Sunday 22 September 2019

Eilish O'Regan: 'Investigation of historic claims has often had a lower priority'


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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The string of allegations of past abuse revealed by Scouting Ireland yesterday marks the unveiling of more dark secrets from another trusted Irish institution.

But the reality is the investigation of historic cases of child abuse has traditionally suffered.

This is because of the pressing need of social workers with a huge workload to give priority to probing current urgent allegations which may pose an immediate risk to a vulnerable young person.

Last year the former chief executive of Tusla, Fred McBride, said his agency encountered particular challenges in investigating cases which could go back 50 years in some instances.

The traditional training for social workers was for child protection where the threat to a child is immediate.

They have not in the past been skilled or taught to do forensic type interviews of alleged perpetrators, but they are now getting more training in this practice.

Tusla said yesterday it is aware of Scouting Ireland allegations but would not comment further. It said it receives more than 53,000 referrals a year, and "where a referral is received it is screened and assessed as appropriate in line with Children First guidelines".

So far 71 cases of alleged abuse have been uncovered. Most of the alleged perpetrators in incidents between the 1960s and 1980s are dead. We know how overwhelmed social services currently are.

Maeve Lewis, of the One in Four group, said most Tusla areas now have a specialist team of social workers who look at retrospective cases.

"It can be very difficult for them to make a determination about something that has happened so long ago. It usually comes down to the victim saying this and the accused saying that.

"Social workers do not have the same powers as a garda to compel someone to attend for interview. They must engage voluntarily. With no forensic evidence it can be difficult."

A lot of the notifications she makes are returned as "unfounded" - they don't have enough proof.

However, she stressed it is important the reports are made to Tusla because they are on record. It can turn out there were other allegations against the same person.

"Every notification is important in building that sort of evidence.

"Last year we supported 31 clients to trials in the Central Criminal Court about events that happened 20 or 30 years ago."

Offenders tend to continue to abuse until they are caught so, no matter how long ago abuse happened, it is important statutory agencies are made aware.

Where are the accused who are still alive now? They are no longer in Scouting Ireland but do they have access to other children?

Gardaí have yet to announce if they will initiate a special investigation of Scouting Ireland.

Irish Independent

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