Seanad Éireann - Volume 137 - 07 July, 1993

Kilkenny Incest Case: Statements.

[719] Acting Chairman: I call on the Acting Leader of the House to state the time limits.

Mr. Mullooly: I am proposing that spokespersons should have 15 minutes each and other speakers ten minutes each.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Minister for Health (Mr. Howlin): I welcome the opportunity to make a statement to the Seanad on the report of the investigation team which I established to examine the role of the health services in relation to the Kilkenny incest case. Each and every one of us was appalled and horrified by the brutal and inhuman ill treatment suffered by the tragic victim in this case over a 16 year period. The awful physical and sexual abuse wrought upon the young woman by her father has sent shock waves throughout the entire country. It is difficult to comprehend that such abuse can take place in our society and one can only begin to imagine the daily horror in which the victim lived.

I share the widespread concern about this case and I know that Members of this House will join with me in placing on record our sincere sympathy for the young woman who endured so much. My earnest wish for her now is that she can put these terrible events behind her and that she can have a happy, fulfilling and peaceful future.

Questions have rightly been asked as to how, despite many contacts with a range of statutory services, the abuse continued for such a long time and why there was no effective intervention to protect the victim and to prevent further abuse. I was concerned with the criticisms levelled against the health services and particularly the suggestions that professionals in the health services had come into contact with the victim but failed to recognise the abuse or to take any action to put an end to it. I therefore considered it imperative that such question marks [720] over the health services should be addressed immediately.

The purpose of the investigation was not to find a scapegoat but rather to identify the lessons to be learned from what happened in this case, lessons which must inform the future approach of the health services to the investigation and management of suspected cases of both child abuse and domestic violence generally. In order to ensure a thorough and speedy investigation into the case I instructed the chief executive officer of the South-Eastern Health Board to establish, as a matter of priority, an investigation team to inquire into the activities of the health services in this case and to report back to me as a matter of urgency.

The team was asked not only to examine the immediate concerns raised in relation to the health services but also to make recommendations for the future investigation and management by the health services of suspected child abuse cases. In the light of certain comments that have been made since the publication of the report, I would like to underline the fact that the terms of reference given to the team were to carry out an investigation of the case in so far as the health services were concerned. The team had no brief to inquire into the actions of the Garda or any other non-health agency.

The team was chaired by Ms. Catherine McGuinness, SC, a former Member of this House and a leading authority on family law. Ms. McGuinness was assisted in this difficult task by Ms. Brid Clarke, head social worker, Eastern Health Board, Dr. Sheelah Ryan, director of community care and medical officer of health, Midland Health Board; and Mr. Martin Hynes, programme manager, South-Eastern Health Board.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the team for the speed and thoroughness with which they completed their work and for the excellent report which they presented to me on 14 May 1993. The care, attention and sensitivity of the team in their deliberations, and in particular in preserving the anonymity of the victim, must be commended.

[721] This allowed me to publish the report in its entirety and to circulate it to Deputies, Senators and other interested parties so that there was a full debate on the issues raised.

I now wish to deal with the report itself and to outline the Government's response to it. The report is divided into two parts. The first section examines the details of the Kilkenny case itself. It also sets out the context in which the case must be viewed, in terms of the organisation of the health services, the legal provisions in relation to child protection and the state of public knowledge and awareness of child abuse in the early 1980s. In the second part of the report the team makes recommendations in regard to child care, child abuse and domestic violence generally.

The team's account of the Kilkenny case itself was compiled following detailed interviews with the victim, members of her family, the local community and appropriate persons from the relevant agencies. The assistance which the team received from all of those who came forward to provide information must be acknowledged. It should be noted that this was not a statutory inquiry, and the willingness of these people to lend their assistance helped to contribute to the completion of the task given to the team in a very short period and at minimal expense.

In their analysis, the investigation team reviewed the response of the health services to the victim and her family in the light of the legal situation and professional practices which pertained at the time in question, and their report should be read in that context. At that time the procedures which are now in place for the detection and investigation of sexual abuse had not been developed. Indeed, the whole concept of child sexual abuse was only beginning to be acknowledged and accepted as relevant to the health services.

The report sets out in detail the various contacts which the young women had with the health services over the years. It is clear that the woman, and indeed her family, sought and received services [722] and assistance from different elements of the health services over a long period of time. Many of these contacts were for routine medical ailments but some were directly related to the abuse which she was receiving. While the health care personnel responded to the presenting symptoms it is most unfortunate, and indeed regrettable, that the reality of what was actually happening within the family was not fully addressed until early 1992.

The reasons put forward by the team to explain why action was not taken earlier include the fact that each aspect of the health services dealt with the individual manifestations of the abuse and the various illnesses entirely separately and without inter-disciplinary communication and co-operation. Each injury was treated separately and the plausible explanations for the injuries which were given by the woman and her family were accepted. The prevalence and the telltale signs of physical and sexual abuse were not well understood at that time either by the professionals or by the public at large and there were certain weaknesses in the management of the community care services in relation to the investigation of suspected cases of child abuse.

Despite these considerations, it is still a cause of very great concern to me that this unfortunate woman continued to be subjected to cruel and demeaning treatment over such a long period while the services which could have been expected to help her were so close at hand and yet failed to fully grasp and tackle the abuse that was taking place. Looking back now, I am sure that all the professionals involved deeply regret the fact that, for whatever reason, action was not taken sooner to prevent and halt the abuse. However, it is far too easy to be wise in retrospect and, as the team themselves state in their report, the investigation had the incalculable benefit of hindsight.

However, throughout the 1980s a significant change was taking place in society's awareness of child abuse and in particular of child sexual abuse. There was also, among the health professions, a growing understanding of their role in [723] tackling such abuse. In early 1992, when the victim was finally persuaded by a friend as well as by her GP and hospital staff to make a formal complaint to the Garda, it is encouraging to note that all the relevant services responded swiftly. Although it may be of little comfort to the victim in this case, it is heartening to read that, having regard to the increased awareness among health professionals and growing public consciousness in relation to child sexual abuse, the investigation team conclude that an early diagnosis of such abuse would be much more likely today.

While the suffering and misery experienced by the young woman can never be undone, we must try and learn from this tragic case. In an effort to ensure that cases of this nature should never occur again, the team has put forward over 20 major recommendations in their report. The investigation team has acknowledged that some of their recommendations will require further consideration and elaboration, that additional resources will be required and that changes in policy, attitude and approach would also be necessary. The team also asked that its recommendations receive early and wide circulation in order to raise public consciousness of the issue of child abuse and hopefully, prevent such suffering from recurring in our society in the future.

An indication of the concern and urgency with which I and the Government view the question of child care and child abuse can be seen in the fact that the Government considered and released the report within five days of my receiving it. I will now outline the preliminary response which I and the Government have decided to make to this report.

By far the most important of the team's recommendations is that the Government provide the necessary resources to implement the remaining sections of the Child Care Act, 1991. The team was conscious that the public outcry about this case would achieve nothing if steps were not taken to ensure that recurrence of such suffering was prevented as far as [724] is possible. The implementation of the remaining sections of the Child Care Act was seen as the most effective means to achieve this. The team states in its report that the willingness of the Government and the community as a whole to provide the necessary resources for this task is a true measure of the degree of real public commitment to the protection of children and the promotion of their welfare.

Particular priority is afforded by the team to those parts of the Act which deal with the taking of children into care and which strengthen the powers of health boards, the gardaí and the courts in relation to children at risk. The effect of those parts would be to increase from 16 to 18 years, the age up to which health boards may intervene to protect children at risk. Health boards and the courts would be given a greater range of options in dealing with children at risk, including supervision orders which would authorise health staff to visit and monitor children at risk in their own homes.

The Government accepts that the full implementation of the Child Care Act is the single biggest contribution which can be made towards promoting the welfare of children and protecting those who are at risk. Nothing less than this would provide an adequate response both to the suffering experienced by the young woman in the Kilkenny case and to the report of the investigation team. I have put a proposal to Government to enable me to address this most significant recommendation of the investigation team.

I am pleased to say that the Government has agreed to my proposal to implement all the remaining sections of the Child Care Act over a three year period, that is, by the end of 1996. With regard to those provisions that relate to the protection of children from abuse and neglect it is the intention that they will be fully operational in 1995.

