A senior garda officer has been appointed to examine claims of clerical sexual abuse by Irish missionaries in Africa.
A litany of allegations were detailed in RTÉ’s Prime Time Investigates programme against priests working in areas such as Kenya and South Africa.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter expressed revulsion at the catalogue of abuse and has contacted Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
“I share the widespread public concern and disgust at the revelations which the programme contained,” Mr Shatter said.
“While the behaviour took place abroad, we have a solemn duty to do all that is within our power to ensure that perpetrators of this predatory abuse of children are brought to justice wherever it takes place.
“There can be no hiding place for those who do these despicable acts to children.”
Mr Shatter said the superintendent in charge of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit is being appointed to examine the programme.
He will look at whether any criminal behaviour was revealed that could be pursued in this jurisdiction.
The minister said the Sexual Offences Act allows, in certain circumstances, for people to be tried here for sex crimes against a child carried out abroad.
But he warned investigations and bringing prosecutions for offences overseas were very difficult.
“I believe that people are entitled to be reassured that we are doing everything open to us to counteract this evil wherever it takes place, and that the examination which the gardaí will be undertaking should offer that reassurance,” Mr Shatter said.
Gardaí are liaising with the Health Service Executive about any child protection issues that arise from the presence here of people identified in the programme.
Mr Shatter said the gardaí will co-operate with their counterparts in other jurisdictions in any investigations that are carried out.
Support group One in Four said it has been inundated with calls from Irish people and Africans living in Ireland over the programme.
Executive director Maeve Lewis welcomed Mr Shatter’s announcement that he has referred the matter to the Garda Commissioner but called for an independent inquiry with the power to compel witnesses and records.
“The Prime Time programme last night was sickeningly recognisable and told the same story that we are so familiar with in Ireland: vulnerable children being targeted and abused by priests and brothers while the Catholic authorities deny the abuse and protect the sex offenders,” the minister said.
“Missionaries and aid workers occupy powerful positions in the developing world by virtue of their control over the distribution of resources.
“Any abuse of that position is deeply wrong, but using it to groom desperately poor children is utterly evil.
“It is deeply troubling that this abuse is happening right now in societies where there are few resources to protect children or prosecute their abusers.”
Ms Lewis called on the minister to extend the terms of reference of the Murphy Commission to the missionary orders.
“We also call on the Irish Missionary Union to ensure that rigorous child protection guidelines and training be put in place in their member congregations in the developing world,” Ms Lewis said.
“We have a proud history and magnificent record of missionary and development work overseas. But this comes with a duty of care to the countries where we work.
“We need to act now.”