit of this independent commission.
I was interested in the last sentence, “The work of the commission and its public report is an opportunity for them [the victims] to receive the kind of respectful and sympathetic hearing to which they are entitled.” Of course it is, but one wonders, because in the nature of things this will be sensationalist. To those who have suffered, this may mean the reopening of wounds. I commend all who came to the commission, whether on a confidential basis or an investigative basis, but what must it have cost them? I spoke to two people in the constituency who had appointments with the committee verified some years ago. They had to lift themselves into a proper state of mind to attend the committee and I commend them on their courage in bringing forth what happened to them. Each had the same story to tell and each felt such things must never happen again. A child or a person in a vulnerable situation should never again be subjected to a person in authority who puts him or her in such a position. Some will say that child care has come a long way and we have changed how we deal with young people, but fresh difficulties constantly arise.
I listened to other Members of the House this morning who spoke of judgments yesterday. Deputy Brian Hayes talked about the need for proper vetting procedures for those in authority around young people. All these are fresh areas. Only in recent years we saw the dreadful Soham case involving two young girls. There were other cases previously. For all the good work carried out by this commission there are still hidden areas of life where young people are abused and their rights impinged upon. The manner in which they should be sustained in life is constantly being overridden.
I hope the commission’s report and conclusions will point the way forward. Those of us on relevant committees or working in the area of child protection and children’s rights will learn many lessons from this and the silence endured by so many for so long will never be allowed again. The young voices that say what they must will be listened to, not only because we must listen but because we respect them. We must transmit an aura of respect towards young people. Young people should no longer merely be seen and not heard; they should be heard and seen. We are now engaging in the re-establishment of children’s rights in our committee and we seek to ensure young people find their voices and have the necessary confidence in themselves to go through their youth and teenage years and emerge as confident adults. That is what we all hope for.
I support the request for extra time and I look forward with alacrity to the publication of the report.
Deputy Alan Shatter Deputy Alan Shatter
Deputy Alan Shatter: I will start at the point at which my colleague, Deputy Brian Hayes, started by saying I agree entirely with everything he said and I hope to add to it. This commission of inquiry, which has been sitting for a long time, has the important task of looking to the past and reporting on what occurred in our residential institutions. In the context of the investigation committee, it will seek to determine some of the perpetrators who behaved in an abusive fashion towards children in residential institutions. However, the report the commission publishes can only name those who have already been convicted; it cannot name those who have not been brought before the courts.
 The commission is essentially concerned with the past, and its report, when published, will teach us lessons for the future, but I am concerned about the present. I am concerned that no one in this House, on the Government benches or in government, should rest easy in the belief that the type of abuse that was perpetrated in residential institutions and is currently being investigated as happening in the past is not occurring today. Children may be victims of both sexual and physical abuse, if not in residential institutions then in homes across the length and breadth of the country.
The remit of the HSE as a child protection authority is clearly described in legislation beginning with the 1991 Act, to which amendments have since been made. On the Order of Business today the Tánaiste referred me to the 1991 Act, which replaced the Children Act 1908. The difficulty with this area is that we have always had legislation on our Statute Book designed to provide protection for children. What have been lacking are services to ensure the legislation is enforced, support services to ensure families in difficulty are provided with the assistance they require and protection services to ensure that where children are truly at risk a proper assessment of the extent of that risk is made, measures are taken and interventions are made to provide child protection.
I believe the position today remains a national scandal. As one who has worked in this area, I despair of attracting the media’s attention to the extent of what is occurring. Some of the social workers in this area also despair of attracting the media’s attention. We all know that unless the media highlights an issue, the Government feels cosy enough to proceed as if nothing is wrong and ignore it. The “Prime Time Investigates” programme in recent weeks did some service in this area but its revelations have not been followed up by the print media. The print media will get excited at some point in the future when it is discovered that a child on an at-risk register, whose circumstances were not properly investigated, has been killed or admitted to hospital with appalling injuries resulting in criminal charges.
I want to make it clear in this House today that there is a major problem in this area. We should not discount what social workers say, though the credibility of some of what they say is often derided either by the Government or HSE managers to create the facade of a functioning child protection system. We do not have such a system; we have a seriously dysfunctional system with social and child care workers who are overworked and under extraordinary pressure. They know that if they make a decision that proves to be wrong they may be publicly pilloried at some stage in the future. More than 150 social workers in the child care service of the HSE are currently on some form of leave. Some are on maternity leave and some are simply on leave due to the impact of the pressures of the job. Social workers in child care teams who are on leave are not being replaced and other social workers are consequently under huge pressure.