While some might feel that this is a significant lead-in time, I am satisfied that the necessary staff, facilities and services cannot be put into place more quickly. I have asked my officials for the shortest possible time frame. Existing services are under-developed and they will need to [725] be significantly expanded to be in a position to cater for the increased duties and responsibilities which will be placed on them. The recruitment of the significant numbers of additional staff necessary will also take some time. It is important to be realistic in our targets and not to set false and impractical hopes and goals.

As an indication of its determination in the matter, the Government has decided that in 1993 an additional £5 million will be provided for the child care services, which is equivalent to £10 million in a full year. An investment of the same scale will be made in each of the next three years. I assure the House that there have been no delays in getting the development process started. Detailed discussions have already been held with the health boards regarding the need for improvements in the child care services in their areas and plans for the development of new services funded from the £5 million available this year are now being examined in my Department. I expect to be in a position to convey the necessary approvals to proceed within a matter of days. Work has also begun on the associated tasks of recruiting the key personnel, putting the required arrangements in place, providing training and the myriad of other tasks to be undertaken to implement the Act.

The decision to proceed rapidly with the implementation of the Act represents a milestone in social reform and reflects the concern of the entire community in relation to the protection of children. I sincerely hope that the full implementation of the Act will help to ensure that no child and no family will ever again have to endure such suffering.

I have taken immediate steps to ensure that the other recommendations of the investigation team are evaluated and implemented to the maximum extent possible. The team's recommendations in relation to the child abuse guidelines, written protocols, child abuse registers, the conduct of case conferences and record keeping will require careful consideration by my Department, the statutory agencies and relevant professionals. My Department is already in discussion [726] with the Garda Síochána in relation to a strengthening of the child abuse guidelines. The implementation of the necessary procedures to underpin the new legislation is essential to ensure that it can be fully operational and I will make every effort to ensure that these procedures are put in place as soon as is reasonably practicable.

The investigation team considered the legal framework in some detail and they believed that the Constitution would contain a specific and overt declaration of the rights of children. The team is of the view that the very high emphasis on the rights of the family in the Constitution may consciously or unconsciously be interpreted as giving a higher value to the rights of parents than to the rights of children. The team recommends that the Constitution be amended to include a statement of the constitutional rights of children.

This recommendation is complex and far-reaching and will require detailed consideration by the Government in consultation with the Attorney General. However, I am conscious that, by its nature, this particular task may take some time to complete. I am anxious that, while deliberations should proceed, this work must not deflect us from the primary aim of bringing into force the remaining sections of the Child Care Act.

The team heard evidence and received submissions both for and against the introduction of a mandatory reporting law. Following consideration of all the issues, it recommended the introduction of mandatory reporting of all forms of child abuse by designated professionals. On balance, I too am in favour of mandatory reporting.

However, I am anxious to ensure that as much common ground as possible is achieved on this before proceeding with legislation. I realise that some professional groups may have difficulties with regard to client confidentiality that would need to be resolved before this could be introduced. Having regard to the sensitive issues involved, it is my intention to initiate broad ranging consultations with all the relevant interest [727] groups with a view to securing the widest possible agreement on the question of mandatory reporting.

The report makes a series of recommendations in relation to the improvement of services for families and children. These relate to developments in preventive services, family supports, treatment of both the abused and the abuser and staff training. These measures will be carefully considered as services are expanded and strengthened to implement the provisions of the Child Care Act. Health boards have been asked to have regard to these recommendations in preparing their implementation plans.

A significant part of the abuse in the Kilkenny case occurred after the woman had attained adulthood and the team, with my agreement, extended its remit somewhat to include adult abuse and domestic violence generally. The team felt that victims of adult abuse need to know that violence against them is unacceptable and that there are services available appropriate to their needs. Their report includes a series of recommendations in relation to domestic violence. Among these are: the provision of more refuge places for victims of family violence; the development of counselling support services for those victims; training for health care staff in identifying cases of family violence and the introduction of appropriate referral procedures to the Garda.

The team also recommended changes in the legislation governing barring orders to make these orders available in all cases of domestic violence and not just, as at present, in cases of violence between spouses.

The recommendation to ensure the provision of adequate refuge spaces is being addressed in the context of the additional funding now being made available to me. I see such refuges as a key component of the network of child care and family support sevices needed to underpin the Act.

I have instructed my Department to urgently examine the other recommendations which relate to my area of [728] responsibility. It is also my intention to discuss the recommendations in relation to barring orders with my colleague, the Minister for Justice, who has responsibility for the legislation in this area.

The report also makes recommendations in relation to specific measures to be taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Department of Justice and the Medical Council. These agencies have already been contacted by my Department with a view to having the team's recommendations examined and evaluated as a matter of urgency.

The investigation team in its recommendations emphasise the multi-disciplinary nature of providing an appropriate and effective response in relation to child abuse. The importance of the establishment of effective working relationships within the health care system and between the health board and other agencies is underlined.

The team has some telling recommendations in relation to the role of the Garda, teachers and other professionals dealing with children at risk. Their report suggests the implementation of a process of inter-agency review to ensure full coordination and co-operation between all the relevant services. I am anxious that there should be minimum delay in this regard and I have already had preliminary discussions with my ministerial colleagues with a view to finding effective and efficient mechanisms to give expression to those particular recommendations.

In so far as my own Department is concerned, I have decided to create a child care policy unit to ensure the speedy implementation of the Child Care Act, and to follow up on the other recommendations of the investigation team. This unit will have lead responsibility for drafting the necessary sets of regulations governing different aspects of the Child Care Act and for preparing, in consultation with the health boards and professional groups, detailed guidelines on the operation of the new provisions. The unit will play a key role in developing services in the whole area of child care [729] and family support in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

What I have outlined briefly here tonight is my response to a comprehensive report. However, I would like to conclude by drawing attention to a statement made by the investigation team that violence and sexual abuse, whether against children or adults, must not be seen solely as the responsibility of the health services. The responsibility of other agencies, both statutory and voluntary, in this area must also be recognised.

The obligations on the community as a whole must also be addressed. In order to ensure the elimination of such abuse and violence in our society the responsibility must be shared by all and must be supported by the public at large. It is only if all of us, in our homes, in our work and in our community, have the courage and determination to challenge violence, whatever its form, that the evil of child abuse and domestic violence can be eradicated from our society.

Acting Chairman: Thank you Minister. Before I call Senator Reynolds I would like to remind the House that on the Order of Business it was agreed that this item would conclude at 10 p.m. Spokes-persons have 15 minutes and as there are many Senators offering I would appreciate if speakers would be as brief as possible.

Mr. Reynolds: Brevity is one of my policies in politics. As the Minister has outlined, this is a serious crime, and it is important that we have the opportunity to discuss it in the House this evening, for which I would like to thank the Minister.

When details of the Kilkenny incest case began to emerge at the trial we, as a nation, were appalled that such barbaric brutality and human suffering could be meted out over a long period without detection. The fact that this atrocity was carried out against a woman who, over many years, endured pain and suffering from childhood to adolescence to womanhood without any help or sanctuary is something I can never forget. I [730] believe that we, as public representatives, have a fundamental duty to put in place the necessary legislation to ensure as far as possible the prevention of and punishment for this crime and to ensure that it would never be committed again.

Over the past ten years we have devoted a great deal of time, energy and resources towards the protection of the unborn while, in my opinion, not affording sufficient protection to our children. That is a fundamental problem which we have not faced up until now. I hope that the recommendations made in the Kilkenny incest investigation report will be brought forward and put into legislation as soon as possible.

It is only proper for me to congratulate first the Minister for putting the investigation team together and to congratulate the investigation team of Catherine McGuinness, Martin Hynes, Brid Clarke, Sheelah Ryan and John Magner for producing such a prompt and excellent report. Unlike many reports and investigations which have been carried out over many years, I believe this will have far reaching effects on society.

I was heartened to hear the Minister say that the Government has given priority to introducing the legislation to implement the recommendations in the report as quickly as possible. With the indulgence of the House, I intend to discuss the majority of the recommendations in the hope of putting on the record the contents of the report and my support, and that of my party, for these recommendations.

