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The future policy of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse

‘If the often spoken principle of reconciliation is a genuine desire of both Government and Catholic Church religious congregations, they must surely realise that this can only happen where is  transparency, honesty and full co-operation with the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse’.

The final decision of Mr. Justice Ryan on the future policy of the Commission to Inquire into child abuse may cause difficulty for some individuals who have experienced abuse while in institutional care. In many cases a criminal trial is not possible due to lapse in time, the death of the alleged offender, or where not enough information exists to trace or prosecute alleged offenders. In these instances many individuals will not receive the justice they were promised in 1999 Government and this will cause very real hurt and anger. It is important in our view that this hurt and anger be accepted as valid and reasonable. Those involved, who were clearly failed in the past by the State, have good reason to believe that the State has once again failed them. The State made promises it could not keep, it assured each person of a hearing and a finding of fact in each case. That this is not possible is something that the women and men who experienced abuse in institutional care will now have to accept. Equally it is important that the State accepts responsibility for its failure to deliver meaningful systems of justice and to live up to its explicit and implicit promises to respond to their needs for justice.

At this point the ability of the Commission to work effectively and in a timely manner depends upon the co-operation of respondents. It is vital that the Commission make clear to respondents that their non co-operation will not be a means by which they avoid the emergence of the true picture of abuse in institutional care. It must also be made clear that those respondents who refuse to co-operate effectively and fully with the Commission, will be subject to sanction. It is vital that the Commission publicly detail the level of co-operation forthcoming from each and every respondent.

It needs to be clear that Government did not deliver on promises it made to victims of abuse both in 1999 and 2000 with the establishment of the Commission. It would be wholly unacceptable for victims who are coming to terms with such major changes to the Commission, to once again find themselves denied justice by an in-effective system of inquiry or by non co-operation on the part of Government Departments and religious congregations.

If the often spoken principle of reconciliation is a genuine desire of both Government and Catholic Church religious congregations, they must surely realise that it can only happen if there is transparency, honesty and full co-operation with the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. Right now victims may be now rocked by the failure to live up to promises made in 1999 and 2000. In our opinion, expectations of reconciliation may be premature, especially given the levels of obstruction, denial and lack of co-operation detailed by Ms Justice Laffoy in her final report of the Commission. Whilst completion of the Inquiry is desperately desired by victims, respondents must first demonstrate the ability and desire to get to meaningful truth before they can expect victims to put trust in a process of reconciliation.

Mr. Justice Ryan highlighted a concern expressed to him by a congregation that if they fully co-operated in the Inquiry and other congregations did not, then those who resisted co-operating may “fair better” in the final report of the Commission. However, the recent ground breaking apology by The Sisters of Mercy would not seem to support this concern, as their apology was received with generosity and respect by One in Four and organisations working to support victims. Far from being vilified the congregation was congratulated. There is little honour or integrity in withholding truth on the basis that any other party might not be willing to be transparent, honest and co-operative. Each congregation is responsible for its’ own actions. If congregations are genuinely committed to truth, if they have any moral integrity, they can demonstrate this by co-operating fully with this Commission.

Given the failure of the criminal justice system to successfully investigate and prosecute crimes against children in institutional care in Ireland, it can only be before the court of public opinion, that victims of institutional abuse can now recieve any justice.


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