Sadly, not only will children who have been reported to the HSE die and be seriously sexually and physically abused, it is inevitable that in ten or 15 years’ time there will be yet another commission of inquiry into what occurred in the years 1990 to 2010 and what went wrong. The Children First guidelines require that children in residential or foster care have an allocated social worker to review how matters are proceeding and deal with problems that arise. There are currently children in residential care who have no functioning allocated social workers. We have children in residential care who, if they are experiencing the type of abuse being investigated by the Ryan commission, do not know how to get help because no special system has been put in place by the HSE to facilitate emergency access by children in residential or foster care to people independent of the system that first put them into care. What is happening on the ground is a scandal.
 The Tánaiste, as happens in this House on a daily basis, ducked the issue during the Order of Business this morning. A game of chess is played in this House on a daily basis on the Order of Business and during Leaders’ Questions whereby questions are put and issues raised that might get ten seconds of exposure on the 9 o’clock news or be reported in the following day’s news media, and then everyone moves on to the next issue. Opposition parties that keep pushing issues are then derided by Government on the basis that they have nothing positive to say.
The positive thing I do have to say is that we have some amazingly able, hard-pressed professionals employed within the HSE who are constantly engaged in providing a fire-fighting service in child protection. However, the service that needs to be provided is beyond them. I believe it is beyond the managerial sector of the HSE, which is supposedly in charge. Under the Child Care Act 1991 the HSE has an obligation to publish annual reports on the child protection service. The report for 2005 went to the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for children around the end of June or beginning of July 2007 and did not surface anywhere in public until it was quietly put on the HSE website on 28 February 2008. It has never been formally published as a bound volume. The 2006 report still has not been published, and the 2007 report probably will not be published in 2008 despite promises to the contrary.
Among a whole series of scandals, the first major scandal is that the Minister of State with responsibility for children and, apparently, the HSE management structure have no up-to-date information on the number of children reported to be at risk. These children’s cases have been adjudged to be serious and given priority listing, but the files are sitting in a drawer somewhere awaiting the allocation of a social worker so that a child and family assessment can be undertaken. There are hundreds of such cases throughout the country. I have attempted, through Dáil questions and through the HSE, to obtain the details of that information. The HSE either is deliberately concealing it or does not know it. I suspect that its systems are so poor that it does not know.
The Children First guidelines are not being applied uniformly. I will give the 2006 statistics in this respect. In the Dublin-mid-Leinster area there were 2,203 reports of possible child abuse — as opposed to neglect — which generated 1,546 genuine concerns, with the ultimate proportion of confirmed cases of abuse at 27%. In the southern HSE region, there were 2,556 reports of child abuse in 2006 — in other words, 350 more than in Dublin-mid-Leinster. Of these, 728 generated concern — less than half the number that generated concern within the Dublin-mid-Leinster region — and the proportion of confirmed cases of abuse was 7%. Is anyone telling me that the Children First guidelines are being uniformly applied to provide child protection? In Dublin-mid-Leinster, out of 2,203 reports of children at risk, 27% were confirmed to be genuine, while in the Southern region, out of 2,556 reports, only 7% were confirmed to be genuine. Based on these statistics, child abusers who go and live in Cork are more likely to be allowed to abuse their children continuously for years because no one will ever properly investigate it. This is a major scandal and a disgrace.
On the Order of Business today the Tánaiste waffled about the 1991 Act. I know it exists. What I want is a Government that can come to this House and tell us that we have the structures and resources in place to protect children, that we are uniformly applying the Children First guidelines, and that if a child is determined to be at serious risk, that child’s circumstances will be investigated — if not within a matter of hours then within days — and the necessary social work intervention will take place. At the moment that assurance cannot be given. That is a disgrace and a scandal.