With regard to the implementation of the Child Care Act, 1991, when I was first elected to this House in 1987 I remember a colleague, then Senator Nuala Fennell making speeches about the implementation of child care legislation. However, that legislation was not introduced until 1991 and I hope the same delays will not occur on this occasion.

With regard to the constitutional amendment, the report recommends that:

consideration be given by the [731] Government to the amendment of Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution so as to include a statement of the constitutional rights of children.

I believe this is fundamentally important and should be taken on board by the Government immediately. The report states with regard to child abuse guidelines that:

The Minister of Health should prepare revised procedures for the identification, investigation and management of child abuse to replace the current guidelines. These procedures should be given statutory effect under the provision of sections 68 and 69 of the Child Care Act, 1991... In addition it is recommended that a regular system of evaluation of the procedures be established... There should be written Protocols for the investigation and management of child abuse within each health board... There should be clear guidelines for collaboration between hospital and community care staff on matters concerning the identification, notification and follow up of child abuse.

I always felt quite strongly about the fact that Departments and different State bodies believed that if it was the health board's problem they should deal with it without a unified approach. I have always thought there should be an attempt in legislation to unify different Departments such as Health, Education and Justice in the matter of child sexual abuse. These Departments have a major role to play and a unified approach is very important.

We have to be aware of the danger of trial by media. We know what happened in Mayo after a number of cases had been publicised, but more specifically the two cases in Kilkenny. A family was effectively tried before all the evidence was available — a traumatic experience for those involved. I was glad to hear the Minister say he will introduce legislation to take account of all these aspects. We [732] have to introduce legislation to make sure that those who commit these crimes have a chance to defend themselves before the courts. I abhor trial by media and any legislation that can prevent that must be looked at. I know it is difficult to do that but we must give the defendant as much protection as possible.

The report has recommended, and I agree: “that standardised child abuse registers be maintained by the Director of Community Care in each community care area”. It also recommends that:

There should be mandatory reporting of all forms of child abuse by designated persons to the Director of Community Care (or other nominated persons within health boards). These designated personnel should include doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, community welfare officers, child care workers, teachers, probation officers and other professionals responsible for the care of children. (The legal framework within which mandatory reporting would be introduced is outlined.)

We recommend that the confidentiality of persons who make reports should be protected, if requested, so long as this does not adversely affect the investigation of the case. The duty to protect the child from abuse must override the duty to respect family privacy or personal freedom.

Mandatory reporting is important but, as far as possible as the report says, confidentiality of the person should be kept. Many people if they felt something was going on in a neighbour's or a relative's home would find it extremely difficult to report it to the Director of Community Care or another designated person if they could not do so in confidence. Without reporting it is difficult for crimes to be detected. The most significant aspect of the problem of child sex abuse is that since people are afraid to report it the detection of a crime that takes place in the home is extremely hard and if a mother, daughter or son is afraid to report it, it could go undetected for many years as in this case.

[733] Under the heading “Liaison between Health Boards and Gardaí” the guide to the recommendations says:

The Director of Community Care should notify the Garda Superintendent of all allegations of child abuse. Each Superintendent should notify the Director of all allegations of child abuse received by gardaí

This relates back to my earlier point that a unified approach between the Garda and the Department of Health is extremely important. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the garda who dealt with the Kilkenny incest case. The way she got the confidence of the victim to report the case and bring it to court showed tremendous ability and commitment. It is good that gardaí are willing to put themselves at personal risk to gain the confidence of people who have been abused so reprehensibly. The garda in this case can never be thanked properly for the work she has done.

Another important point in the recommendations is on links with schools. It says in the synopsis and I quote:

We recommend that appropriate training on the identification, investigation and management of child abuse should be developed and introduced at pre-service level for all teachers. In addition a programme of appropriate inservice training should be provided for all teachers.

We recommend that child abuse guidelines issued by the Department of Education should be reviewed in consultation with the Department of Health on a regular basis. All such reviews or changes must be brought to the attention of all teachers, health services and other professionals dealing with child abuse.

We further recommend that there should be formal liaison between health boards and schools at local level to align respective guidelines on child abuse into a joint Protocol for effective action.

In anything to do with health, sex and [734] crime we have been slow to put a proper education system in place. I made the same point on the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Bill, 1993, and I believe it is important. If people are made aware when growing up that child sexual abuse can take place in the home it will make the detection of the crime much easier. I hope the Minister will give priority to the introduction of such a programme in co-operation with the Minister for Education.

I read the section on prevention with interest. The report recommends the introduction of the Child Abuse Prevention Programme in all classes at primary school level and recommends that a similar programme be devised and introduced into second level schools at the earliest possible date. The investigation team also endorse the recommendations of the Second Commission on the Status of Women on the introduction of age appropriate life skill programmes in primary and second level schools. These programmes which are very important should cover such issues as relationships, parenting, sex education, nutrition and hygiene.

Law reform and the other recommendations are meaningless without the necessary resources. I welcome the Minister's commitment to provide the necessary resources for the implementation of the recommendations in the Kilkenny report. My only concern is that it will take three years to introduce the necessary legislation. I take on board the Minister's point that it will take time to train the appropriate staff, but priority should be given to the legislation and the sooner it can be introduced the better. We, as a society, have to be vigilant to ensure, as far as possible, crimes like this do not happen.

Mr. Farrell: I welcome the Minister to the House and I pay tribute to him for the speed with which he acted in this case and the efficient way he got this full report before us. I commend his team for doing their business so well without engaging in a witch-hunt. They behaved in a fair and honest manner as anyone [735] can see. We are good at begrudgery and blaming someone, whether they are responsible or not.

Senator Reynolds mentioned the media and they are at their best when they engage in those areas of activity. They like to find someone they say made a mistake. This case was not detected but many are. I pay tribute to the health boards, their staff and social workers. I do not wish to take from the Garda who broke this case but it was a social worker who first learned about it, and that seems to have been forgotten. The social workers in my health board area have done trojan work and have prevented many cases like this. However, we must be careful. Our health board took a child into care and received much abuse from a member of the board. The media also condemned the board and accused it of baby snatching and stealing children from parents. There were alarming headlines in the newspapers but the health board was proved right and the action had been necessary. Thankfully the family has been reunited and the problem resolved.

The problems we are discussing began in England. It probably would not have happened if the family had always lived in this country. If people come into a rural area and keep to themselves, as this family did, locals are sometimes slow to get involved with them. The family also seems to have lived in a cul de sac and according to the report, not many people passed their door.

We will not uncover all these cases no matter how we tighten the law. I welcome any improvement to the legislation. However we must be careful. In the UK, social welfare workers faced the brunt of the law for acting too quickly and taking into care children who should have been left with their parents. A fine line must be drawn, and in such a wide area it is difficult to know where that should be. Some may say doctors should know what is happening but the parents in this case acted cleverly. They never sent their child to the same doctor more than twice. They gave detailed explanations of exactly what happened to the child where others [736] would have simply said she fell off a bicycle. The case was difficult to follow up.

There is much talk of greater co-operation between gardaí, social workers, health boards and doctors. That co-operation does exist. Health boards and gardaí have often worked together, they successfully brought many of these cases to court. We do not hear of the good deeds, we hear only of those that slipped through the net.

I read an alarming article in today's Irish Independent: “Children in care give rise to new concern”:

A new study has found a disturbing increase in the number of children in care in Ireland because of parental physical, sexual or emotional abuse. A high proportion of children are also in care because of long term neglect. In such cases the child was not necessarily abused but was unkempt and/or hungry.

The article is worth reading and that study might be worth discussing in this House.

Parents must do their duty. In all parts of Ireland children are out late at night when they should be at home. There is not sufficient parental control. I was sad to read in the article that “The study found children of single mothers and broken families were particularly at risk”. If this report is correct that will be a big problem because the number of broken families and single parents is on the increase.

Our social welfare system is the best in Europe and that is why so many “New Age” travellers come to this country, yet many children are begging in this city. I would like to see those children taken off the streets and their parents called to account. It is not right that they should be begging. An adult will often take the money the children have collected to buy alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a major problem. Slot machines and other addictions are often mentioned but why is there an acceptance of alcohol abuse? This is often [737] the cause of road accidents, broken marriages, broken homes and abused children. This issue must be tackled.

