Order of Business, 27 July 2011

27th July 2011

The point I wish to raise concerns the aforementioned Amnesty International report by Dr. Carole Holohan, which was informed and reviewed by an independent advisory group and commissioned by Amnesty International, namely, In Plain Sight, Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports. At 430 pages, the report is of considerable length and obviously will take Members time to consider. It would be worth our time both to read it and to consider how best it could be debated in the House. The report acknowledges and understands what went wrong but also is working to ensure we establish a child protection system that is fit for purpose, lest we ever allow this to happen again. The “we” on which Amnesty International puts value is not simply about the church or the State but pertains to “we” as a society. In Plain Sight calls on us to acknowledge the extent to which the systematic abuse and exploitation of the tens of thousands of vulnerable Irish children in State and church run institutions was known across Irish society. The report does not purport to play the blame game. It moves beyond what has been to date a largely factual discourse about the who, what, where and when of the widespread and systematic abuse in question to a more philosophical and sociological analysis of why. To understand why it happened will help us to transform the present.

At the launch yesterday, Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International, said:
But the focus cannot be purely on the past, as if this history has no relevance for our society now. We must consider the degree to which this history reveals vital truths about the nature of our society today. The past only becomes history once we have addressed it, learnt from it and made the changes necessary to ensure that we do not repeat mistakes and wrongdoings.

Another striking and vital feature of the report is the acknowledgement that the abuse survivors endured is not only morally repugnant, shocking beyond many people’s comprehension and patently illegal, but amounts to a grievous violation of their human rights. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, launched the report yesterday and acknowledged the Government’s legislative agenda. This House needs to have a debate about that agenda. I also ask the Leader to call on the Minister to redouble her efforts to ensure the constitutional the amendment to strengthen children’s rights is held without delay, that we ensure the full implementation of the UN convention on the rights of the child in Ireland, study the report and use it to inform our policy on child protection.

Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne

27th July 2011

I wish to begin by thanking the Leader and the Cathaoirleach for ensuring that this important debate is taking place before the House rises for the summer recess.

Article 19.1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse. Ireland ratified this convention in 1992 and the Holy See ratified it in 1990. The Cloyne report covers the period from 1996 to 2009. This debate must focus on the role of the church. We can discuss the role of the State on another occasion. I hope we will have an opportunity to do so when the forthcoming reports to which the Minister referred, including that relating to the 200 children who have died in the care of the State, are published. I assure colleagues that I will have plenty to say at that time on the role of the State. Today, however, I wish to focus on the Cloyne report.

The people of Ireland are hurting and they are angry. Those who were sexually abused by Catholic priests in the Diocese of Cloyne and elsewhere are hurting, as are their families, friends, partners, spouses and others who love them. There is much pain among members of the wider community. Many Catholics, including me, feel betrayed by the actions of those priests who sexually abused children and the actions or inaction of those within the hierarchy who covered up those crimes. Many priests must surely feel that pain, that hurt, that sense of being so badly betrayed.

People are angry because this is the fourth report to deal with the neglect or emotional, physical or sexual abuse of children by priests or religious in this country. There is massive anger as a result of the fact that a great deal of this abuse was perpetrated by people whose actions were covered up by others. There is also outrage because so much of the abuse of children was carried out in an environment where many adults had knowledge but where they chose to remain silent. People are incensed because so much of the abuse of children about which we have read in these reports was totally avoidable. Something has fed the anger to which I refer, namely, the responses of those who bear responsibility for causing the abuse of children, for covering up such abuse or for remaining silent while others around them engaged in abuse.

The Christian Brothers apologised for the shocking abuse of children revealed in the Ryan report when it was published. Only days beforehand, however, the Christian Brothers had written to the Residential Institutions Redress Board rejecting any allegations of systemic abuse and stating that the only form of corporal punishment allowed was moderate slapping on the palms of hands. By that time, the Christian Brothers would have known that such denials were not borne out of honesty. When survivors of industrial schools and members of the wider public learned of those denials, the apology rang rather hollow. The reluctance of religious congregations to pay their fair share of the cost of redress did not reveal an appreciation of the revulsion many people felt on reading about the degrading and disgusting treatment of children that was related in the Ryan report, nor did it demonstrate an act of remorse or recompense which many would have expected as an absolute minimum.

