Sunday 15 December 2019

Five years on, laws to crack down on abusers are unused

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

LAWS introduced five years ago to crack down on clerical sex abuse have never been used.

Legal sources said the offence of "reckless endangerment" -- which was designed to keep children from being put at risk -- was too difficult to prove.

The laws were introduced in 2006 by Justice Minister Michael McDowell. They were supposed to target clerics and others who shielded abusers and failed to act in the interests of children. But to date, the laws have not been used in a single prosecution.

Legal sources said that the burden of proof was too high -- so the offence was far too difficult to prove in a court of law.

The revelation came as the Government unveiled another layer of legislation in a bid to stem the fallout from the Cloyne Report, which will be debated in the Dail next Wednesday.

This time, the package includes a mandatory reporting requirement, which has put the State on a collision course with the church over fears that it will compromise confessions.

But Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald insisted that there would be no exemptions from the new law, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

"Compliance must be ensured," said Ms Fitzgerald at the launch of the revised 'Children's First' guidelines, which are to be placed on a statutory footing with sanctions, including jail, for anyone who fails to follow the guidelines.

"No exceptions, no exemptions, " she said.

The minister said the church's concerns about breaking the confessional seal would not lead to any exemption from the new reporting regime.

"I'm not concerned, neither is the Government, about the internal laws or rules governing any body. Such a privilege can not be asserted as a defence for a statutory offence," she said.

"The only exception that is likely is where a victim says he or she does not want the offence made known or information relating to that offence to be disclosed."

However, a senior bishop last night insisted that the new laws would have little impact as abusers generally "do not come to confession".

The Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, said: "Anecdotal evidence shows that abusers hardly ever show remorse. Abusers do not admit their wrong. They do not come to confession."

Meanwhile, speaking at the 'Children First' launch, Assistant Garda Commissioner Derek Byrne said reckless endangerment had not been a consideration in any of the files sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions following publication in 2009 of the Ryan Report into institutional abuse.

"That (endangerment) is considered on a case-by-case basis as we submit the files to the DPP," he said, adding that even if charges of reckless endangerment were recommended by gardai, it would not necessarily result in a prosecution.


Some 13 files have been submitted to the DPP following a garda investigation into complaints of abuse and the handling of complaints by church authorities after the Ryan Report was published.

A confidential garda helpline received 181 complaints in total.

Mr Byrne stressed the centrality of the 'Children First' national guidelines to garda policy for the protection and welfare of children.

He added: "The brutal and ugly reality is that there are people in the community who seek to hurt and abuse children.

"Protecting vulnerable children must therefore be a priority for everyone and we in An Garda Siochana will continue to work with the HSE and other agencies to ensure children's safety."

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News