I am a graduate of a technical school which taught domestic science. Boys and girls acquired many practical skills we are not teaching today; we now teach the theory of these subjects. Many people working do not earn as much as some people get on social welfare. They say they cannot live on their income. The reason they cannot is that the money is badly managed. An employee of the Department of Social Welfare should ask people how they spend their money and, if necessary, give them advice on how to get value for the money. Often money is spent on gambling, alcohol and drugs. That is the root of our trouble and it should be brought to an end.

My health board is implementing many recommendations and, as the Minister knows it, is ahead of its time. I welcome the report and compliment the Minister on how quickly he has acted. However we must set up a system to help parents.

Children need care; they also need love. Anyone who has reared a family or has grandchildren knows if they are loved they will always come to you because they know they will get a hug and will be respected. In our society children are too often called nuisances. They are given money to buy sweets or hire videos but they are not given time. There is no point having a family unless you have time for them. Parents must be prepared to make sacrifices while they are bringing up a family.

I have always advocated that no mother should have to work. If a mother wants to stay at home for four or five years, her job should be kept open. Refresher courses should be available in the intervening years so that she will keep abreast of the job and will be able to return to work. All the laws in the world will not have an effect unless a better support system for the family is in place, in other words, we should help fathers and mothers especially. Officers should go to homes to see how they are managing.

There have been two big losses for [738] Irish society in the last number of years. The first was the loss of our two teacher schools. In these schools teachers knew all the children and were able to give advice. Today schools are so big that teachers go from class to class and do not even know the names of the children. The second big loss was the closure of rural Garda stations. When these stations operated 24 hours a day they acted as rambling houses. Cards were played there every night and every topic was discussed. Everybody came to know the garda and had a special relationship with him and information was given to him. The garda was able to prevent many cases of abuse.

Society today is very impersonal. There are not many houses today where you can lift the latch and walk in. All doors are locked for fear of vandalism. To change this situation we need a greater community spirit and people in the community working together. People often object to others moving into their communities.

I am delighted there will be more refuge centres but I can guarantee that people will object to such centres in their areas. They will say drunken husbands will come to the refuge at all hours of the night and will break up the house and disrupt the families. Unless the community is prepared to accept faults in our society and unless everyone is prepared to play his or her part in tackling such faults, we will not be able to pass laws or encourage civilised behaviour in families to successfully prevent child abuse in all its forms.

Dr. Henry: May I give three minutes of my time to Senator Norris?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Doyle): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Dr. Henry: I, too, am very pleased that the Minister set up the task force so urgently and that Ms. McGuinness and her team reported so quickly. I am also extremely glad there was no witch-hunt. I am ashamed to see anyone describing the report as a whitewash because it was [739] not. It is important to note that the Convention on Human Rights held in Vienna recently described sexual abuse as being a violation of human rights. I do not want to see us being brought to the Court of Human Rights again. I hope we act in this area very quickly.

When the abuse took place there was very little discussion in Ireland on sexual abuse; indeed, we reckoned it did not exist. There could not be an examination of it because its existence would have been denied. There were no discussions on sex and sexuality. In this report it is pointed out that when the girl began to be abused as a child she did not realise it was sexual activity, she thought it was some form of punishment. Even when she was a teenager she had no idea that such activity could lead to a pregnancy. We have talked about setting out guidelines and I am sure the Minister will do that.

Senator Farrell talked about the North-Western Health Board, which is an excellent one. I wish to talk about the South-Eastern Health Board in the 1980s. The Health Education Bureau produced a book entitled The Book of the Child. It was to be given to every pregnant woman to help her through her pregnancy and in dealing with her child in the first four years of the child's life. It is an excellent book. It was distributed all over Ireland, except in the South-Eastern Health Board region where the officials and professionals were recalcitrant about distributing it. An obstetrician — I do not know if it was the one in Kilkenny hospital — who dealt with this girl, objected to this book being distributed to patients because there was a page in it on contraception. As a result of objections by him and other very senior professionals on the health board at the time the book was not distributed; it was kept in cupboards and under counters.

I remember this so well because a member of the South-Eastern Health Board, Catherine Bulbulia, who was also a Member of this House, fought a battle and was aided by Deputy Ferris, to have [740] the book distributed. Some of the members of this health board were also reluctant to have it distributed. When there is difficulty in having a book, called The Book of the Child, distributed to women who are entitled to it — it was, after all a publication by the Minister for Health — and for whom it was specifically designed, one can see what an uphill task some of the professionals had. Eventually Catherine Bulbulia and Deputy Ferris got the health board to agree to distribute the book. Initially it was only distributed to women who asked for it. The distribution of the book to all pregnant women had to be passed at a second board meeting.

This was the climate of opinion at the time. The Pro-Life Campaign was also under way. There was a moral attitude abroad that if one suggested anything that was slightly deviant, such as that people were going to England for abortions it was virtually denied. It is easy to be critical of these professionals, such as the health nurses and so forth, but we must look at the background in which they were working. In this country once authoritarian voices speak on any issue it is very hard to dissent from these views.

Much has been said in this House in the last few weeks about the position of the family. As much as any other Member of the House I, too, think the position of the happy family is splendid. However, a very large number of people are not part of nuclear families and they deserve our care as well. Perhaps we have revered the family too much and I suggest that the amendments to the Constitution suggested by the inquiry team must be considered a matter of priority. A statement has to be made regarding the constitutional rights of children, otherwise I can see any legislation the Minister may introduce — and I am sure he has the best interests of children at heart — failing on constitutional grounds. No matter how badly abused a child may be, if its parents are married we will not be in a position to do anything. It would be easier to intervene if the parents are not married.

I wish to speak about the public health nurse, the social worker, the doctor, the [741] teachers and the neighbours. None of them had the right to do anything if they suspected a child was being abused. Public health nurses are in an invidious position. In this case the public health nurse called over and over again but could not get access to the house. Such nurses must try to foster a good relationship with the family and at the same time keep an eye on the child. If they think a baby is being badly abused physically they do not have the right to ask for the baby's clothes to be removed. This puts them in a very difficult position. Another factor to be taken into account is that these nurses have a very heavy workload. In some instances they may not have support from those in higher positions, and in such cases, to whom do they report? It is excellent that we are introducing mandatory reporting. I must stress that there is a shortage of public health nurses. UCD is very short of money this year to fund lecturers and they may have to reduce the numbers doing the course by half.

The social workers involved in such cases also often have huge workloads. There is often a rapid turnover of social workers which means they are fairly junior. There was a shortage of notes in this case. Social workers do not have back-up facilities to have their notes typed since most social departments have very little in the way of back-up services there is little continuity of records.

It is only too easy for the abuser to go from doctor to doctor. One would hope that within one practice there would be better continuity of care of the patient, and such continuity is also important between doctors and hospital consultants. This continuity was quite good in this case. The obstetrician pointed out in 1986 or 1987 that it was very unusual for a girl of 22 years of age to be looking for sterilisation; he also pointed out that she seemed to have many gynaecological problems. It is very difficult to correlate complaints which are psychosomatic — I am not using this as an abusive word. The girl was referred for complaints such as neuroleptic bladder, numb leg, etc. It may be said that computerisation would [742] help but the expense would be astronomical.

The examination of children under the school medical system is one area in which we can do something. The father in this case, who is also the grandfather, refused to have the child examined under the school medical system.

The Child Care Act, 1988, states that a court may require a child to attend for treatment at a clinic, but the child must be under a supervision order. Some good reason must be given if the child is not allowed to be examined in the school care system.

The teachers knew something was wrong in this case but they were in a weak situation. Six weeks after the sexual abuse clinic was set-up in the Rotunda Hospital, it was full of teachers with sexually abused children. They had nowhere to bring them before the clinic was established. I have confidence in teachers because they notice problems very early and can highlight them. This is why the stay safe programme is so important, as emphasised in this report. I have heard that some schools are getting solicitors' letters to prevent them implementing the stay safe programme. This is ridiculous.

The mandatory obligation to report to the community welfare officer, is a welcome development. Many of these professionals have been qualified for some time and training on the ground is essential if we are to get the Child Care Act implemented.

