Abuse probe in crisis as Laffoy quits

THE child abuse inquiry collapsed last night after chairperson Justice Mary Laffoy announced she will resign.

This follows Education Minister Noel Dempsey’s announcement he was to launch a second review of its workings.

The Child Abuse Commission said it will stop hearing evidence immediately because the review would lead to “significant changes” which would affect the workings of the investigation.

Yesterday’s move will raise questions about Mr Dempsey’s handling of the inquiry process, his relationship with the commission and the manner in which the review was initiated and announced.

A statement issued by the commission yesterday said the review would give rise to a situation where evidence currently relevant to the committee would no longer fall within its remit.

“In those circumstances the investigation committee has decided that, for legal, practical and financial reasons, it would be wrong to continue with the gathering and assessment of evidence,” the statement said.

It went on to say the commission has decided it will not use its power to gather any further evidence and it will not plan for any further hearings of the investigation committee.

The sudden announcement was unexpected. It is the second time in recent months that a judge has abruptly decided to resign from a State inquiry, following Justice Feargus Flood’s resignation as chairman of the planning tribunal. The Department of Education would not comment on the resignation last night, other than to say: “This is a matter for Government.”

A department spokesperson was unable to say last night if the High Court judge had been consulted in relation to the review process.

In a brief supplementary statement, Justice Laffoy said she had set out the reasons for her impending resignation in a letter sent to Dermot McCarthy, the secretary general of the Department of An Taoiseach. She said she would resign as soon as the interim report, due to be completed in November, is published.

The development comes a day after the Minister for Education announced he was launching a second review of the commission’s remit. Mr Dempsey said the review was necessary because of the escalating costs and time-frame of the inquiry. He said it could cost upwards of €200 million and last for between eight and 11 years, if it continued under its current terms.

He said the bulk of the costs would be absorbed in legal fees for people against whom accusations are made.

The confidential committee of the commission, which listens to victims’ experiences in confidence, will continue its work.

The inquiry has been hit by controversy since it was set up in the wake of RTÉ’s States of Fear documentary series. Around that time, the Taoiseach also issued an apology to the victims of abuse in religious institutions.

Organisations representing abuse victims had also been critical of the commission. One in Four said delays victims had experienced in achieving meaningful justice were a scandal.

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