This was followed by the reaction of the Irish Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican to the Murphy report. Irish bishops were collectively shamed by the extent of the cover up in the Dublin Archdiocese and said it revealed a culture of cover up that existed throughout the church in Ireland but individually they said they had done nothing wrong and insisted that there was nothing in the reports that should cause any of them to have to resign despite the wishes of so many of those who had been sexually abused as children.

In early 2010 Irish bishops went to Rome to meet Pope Benedict who, in turn, sent a papal letter to Irish Catholics. The voices of survivors were ignored and no one took responsibility. Instead of acknowledging that this was a Catholic Church problem on a global scale, everything from secularism, petty gossip, homosexuality and the media were blamed and all this time the anger of the people of Ireland was rising.

Apologists will also decry the lack of attention during this debate to the failings within the State and its child protectionism practices but that is nothing more than an attempt to divert the attention away from the Catholic Church as we discuss the Cloyne report. It makes me think of when I was young and had done something wrong and was caught out by my mother and I would immediately have pointed to my brother and say,”but he did it too”. My mother, who is a wise woman, would have said “wrong is wrong and two wrongs do not make a right”. Today we should deal with the role of the church and equally on other occasions, as we have done recently when we dealt with the Fourth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, deal with the role of the State.

Two weeks ago the Cloyne report was published. It quickly became clear that the oft-repeated claim by Catholic bishops that all the revelations of the abuse of children and its cover-up by them was a thing of the past was seen for what it was, just another self-serving attempt to minimise the findings of previous reports so that bishops could remain in office and manage any loss of reputation to the Catholic Church.

The people of Ireland were rightly angered to learn in the Cloyne report that all the time the church was insisting that the application of its own child protection guidelines meant that such a cover-up could never happen again, the reality was that Bishop John Magee had no interest in those guidelines and he delegated their implementation to Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan who did not even agree with their content and, as a consequence, child protection practices in the dioceses remained dangerous for many years.

Apologists for the Catholic hierarchy, few and far between as they have become, pretend that instructions from the Vatican, like the 1997 letter from the Papal Nuncio sent to Irish bishops on behalf of the Vatican congregation of the clergy, did not contain explicit instructions not to follow civil obligations but it is clear what was intended for bishops was to follow Canon Law only and not the guidelines that they had presented to the Irish people. Wrong is wrong.

Few people in Ireland have had any time for the excuses that some choose to make to justify and explain away the blatant disregard of child welfare, their safety and protection. For many years the response of the Government has not reflected that hurt and anger that the people of Ireland have felt. This failure to properly articulate how the people felt ended last Wednesday in the Dáil when the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, responded to the publication of the Cloyne report. He said: “The rape and torture of children were down-played or managed to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its powers, its standing and reputation”. He went on to say: “There is little I or anyone else in this House can say to comfort that victim or others, however much we want to”. My understanding is that many victims or survivors are more comforted to hear the political leader of this country articulate very clearly their anger, disgust, revulsion and sadness that all of this has happened.

While our anger, disgust, pain, revulsion and sadness are all totally understandable, much more is needed. Many people who deeply care about advancing the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children had been advocating for a long time for many changes in administration, in practice, in legislation and in our Constitution where we need to strengthen the rights of children. I agree with Senator Darragh O’Brien that this rises above party politics and groupings. This is an issue on which we can find common agreement. In this regard, I acknowledge the plans outlined by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and also the plans that the Minister for Justice and Equality is taking on.

The Government, the survivors and the people of Ireland, not just Irish Catholics, await an appropriate response from the Holy See to the revelations of the Cloyne report and to reports which preceded it. What is required is an acknowledgement of their part in the long-standing cover up of the sexual abuse of children in this country by Catholic priests. That should be followed by an unconditional apology for that cover up and an unambiguous instruction to priests and the hierarchy to follow civil obligations, not just civil laws, and to always put children first.

SPHE Curriculum – Motion

20th July 2011

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and the Minister, Deputy Quinn, for attending the debate. I also thank my fellow Senators for contributing to the debate. We have had a very rich discussion and have shown the reason and basis for the motion. A statistic I would like to add to the evidence put before us this evening is that half of lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14 and three quarters by the age of 25. In Ireland, a recent survey conducted by UNICEF, Change the Future: Experiencing Youth in Contemporary Ireland, found that half of all young people aged between 16 and 20 have experienced depression; more than one in 10 anorexia; more than a quarter have felt suicidal; and of those experiencing ongoing mental health difficulties, only 18% are receiving help. The role of SPHE and RSE in schools plays a key part in addressing some of these issues.