We talked about the Guidelines on Child Sexual Abuse, of which I have a copy. I had great difficulty getting it and I wonder how many people know it exists. It is the duty of the health boards to distribute these guidelines. Are the health boards doing this? If we had adopted the same attitude to the Kilkenny Incest Investigation report it would not have been distributed. Perhaps it is not surprising I found it difficult to get a copy of the guidelines.

Revising and updating the guidelines is a good idea, but it should be done by the professionals who are working in the field rather than asking people to make [743] recommendations. People are genuinely concerned about these children and are trying to work without training.

The involvement of the Garda Síochána did not come within the remit of the report. It is unfortunate that those who flee their homes — or what are their prisons — are returned in Garda cars. If there were more rape crisis centres adults would be encouraged to report incidents which happened when they were children.

No one has yet mentioned the primary cause of the trouble — the father. If the father had not been behaving in such a despicable manner we would not have this trouble. A great deal needs to be done because this behaviour is completely unacceptable. Sometimes we think a married man can do what he likes in his own home. In this case the neighbours cannot be blamed. One of them took the other child into her home and reared her. People do not like interfering but perhaps we should.

Recommendations are needed to improve the situation regarding children testifying in court. The long delay in child abuse cases coming before the courts is unacceptable. In the X case there are still more delays. Multiple interviewing of the child should be avoided. I am sure the Minister is sincere but he must introduce more measures because the Child Care Act will not be enough to solve this problem.

Mr. Norris: I thank Senator Henry for sharing her time, otherwise, I would not have had the opportunity to speak in the House today because, like Senator Lanigan, I spent the afternoon at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, an important function of the House.

The most important thing I wish to say is that we, in this House, spent a lot of time debating the Child Care Bill. Although it was not possible to accept some of the amendments we tabled, the Government at that time agreed to put forward our amendments as Government [744] amendments and the Bill had to be recommitted to the Dáil.

I urge the Minister to see if the amendment regarding the guardian ad litem clause can be implemented. This introduces an impartial officer of the court, who does not represent the court, the family or the State, but who represents the welfare of the child. This was introduced after the Maria Cauldwell case in England. I have no doubt it saved lives in England and it would also save lives in Ireland. It was a good day's work in the Seanad, but it received no mention in the press.

I welcome the report which is professional. Rather like the painful case story by James Joyce, where the coroner's report ends with the phrase, “it seems no one was to blame”, it seems to me that the report is not incisive enough although I accept the Minister's statement that it was not appropriate to look for scapegoats. Of course, it was not appropriate but, we must do everything we can to ensure that this happens as infrequently as possible. I remember being astonished at the number of child sex abuse cases which happened in the last five years or so. I began to wonder was it real. Of course it is real.

I welcome what the Minister said about a constitutional amendment. The family is a valuable building block in our society. No one denies this but it has been used as a convenient blanket alibi, a kind of cordon sanitaire around people who molest their own children. That is intolerable. The family should not be used to protect the abuser; it must be used to protect the child. The amendment which the report recommends, and to which the Minister has given his support is extremely valuable.

I am pleased Senator Henry in her usual caring way mentioned the stay safe programme. It is important that a message goes out from this House that we, as elected representatives, and the Minister fully endorse this important programme. It is wicked that people are trying to frustrate it. This was raised the other day in relation to another Bill when it was indicated that someone in a responsible [745] position said that this programme was terrible because children might be expected to report incidents even-involving their own father, as if paternity was a justification for incest. I cannot believe people should be allowed to get away with this.

Sexual illiteracy is a problem in this country. People are not as sexually illiterate as we were in my day when there was no sex education programme — people can draw their own conclusions in my case. I remember travelling around the country and meeting a young man in Cork who was very distressed because he thought he was homosexual. He masturbated and he did not know what it meant. He experienced immense relief when he discovered that he was not destined to be a dirty old man in a raincoat. He subsequently got married and asked us to stop sending him regular communications because although his fiancee was broad minded, she might not understand. We sent him a telegram of congratulations. This man is happily married and well adjusted, but he might have been a casualty.

In endorsing the stay safe programme, we help not to dismantle the family, which is no one's ambition or intention, but to protect children. This is something which all of us, whether we are married or not, would wish to do.

Ms Gallagher: I would have been happy to hear more from Senator Norris on that topic. I will be brief because I know that many people are interested in contributing to this debate.

I studied the Kilkenny incest investigation report with interest, having been one of the first people to call for a debate in March of this year. I congratulate Ms. Catherine McGuinness and the other members of her team for a job well done. It is a comprehensive and well drafted report. Unlike a certain inquiry, it did not take a lot of time and it did not cost a lot of money.

The first part of the report deals with the individual case in question and it answers many of the questions I asked. It puts together the facts of the girl's case [746] and the various contacts she had with the different aspects of the health service. I was interested in the fact that the girl and her family covered up many occurrences by dealing with various doctors and offereing plausible explanations for the injuries, etc. What stood out in this part of the report was the lack of co-ordination between the various elements of the health service. The girl's situation was not fully investigated or fully responded to by the health service even when her physical complaints and injuries pointed to sexual abuse.

The report recognises that we have come a long way since then in recognising and dealing with the grave problem of sexual abuse. I hope this is the case. It appears to me that there was, and still may be, an ambivalence towards family violence. In part, this may stem from a society where parents are to be honoured and obeyed, and rightly so, but we should all remember that there is an equal duty on parents to care properly for their children. When they fail in this regard, the health service needs to act as a unified force in giving a coherent response.

I congratulate the Minister for acting with speed. I have listened to his speech in which he outlined the action taken so far in dealing with the recommendations and I am more than impressed. Indeed, if every issue is tackled in this fashion, this country will be the envy of all. I am pleased to see the Minister's commitment to introduce the remaining sections of the Child Care Act, 1991. Increasing from 16 to 18 years the age up to which the health board may intervene to protect children is welcome because as we saw in this case, it affected a girl well into her teens and early 20s. Many people are under parental care at this age and it is only right and fair that they would not be excluded from protection in this fashion at the tender age of 16.

The idea of supervision orders interests me and I would like to know more about them. It appears to be a good idea to supervise a child's family situation without removing the child from the family home. Section 3 of the Act states:

[747] It shall be a function of every health board to promote the welfare of children in its area who are not receiving adequate care and protection.

It is obvious from this that the onus is now being placed on the health board to not only deal with children suffering from sexual abuse but, more importantly, to identify them. It is all too easy to pass the buck in a system which, by its very nature is complicated and diverse. As the health boards will now be responsible for identifying the children suffering abuse, it follows that they will need to co-ordinate their approach, and this is long overdue. This is a point I want to focus on. The report makes recommendations on case conferences as the natural forum where all professionals involved can come together. This would facilitate the pooling of information and would assist any necessary legal proceedings.

I note that the report suggests that key workers could be appointed following these discussions and they would be specifically assigned to manage individual cases. This would be welcome as a practical way of dealing with the problem because all too often we find that we have too many chiefs and not enough Indians, so to speak. It is only right and proper to focus and make one person responsible for the case having received all the necessary information. More importantly, such a system would facilitate the indentification of problems and speed up the action necessary to resolve them at a much earlier stage.

The report also suggested that the reporting of child abuse should be mandatory for certain personnel. I would like to point out that this recommendation, among others, does not cost anything. I notice from the report that the problem in many cases was not just a lack of services but a complete lack of co-ordination. We see the Garda doing one thing, social workers doing another and the medical doctor taking his own independent action. This cannot continue. A first step is necessary and that should be a standardised system of notification. [748] I noticed that the report went into that in detail and I want to emphasise it because I hope it will be one of the first steps the Minister takes to deal with the problem. All it requires is thought and planning before being put into effect.

I also want to focus on domestic violence. The Minister has commenced discussions with the Garda Síochána with a view to strengthening the child abuse guidelines but much more than that is needed. Looking at the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women and at this report, we see that something must be done about barring orders and extending them to cover people other than spouses. This area must be dealt with for people's general protection. I do not want to be parochial but money is needed to provide refuge centres. There are none in County Monaghan. What can you tell somebody in such a situation when they do not have independent means, the resources or the know-how to know where to go? A refuge is definitely needed. We should also consider freephone facilities and a greater degree of counselling. I trust the Minister will look into that.

