Posts Tagged ‘child abuse’

HSE Dublin North East Region and complaints of child abuse

Yesterday’s Sunday Tribune reports that from 2006-2008, the HSE‘s Dublin North East Region received 33 complaints of physical or sexual abuse from children in foster care, none of which resulted in criminal prosecutions. The article states:

In two of the most serious instances, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) opted not to pursue a criminal case despite HSE and garda investigations into the complaints and the removal of one of the foster couples concerned from the HSE’s fostering register.

At least seven other allegations of physical or sexual abuse were also noted as “confirmed” following investigation by the HSE’s own childcare experts. But none led to a criminal prosecution or conviction.

While of course there is no way of knowing whether any of these allegations were well founded, the figures highlight the importance of a thorough and sensitive investigation in the prosecution of child abuse. Children in care (the vast majority of whom are in foster care) have already suffered through neglect, abandonment and/or physical or sexual abuse. The Gardai and HSE social workers play a critical role in interviewing the child and empowering him or her to provide a statement that can ground a prosecution. Due to the secretive nature of the offending, prosecutions for child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, often pivot on the complainant’s account of events. The importance of gaining a detailed statement from the child cannot be underestimated; it will form the basis on which the DPP will decide whether or not to charge the suspect, it will form the notice of evidence to the accused on the Book of Evidence and, if the matter proceeds to trial, it is the statement around which the examination and cross-examination of the child will centre.

The crucial nature of the initial statement was recognised as far back as 1992, in section 16(1)(b) of the Criminal Evidence Act. That section provides for the videotaping of a child’s statement and the subsequent playing of that videotape at the trial. Inexplicably, however, given the probative advantages (from both a defence and a prosecutorial perspective) to be gained from having the child’s statement on record from day one, the section was not commenced until October 2008. While some members of the gardai and the HSE social workers have been trained to carry out videotaped interviews (see  Úna Ní Raiftearaigh, S.C.’s excellent article in the Bar Review last November), the exact figures are far from clear. Furthermore, not every child in foster care has a social worker assigned to him or her directly – for example, only 40% of children who are fostered by their relatives are currently assigned a social worker  (see the Health Information Quality Report into Children in Care , about which I blogged here), making the issue of reporting even more difficult for these children. If Irish society is serious about tackling the sexual abuse of children, it is essential that the authorities facilitate courageous children who seek to engage with the criminal justice system.  A first step would be the development of a coherent policy on collaboration between the HSE and the Gardaí on investigating and interviewing children in care who report abuse. As well as addressing the psychological and communication difficulties facing child complainants in abuse cases, the policy might also deal with the gathering of independent material and other corroborative evidence.

(See here for Nicola Carr’s blog about children in care and the proposed Constitutional Amendment on Children’s Rights as part of last Friday’s Children’s Rights Referendum blog carnival.)

The Murphy Commission Report from a Legal Pluralist Perspective

November 26, 2009 2 comments

Having read the Murphy Commission report I wanted to quickly summarise what it shows. The summary is very much coloured by my own research interests, which focus on the relationship between civil and religious law and is not intended to be comprehensive. Some of the main issues raised by the report are:

  • The nature of the interaction between canon and civil law in the governance of priests who had abused children. This is of relevance to the behaviour of individual agents within the church, who knew canon law but ignored relevant principles, and who favoured canon over civil law.  Many of the churchmen involved in the mass coverup of child sex abuse within the church were qualified lawyers.  The operation of canon law in relation to child sex abuse within the diocese is outlined in Chapter 4 of the report.
  • The interaction between churchmen’s loyalty to the state as citizens and fidelity to the church, and the consequences when there is a perceived conflict between them.
  • The effective construction in Ireland of a parallel legal system – with canonical trials and rules of its own about evidence and secrecy and culpability, riven with disputes about interpretation and content  – beyond the reach of civil law, which was capable – through ‘soft’ structures of government and police deference and societal respect, trust and fear  of isolating itself from the criminal justice system. That isolation was actively reinforced every time an abuse took place and those in power responded inappropriately.
  • The manner in which that parallel system was bolstered by undue deference to the church, and the relationship between that ‘soft’ deference and the hard law governing the relationship between church and state in Ireland. Did the church-state relationship and the tendency of successive governments towards the privatisation of church affairs insulate both church and state from responsibility to children?  The report seems to favour a more interventionist state, which has influence over certain aspects of church affairs. It refers to the secular functions performed by the church and the attendant blurring of the boundaries between church and state.
  • The ‘complicity’ of other areas of domestic law in bolstering the harm done under canon law. Criminal law (see Appendix 2 to the Report), the law of evidence in relation to legal privilege, rules of procedure where delay has occurred in processing a prosecution, and child protection law are obvious candidates, but we should think too about how insurance law contributed to the church’s aim of preserving its assets.
  • The effect of parallel legal systems on minority members of religious groups, such as children and the role of the civil legal system in providing an effective and empowering space within which victims of resultant harm can disrupt prevailing power relations within a religious group. One victim is mentioned as saying of the Archdiocesan officials: “you deal with me when I’m a threat to you legally but when I’m not a threat to you, you ignore me”.

What the Murphy Commission Report tells us is that impunity is produced by interaction between civil law and minority laws – in the work of individual legal subjects and in the actions of the state.