Deputy Paul Connaughton Deputy Paul Connaughton
 Deputy Paul Connaughton: I am delighted to have an opportunity to say a few words on this very difficult subject. In my experience as a long-time Member of the House I find it difficult to understand, as Deputy Shatter also pointed out, why successive Governments, particularly those we have had for the last eight or ten years, cannot say with conviction that children’s interests will be protected. In my area, which is very rural, the system is so patchy that after five o’clock in the evening there are no emergency social workers available because of insufficient staff at HSE level. I know for a fact that were it not for the security rooms in Garda stations there would be no place for some children late at night. Emergencies of this type happen at a particular time. Nobody knows when the flashpoint will come. It is at that hour that the systems matter. Either they are in place and can be activated or they are not. If for any reason there is a need for intervention due to physical or other types of abuse, unless there is a co-ordinated system whereby people who care for those children — which may not even include their own parents, as we well know — can remove them to safety, nothing can be done. This is a black spot in the administration of the system. It is full of such black spots.
There is nothing wrong with the security rooms, although they are no place for children to be. However, it is hard to imagine that when there is a report of possible abuse in a dysfunctional family at three o’clock in the morning, the only people who can appear at that door on behalf of the State are members of the Garda Síochána. It is no place for them.
Deputy Brian Hayes Deputy Brian Hayes
Deputy Brian Hayes: Hear, hear.
Deputy Paul Connaughton Deputy Paul Connaughton
Deputy Paul Connaughton: This is not happening on a once-off basis. I must be thankful that at least they are there, although they are not trained for it and do not have the know-how to deal with such situations. It is a far cry from a case conference with multidisciplinary agencies involved in child care. I am not a professional in this area but I have been out long enough to see a lot of things happen. It is that bad now. I know what I am saying. Unless it is implemented on the ground, having all the legislation in the world is no use. As Deputies Brian Hayes and Shatter stated, the true test is to make the entire range of facilities available during emergencies. Being unavailable day or night would be the weakest link in the chain.
Regarding the annual figures released by child support and inquiry lines, not every telephone call is bona fide. I have no way of knowing the details, but I assume that some of the calls are frivolous. That there is a yearly increase in the number of those who call for help, however, shows how society is not kind to the people in question. The saddest feature of the issue is that, despite our affluence and while I am unable to provide researched figures, I can say anecdotally that there is more child abuse of a certain type than was the case previously, namely, child neglect rather than sexual abuse. When most people consider child abuse, they refer to child sexual abuse. It would be foolish of us to believe that child sexual abuse has abated, but child neglect is increasing significantly. I do not know why this is the case. Parents and the wider community are supposed to be better educated and to have access to facilities to which their own parents did not, but the situation on the ground is different. We must review the education system. It is not a sexy comment to make and will not send writers rushing for their biros.
Those who assume responsibility for raising children do so under better circumstances than prevailed 25 or 30 years ago. They live in better houses and most have better forms of transport. If so, why do so many four year olds and five year olds sometimes not see their parents or guardians for two days? These are the facts. We can blame everyone, and the Government is far from blameless because the HSE has authority in this regard. The Government was unable to make the investment in the system necessary to protect the most vulnerable people during our years of affluence. Why would the State turn its back on, for example, an innocent five year old?
 We are debating a motion to allow the commission to continue its work, in respect of which I congratulate it. It has been examining what was unarguably one of Ireland’s murkiest periods. I hope that everyone associated with the savage regime will be brought before the courts according to due process. It is remarkable that, despite having addressed one historical black spot, the State cannot answer questions concerning the abuses that are still being perpetrated within families. The State has no control.
Deputy Shatter mentioned that there is no shortage of legislation. Its implementation, however, has always been difficult. We must consider the significant pressures placed on families, as the situation extends beyond children alone. Irrespective of whichever Act is in place, we must ensure that the chain is not broken in terms of administration or service delivery at 5 p.m., 10 a.m. or 3 a.m. The last place children at risk should be at night is in Garda stations. We must thank the Garda for doing this job when no one else would.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Deputy Bernard J. Durkan
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important subject and to concur with the sentiments expressed by all speakers. Everyone in the country should be engaged with this matter, having particular regard to the unfortunate occurrences of the past 50 or 60 years, many of which only came to light recently. The veil of secrecy and willing ignorance that used to permeate the question should not be an edifice of our evolving society.
I note and am surprised by the dearth of Government speakers. I would have expected more participation by Government Members in light of the fact that the Government has responsibility for this matter in the first instance.