I notice from the recommendations in the report that teachers were aware of the problem. Generally they are, but as Senator Henry correctly pointed out, there is little they can do. My sister is a primary school teacher and has faced this problem on a number of occasions. The guidelines for teachers in this area need to be updated and co-ordinated with the Department of Health.

I support the stay safe programme and the child abuse prevention programme. This should be extended to all teachers and made a mandatory part of their training because it helps to more easily identify problems when children are away from the family home and might be able to talk to somebody other than the usual people with whom they have contact.

On the subject of general co-operation, I note and welcome that the health board will be made responsible for this. We need more liaison between the various agencies and the Garda. It is only when that is worked out that we will see [749] a reduction in the number of children abused, and a speedier response to that abuse.

As Senator Henry said, nobody has mentioned the offender in this case. When I spoke in the debate on this issue earlier this year, I called for action that would protect the victim rather the offender. I know that requires changes in court procedures which are not in the Minister's domain but it needs to be looked at nonetheless.

We have discussed the identification of sexual abuse but we need to focus on its prevention and treatment following it. I would emphasise that a programme in national and secondary schools is essential to make children aware of this. It should be included in a life skills subject or in some other form, but it should be available and mandatory in all schools. A public education programme would also be useful. In dealing with the treatment of victims no effort should be spared to follow up their cases and ensure that they have adequate counselling so that they can recover from their ordeal, redress the damage done and, hopefully, have a happy future.

Mr. Neville: I wish to share my time with Senator Honan.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Neville: I welcome the report of the Kilkenny incest investigation, and I wish to pay tribute to a former Member of this House, Ms. Catherine McGuinness, and her team for the excellent job they have done in such a short time. The committee made 23 recommendations which have great relevance for all cases of child neglect and abuse. The Minister should immediately implement all sections of the Child Care Act, 1991, to ensure that controls are implemented on the level of abuse. A three year time scale is not acceptable.

We all accept that it is a sad reflection on society that there are people who will inflict such injuries, both physical and psychological, on their own family as we [750] have seen from this report. Although some would have us believe it, this is not an isolated incident as the ISPCC state and it is their view that at least six children have died as a result of severe physical and sexual abuse within the past 12 months. That is frightening to comprehend.

It is unfortunate and sad that legislation which was passed two years ago has not been implemented to counteract some of this abuse. The State has a duty to do everything to ensure the safety of its children. The State has not paid attention to the needs of children within society. It is deficient in the co-ordination of services and this should be changed. The protection of children is important to the social health of our community and the necessary resources must be provided and the full implementation of the Child Care Act is a priority to achieve this.

The Kilkenny incest investigation report recommends that Article 41 and 42 of the Constitution should be amended. This would clarify the constitutional rights of our children, which is not the case at present. The balance must be moved in favour of the child. A constitutional amendment should enshrine the rights of children. We have paid a great deal of attention to the rights of the unborn and rightly so. Surely nobody can argue against the need to guarantee the rights of the born. With particular reference to the vulnerability of a defenceless child, the balance of rights, as expressed in the Constitution, has given rise to a confused situation. I believe that the Minister should introduce an appropriate framework for change at the earliest opportunity.

The report outlines the role of the Garda Sióchána and in this context, I wish to again congratulate Garda Reddy for her role in exposing this sad, cruel case. The Garda Sióchána are often reluctant to become involved in family disputes. I believe they are inadequately trained to do so. It is of fundamental importance that a child care officer be appointed to each Garda division. Such a garda could have functions similar to [751] those of the crime prevention officer or juvenile liaison officer.

If Part III of the Child Care Act was implemented and properly enforced, any delay in coming to the rescue of a child who has been abused and neglected would be greatly reduced. I do not believe such abuse can be eliminated, all we can do is control and minimise it.

Our approach when taking action against child abuse is to remove the child from the home. Our immediate reaction is that the child must be kept safe. I believe that it is more appropriate that the offender should be removed from the home. As stated in a previous debate, the concept of third party barring orders must be considered. In this respect the present law is clearly inadequate.

The argument in favour of allowing an abused party, be it brother, sister, son, daughter or parent, apply to the local District Court for a protection order or barring order and to let the court decide the case in the normal way, is overwhelming. The powers of the health boards must also be considered to ensure that action is taken where injured parties are too fearful to take an action in their own name.

The outcome of this sorrowful case and the attention it has achieved has forced the issue of sexual abuse within the home to the top of the national agenda. This is to be welcomed, as does the highlighting of the problems faced by the various groups and people dealing with this case.

Ms Honan: I welcome the Minister to the House. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this case in the House today.

I agree with the compliments made by Senator Gallagher to former Senator McGuinness, who chaired the team who produced this report. It illustrates what happens when a woman is in charge.

Many of us in the House were impatient that there was not an opportunity to discuss this report earlier and the Minister should be aware of this. However, I believe that on reflection, the delay has been worthwhile because it [752] gave us more time to consider the abuse of children and women.

Reading the report six weeks after its publication makes us all very angry. The report is a chilling and horrific account of this young person's nightmare which went on for almost ten years. It makes us wonder what kind of society we have that produces people who inflict this kind of pain on women.

I reflected on the issue last week when the Wildlife Bill was discussed in the Dáil. The passion and urgency generated by that debate and the power of the arguments over the value of the greyhound industry made me wonder about the values of this society and what society believes to be important. Is it because women and children do not appear to have an obvious economic worth that we do not generate the same sort of urgency about what happens to them?

It is necessary to consider again the values and structures of society and who is important. I believe the reason the Minister has accepted the findings of this report and that the Government has promised £30 million to implement the child care proposals is that people are unhappy and want changes to be implemented. There is a desire that such cases will not recur but if they do the facilities should be available to enable the health care professionals and the gardaí to investigate and bring the culprits to justice.

When considering this report some people believe if more money had been provided for these services this would not have happened. However, a former Assistant Secretary in the Department of Health said:

It is clear that the misery suffered by this young woman for so long arises less from the lack of legal provisions and health board resources than from what appears to be gross indifference by far too many people in authority at the brutalisation of women and children.

A major problem in this area, and it is a problem not readily understood, is the concept of violence against women and [753] children. In this respect I ask the Minister to refer to the submission to the Southern Health Board made by Women's Aid Helpline. This report, together with the report by the Kilkenny incest investigation team and the report of the Second Commission on the Status for Women makes interesting reading. I believe this recommendation should be implemented.

Violence against women and children is a violation of their human rights. It causes serious physical and mental injury to women and children. It breaks bodies, families and lives. It is a grave social problem which threatens our society and I believe it must be addressed and eliminated. That must be the aim of all in this House.

I accept the Minister's commitment in this area and I welcome his acceptance of all of the proposals in this report. Senator Farrell spoke of opposition to the provision of refuge accommodation. I welcome the recent decision by Dublin City Council to give permission for the provision of a refuge to Aoibhneas but what shocked me was that a Member of the Dáil, who is also a Member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights, voted against the proposal. If the issues of educating people and making them aware of this problem are to be addressed, then I believe more should be expected from Members of the Oireachtas.

The issues raised by the Kilkenny case reflect the overall lack of policy in dealing with violent assault on women and children in the home. As the Minister remarked, this does not come solely within his remit; it affects the Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and other Departments. An overall view must be taken by everybody involved. However, I would like them to draw on the experiences of people and organisations such as Women's Aid Helpline who have been involved in this area for many years. This too was one of the recommendations in the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women which requested that those already active in a voluntary capacity should be involved and the funding [754] should be provided by the relevant Department.

I will conclude by quoting from remarks made by President Robinson on 25 February 1992 when she presented her Allen Lane Foundation Lecture at Trinity College: “We must also fundamentally reappraise our view of who and what is valuable in our society”. We should all reflect on that.

Miss Ormonde: I propose to share my time with Senator McGennis.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Miss Ormonde: I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on responding so speedily to this horrific physical, mental and sexual abuse that has been ongoing for the last 15 and more years. It is a sad reflection on society that this case was known in the surrounding areas and yet nothing was done about it. This is a particularly sad reflection on the professionals who deal with young people in their formative years.

