Smyth abuse inquiry - Government should act swiftly

The timely call for an independent inquiry into child abuse deserves to be supported by all sides embroiled in the controversy raging over Cardinal Seán Brady’s handling of the appalling sexual exploitation of children by the evil paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth.

To his credit, the embattled cardinal has lost no time voicing his support for the proposal made by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. Cardinal Brady has also apologised publicly to Brendan Boland, who was abused by Smyth, but again refused to stand down.

The Government should give its unequivocal endorsement to Dr Martin’s suggestion. Indeed, the Coalition is ideally placed to reach a position of support at today’s cabinet meeting. This matter is too serious for political posturing. It is a time for decisive action.

An unambiguous expression of the State’s support would open the way for agreement on such basic issues as the event’s framework and parameters, its location and funding, and also the question of participation in the proceedings. It goes without saying that the investigation must be chaired by a person of acknowledged standing and independence. Furthermore, it must be held in the public gaze and be fully open to the media.

The enormous costs associated with long-running tribunals in this country make it imperative to set a definite timeframe for any probe. As the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee proves, it is possible to hold inquiries in a fair and cost-efficient manner.

It is essential to avoid the undue involvement of costly legal representation. If anything is certain, the public is keenly aware that top-heavy legal representation is guaranteed to slow down procedures while running up astronomical bills in the process.

Above all other considerations, an independent inquiry would provide a platform for the victims of abuse to tell their horrific stories of criminal abuse at the hands of a priest who ruined countless lives across four decades and left a dark stain on the recent history of the Catholic Church in Ireland. They would also be in a position to challenge official versions of how complaints were handled.

At the same time, Cardinal Brady will have a forum on which to give his side of the story. It would enable him to explain where he is coming from in this ungodly affair. He knows it will not go away until there is a crystal clear statement of his involvement in abuse investigations.

Without pre-empting such an inquiry, it is fair to say that up to now, the Church’s probes have been widely perceived as self-serving and mainly concerned with sweeping matters under the carpet rather than dealing sympathetically with children who were abused.

While deference to authority is frequently cited to explain why Church representatives dealt with abuse as they did, most people remain dubious about such arguments. Hopefully, if it goes ahead, the inquiry will give the cardinal and other members of the clergy a genuine chance to offer the public more convincing reasons for the Church’s approach to the scandal of sexual abuse of children by Smyth and a legion of priests, brothers, and nuns. It will also give the victims a clarion voice in a public arena.


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