Micheal McDowell, Minister for Justice.
by Tom Brady in The Irish Independent
THE GOVERNMENT is to set up a new system of inquiry with statutory powers into allegations of clerical child sex abuse, it was learned last night. The head of the investigation will have powers similar to a company inspector and the inquiry will be held in private.
Proposals on alternatives to tribunals are due to be put before the Government by Justice Minister Michael McDowell at a Cabinet meeting next Tuesday. It is understood the minister will bring a memo to the Cabinet meeting outlining his view on how an inquiry should operate.
It will deal not only with the clerical scandal that has emerged in the Dublin archdiocese but also with crimes that have been committed throughout the State.
The inquiry will have legal powers to compel people to co-operate with the investigation and is said to be similar to the probe carried out by senior counsel George Birmingham into complaints of clerical sex abuse in the diocese of Ferns but with statutory powers.
The minister and senior officials from his Department have spent the past month examining how to proceed with steps to unravel the full extent of the scandals after deciding initially to avoid knee-jerk reactions.
A special garda investigation, led by the head of the national bureau of criminal investigation, Det Chief Supt Sean Camon, is already tracking down those responsible for covering up the abuses.
The minister underlined last month that the decision to take some time to establish what type of inquiry should be held was not a recipe for inaction but marked a determination to ensure that whatever measures were adopted, including a State inquiry, would be effective in tackling the issues.
He declared that he was not afraid of a bang of the crozier and was prepared to go anywhere and do anything to pursue those guilty of child abuse.
Mr McDowell has already expressed the view that it would be helpful if Cardinal Desmond Connell indicated that he supported the view taken by other senior clerics that he would obey civil law if it came to a conflict with canon law.
The minister advised the Catholic Church that its canon law had the same status as that of a golf club and did not have superior rights to the civil law of the land. He also criticised an interpretation of church law, authorised by Cardinal Connell, which discouraged bishops from threatening paedophile priests with dismissal.
The memo to government next week will also warn that the Government must be careful not to do anything which would in any way diminish the chances of criminal prosecutions being brought successfully.
The minister has also been seeking further advice on the adequacy of existing criminal law to deal with those who failed to report details of sexual abuse.
He said that any religious organisation whose members came into contact with young people owed those minors a duty to save them from violation and degradation.
The Garda team, meanwhile, has been given a wide-ranging brief that encompasses past inquiries and fresh complaints.
The team also has the power to examine allegations that clerics and others prevented efforts to report an abuse or conspired to block a proper investigation in the past.
Posted by paul at November 20, 2002 11:44 AM
A series of new inquiries are being pursued by the team, which has a special telephone hotline (6663437) at Harcourt Square in Dublin.