Deputy Dan Neville Deputy Dan Neville
Deputy Dan Neville: Hear, hear.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Deputy Bernard J. Durkan
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: This is not a reflection on the Minister of State or his colleagues. As public representatives, we deal with situations in which people have expressed concerns about child abuse, neglect and welfare, aspects that constitute a major part of an issue that has always been addressed in retrospect. We must address the issue in advance. Barnardos and other groups are promoting the necessary protection of children. This is not being done to the exclusion of parents, as we must proceed with their co-operation, help and support in instances of possible neglect.
I will never understand how, in cases of child sexual abuse, perpetrators can abuse small, innocent children of less than two years of age for a long period and presume that society will never catch them. This is a reflection on our society. While people have told me that there have always been signs, I do not know whether that is the case. However, it is extraordinary that such abuse can continue for years without coming to light. We now know that, in some cases, abuses were brought to people’s attention but the children were not believed. The moral of the story is that, as our society evolves and becomes more impersonal and based on financial gain and materialism, we must reconsider this issue. For all we know, serious offences of this order are occurring as we speak.
The more impersonal society becomes and the more we all withdraw into our own day-to-day affairs, the less chance there is that any of us will be in a position to point out when something is wrong with a particular situation because, through our observations as a neighbour, teacher or doctor, we have knowledge that nobody else may have. It is extremely important that action is taken when something is brought to the attention of the authorities. The first issue is that the charges must be authenticated and, to do so, they must be investigated at an early stage. It is not sufficient simply to ignore the concerns that have been expressed  and hope there will be developments which make it easier to intervene. I emphasise that this is not to suggest that the State should come between parents and children.
In recent years, I have written repeatedly to three Departments and raised questions in this House in regard to child welfare issues and situations where there are serious family problems. There are bodies with responsibilities for child welfare issues under the remit of the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Health and Children. There is clearly a problem when we have three Departments with responsibility in this area but none of them is taking it. That is one of the lessons we should learn. To be fair to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Garda was at least in a position to take some action. However, if everybody else opts out and there are long reports from social workers which are not acted upon, we are wasting our time. There is nothing more demeaning and annoying to any professional or politician than repeatedly making a particular case only to find it is ignored.
All the relevant departmental agencies, whether in the realms of education, justice or health, must accept and live up to their responsibilities and ensure they carry out the particular function or role assigned to them under legislation. Otherwise, another politician will be standing in this Chamber in 50 years’ time asking why something was not done at an earlier stage and why nobody intervened.
Other Members referred to the abuse perpetrated against children by people in authority, whether within families or in the spheres of health, education and so on. Abuse of an innocent child by a person in authority is appalling. There has been a reasonably thorough review of cases going back over the past 25 or 30 years and much nefarious material which was previously kept hidden has come to public attention. That is to be welcomed. However, the vetting of people who are in direct contact with children must be examined to a far greater extent than heretofore. Far more stringent vetting procedures are in operation in other jurisdictions to the extent that convicted sexual abusers and paedophiles from other countries have moved to this State and we have no effective means of tracking such movements. Our response is haphazard and inadequate.
I referred earlier to the impersonal nature of our society. Recent events in Austria should be sufficient to illustrate what can happen on their own doorsteps when people turn a blind eye. Something similar could be happening in this State. We must have a system which guarantees that legitimately expressed concerns about the welfare of any child are investigated. We, as legislators, and society in general have a duty to ensure that persons in positions of power and authority over children are carefully vetted and that no such persons use their power to abuse children, sexually or otherwise.
Deputy Denis Naughten Deputy Denis Naughten
Deputy Denis Naughten: I thank Deputy Neville for giving way to allow me to make a contribution on this motion. I have spoken on several occasions in the past on the role and functions of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. When the amending legislation came before the House, I spoke at length on the situation of those children who were in residential care during the years in question and who were ignored by the commission. Sadly, there has been no change in this regard. There are two specific categories of children in residential care who remain in the shadows and the Government has sought resolutely to keep their experience out of the public domain. One of these groups comprises those children in State residential institutions who were used as guinea pigs in vaccine trials without their consent. The Government has used the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse as a fig-leaf to ensure their experience is swept under the carpet and that we never receive answers to our questions about the prevailing medical ethos in the 1960s and 1970s.
