Irish Government Vows to Continue Probe into Abuse at Catholic Church-Run Institutions

Associated Press, carried in MSNBC [Ireland]
Downloaded September 11, 2003

DUBLIN, Ireland, Sept. 10 Ireland's prime minister and his embattled education chief vowed Wednesday to salvage an investigation into child abuse at Catholic Church-run institutions, but opposition leaders accused the government of sabotaging the probe

Victims groups said they feared the three-year probe would be abandoned after the surprise resignation of Mary Laffoy, a respected judge appointed in 1999 to head the investigation into physical and sexual abuse at church-run schools, workhouses and orphanages since the 1940s.

The groups blamed Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's government for Laffoy's decision to step down.

But following a Cabinet meeting, Ahern and Education Minister Noel Dempsey promised to appoint a replacement for Laffoy to carry on the commission's work of gathering testimony from victims and investigating alleged abusers.

"I hope the message goes out loud and clear from today that the Laffoy commission isn't dead and isn't in a crisis," Dempsey said.

The commission was named to help address one of the great wrongs of 20th-century Ireland abuse by priests, nuns, brothers and other church-appointed officials in children's institutions in this predominantly Catholic nation.

Ahern appointed Laffoy to head the probe after issuing an apology in May 1999 on behalf of the Irish state for its role in allowing the abusive regimes to go unchecked for decades. The commission is trying to reach conclusions on about 1,800 disputed cases of abuse.

In her Sept. 3 resignation letter, Laffoy principally blamed the government for making her investigation impossible. The government withheld publication of her letter until Tuesday, when it also published a 5,000-word rebuttal.

Pat Rabbitte, leader of the opposition Labor Party, called Wednesday on other opposition leaders to join in a motion of no confidence in Ahern's government.

Rabbitte said the government had "displayed a deep level of incompetence in the way it has handled the commission. ... The legal and constitutional mess that has now been created will continue to blight the lives of victims."

Ahern and Dempsey insisted the government must publish an amendment to the 2000 law that empowered Laffoy's commission, because its work was taking too long and costing too much.

But they said the bill couldn't be presented until Ireland's two highest courts ruled on a lawsuit by the major teaching order, the Christian Brothers.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the commission's policy of identifying dead Christian Brothers who have been accused of committing abuse. The order insists their identities should be kept confidential because they had no opportunity to defend themselves.

Dempsey said the government must redefine the commission's probe to curtail costs and guarantee a speedier conclusion. He estimated the current approach would mean a potential cost to taxpayers of $220 million and no report until 2011. The commission was supposed to have finished its work last year.

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