We have some in-house contributors who can post on a number of these issues, and you can expect commentary in due course. However, if any reader -in Ireland or elsewhere – has expertise enough to contribute a guest post on these or related topics you are most welcome to email maireadenright[at] within the next 10 days or so with your proposal.

Implementation of the Ryan Report and Protection of Children in Care

November 19, 2009 5 comments

Following the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (“the Ryan Report”) in May, Irish society has had to confront the appalling history of abuse, both sexual and physical in State-run institutions. The Ryan Report’s finding (Executive Summary at p. 21) that child abuse was endemic in Irish industrial schools for boys is shocking and difficult to grasp in its magnitude. The publication of the much anticipated Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese (about which Pádraig posted here), will almost certainly compound the public sense of anger and frustration that the most vulnerable in society were victimised in the most horrific ways. In this climate of justified anger and shock, it is important to remember that the welfare of the children who are currently in State care is of paramount importance.

In this context, the recent publication of the Health Information Quality Authority National Children in Care Inspection Report is an urgent and timely reminder of the need for better policies and safeguards for the protection of children in State care. The Report reviews the findings of 38 inspections carried out by the Authority in 2008 of children’s residential care centres operated by the HSE and of foster care services operated in a HSE region. Read more…

Bacik on the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004

October 30, 2009 Leave a comment

The Irish Times also reports that the High Court will give its final ruling next week on exactly how much may be published of the report of the investigation into the handling by Catholic Church and State authorities of child sex abuse allegations against clerics in the Dublin archdiocese.  Padraig has blogged about the case here. Labour Senator and Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin, Ivana Bacik has released a statement in which she calls for an an urgent debate on the operation of section 38 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. Senator Bacik writes:

“The Minister has sought directions from the High Court under section 38 of the Act. The High Court has already ordered the deletion of one chapter of the report, and further directions are now being sought from the Court. I am very concerned about the lack of fairness in the procedures under section 38. The hearing is in private, with no media present. The only persons represented are the State authorities – in this case, themselves under investigation – and any defendants in relevant criminal proceedings, ie alleged abusers… Section 38 does not give any right to be heard, for example, to the survivors or victims of abuse, or the Commission itself. Yet the effect of the section could be to compromise the reports of commissions of investigation, by ensuring that they are neutered before they are published. There is a clear public interest in reviewing the operation of section 38, to ensure greater rights to representation and greater transparency in the process.”

High Court Rules Dublin Archdiocese Abuse Report be Partially Published

October 15, 2009 1 comment

fourcourtsThe flow of information and inquiry on institutional abuses in the church continues to change from a trickle to a torrent after Mr Justice Paul Gilligan in the High Court ruled that most of the report of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation into the handling by the Catholic Church authorities of child sex abuse allegations against priests in the diocese may be published. The report was compiled followed an investigation by the Commission into how clerical child sex abuse allegations involving a sample of 46 priests were handled by Catholic Church authorities in Dublin between January 1st, 1975, and April 30th, 2004. Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern referred the report on the Attorney General’s advice it to the High Court to seek direction because some of the individuals concerned are facing or may face criminal proceedings (Under section 38 of the Commission of Investigation Act 2004, the Minister for Justice must seek directions from the High Court if it is felt publication of a commission report might prejudice criminal proceedings, pending or in progress). Mr Justice Gilligan ruled that chapter 19 of the report or any references to the subject matter of Chapter 19 can not be published until the court directs. Significantly, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has said his “personal preference would be for the report to come out quickly and in its integrity because, reading it in its integrity, the question emerges better”. The difference between Archbishop Martin and his predecessor Cardinal Desmond Connell on these issues could not be greater. While prevarication, obfuscation and denial were the default positions of the latter, Martin has followed in a trend visible in other similar powerful state or quasi-state centres of abuse like armies and secret police services in liberalising societies in realising the justice and psychosocial healing that can flow from such inquiries. It is regrettable that other dioceses have not been as pro-active on the issue. The victim’s group One in Four have urged full publication of the report in due course.

No redress for ‘former employees’ of Magdalen laundries

September 18, 2009 12 comments

Magdalene2The Irish Times reports today that Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, has said that former residents of Magdalen laundries are not eligible for compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board. Mr O’Keeffe was replying in a letter to Tom Kitt TD, who had made representations to the Minister concerning former residents of the laundries.

He did so on behalf of James Smith, associate professor at the English department and Irish studies programme in Boston College and author of Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment, (2008, Manchester University Press). In his letter, Mr O’Keeffe stated that ‘in terms of establishing a distinct scheme for former employees of the Magdalen laundries, the situation in relation to children who were taken into the laundries privately or who entered the laundries as adults is quite different to persons who were resident in State-run institutions.’

An exception to this, he said, would be children who were transferred from a State-regulated institution to a Magdalen laundry and suffered abuse while resident there. This differentation was justified was on the basis that the State was still responsible for the welfare and protection of children transferred to a Magdalen laundry from a State-regulated institution ‘provided they had not been officially discharged from the scheduled institution’. In doing so, the Minister perpetuates the historical failure of the State to recognise and give effect to its responsibility to ensure the protection of adult occupants of the Laundries.

Read more…