I compliment the young woman who took this case against her abuser. Her action has given us new ideas when it comes to preparing the framework of future legislation. She is a brave young woman. If we had more of that spirit in society we would wipe out this type of abuse very quickly. I am delighted she was there to show the way for other cases.

I congratulate the investigation team for the speed with which they responded to the terms of reference laid down by the Minister. I also congratulate Catherine McGuinness for her chairmanship of that team. We are here to discuss the recommendations of their report. I read the report in great detail and I would like to be able to spend more time discussing certain aspects of the recommendations, which provide the framework for a longer debate.

I work as a guidance counsellor in a school and I know about this problem. While I compliment the Minister for laying down the recommendations and trying to speed up ways of implementing [755] them, nevertheless I have reservations in terms of how best they will work within schools. The Minister mentioned mandatory guidelines. I recognise that there are many personnel members available. However, what worries me is that the professionals will become experts at talking about a case but will lose sight of what needs to be done in the meantime. I would like the system to be streamlined.

If a case in the school is brought to our notice, we find the right person to deal with it. We look for an educational psychologist, a community health nurse or a social worker, but none of them is available. I know these positions exist in theory, but when a case arises it will take at least a month or six weeks for it to be examined.

I compliment the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee for the very good structure it has set up. I can work within it but outside that area the structure is not as tight in terms of co-ordination between the Departments of Health, Social Welfare and Education. It worries me that we may wait a year before action is taken and I would like the Minister to be aware of that when it comes to how best his recommendations can be implemented.

When it comes to implementing the Child Care Act, 1991 it should be remembered that we have enough personnel, we do not need more. What we do need are resources to provide in-service training for those who are already there to see how best they can get immediate attention for each case brought to their attention. I believe there is a lack of confidence on the part of personnel as to how they should approach parents as laid down in the guidelines and reporting to the director of community care. It is fine in theory but when I am investigating a case I, like many others, do not have enough confidence because we have not attended enough in-service courses to help us over those stages. If we are to introduce new guidelines there should be in-service courses immediately so that when I return to my school in September I, and my colleagues, will feel confident and [756] competent to take action immediately and not have to wait 12 months until the next stage is reached. We have so many personnel we do not know where to turn. Everything is fine in theory but not in practice. I urge the Minister to finalise and refine these guidelines. As a school guidance counsellor I believe an educational psychologist is very important because he or she can spot a case very quickly but our hands are tied.

I compliment the Minister for his work in this area.

Mrs. McGennis: I too congratulate the Minister on moving so speedily on this matter and I also congratulate Catherine McGuinness, a former Member of this House.

The first time I spoke in this House, except when I was annoyed with Senator O'Toole, was on this case. I was reading what I said at the time and I mentioned that some video nasties probably would not hold a candle to the details of this case. I was not aware of the details then but until I read this report I did not realise how significant was that comment.

As Senator Henry said, I do not think anybody wanted the Minister to seek a scapegoat or to present a whitewash, but the report does not seem to have addressed why nothing was done. People who knew this girl did not want to get involved. As Senator Gallagher stated, there is an ambivalence towards family violence and there is no doubt about that. People must have known about this case. However, we should not use this case or anybody involved in it as scapegoats.

I mentioned in my contribution on the previous occasion that I wanted the Minister to make the report public. He did so within five days of receiving it and I commend him for that. I remember stating and feeling very emotional and passionate about it that for us to debate this issue, which was very sensitive but also had a very high profile, and for us all to beat our breasts and go away feeling we had done well by highlighting it, would achieve nothing. I stated that if we were not prepared to take responsibility we were no good as public representatives. [757] I pay tribute to the Government, and particularly the Minister, who has demonstrated a caring attitude and his commitment as Minister for Health by bringing his case to Government and getting money in such difficult financial circumstances.

The Minister said he has received an additional £5 million to be provided for child care services this year, which is equivalent to £10 million which will be made available for each of the next three years. Other Senators said that was not good enough but I think it is sensible. Even if the Minister has made all the money available today, the necessary services and the mechanisms are not in place. The Minister is behaving not only compassionately but sensibly.

The Minister has given a commitment that remaining provisions of the Child Care Act, 1991, will be implemented and, if nothing else were to happen, that is a very significant outcome of the report. The Minister also stated that he hoped the full implementation of the Act will ensure that no child and no family will ever again have to endure such suffering. Nobody would have wished that girl to endure such suffering but she should know it was not in vain. Hopefully her dreadful experience will ensure that nobody else will have to suffer as she did.

It would have been easy for the Minister to have done nothing and to have said he was going to investigate all the recommendations in the reports, the suggestion that a constitutional referendum be held and that there should be mandatory reporting, and then come back to us, but he did not. He is to be applauded for taking immediate emergency action and for the fact that he will address the other issues at a later date. I urge him to examine the area of barring orders.

One last point struck me as unbelievable. On page 47 of the report the girl states that when she was being abused “all this was brand new. I thought when he did this to me, ‘what did I do wrong?’ The more I struggled, the more I got hit. So I would just lie there and get it over with.” Nobody should have to feel they [758] have done something wrong or that anybody has a right to inflict torment on them. Senator Farrell was right when he said that in a proper family environment, no child would suffer like that but when families break down, unfortunately it is necessary for the State to become involved. We need a comprehensive stay safe policy in the education system. No child should ever feel that he or she is in the wrong when somebody abuses them.

Acting Chairman: There are three Senators offering and there are 20 minutes left.

Professor Lee: May I share my time with Senator Lanigan?

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Professor Lee: It is sad that we do not have more time for a debate of this importance because the issues are far too complex to be dealt with simplistically. However, we will do our best.

This is an excellent report and the Minister's response has been admirable. I agree with 95 per cent of the recommendations in the report. What is clear however, is how little we know about this issue in Irish society in general. Virtually no effective research has been carried out in this area and when one looks at the data on pages 42 and 43 of the report one finds that the specific Irish data diverges considerably from the generalisations made about international data. That is understandable but it shows how fragmentary is the basis on which generalisations are based in terms of dealing with the issue at a national level.

The recommendation on the Constitution has some merit, even though the wording and potential interpretation have to be looked at with great care. I am surprised that more attention is not paid to Article 42.5 of the Constitution as it stands. It says:

In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, [759] the State as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

If there was a desire to interpret that in a manner which would protect the rights of the child more than they have been protected, there is a great deal of potential in that wording for doing so. My fear would be that unless the mentality and attitude behind them is fully supportive, words alone, even a constitutional amendment, will do little more to help children than the ignoring, by and large, of Article 42.5 at this stage.

I have considerable reservations about the mandatory recommendation. I can see the argument for it and there is obviously a great deal to be said for it. However, the issues involved are far more finely balanced than emerges in our current discussion. We are horrified by the specifics of this case but there are some sweeping philosophical statements here and I share Senator Reynolds's reservations not about the intent, but about the implications. The report says that the duty to protect the child from abuse must override the duty to respect family privacy or personal freedom. Family privacy is largely a convention and it is an important convention for the mundanities of civilised society. Personal freedom is not a convention; it is a right. It is a different category from family privacy. It can be subordinate to other rights but this is a very sweeping statement to be presented without qualification.

As consciousness of this issue rises, there is a danger of false accusations. This danger may arise in the vindictiveness and viciousness of family or neighbourly feuds. One may say there are sufficient fail safe mechanisms to counter that but there tends to be an assumption in the tone of much of what is before us that one is guilty until proved innocent. If there was any danger of that affecting attitudes, one would need to be very careful about how precisely one implemented that recommendation.

[760] On page 43 of the report we are told that the total number of cases reported to the Eastern Health Board was 990, of which 55 were ultimately prosecuted and 38 were found guilty; about one-third were found not guilty. This does not necessarily mean that abuse had not occurred but while the fact that there was a failure to sustain some of these cases may be a result of the problems that arise with these cases, it may in some cases be because the case simply could not be sustained. It is something which should warn us against an uncritical acceptance of the unqualified response here which is understandable in the immediate aftermath of the case.