During the debate we heard about the report from Dail na nOg and the report of the Department of Education and Skills carried out with the crisis pregnancy agency in 2007. One of the aspects we would like to follow up is an audit on what is happening in schools in regard to SPHE and RSE. That is a specific step we would like taken with, hopefully, the full endorsement of the motion by the House. School principals are a key driver and good teachers play a key role, which the Minister has acknowledged in the reforms he is undertaking, and we would like consideration to be given for the issues we raised to be tied into the Croke Park agreement.

The Minister referred to the junior cycle review and we hope the debate will strongly contribute to it. What he is doing with this review and the literacy and numeracy strategy is essential and important. He referred to unlocking the bridge to universities. We ask him to give equal attention to the senior cycle in secondary education. While we need to focus on the junior cycle, we equally have to focus on the senior cycle. I would like to ensure there is not an imbalance and that we do not say we have ticked the box because this has been done in the first three years of secondary education. It will not have been covered because children are developing emotionally and physically and they said this in the research conducted by Dail na nOg. The senior cycle is equally important to unlocking that bridge.

It is also critical that the training of teachers is not ignored. Many Members outlined their experiences. I recall clearly at the launch of the Dail na nOg report one young teacher sharing her experience. She was in her 20s and she was the last teacher into an all-boys school. She was given the SPHE hours because that is what one gets when one is last in. She had no training in this area and she was expected to uphold the ethos of the school but she was given no direction on how to do that. She had a class of young boys with no training. That does not lead to quality SPHE teaching but she could not say ¬¬¬¬____because she was in a vulnerable position as the last teacher into the school. As Senator Moran said, life experience is essential. While in-service training is needed, life experience is also needed and I ask the Minister to give consideration to this.

I would also like to acknowledge the role of non-formal education and, as Senator Mooney mentioned, the role of Foroige. Many youth work organisations in Ireland play an essential role in non-formal education and they could also play a role in SPHE.

The Independent group will not go away regarding this issue. We hope the motion is fully endorsed and we will come back to this early in 2012 regarding the next steps we have outlined. We will ask what has happened and we hope we can support the Minister in moving this essential issue forward.

Order of Business, 20 July 2011

20th July 2011

I too take the opportunity to congratulate Senator Trevor Clochartaigh on his new addition. Here is another child whose rights we must fight for and I assure the Senator we will continue to do so.

I echo what Senator Darragh O’Brien said in regard to the European leaders summit. I am extremely concerned, as are many citizens, at the way in which Europe has dragged its feet and has not taken the necessary decisions to address the crisis. The latest signals are not encouraging in advance of tomorrows summit. When the Heads of State meet at an EU leaders summit, we expect action. We should send a clear message in this regard.

I join Senator Ivana Bacik in congratulating Mrs. Justice Susan Denham’s appointment as the first female Chief Justice in the history of the State. She is an excellent role model and it is encouraging that the two most senior legal positions in the State are now occupied by women. We are in safe hands for the future.

We have taken a welcome step forward in the provision of a new national children’s hospital with the Minister’s approval of submissions of plans to An Bord Pleanala. I was very much involved in the debate on the location of the new hospital and have come to the position that we need a national children’s hospital and must put our full support behind it. This House must do everything it can to support that process, notwithstanding the many obstacles that will undoubtedly be put in the way.

I remind Members of the Private Members’ motion my colleagues and I will put forward this evening on the important issue of the social, personal and health education programme in schools. This programme incorporates the relationship and sexuality education programme which, despite being a mandatory part of the curriculum, evidence suggests many schools are failing to implement. I encourage Members to contribute to the debate.

Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 – Seanad Bill amended by the Dail – Report and Final Stages

20th July 2011

I am pleased this Bill strengthens the powers of the newly-established Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Last week, the Minister referred to the unsatisfactory situation in 2010 when an independent review group on child deaths, established by the then Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Barry Andrews, was furnished with preliminary information by the HSE but refused access to individual cases files. This was due to legal concerns identified by the HSE on the provision of information to the group. It is vital to the success of the new Department and both natural and obvious that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is given direct access to files as she needs them in a safe and proper way, bearing in mind the sensitive nature of some of the information required. This will help her ensure full accountability in the arena of child protection.

Strengthening the powers of the new Department is also important in ensuring consistency in the collection of child protection data from around the country. This is the best way to ensure that a consistent threshold is maintained with regards to children being taken into care.

