CHILD abuse remains a serious threat in Ireland despite over a decade of inquires and reports revealing the suffering of tens of thousands of children at the hands of Church and state.
A major study says continuing lack of accountability in key institutions, public discomfort with the subject of abuse, and state reluctance to prosecute those who turned a blind eye to it mean the horrors of the past could be repeated.
The Amnesty International Ireland research was accepted by Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
“We should not fool ourselves into believing that abuse occurred in a sepia-toned Ireland that is dead and gone,” she said.
“It happened long after we knew it was happening.
“It’s easy for us as a society to fall into a trap of believing that the current knowledge of what happened equates to safety.
“The assumption that because we know that abuse can happen, we make it less likely to happen, is fallacy because knowledge is of little use without action.”
Norah Gibbons, the director of advocacy at children’s charity Barnardos, also warned of the “ongoing prevalence of an organisational culture that focuses on the protection of the institution or agency over the protection of children”.
A key finding of the study, which examined the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports into clerical and institutional child abuse, is the failure of the criminal justice system to date to prosecute those in positions of authority who concealed crimes.
Lead author Carole Holohan said: “The reports raise serious questions about the rule of law, given the evidence of deferential treatment shown to priests and bishops by members of the gardaí.”
Solicitor Pearse Mehigan, who also contributed, said every file ever referred to the DPP alleging abuse by clergy and the religious should be reopened and examined to establish “whether or not there were political machinations in force behind the decision-making process”.
“If the failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute criminality on the grand scale revealed in the various reports into clerical child abuse goes unaddressed, then an environment of impunity will continue to exist.”
The In Plain Sight study, which runs to over 400 pages, also catalogues the various forms of abuse and neglect recorded in the four reports and concludes they satisfy the definitions of torture, slavery and cruel and inhuman treatment as laid down under international human rights law.
Amnesty Ireland executive director Colm O’Gorman said: “The human rights violations referred to are some of the greatest human rights violations in the history of this state.”
An accompanying opinion poll revealed the public’s ongoing difficulty with the subject of child abuse.
It found that 58% of adults felt helpless to deal with the issues raised in the four reports, 50% believed society at large would prefer to turn a blind eye to child abuse, and 50% said society remained prejudiced against children who were in the care of the state.
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