Govt must examine State’s role in abuse at schools ‘in interest of justice’

Govt must examine State’s role in  abuse at schools ‘in interest of justice’

The Government must expand any further inquiries into abuse at schools to include the Department of Education and the education system as a whole to achieve “justice for all” religious have warned.

The call comes as a scoping inquiry into historical sexual abuse in day and boarding schools run by religious orders moves forward, led by senior counsel Mary O’Toole.

The inquiry has been criticised by abuse survivors and victims for failing to take into account historical instances of abuse in other settings, such as Church of Ireland and secular schools.

At a meeting between Ms O’Toole and the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious in Ireland (AMRI), Sr Mary Hanrahan PBVM called on the Government to examine the State’s role in historical abuse.

The AMRI vice-president said it is “in the interests of fairness and justice” for all to expand the remit of further inquiries.

“The remit of any further inquiry in this regard should be broad enough to examine the education system as a whole, including the Department of Education,” she said in introductory remarks to the meeting with Ms O’Toole in All Hallows on January 9.

“Just looking at sexual abuse in religious run schools will not give a comprehensive picture of the whole situation,” said Sr Hanrahan.

The Government has previously been accused of taking a “sectarian path” by excluding non-Catholic schools from the inquiry.

Several TDs have raised the issue of non-Catholic schools being left out of the inquiry, while Dr Niall Meehan warned the Government has “excluded abuse in a non-Roman Catholic setting. They are deliberately setting out on a sectarian path and they are trying to hide that fact”.

In her address, Sr Hanrahan urged religious and missionary orders to continue cooperating with the current inquiry “in the hope that it will be another important step towards healing and justice for people who were sexually abused in our schools”.

She stressed that AMRI has advocated cooperation from the outset.

“It is a source of great pain and regret for all of us that young people have been harmed in the past in some schools under religious management and patronage,” Sr Hanrahan said.

She continued: “Many sisters, brothers, priests and laypeople feel a sense of betrayal and shame in the face of such abuse. While today there are stringent safeguarding policies and procedures in place; we need to continue to ask how this abuse of power was allowed to occur?”

Once the scoping inquiry is complete, Ms O’Toole as chairperson will submit a report to the Minister for Education with recommendations on next steps.

Her work will be informed by reports and inputs from experts across a range of areas including child protection, restorative justice and survivor engagement.

“Engagement with survivors is central to the work of the scoping inquiry,” said Sr Hanrahan.