Abuse inquiry and report: We have not learned from past scandals

YESTERDAY, two events dealing with abuse inflicted on the vulnerable, one at either end of the island, one historical, the other contemporary, brought into question our ability to learn from our mistakes. 

Abuse inquiry and report: We have not learned from past scandals

Indeed, the parallels between the traumatic events separated by four decades must bring into question the strength of our commitment to learning from the failures of the past, especially around how those unable to live independently are treated.

Speaking at the Historical Abuse Inquiry in Banbridge, Co Down, former cardinal Seán Brady, who retired on age grounds last year, admitted that clerics investigating child sexual abuse were bound to secrecy so the Catholic church’s “good name” could be protected.

The senior cleric faced fierce criticism after it emerged he had been at meetings where two teenage victims of predatory paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth were sworn to secrecy in 1975. Their evidence was not passed to police and the monster Smyth continued to abuse, in his own words, hundreds of children.

Expressing his regret for his part in the scandal, Brady apologised to all victims of clerical abuse.

That apology must be accepted as heartfelt but it remains, and always will, totally disproportionate to the great hurt inflicted on Smyth’s victims, many of whom would have been spared their ordeal if Catholic authorities had recognised the primacy of the civil authorities in these matters.

New guidelines have been introduced to make sure this kind of criminal collusion is never repeated, but it might be overly optimistic to imagine that the problem has been finally and utterly resolved.

One problem that is just beginning to come to light in an ever more forceful and disquieting way is the scandal of how residents in some homes for the intellectually disadvantaged are mistreated.

Yesterday, another Hiqa report, one of a series at this stage, identified major failures to comply with regulations under 10 of the 14 headings reviewed at Cork’s Cope Foundation. The report was published on foot of an unannounced inspection.

Last November, Hiqa strongly criticised management for serious and significant non-compliance and was assured that the failings would be addressed.

However, an unannounced inspection in March found that 35 out of the 39 actions agreed had not been progressed satisfactorily. This is little short of scandalous, and management at the facility must consider their position. They should also consider how the families of those entrusted to their care will react to the report.

Many will want Cope management to resign, others will call for a sterner response, one involving the gardaí.

It is unlikely though, that resignations will be offered and this will, once again, highlight how very feeble our health service is when it comes to dealing with employees who consistently fall short of the standards that define professional levels of performance and humane, respectful treatment of individuals.

There are two obvious lessons: As the Banbridge hearings and the Hiqa report show, powerful institutions cannot be trusted to police themselves effectively and all Hiqa inspections should be unannounced.

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