Government to Blame for Laffoy Crisis

Irish Examiner [Ireland]
September 4, 2003

RESPONSIBILITY for the resignation of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy lies squarely at the Government’s door but the Church also stands accused of bogging down the commission investigating child abuse by members of religious orders.

Regrettably, as the Coalition blunders into yet another major political crisis of its own making, fears are growing that the important work of the Laffoy Commission has been scuppered.

Not for the first time, Education Minister Noel Dempsey finds himself at the centre of an embarrassing and self-inspired political debacle. Once again, serious questions have to be asked about the minister’s judgment and his handling of difficult and sensitive issues.

Mr Dempsey says he was as surprised as anyone by Ms Justice Laffoy’s resignation and has defended his department’s co-operation with the commission. He also insists he had discussed his proposed review of its workings with Ms Justice Mary Laffoy before nnouncing it on Tuesday. Why then was he so unaware of the depth of her reservations?

His proposal to investigate only sample allegations of abuse instead of the 1,800 complaints brought against religious would make a farce of the inquiry. Sadly, the victims of abuse, who had been given every hope by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that the truth would finally out, have reason to fear that justice may now be denied.

To its shame, the State, and particularly the Department of Education, had for years turned a blind eye to what was going on behind the locked doors and barred windows of religious institutions where the authorities were entrusted with the care of children.

When a shocked nation learned of the appalling treatment of many children by brothers, priests and nuns, the Taoiseach was moved to issue an abject apology to the victims.

There are serious questions about the policy of the religious authorities towards the commission. Naturally, in the interests of justice, alleged abusers must be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.

But the Church is accused by victims of deliberately grinding down the investigation through its highly adversarial approach, fighting each case tooth and nail with a battery or legal representatives.

Unsurprisingly, these charges are rejected by CORI, the umbrella group representing members of 21 orders and congregations facing allegations of abuse.

Nevertheless, the perception of obstruction will persist.

According to Mr Dempsey, it will take 11 years to complete the process at the present pace while legal fees of up to 200 million might be paid to persons against whom complaints had been made. Tragically, several victims have already died since the probe began, some by their own hand. While reducing the time and cost of the inquiry is laudable, there is a disturbing contradiction in the Government seeking to restrict the bounds of a probe established by the State.

By all accounts, there has been a complete breakdown between the commission and the Department of Education, which the commission accused of failing to deliver documents vital to its work. The Government has also ignored requests for additional judges to expedite the investigation.

There is an onus on Government to publish all correspondence relating to the sudden resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy. Regrettably, her departure has dealt a body-blow to hopes of eliciting the truth. The bona fides of the Coalition is in question.


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