The Minister for Justice says it’s unfortunate that we’re again debating this country’s dark history of failing to properly respond to child sexual abuse.
Charlie Flanagan was speaking as the Seanad agreed to the terms of reference in the Commission of Inquiry into Waterford sports coach Bill Kenneally.
He told the Seanad that “It is unfortunate, to say the least, that we are here in this House again, debating another element of this country’s dark history of failing to properly respond to child sexual abuse. Down through the decades, it has been prevalent throughout society; kept secret, kept hidden, through fear, inaction and abuse of power.”
The terms of reference will now go before the Dail and the Cabinet.
The Commission is being established to investigate how complaints or allegations made to Gardaí about Bill Kenneally were handled. Minister Flanagan confirmed that “it will look at what Gardaí knew, when they knew it, what they did and whom they told. If necessary, the Commission will also investigate the responses or actions of a number of identified bodies and persons; the South Eastern Health Board, Basketball Ireland, the Monsignor of the Waterford diocese and any political figures who may have been told, either formally or informally, of the activities of Bill Kenneally.”
“The Government is certainly of the view, and I believe the vast majority of Members of this House will agree, that it is necessary to establish a Commission to investigate and report upon the matters of public concern as set out in the Statement of Reasons.
“The Commission will be located in accommodation sourced by the OPW; Tom Johnson House in Beggars Bush, Dublin 4. This is where persons will be invited to appear before the Commission and to give evidence before the Sole Member.
“There is a process underway to identify suitable Senior Counsel, Junior Counsel, and a Solicitor to assist the work of the Sole Member and the administration of the Commission. Other administrative provisions are being put in place to allow the Commission to begin its work as expeditiously as possible, once the order to establish the Commission is approved by both Houses and the Terms of Reference formally set by Government.
“Based on experience gained from previous Commissions of Investigation, the cost of this Commission is estimated at €1.3million. This figure is sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and I know that Judge Hickson and those appointed to the Commission, and my own officials, will monitor this budget closely and ensure that any costs incurred are reasonable and appropriate in all the circumstances.
Minister Flanagan paid tribute to the vicitims of Bill Kenneally who were in the gallery of the Seanad this afternoon – “the brave men who, in late 2016, came to the then Tánaiste with their harrowing stories. These men had suffered for almost 30 years, but bravely chose to break their silence. Now, they want the truth about whether action could and should have been taken earlier.
“It is my sincere hope that this Commission can get to the truth of all the issues raised by the victims and reflected in the Terms of Reference.
“It would not be right or fair to the organisations or persons who will be subject to the Commission’s enquiries to prejudge any matter that may come before the Sole Member. However, it is fundamentally important that these allegations of inaction, of secrecy, of collusion, are properly investigated, and if found to be true, exposed.
“In modern Ireland, there can be no more hiding of such insidious crimes. I hope that the work of this Commission, and the improvements I am committed to implementing in respect of the rights of victims in sexual abuse cases, can act as a beacon to those living in fear, afraid to speak out against their abuser, be they a family member, a family friend, or a complete stranger.
“I say to all those persons, we are here to listen. We are here to help.”