Minister refuses to rule out further inquiries
Published 14/07/2011 | 05:00
NEW inquiries into clerical child sex abuse could be launched after a nationwide audit of Catholic dioceses is completed, the Government warned last night.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the Diocese of Cloyne had proven itself to be a "danger to children" by failing to deal with abuse allegations in line with national guidelines.
"You could not rule investigating other dioceses, but at present we're going to put our primary focus on protecting children and ensuring the guidelines are being followed," she said.
The Government is waiting until the outcome of the national audits being carried out by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the church's own child protection body are completed.
They should establish if other Catholic diocese are failing to follow proper procedures for reporting child abuse allegations.
Ms Fitzgerald said the most horrifying aspect of the Cloyne Report was that it was not about the Ireland of 50 years ago, it was about now.
"The new legislation being brought in by this Government means that anyone who stands by, will stand trial," she said.
As part of the Government's response, there will be jail sentences for those who fail to report suspected abuse of children and legally binding "Children First" rules.
It also emerged last night that child protection services are to be taken away from the HSE and given to an entirely new body.
This body will control social workers involved with children, family support agencies, child detention centre staff and school truancy officers.
There will also be a new handbook distributed to all social workers to clearly inform them of the procedures for dealing with sexual abuse cases.
The Cloyne Report highlighted the row between the Minister for Children's Office and the HSE -- which claimed it did not have the legal power to deal with sexual abuse of children committed by non-family members.
But the Government has again got advice from the Attorney General that the HSE does have this power under the 1991 Childcare Act. And it has ordered the HSE to inform its staff that this is the position.
Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O Caolain called on the Government to get an explanation from the Vatican about why it had given Irish bishops an opportunity to ignore child protection procedures.
Justice Minister Mr Alan Shatter said it was a matter for Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore to have a "conversation" with the Vatican's representative here, Papal Nuncio Dr Giuseppe Leanza.
"I do think it is absolutely crucial that we ensure what the church announces in this State that it intends doing isn't undermined from instructions that come from outside the State by any representative of the Vatican," he said.
Labour Junior Minister Sean Sherlock, who called an investigation into the Diocese of Cloyne back in 2007, admitted it had been a big decision to take on the might of the Catholic Church.
"I'm glad that today has come and the only people I'm thinking about are the survivors. They still haven't had justice," he said.
Fianna Fail children's spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the effort to cover up the abuse suffered by the victims in the Cloyne Report was appalling.
"The pain and full horror of this abuse of trust will leave people across our country deeply upset and angry," he said.