 Two separate sets of trials were carried out on children in State homes, the first during 1960-61 and the second in the early 1970s, up to at least 1973. I understand there was a later trial but I do not have the details of that to hand. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a great upsurge in the number of severe adverse reactions in children who received the three-in-one DTP Trivax vaccine, manufactured by Wellcome. The Eastern Health Board’s records for 1973 show that the official in charge of the administration of the vaccine within the health board’s region was inundated with reports of severe reactions among children. In the first six months of 1973, in particular, more than 80 reported adverse reactions were recorded. Three years earlier, in 1970, a senior scientist in Wellcome had warned in a memo to senior colleagues that if further reports of severe reactions to the vaccine were received, it might be desirable to cease its manufacture altogether.
The 1973 vaccine trial involved an institution and a comparative control group outside that institution. A total of 116 children were involved, 59 from the community and 57 from two children’s homes in the Dublin area. The children in the community were given the normal commercial vaccine, while those in care were used as the guinea pigs for the new trial vaccine that was being studied at the time. The same circumstances prevailed in the other trials. This was completely contrary to any ethical standards. The results of the study were inconclusive in that no significant difference between the vaccines emerged.
The trials beg a number of questions which remain to be answered. To date, however, no answers have been forthcoming. The Government referred this issue to the Laffoy Commission but it was subsequently challenged in the courts. The Government came back with an amendment to refer it to this commission but that did not happen because of the court challenge. No worthwhile information has come into the public domain in regard to what occurred in those institutions, even though State employed medical personnel were involved in administering the trials.
The investigations were prompted by severe adverse reactions to vaccines manufactured by Wellcome and administered in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Among the vaccines administered was batch No. 3741, which was given to a child called Kenneth Best. When Kenneth Best’s case came before the High Court in 1991, Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton described Wellcome as negligent and criticised the company’s quality control procedures. While this case ended up in the High Court, matters came to a head in 1977 for many of the other victims of vaccine damage, when the then Minister for Health established an expert medical group to examine claims that persons had been permanently damaged by the whooping cough vaccination. The group found a reasonable probability that the vaccine was responsible for damage in 16 of the 93 cases presented to it. At an early stage in the investigation and following the expert group’s initial findings, officials advised that it would be inconsistent and inconclusive not to concede proper compensation. As Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Deputy Michael Woods received the recommendations but he decided to ignore his officials’ advice and the Fianna Fáil Government of the time pursued a policy of buying off parents by offering a one-off ex gratia payment of £10,000. The payment was accepted by 13 of the 16 families, largely because of the severe financial pressures they faced as a result of their children’s profound disabilities. The Best family declined the offer and received over £2.9 million in the High Court in the early 1990s.
Since that offer, it has taken the Government 20 years to reconsider the issue and little has been done in the intervening period by the Department of Health and Children to adequately compensate the children in question. Following a meeting with the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, in spring 2002, the Government undertook a preliminary review of vaccine damage compensation schemes in other countries. The vast majority of EU countries,  as well as many other developed countries, have introduced compensation schemes because it is well known that a small number of children are profoundly damaged by the administration of vaccines. This review was submitted in 2004 and gathered dust for more than two years before the present Minister stated she was considering the feasibility of introducing a vaccine damage compensation scheme. It took her a long time to consider that scheme. On the eve of the last general election, she announced that a steering group with specific terms of reference was being established and would furnish its report as a matter of urgency. Almost 18 months later, we still have no report.
This Government has turned its back on these children. Those who were used as guinea pigs have not yet received answers regarding why they were used, why consent was not sought and what type of concoction was administered. Those who have been brain damaged as a result of State promoted vaccination programmes must continue to fight for basic services. Their parents are worried sick about what will happen to their children after they pass away. It is time for decisive action in this area.
I also want to speak about children put into State care after arriving here unaccompanied from outside the EU. Since 2000, 441 children put into the care of the HSE have gone missing and 388 remain unaccounted for. This figure represents 88% of the total number put into care. This is another scandal which will require investigation at some point in the future. It is believed that some of these children have found their way into the sex industry here or in other EU member states. It is appalling that the Government continues to ignore this issue just because these children are not Irish citizens and do not have family members in the State.
Deputy Dan Neville Deputy Dan Neville
Deputy Dan Neville: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this serious issue. We are pleased to support the motion providing for a full and complete report.
