Minister Fitzgerald Welcomes Publication of the HSE Diocesan Audit Report
Audit highlights recent improvements. Minister says focus must remain on addressing the need for ongoing improvements.
Minister reaffirms Government’s commitment to protecting children through stronger legislation, more effective services and changing the Constitution
Thursday 11th October 2012
Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, today (11th October 2012) welcomed the publication of the HSE diocesan audit report. The report is available on the HSE website (www.hse.ie) and on the website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (www.dcya.gov.ie ).
The audit report represents part 1 of a planned two stage review, and covers child safeguarding arrangements in twenty-four Catholic dioceses. The second stage involves a separate review, currently under way, of safeguarding practice in respect of approximately 150 Congregations/Religious Orders.
The audit was conducted on the basis of voluntary cooperation by the Church authorities. The audit process comprised the provision of completed questionnaires by the Church authorities, together with follow-up engagement by HSE Child Care Managers with individual dioceses. It also involved cross-referencing of information provided with An Garda Síochána. The process differed from that of the Catholic Church’s National Safeguarding Board, which entails a detailed on-site examination of diocesan files and interviews with key personnel.
The Minister acknowledged the work done by the Gordon Jeyes, the HSE’s National Director for Children and Family Services; and his staff in the HSE, in finally bringing the diocesan review to a conclusion.
The Minister said “I am very pleased that this audit is now in the public domain.”
The Minister said that she appreciated that publication of this audit will likely serve as a very painful reminder to many victims of the abuse they suffered.
The Minister believes that this audit, together with reports published in recent years in relation to the Diocese of Ferns, the Dublin Archdiocese, the Diocese of Cloyne, and the recent Church Safeguarding Board reviews, have contributed to a significant body of knowledge on the subject of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland and the ongoing initiatives and efforts to improve child protection practice in the Church.
The Minister acknowledged that the Audit highlights recent improvements, but she said the “focus must remain on addressing the need for ongoing improvements; in particular in those Dioceses identified by the audit as requiring further work.”
The Minister stated that she “remains concerned by some aspects of the report’s findings”.
In particular, the report identifies difficulties in categorising allegations with accuracy in terms of the time taken to report the allegations to the civil authorities. This applies particularly to allegations that were retrospective in nature. There were significant delays in reporting allegations to the civil authorities in the case of some of the dioceses. Also, in some instances dioceses had stated in their audit returns that they had reported all allegations promptly, but the HSE found that this was not the case.
The Minister acknowledged that the Audit found that “there has been a marked improvement in Church child protection practices in recent years, in particular since the Church’s new ‘Safeguarding Children’ standards were introduced in 2009.”
The Minister welcomed the finding that the practice of responding to immediate risk to children was found to be generally good and is given priority. The review found that prompt action has been taken by Bishops to remove priests from ministry where allegations have been made.
“I wish to commend those in roles of leadership in the Church for their determination in guiding improvements I also wish to commend all those members of the laity, in voluntary positions in parishes right across the State for their efforts to ensure that best practice in child protection is adhered to.”
However the Minister commented that it was clear that some dioceses have further steps to take to improve their child protection policies and practice and the Minister made clear that “there is no room for complacency.”
The Minister commented that “while progress is welcome, ensuring implementation of best practice must remain an ongoing and continuing priority.”
“This Government is committed to protecting children through strengthening laws, including putting Children First on a statutory footing; delivering more effective services, including through establishment of the new Child & Family Support Agency; and through changing the Constitution.
The HSE audit does not recommend the referral of further dioceses to a Commission of Inquiry. Instead it recommends that the focus should be on the State applying “its resources to intervene and work with all dioceses in a systemic way to address the shortcomings outlined” and “to achieve closer monitoring by the State of dioceses”.
Responding to the audit’s specific recommendation on intervening and working with all dioceses, the Minister believes that the most effective use of resources is in ensuring that current monitoring arrangements in relation to Church safeguarding practices are robust and that sufficient levels of protection exist for children who come into contact with the Church.
The Minister noted that at her request Mr. Gordon Jeyes, the HSE’s National Director for Children and Family Services (and CEO-designate of the new Child and Family Support Agency), has developed a very close working relationship with Mr. Ian Elliott, CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC). The purpose of this engagement is to ensure that the Church has in place all necessary structures and practices to safeguard children, and that it is operating in accordance with the provisions of the Children First National Guidance.
The Minister stated that “this engagement will continue to be prioritised within the new Child and Family Support Agency when established from January, 2013, with a particular focus on dioceses where shortfalls have been identified. The imperative is to ensure that current safeguarding practices within the Catholic Church are in line with Children First National Guidance and the Church’s own guidelines. Ensuring compliance with Children First will be a key priority for the new Agency.
The Minister noted that the work of both the HSE and NBSCCC in auditing and reviewing the Religious Orders and Congregations is not complete. The Minister said that it was critical that this work would be brought to a conclusion as speedily as possible; so as to provide a complete picture of child protection practices and compliance.
Arising out of publication the Minister is mindful that individuals may come forward to recount painful episodes in their own lives involving members of the clergy. In this context she encourages anybody affected by past abuse to come forward in confidence and to report this abuse to the civil authorities.