by Bruce Arnold in The Irish Independent
THE meeting between Cardinal Connell, Ken Reilly and Marie Collins, which took place on December 30, was a further twist in the convoluted dishonesty that surrounds and pollutes the issue of child abuse in this state.
Posted by Colm at January 05, 2003 10:28 PM
It had an ameliorative effect on Ken Reilly and Marie Collins, and we should be thankful for that. They have suffered, and they have been brave in making public their anger and disappointment at the behaviour of the Church. To get any kind of response was, for them, welcome. And to have a lengthy meeting with the Cardinal, having not once but many times been the victims of members of his Church, had elements about it of justice.
But it was justice with a very small 'j', and the statement made afterwards was a travesty of the real meaning of that word, currently crushed between the powerful interests of Church and State.
The Cardinal chose an appropriate moment and the media responded with emotional gratitude towards him and the Church for having, as it were, turned a corner. One commentator praised the Church for what he described as a "watershed" of truth and openness.
It was no such thing, of course. It was primarily concerned with matters that were not the worry of the two victims who met Desmond Connell, or of the thousands of other abuse victims. Those victims want the evil people who abused them, and those who protected those people, brought to justice. They want genuine redress, including criminal investigation and prosecution, not just money. While they might also want protection to be introduced - and this was the main subject of the Cardinal's statement - it is a side issue.
So, too, is the apparently ground-breaking decision by the Cardinal and the diocese to co-operate with the police. In October, when Cardinal Connell was desperately trying to shore up the crumbling Hussey Commission, he promised co-operation. In November, when it was revealed that the Cardinal was visiting abusers in various prisons, the commitment to co-operate with any inquiry was made. In this state, the inquiries made by the police are the most significant of all. It is no new thing that came out of the meeting of December 30.
One might have thought the opposite, since all of the organisations dedicated to supporting those people who have been abused remained silent, save one. One might have thought, in particular, that Colm O'Gorman, or Andrew Madden, both of whom seemed such heroes back in October, would have spoken out. Then, they demanded "a criminal investigation into the handling of complaints of clerical child sex abuse in the Dublin archdiocese".
Now they seem, by their silence, to accept the watered down undertakings of the Cardinal in his very imprecise statement of December 30. The only organisation to speak out was SOCA (the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse organisation), and it did so in strong and emphatic terms, condemning what the organisation's leader, John Kelly, called "sanctimonious claptrap" about the child protection service, which is not the issue facing the many victims.
The other organisations, as I have said, remained silent. Since some of these main organisations acting on behalf of abusers have received funding from the Department of Education to help them in their work, this is understandable. SOCA, in contrast, receives no money, is confrontational, is narrowly focused on getting rights and recompense for the abused, and does still want criminal investigation and prosecution for this increasingly dreadful Church-State conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Previously, I was in some doubt about the extent to which the State was acting in tacit support of the Church and of the abusers, rather than of the abused. That doubt is clarifying into a growing suspicion that things are grossly unequal. To begin, there are no grounds for the State to fund organisations that are working to bring the State and the Church before the courts for failure to protect the children that were in their joint care. The care was ostensibly given by the Church, but under law it was controlled by the State and inspected by servants of the State who failed, abjectly, and again and again, to honour their legal obligations.
The money is being given without any legislative backing, and the amounts have not been revealed to the Dail. Nor have the conditions. The control of the funding, some of it outside the State, has no bureaucratic monitoring. At the same time, the established welfare system within the State, the therapists serving abused victims, and the health board structures, remain strapped for cash, many of their employers coming to the end of renewable contracts where they are being told to re-apply for their jobs. This is an outrageous and arguably illegal set of circumstances, and needs urgent address by the Oireachtas.
I give one example of this ministerial largesse. Noel Barry, a former Rosminian, and now the director of Right of Place/Second Chance, stated publicly at the Haringey Irish Centre that he had been positively promised 4.6m from the Department of Education to be used for educational purposes. This money, which one presumes comes from the State's agreement with the Church, signed by Michael Woods, and consisting, in part, of 12.7m for education, is being disposed of at either ministerial or civil service discretion, and without proper Oireachtas monitoring. Such an approach is entirely unacceptable.
I am pleased to be able to say that Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader, has taken up the cause of the abused victims and has already raised some of these issues with the Minister for Education. I hope he will be reinforced in his intentions. He is dealing here with an explosive situation, the full ramifications of which have yet to be explored.
There is worse to report, and again it indicates an approach to the law and legislation that is cavalier. I wrote at the end of last year about the Residential Institutions Redress Act and the operation of the Board. I have since discovered that the whole initiation of this has not followed the Act at all. In fact the Board has been operating since October illegally. At that time, in a letter dated October 25, Judge Kieran O'Connor confirmed that Monday, December 2, was to be the Board's "provisional" Establishment Day.
He was initiating procedures based on that date. The date turned out to be incorrect. This announcement did not redress the problem that the Board had not been properly established. Judge Kieran O'Connor was not chairman of the Board because it had not been formally established by ministerial order and it therefore did not legally exist. However, the Redress Board was prepared to engage with the complaints of the abused. And it did so.
The Board does not have a "provisional" Establishment Day. And the real Establishment cannot be confirmed by a chairman of a board that does not exist legally. The only person who can deal with this is the Minister. He did not sign the Order on December 2. According to Dail Eireann, three orders were signed and sent over on December 19, and they refer to other sections in the Act, and seek to implement actions without the Act itself having been brought into force. For the law to be effective it has to be lodged with the Oireachtas. It does not have legal status lying signed on the minister's desk where no other legislator knows about it.
The Department of Education claims that the minister signed the relevant Order on December 16, but this Order has still not been sent to the Houses of the Oireachtas. In the meantime the working of the Board, the supply of application forms to abused people, the collecting of information - which the Board is at liberty, when properly constituted, to circulate to those institutions - went ahead.
None of this was legal. But it did provide the Department of Education with critical information indicating the likely level of application for redress. This, in turn, helped them to work out the regulations. The chairman, Judge O'Connor, resigned before he was legally appointed. The Board is still not legally in being and will not be until the Order is presented to the Oireachtas.
But victims are being told of their rights, and also of the heavy penalties they face in respect of different aspects of their appeals. One of the most outrageous of these is the use of a legal structure that obtains in civil accident claims, where the lodging of money in court can undermine any plaintiff who decides that a settlement award is not sufficient.
If they go to court afterwards, the Redress Act contains a parallel ruling that will deprive them of their award through the State's lodgement of monies against them. This is contrary to the numerous undertakings given by Michael Woods in the Dail in November 2001, that victims of abuse would be free to pursue legal action in the courts without interference from the Redress Board.
This is so great an enormity as to shatter one's belief that this Act was drafted for their benefit at all. Many of the other sections, which I hope will be appealed in the Dail when it resumes, are an outrage against the natural justice to the abused on which Cardinal Connell and our politicians wax so lyrical. I think I have my finger on the ultimate pulse, but I need more information taking the matter still further.