Each year, thousands of children are traumatised by physical, sexual and emotional abusers or by care givers who neglect them, making child abuse as common as it is shocking. The scars can be deep and long-lasting, and they affect society as well as the abused children. Most of us cannot imagine what would make an adult use violence against a child. Indeed, the worse the behaviour, the more unimaginable it seems. However, the incidence of parents and other caregivers consciously or even willfully committing acts that harm the children they are supposed to be nurturing is a sad fact of human society that cuts across all lines of ethnicity and class. Regardless of whether the abuse is rooted in the perpetrator’s mental illness, substance abuse or an inability to cope, the psychological result in terms of deep emotional scars and feelings of worthlessness are often the same for each abused child.
The four primary types of child abuse are physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect. While the first two categories receive the most attention, perhaps because they involve physical violence, neglect is by far the most common form of child abuse and accounts for more than 60% of all cases of child maltreatment. Neglect is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs to the extent that his or her physical and psychological well-being are damaged or endangered. In neglecting a child, the parents or care givers are simply choosing not to do their jobs. The three basic types of neglect are physical, educational and emotional. Physical neglect involves the failure to provide adequate food, clothing or hygiene, reckless disregard for a child’s safety, refusal to provide or delay in providing necessary health care or abandoning children without providing for their care. Forms of educational neglect include permitting a child to miss too many days of school or refusing to follow up on obtaining services for a child’s special educational needs. Emotional neglect is usually identified as inadequate nurturing and affection, permitting a child to drink alcohol or use recreational drugs, failing to intervene when the child demonstrates anti-social behaviour or refusing to provide necessary psychological care.
 Physical child abuse comprises an act of aggression by an adult which causes injury in a child, even if the adult did not intend injury. Such acts of aggression include striking a child with the hand, fist or foot, or with an object; burning the child with a hot object; shaking, pushing or throwing a child; pinching or biting a child; or pulling a child by the hair. Acts of physical aggression of this nature account for between 15% and 20% of documented child abuse each year.
Many physically abusive parents and care givers insist that their actions are simply forms of discipline or ways to make a child learn to behave. This is not acceptable. Physically abusive parents have issues of anger, excessive need for control or immaturity that make them unable or unwilling to see their level of aggression as inappropriate.
Occasionally the very youngest children, even babies not yet born, suffer physical abuse. Due to the fact that many chemicals pass from a pregnant woman’s system to that of a foetus, a mother’s use of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can cause neurological and physiological damage to her unborn child. I refer, for example, to the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome. Mothers can pass on drugs or alcohol in breast milk.
Another form of child abuse is shaken baby syndrome. The latter involves a frustrated care giver shaking a baby roughly to make it stop crying. A baby’s neck muscles cannot support its head in the early stages of development and if the baby is shaken, its brain will bounce around inside its skull. This can cause damage which often leads to severe neurological problems and even death.
Sexual abuse accounts for approximately 10% of child abuse. An adult who sexually abuses a child or adolescent is usually a person the child knows and is supposed to trust such as a relative, a child care provider, a family friend, a neighbour, a teacher, a coach or a member of the clergy. More than 80% of sex offenders are known to their child or adolescent victims. It is important to understand that no matter what the adult says in defence of his or her actions, the child did not invite the sexual activity and the adult’s behaviour is absolutely wrong. Sexual abuse is never the fault of the child.
Children are psychologically unable to deal with sexual stimulation. Even toddlers who have not formulated the idea that sexual abuse is wrong will develop problems as a result of over-stimulation. Older children who know and care for their abusers know that the sexual behaviour is wrong. However, they may feel trapped by feelings of loyalty and affection for the person abusing them. Abusers ensure that their victims do not tell and they threaten children with violence or ostracism. The shame associated with the sexual activity makes a child particularly reluctant to tell. When sexual abuse occurs within the family, children can be concerned that other members of their family will not believe them or, as is often the case, will be angry with them if they tell. The layer of shame that accompanies sexual abuse makes the behaviour doubly traumatising.
Children who have suffered sexual abuse often show no physical signs and the abuse goes undetected unless a physician detects evidence of forced sexual activity. There are, however, behavioural clues to sexual abuse. These include inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sexual acts; seductive behaviour; reluctance or refusal to undress in front of others; extra aggression or, at the other end of the spectrum, extra compliance; and fear of a particular person or family member. Children who use the Internet are also vulnerable to come-ons from adults on-line. Among the warning signs of on-line sex child abuse are if a child spends large amounts of time on-line, particularly at night; if there is pornography on his or her computer; if he or she is receiving phone calls from or making them to people his or her parents do not know; if he or she receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone his or her parents do not  know; if he or she turns his or her computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen when someone enters the room; or if he or she becomes withdrawn from his or her family.