While on balance I am in favour of a mandatory dimension, the manner in which it is legalised and implemented seems to have implications for our society that need to be considered beyond the issue of child abuse, horrific though that is. There is an invaluable little direction given, where we are told that there should be mandatory reporting by designated persons of all forms of child abuse. This includes doctors, nurses, community welfare officers, psychologists, child care workers, teachers and probation officers. I would put some stress on teachers there.

Tribute has been rightly paid to the role of teachers in drawing attention to cases of abuse. However, teachers are not professional child care workers in the way all the others listed here are. The others have a different type of training; at least I presume they have a different type of training specifically concerned with the issue. Teachers, before they find themselves in this situation, deserve more training and education in these issues than they will have acquired in their normal education. There is a reference in the report to in-service training but in-service training for teachers as things stand and indeed all in-service training is derisory in terms of the support it gets. These are pious aspirations unless something serious can be done about them. I would draw attention specifically to the implications for teachers which [761] seem to be different from the implications for others on the list.

The extra resources are welcome but extra resources will not in themselves cope with the fragmentation and lack of co-ordination between the services to which the report drew attention and to which several speakers, Senator Gallagher in particular, drew attention. My brusque response to the charge of fragmentation is, so what? Why single out workers in this area? In what area of Irish public service or the public service anywhere is there not fragmentation? It is the characteristic of public administration in this country, perhaps in all countries, even though as a small society we are supposed to be integrated. What we hear about integrated programmes, Structural Funds and other areas is by definition an admission that what we have at present is fragmentation. It is not fair to blame the health services or to single them out for the type of administrative problems which have arisen. The problems are undoubtedly there but are part of what we are. They are not specific to the health services and that has to be taken into account when trying to cope with the problem.

Finally, and here I echo some of the fears expressed by Senator Farrell, there is the incongruous and tragic possibility that unless we take cognisance of the sentiments which Senator Honan quoted from President Robinson, in ten years time we may have a better prevention and treatment service and all these recommendations may be implemented but we could still have worse child abuse and sexual violence than we have today unless attitudes can be changed.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Lanigan, I understand you are sharing time with Senator Lee. I would like to remind you that you have only two minutes.

Professor Lee: I apologise to the Senator. I took longer than I intended.

Mr. Lanigan: This is called the Kilkenny incest case and it is important [762] that, as a representative of Kilkenny and not wanting to downgrade what has happened in this tragic situation, I should be allowed to speak for longer than three minutes. Certain people said they would speak for seven minutes but spoke for 20 minutes.

Legislation will not get rid of the brutalisation of children in Irish society; it will not get rid of the brutalisation of women and men in society. Ireland has unfortunately become a brutal society and this is instanced every day. There is brutality in all elements in Irish society. Kilkenny may be the place mentioned in this case but the same thing is happening every day in every county. Unfortunately the spotlight is on Kilkenny today. Brutalisation is a fact of life because we have become a brutal society and there is no point looking for scapegoats.

The media, education and health boards have been mentioned as playing a part in the atrocity that was committed against this young girl. How do we adapt to this society? Do we tell the media and the parents that they should not talk about this? What must we do to rid us of this brutalisation? Education has failed dramatically. This brutalisation is not a recent phenomenon. There is not a parish in Ireland where similar things have not taken place. It is fortunate that the Minister acted when he did and he has brought forward plans which may help. The pooling of information may help, but from where will the information come?

Mandatory reporting by a child of five or six years of age of incidents that happened over the past three or four years is not proper. Mandatory recollections by a 16 year old of what happened when they were younger is not what they think about when they are growing up. As they grow older, they find it hard to relate to what happened to them. There are a range of reasons people think this way. In this instance, the media are to be brutally and utterly condemned. A man from Castlecomer, where this case occurred, named John Burn, the so-called correspondent of the Sunday Times who——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I remind the [763] Senator that he should not refer to individuals by name.

Mr. Lanigan: I will not use his name again, because it should not be used when we speak of factual reporting. This man grew up in Castlecomer and the first paragraph of his report in the Sunday Times stated that he and his father watched a child being almost beaten to death and then they went home. Now he writes about the brutality of someone else. He talked about people who came to Castlecomer from outside and were shunned by society and because the Brennan family were 50 per cent——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I have to ask the Senator not to name names in the House.

Mr. Lanigan: He referred to the Brennan extended family.

Castlecomer is a mining area and 50 per cent of those who live in the extended area came from Wales, northern England and other mining areas to work in the mines and they were, and are still, accepted. If one visits Castlecomer today, one will find that 90 per cent of the people in that area are accepted although, as Burns said, they came from other regions. The family in Ireland has been mentioned. What is the family in Ireland? Reference has also been made to the elements in society which make up families. We now have different styles of families and we must accept that. There is no point blaming the parents of single families for the problem. We live in a multi-element society and we must work on that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I must ask you to conclude because you are taking up Senator Maloney's time.

Mr. Lanigan: I was disappointed with Senator Henry when she attacked the obstetrician in Kilkenny who refused to deliver a book called The Book of the Child. This is not true. The caring obstetricians in the South-Eastern Health [764] Board never refused to deliver anything like that.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I must ask the Senator to conclude.

Mr. Lanigan: It was suggested that if it were not for ex-Senator Bulbulia and Deputy Ferris, that book would not have been distributed among the people. This is not true.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I must ask Senator Lanigan to resume his seat.

Mr. Lanigan: I thank the Minister for coming to the House and for introducing what I hope will be good legislation. I hope this will not be regarded only as a Kilkenny incident. This brutalisation is endemic in our society and must be eliminated.

Mr. Maloney: I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the recommendations by the investigation team on the Kilkenny incest case. Their report was formulated quickly and dealt with a tragic case which, as Senator Lanigan said, is similar to many other cases throughout our country, and possibly in every country. It is a tragedy for any family that is caught up in that situation and we, as a society, have a lot to answer for.

The phrase “sexual abuse” seems to crop up in every aspect of life. On Monday evening, “Panorama”, the BBC current affairs programme, produced a strong and interesting programme on abuse of young boys and girls by Catholic priests in Ireland, the UK and in many other countries. These abuses were carried out when the children were at an early age and only 20 to 30 years later did they realise they had been badly abused and they were now prepared to do something about it.

The lack of procedures in place during the 1980s were referred to early in the report and this is an accepted fact. I worked in the service during this period and saw many cases where young girls or middle aged women were being badly [765] abused but they would not say anything about it because it was not the done thing. I am glad that in this report that issue is now being addressed. Senator Lee said it is not fair to attach too much blame to the health services because they can only work within their remit. However, if a team approach can be introduced there would be an improvement in the service.

Society has a lot to answer for. The fact is that this abuse went on for many years and no one seemed to be able to stop it until a garda heard of it. That seems to be the way our society operated — people minded their own business and let the victim suffer. I am glad to see that the remaining sections of the Child Care Act are to be implemented, but education goes hand in hand with this. We cannot look for funds all the time; they are not there. If the education system was properly looked at, sex education in schools would alert children to what was happening to them. Young boys must be as well educated in relation to sexual matters as young girls. I came across one case in a hospital where a young girl had been abused by a member of her family and became pregnant. It got to the stage where, if she walked down the street and a boy pulled her into a lane and had sex with her, she said she did not care because she had been so badly abused earlier in her life that she felt worthless and dirty.

The recruitment of extra staff is to be welcomed. There are professionals who do an excellent job and are only too glad to get involved. I also welcome the £5 million the Minister is providing this year — £10 million in a full year; it will go a long way towards improving the situation. I agree wholeheartedly with mandatory reporting. In the service I worked in, I was convinced that mandatory reporting was essential where someone was being abused. We took it for granted that the abuse was reported, but, of course, it did not always happen.

Domestic violence occurs in many homes and nothing is being done about it. The recommendations in this area are also to be welcomed. The provision of [766] more refuge places for the victims of family violence is also welcome. County Donegal does not have one refuge for victims of any kind of violence, and it is ludicrous that 70 to 75 per cent of the women being cared for in the refuge in County Derry come from Donegal. I also welcome the training for health care staff and the involvement of the Garda, but it must be a team effort. At the end of the day, the community and the education system have a lot to answer for. I welcome the recommendations in this report. If they help even one person they are most welcome.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Mullooly: It is proposed to sit again at 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 8 July 1993.