Wednesday, April 28, 2004


Let me start by wishing the former Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, a long, happy and healthy retirement. I sincerely hope he takes the time to enjoy doing the things he likes to do now that his retirement from office will afford him more personal time. Both Cardinal Connell, and indeed the former Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Cathal Daly, have both apologised many times for the hurt caused to victims of child sexual abuse by catholic priests and religious. And Cardinal Connell has also apologised for the way in which the church chose to handle allegations of clerical child sexual abuse. Forgiveness may come later, but for now I can accept such apologies - as far as they go.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin says history will see that Cardinal Connell acted in accordance with his own conscience. Quite how history is meant to judge whether anyone ever acted in accordance with his or her conscience is beyond me. It may well suit the incoming Archbishop of Dublin to wait for the hand of history to bestow a glowing reference on the outgoing Archbishop of Dublin but in the meantime there is to be a state inquiry, if that's okay with both of them, and what is more important is whether Cardinal Connell and others in the church acted in accordance with the laws of the land, as the rest of us are required to do.

People have asked me many times in recent months what I think of Archbishop Martin and my answer is always the same - I'll tell you when I see the extent to which the Archdiocese of Dublin co-operates with the upcoming inquiry under his leadership. This inquiry will be a real indicator as to whether or not the new Archbishop is 'the breath of fresh air' some people are hailing him as. It will also indicate whether or not I am foolish to accept the Cardinal's apologies - because if he doesn't co-operate fully and honestly then such apologies amount to nothing.

Archbishop Martin has said he will sell whatever assets are needed in order to pay compensation to victims of child sexual abuse by priests. Some twenty acres of prime land around Clonliffe College has been mentioned which must be worth millions of Euro. I suspect the Archbishop was referring to the compensation being paid out as a result of abuses committed by diocesan clergy. But it would also be a welcome start to his period in office if he took the time to liase with his colleagues in the religious orders and if together they agreed to revisit the disgusting deal these orders have made with the government which leaves the taxpayer picking up the lion's share of the compensation bill to be paid as a result of abuses committed by Christian brothers and other religious.

As it stands the financial liability of the religious orders has been limited by the government, in an act of political expediency, to 127million Euro leaving the taxpayer to pick up the balance which the Comptroller and Auditor General as estimated will be several hundred million Euro more. How can it be right to apologise for the wrongs one has committed but leave it to others to foot any subsequent bill ? Let the diocesan authorities and the religious orders make an offer to the outgoing (it's only a matter of time) Minister of Education Mr Noel Dempsey to put this matter right. This too will help the rest of us to distinguish between empty words and genuine remorse.

Monday, February 2, 2004


Despite all we know, or think we know, about child sexual abuse and the Catholic Church in Ireland it is still shocking to read a report into the 'care' of children by 'Religious' which contains words like Rape, Starvation, Buggery, Deprivation, Cruelty and Brutality. And while this Commission of Inquiry still has much work to do under it's new Chairperson Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, the outgoing Chairperson Justice Mary Laffoy found the testimony of witnesses to be truthful and honest and their reasons for speaking to the Commission to be wholly altruistic.

In contrast Justice Laffoy is critical of the way the Religious Congregations look to have allegations made against them subject to strict proof of facts even where the allegation made is a matter of historical record in the Department of Education's own files. She gives a very compelling example of a Complainant to the Inquiry who alleges that she was not properly fed in an Institution in the 1940s. It is a matter of record that during the period of the Complainant's residence in the Institution, the Medical Inspector of the Department found that the food was very bad, there had been a curtailment in diet and the children had not put on any weight. Records show that the Department sought, and got, the removal of the Resident Manager of the Institution by the relevant Religious Congregation. Yet today that same Congregation, in its response to the Laffoy Commission, is requiring that details of nutritional standards of the time be the subject of expert testimony. Justice Laffoy's view is that if the Religious Congregations really had a genuine desire to co-operate then admitting to matters of indisputable fact would be the way to do so. She also points out that the if the Congregations continue as they are then there are implications for the duration and cost of the Inquiry.

Justice Laffoy is also not satisfied that since the Commission's establishment it has received the level of co-operation it is entitled to expect to receive from the Department of Education and Science and its Minister, Noel Dempsey TD. It has experienced difficulty in securing compliance with its statutory requests by the Department. On two occasions she has had to direct that the Secretary General of the Department to attend the Commission because of the Department's non co-operation. The Department, she says, has not adopted a constructive approach to its role in the Inquiry. In any Government with standards this would be enough to have Minister Dempsey spending more time with his family by now. If he were not so arrogant and self serving he would resign. But in the poor standards of an Ahern led Government, which would have the 'honest decent' (and corrupt) Ray Bourke as Foreign Minister if it could, Mr Dempsey is fit for office. It is a scandal it itself that a Minister and his Department have been found by an independent and respected High Court Judge to have failed to deliver their co-operation to this Inquiry which she is entitled, in law, to expect. And it is testament to the further lowering of standards in political life (courtesy of the party that brought us Haughey, Lawlor and Burke) that the Minister's failure has not prompted Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to immediately remove sponsorship of the Commission from Dempsey and his Department. The Government says it is listening to those victims who gave evidence to the Laffoy Commission and to the organisations who support them but everyone of those organisations, and it's not often they agree on anything, has demanded that sponsorship of this Commission be removed from the Department of Education and Science and the time for the Taoiseach to act accordingly is NOW.