Spokesperson on Education and Science
The Institutional Child Abuse Bill we are launching today is part, but only a part, of an attempt to acknowledge the failure of the State and of religious congregations to protect children from abuse, the pain and suffering they endured and that the Ryan Report vindicates their claims of abusive crimes committed against them by members of religious congregations and others while they were ostensibly in State care or under State supervision.
It goes without saying that the Bill is not of itself a full or satisfactory response. It should also be acknowledged that nothing we can do would undo the damage done to so many children in institutions or adequately compensate them for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect and wanton cruelty recorded by the Ryan Report in 216 schools and institutions.
However, in the Bill we are trying to deal with a number of specific issues of serious concern to the survivors of abuse that have been raised with Labour Party TDs by individual constituents or publicly by representative groups.
The publication of the Ryan Report shocked Irish society to its core and created a new understanding understand that the abuses carried out in these institutions have left a enduring legacy of pain and suffering. There is now a groundswell of public goodwill towards those who suffered abuse and a desire to see their outstanding grievances addressed.
The proposals in the Bill are set out in easily understandable form in the ‘Principal Features’ document included in your press pack, but I would like to refer to a few of them.
One of the principal complaints we have received is that some people for very legitimate reasons missed out on the deadline for applications to the Redress Board. This issue has particularly been raised with us by groups in Britain who represent people who simply did not know about the existence of the Redress Board or who were simply too ill or traumatised to be able to apply. Others were excluded because they were abused in an institution which was not listed in the Schedule to the Redress Act. Others lost out because, although they were underage under the law as it stood at the time they were in institutions, they would not be considered to be underage in modern law.
Our Bill seeks to correct all these defects. It also deals with concerns of abuse survivors that, in some way, they have a criminal record by virtue of having been committed to one of these Institutions. The Bill proposes that those persons must be treated for all purposes in law as persons who have not committed or been charged with or prosecuted for or convicted of or sentenced for any offence. Their records will, in other words, be wiped clean.
The Bill proposes the deletion of section 28 (6) of the Redress Act which prohibits an applicant to the Board from publishing any information concerning their application to or their award by the Redress Board, if it refers to any other person or institution by name or could reasonably lead to the identification of another person or an institution. This effectively prohibited applicants from recounting the stories of their childhood.
There have also been reports that both the Redress Board and the Child Abuse Commission may be considering the destruction of documents they hold relating to the testimony or witnesses or other papers. To destroy these documents would add insult to injury for those who suffered abuse.
The Bill insists therefore that, when it comes to making a order for the dissolution of the Board or the Commission, the Minister must include in the order his or her proposals for the maintenance of these records and to provide access to them “as a consistent reminder of the damage done to children whose upbringing, care and welfare was consigned to the State”.
This is a serious effort by the Labour Party to address matters of concern that have been raised with us. We don’t claim any monopoly on wisdom in this area and we would be happy to hear suggestions as to how the Bill might be improved or strengthened. Of course as an opposition party we have only very limited Private Members Time. We would be very happy for the government to take over the Bill and to have in enacted in government time. This would be the speediest and most effective way to proceed.
This statement is very welcome but I come back to the question of a way forward now for the victims of these Institutions
See my letter to Deputy Joe Costello