As the Minister outlined in the past week, there is a big job ahead in strengthening child protection systems. The new Department will have an agency dedicated to family and children services. This will remove the child protection component out of the ambit of the HSE which will re-balance that dynamic and power more favourably towards the new Department.

This Bill is an important step towards strengthening child protection systems. I note the Minister will introduce legislation later this year to create the new child welfare and support services agency. I offer her our support on this as it is in all our interests to bring it forward as quickly as possible. I hope the legislation is comprehensive to allow for the proper lines of accountability at administrative, executive and political levels to ensure the failings that occurred in the setting up of the HSE in that regard are not repeated.

This is the appropriate time to comment on special care orders. This element of the Bill, which relates to special care orders, is highly positive and pertinent. It also relates to one of most serious of all State powers, namely, the power to detain a child in a centre such as Ballydowd. This power must always be used with the utmost care and in absolute deference to the rights of each individual child.

A previous issue of concern was that the relevant provisions of the Child Care Act 1991 were not operational. As a result, it fell to the High Court to hear applications for special care orders. I welcome the provision to afford to the Health Service Executive the power to apply to the High Court for a special care order for a child. I am pleased the previous ambiguity has been removed and the Bill sets out in unequivocal terms the processes to be followed by the HSE. These include the steps to be taken from the initial consideration of the child for special care, the application for the order, the hearing of the case, the granting of the order and the care of the child under the order through to the discharge of the order. I also welcome the role the Health Information and Quality Authority will have in this respect as a result of the amendments proposed by the Minister.

Although I support the Bill, I am concerned about the failure to address the issue of after care. I am aware this issue has been debated extensively but this legislation remains a missed opportunity. I am concerned that an amendment has not been included to make the provision of after care an automatic legal entitlement where a child has an identified need. The obligation to provide after care should be clearly stated in law. When the State assumes parental responsibility for a child in care there should be a corresponding obligation on the State, within legislation, making it crystal clear what are the State’s obligations, including the obligation to ensure the child is cared for and not abandoned when he or she turns 18 years of age.

I listened intently to the Minister’s comments on after care in the Dail last week. Research reports have continually shown that children leaving care need support, as confirmed again by a recent report by Empowering People in Care, EPIC, formerly the Irish Association of Young People in Care, IAYPIC. An amendment to legislation on the issue of after care has been sought by many organisations, including Barnardos. It is also one of the primary demands of the action for after care coalition. While I am aware the Minister intends to return to the issue of after care and much work is being done on it, an opportunity has been missed to address the issue in this legislation.

Residential Institutions (Redress) Bill 2011 – Second Stage

19th July 2011

I thank the Minister for his presentation. I also thank Senator Jim D’Arcy for his early support of our motion tomorrow evening. This debate is extremely timely given that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is, as we speak, launching the second progress report on the recommendations arising from the Ryan report.

In considering the legislation before us, I take the opportunity to acknowledge the substantial work carried out by the redress board since its inception in 2002. However, behind all the facts and figures lies the suffering of thousands of children who were entitled to be cared for, cherished and loved at a time when they could not have been more vulnerable. Instead, as we learned from the Ryan report, physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions in which these children were detained. Sexual abuse occurred in many, particularly boys institutions. A climate of fear created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment permeated most of the institutions. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating would come from. Seeing or hearing other children being beaten was a frightening experience that stayed with many survivors for all of their lives. Children who ran away were severely beaten, often publicly, and were often humiliated in public and had their heads shaven. Prolonged, excessive beatings with implements intended to cause maximum pain occurred with the knowledge of staff and management.

In a week where the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, reminded us of her concern that a hierarchy of abuse was being drawn up by social workers today, with neglect often placed at the bottom, let us not forget what the Ryan report said about the neglect of children. Children were frequently hungry and food was inadequate, inedible and badly prepared in many schools. Survivors spoke of scavenging for food in waste bins and animal feed. Inspectors found that malnourishment was a serious problem in schools run by the nuns in the late 1940s and, although improvements were made, food was meagre and basic. Sanitary provision was primitive, hygiene facilities were poor and sanitary protection for girls in menstruation was generally inadequate. Emotional abuse was suffered and the redress board heard cases of witnesses being belittled and ridiculed. Humiliating practices of underwear inspections and displaying soiled or wet sheets were conducted throughout the industrial schools system. Private matters such as bodily functions and personal hygiene were used as opportunities for degradation and humiliation. There was constant criticism and verbal abuse and children were told they were worthless.

