Practical steps must be taken to avoid further abuse horrors

The report of the Commission to Inquire into Childhood Abuse has understandably shocked a nation. The 2,000 plus pages of testimony and findings lay bare a cold, clinical regime of brutality and abuse that was enacted in many of our institutions. The media, quite rightly, has been full of the righteous indignation of the political establishment and the State. However, we in Ireland have a habit of talking the talk, but failing to walk to walk. All too often, as a body politics we shed crocodile tears and then quietly allowing the issue to slip into the margins until another controversy or tragedy brings it to the forefront again. Now is the time for action. The Government, if it serious in ensuring that horrors of this scale and type never occur again, must carry out a few simple practical steps. Firstly, the State must cease resisting the civil claims of many sexual abuse victims, who were abused in schools and other State institutions. There is now ample evidence that the Department of Education and the State was well aware of the behaviour of many of the abusers. Up to now, the State has argued that it shared no liability for the actions of teachers (lay or clerical) who were the responsibilities of their direct employers either boards of management, religious congregations or orders. Secondly, the need for mandatory reporting of suspicions of child abuse is now more obvious than ever. Thirdly, it is now apparent that the religious orders benefited from an extraordinarily generous deal when it agreed with the State to cap their contribution at €127m. The Government must explore every legal avenue to reopen this failed deal. The attitude of the religious orders and congregations to this matter will be crucial in determining their future role in this society. This is a litmus teat that, for their own sake, they must not fail. Will they now be more concerned with protecting their own financial assets than in ensuring fitting and just compensation to the victims of sexual and other abuse? If so, they will be spurned by many people.

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