Emotional child abuse involves behaviour which interferes with a child’s mental health or social development. One website describes it as “the systematic tearing down of another human being”. Such abuse can range from verbal insults to acts of terror and is almost always a factor in the other three categories of abuse. While emotional abuse does not involve the infliction of physical pain or inappropriate physical contact, it can have more lasting negative psychological effects than either physical abuse or sexual abuse.
Examples of emotional child abuse include verbal abuse, which involves belittling or shaming a child by name-calling, making negative comparisons to others or telling a child that he or she is “no good”, “worthless” or “a mistake” and habitual blaming, which involves telling him or her that everything is his or her fault; withholding affection, which involves ignoring or disregarding a child, and a lack of affection and warmth; extreme punishment, which involves actions that are meant to isolate and terrorise a child, such as tying him or her to a fixture or an item of furniture or locking him or her in a closet or dark room; and corruption, which involves causing a child to witness or participate in inappropriate behaviour, such as criminal activity, drug or alcohol abuse or acts of violence.
Emotional abuse can come not only from adults, but also from other children. I refer here to siblings, neighbourhood or school bullies and schools which permit a culture of social ostracism. There is a need for a full debate on bullying in the House, particularly in the context of the phenomenon of cyber bullying. The signs of emotional child abuse include apathy, depression and hostility.
Deputy Seán Haughey Deputy Seán Haughey
Deputy Seán Haughey: I thank Deputies for their contributions and constructive comments in respect of this matter. I also thank them for their pledged support for the motion.
A number of issues were raised. Deputy Brian Hayes referred to the role played by the Department of Education and Science in 2002 and subsequently. Mr. Matthias Kelly was appointed by the then Minister in 2003 to review the Department’s processes and procedures relating to the making of discoveries by it to the commission. Mr. Kelly’s interim report reached the conclusion that “the difficulties over discovery were not due to obstruction or concealment but rather due to poor historic record storage systems and misunderstandings as to what in fact was required”.
Deputies Brian Hayes, Quinn, Shatter, Connaughton, Durkan and Naughten referred to the current situation and the situation that will obtain in the future. In many respects, this motion deals with past events. A number of topics were raised in this regard, including that of child protection guidelines. The Department issued guidelines, in line with the Children First policy document, to primary and post-primary schools in respect of dealing with and reporting child abuse. The Department has also provided training to designated liaison persons on the implementation of these guidelines as part of a range of measures, including the Stay Safe programme, relating to child protection. I will be happy to provide Deputies with details of this training if required.
Deputies Brian Hayes and Quinn also referred to child protection procedures in general. Having regard to the future, the Department will conduct a review of its procedures in light of the publication of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the review of Children First and the national child protection guidelines and in the event of the ratification of the referendum relating to children. This is an ongoing concern to the Department of Education and Science.
 I thank Deputies O’Rourke and Neville for their caring and compassionate insight in the cases we are dealing with. Both clearly have an intimate knowledge of these cases and have interacted with the people who have come before the commission. They brought an insight into the human tragedy that all this involves.
The issue of vetting was raised by Deputies Brian Hayes and Shatter. Special arrangements for newly-qualified teachers are co-ordinated through the teaching council. Currently, existing teachers are not vetted but the Department is working with the appropriate authorities to consider how best to put the appropriate arrangements in place as the roll-out of the Garda vetting unit expands. Irrespective of the position on vetting, where facts are brought to the information of the school, the school must be vigilant, check references and probe any gaps in records.
I probably do not have time to go into the indemnity agreements now but the decision to establish the redress scheme was made regardless of whether the religious congregations would contribute to the cost. The State had a duty to make amends for the abuse of children placed in institutions by the courts. Nevertheless it was considered desirable that the congregations should make a meaningful contribution and agreement was reached on the provision of €128 million.
At the beginning of the negotiations, the Department of Finance had recommended that the negotiating team should strive for a 50% contribution from the congregations. However, it was subsequently recognised that this was not achievable and the Department of Finance was satisfied with the contribution of €120 million.
I commend the motion to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Dáil Éireann 655 Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000: Motion.