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‘Just another report on another shelf’

One year ago this Thursday, Justice Sean Ryan published the long-awaited results of his report into child abuse at church-run industrial schools and orphanages, where rape and abuse of children was found to be ‘endemic’. As the anniversary approaches, John Downes asked a variety of people for their thoughts on what progress, if any, has been made since then

Christine Buckley, Abuse survivor and co-founder of the Aislinn centre
Alan Shatter, TD, Fine Gael spokesman on children
Barry Andrews, Minister for children
Paddy Doyle, Abuse survivor and author of ‘The God Squad’
Jillian van Turnhout, Chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance
Maeve Lewis, Executive director of One in Four

Christine Buckley – Abuse survivor and co-founder of the Aislinn centre

20 May 2009 is a day etched in my memory forever. I grabbed the report’s executive summary and fled to a nearby hotel. Despite reading the document three times I still could not believe that we at last had been vindicated.

The outrage of society propelled the religious to do what was morally right. The second tranche of money [from the religious orders], €110m, is disappointing. Nevertheless under the secrecy deal they were not compelled to make further contributions.

Of the 16 congregations involved in this process, 14 have stressed the establishment of a trust fund, “to offer and provide support to people who have experienced institutional care and their dependents and as a mark of genuine regret for suffering experienced”. We welcome the fact that religious organisations have been asked to contribute €200m towards redress costs, particularly in these recessionary times.

But the Magdalene women should never have been excluded from the redress board and I’m hoping that the government finds a way to pay redress money to these women because it’s a disgrace.

Alan Shatter- TD, Fine Gael spokesman on children

I think there have been a lot of promises made by government but in reality very little has been delivered. In the context of the child protection services, we know they are still seriously dysfunctional and fragmented.

The implementation plan published by Minister Andrews was worthy. But very little has happened since. For example, the HSE’s managerial culture and child-protection structures are still grossly ineffective, and legislation for the use of soft information for vetting purposes has still not been introduced. I believe 12 months on from its publication, very little has changed on the ground. There have been one or two initiatives, but there is still a lack of transparency in the running of the HSE. The failed attempts to cover up the case of Tracey Fay illustrates the change of ethos which needs to occur.

This government is paying lip service to child protection, but hasn’t taken the action required. If you compare the speed with which the complex Nama legislation was enacted in the House, with the failure utterly to legislate post Ryan, you get a true picture of this government’s priorities.

Barry Andrews – Minister for children

The government accepted in full the 20 recommendations contained in the Ryan report. The recommendations were framed to recognise and support the victims of past abuse and to ensure that children in state care today are supported and the events of the past are not repeated.

I was asked by government to formulate a plan that would comprehensively respond to the recommendations contained in the report. The 99-point implementation plan went beyond the Ryan recommendations and proposed wide reform of our child-protection services. That plan was widely welcomed by children’s organisations and is, I believe, a road map to improved children’s services.

In order to support and realise the commitments in the plan, the government allocated €15m as part of the budget last December.

This specific financial allocation will provide for a range of improvements including the recruitment of 265 additional frontline child-protection staff, extra aftercare services and enhanced oversight of the Children First Guidelines.

Paddy Doyle – Abuse survivor and author of ‘The God Squad’

In the year since the publication of the Ryan report not a lot has happened by way of bringing the culprits of horrendous deeds to book. On the contrary, the paedophiles that are still alive received the protection of Mr Justice Ryan who allocated them pseudonyms. This raises serious and very troubling questions apart from the obvious one as to why they should be so protected. Where are these people now? Do they have access to children? Why are they not on the sex offenders’ list?

While nobody would disagree that the Ryan report is a damning indictment of the religious orders and the state, we must ask why it is that, one year on, nothing of substance has been done to remove religious orders from the teaching and the care of children.

Apologies have become tedious and meaningless at this point in time and serve only to irritate those of us who were the children who bore the brunt of perverts and deviants into whose care we were placed. Like many reports in the past there is every chance the Ryan report will be just another report on another shelf. That appears to be where it is now heading.

Jillian van Turnhout – Chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance

The government’s Ryan Report Implementation Plan is critical to ensure that the abuse suffered by children at the hands of those tasked with caring for them can never, ever, happen again.

The Children’s Rights Alliance believes the plan to be excellent and can, if implemented, make a real difference to children’s lives. For that reason we awarded it a ‘B’ grade in our Report Card 2010.

That said, commitments alone do not equal action: plans and recommendations are meaningless without the political will and resources to make them real. The government must maintain its commitment to act with urgency on the promises made. To date, there has been some progress. Depressingly, however, some deadlines have already been missed or are looming large – and unless the government takes action immediately, they will be missed too… We are yet to be convinced government is truly committed to children’s rights. Setting a date for a referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the constitution is a real test of the government’s commitment to children.

Maeve Lewis – Executive director of One in Four

At One in Four we have had three times as many clients as normal in the past year. The long-term impact of childhood abuse has been revealed as people disclose lives filled with anguish, suffering and struggle.

With skilled support, pain can be transformed into wellbeing. Survivors deserve no less, but as a society we choose to fund professional services meagrely.

The children in the institutions were not invisible, and we must question how we allowed ourselves to be silent witnesses, never challenging what we saw. Perhaps because of our colonial past, we have no tradition of personal or collective accountability for the type of society in which we live. The same passivity persists today, as we permit children to live at risk of abuse because our disgraceful child-protection system does not function.

The Ombudsman for Children published a damning investigation into that system last week, but it has provoked astonishingly little debate. Our policies regarding children are amongst the most progressive in the world: the problem is that they are not implemented.

May 16, 2010 Sunday Tribune.