It is important we remember this because when we consider the work of the redress board and review the legislation, we should be mindful of the experiences of so many young children that prompted the need for it in the first place. It is unfortunate to learn from many of the organisations supporting survivors that, in some cases, their experience of the redress board caused additional distress. Many were upset when told that they could not discuss their financial awards publicly. They took this to mean they could not talk publicly about the redress and that there was blanket secrecy, which added to the whole feeling of secrecy and humiliation. Once they accepted a settlement, they believed they could not speak about their childhood experiences, which reinforced the feeling of secrecy and the point about their reputation. This hurt them badly.

As Senator Norris said, it is regrettable that the Government has repeatedly refused to allow Bethany Home – a combined detention centre, children’s home and maternity home in Dublin – to be included on the list of qualifying institutions for the residential institutions redress scheme. This deprived survivors of the opportunity to present their cases to the redress board and seek some semblance of justice and compensation for abuse suffered as children there. The passing of this legislation is a timely reminder that survivors of Bethany Home have not had justice and redress. At this late stage, I urge the Government to find a way to address the needs of Bethany Home survivors, for an inquiry into the activities there and for the survivors to be allowed to access some form of reasonable redress.

As this legislation is before the House at a time when there is public debate about the overall cost of redress and specifically by whom the cost should be met, I fully support the Minister in his efforts to ensure the taxpayer is not left to pay a disproportionate amount of the cost of redress. There are clearly others who should pay their fair share, giving the role they played in causing so much harm to so many.

Order of Business, 19 July 2011

19th July 2011

I join with the leaders of other groups in thanking the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the Leader for bringing forward motions Nos. 1 and 2. These will give life to the motion which, though put forward by the Independent group, was worked on by Senators from all sides together. It is great to see this expression of our joint work. I hope we can reap the riches of this in the months ahead and demonstrate the importance of this House.

I ask the Leader to allow time for the House to inform and guide policy and legislation to underpin the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children. In the past week we had the Cloyne report, which was debated during the Order of Business last week. We have had much debate on this matter over the last few days. I send a strong message to all adults that there is only one State authority. If one has reasonable grounds for concern about the abuse of a child one should report it to the HSE or the Garda. That is the only answer.

Yesterday, we saw the conviction of Mr. Michael Ferry, from Donegal. He had been convicted but yet was allowed to continue to work in a school in Derrybeg, Donegal despite that conviction. This resonated with me because I went to summer school in Derrybeg, Donegal.

Later today, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will lay before the Oireachtas the second progress report on the Ryan report, which is something to which the House should give consideration. This report contains 99 actions. It could greatly improve outcomes for children. I note that the Minister, despite previous resistance, decided a few months ago that the oversight group should be more than just a public service group and invited a non-governmental organisation, the Children’s Rights Alliance, to be part of the group. I welcome her decision and I look forward to seeing the report.

It is natural that we Senators should express our hurt, anger or shock at the recent reports, but the House has a stronger role to play. We need to remember that children are being abused in Ireland today. This is not about the past. It is about the here and now. On Friday, the Minister published Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children, and will bring forward legislation. The House could help inform that legislation. We should have a debate on what needs to be done. There is fear among the public about statutory reporting. We should also talk about mandatory protection to ensure that State agencies co-operate and share information.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on what the Seanad can do to underpin the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children in Ireland today.

Address by President of the European Parliament

12th July 2011

I welcome President Buzek to Seanad Éireann. It is an honour for me to speak to somebody who is such a great defender of human rights and European values. I have heard him say that: “There is no ‘us’ and ‘you’. We can say loud and clear that. . . Europe belongs to us all”. In this time of recession, however, that feeling of “us” is fast diminishing. I am a committed European and believe we need more of Europe to get us out of this crisis. We need to get the Europe 2020 strategy back on track. However, President Buzek raised the multi-annual financial framework which includes a welcome proposal to set up an interparliamentary conference with national parliaments. That is of interest both to the European Parliament and to us in Seanad Éireann. President Buzek also said that Europe needs a strong and stable budget, but do we need to increase the European budget by 5% at this time? What message does that send to people? The multi-annual financial framework includes proposals to increase its own resources through revenue raising measures such as a financial transaction tax and a new VAT resource. In the current climate, is this really the best way to connect citizens and help engender that feeling of “us”?

I thank President Buzek for his solidarity.