‘When will children be safe?’

This coming weekend Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will celebrate a Mass in the Pro Cathedral in Dublin with the anniversary of 10 years of the establishment of the Dublin Diocese Child Protection Service in late 2003. This is not a celebration but it will acknowledge and thank the people who are helping to protect children from abuse.

In late 2002 I remember watching the RTÉ programme Cardinal Secrets. That was a pivotal documentary and the media gave coverage to allegations of sexual abuse and stated that Cardinal Desmond Connell had not addressed the issues of protecting children. At the time I was a child care manager in the Health Board in Dublin. I had been working in social work for a few years and I knew that many people had been abused. Why was the archdiocese not really helping children and making them safe?

Ten years ago I remember driving to Clonliffe and walking around and meeting the people who work in the college and Archbishop’s House. Nobody knew me and I didn’t know them. That was normal on the opening day when you arrived in your new job. I was now the Director of the Child Protection Service. As I wandered around trying to remember which office was where and what were the names of the people I met, I also sat down and had a chat with the cardinal and the auxiliary bishops. It was a nice day – wandering and thinking and reflecting. By the end of the day when I drove out of Clonliffe College I was thinking “how on earth am I going to get this going to make children safe?”


Before 2002 there were many changes in the State. There was the Child Care Act, 1991 which gave authority to the State to protect children. This includes the emergency, interim and full care orders and authority for investigations. In 1992 Ireland signed up to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. However, it took 20 years for the Referendum to take place, in 2012.

In the 1990s there were major issues hitting the media and State inquiries indicating that there was no real protection for children in Ireland. The Kilkenny Incest Inquiry Report 1993 gave clear evidence that a child was sexually and physically abused by her father and the Health Board had over 100 contacts with the family in the previous 13 years. It made major recommendations to update the Child Care Act and to create the referendum on Children’s Rights. However, it recommended mandatory reporting – that has not been delivered yet; There were other major State inquiries  –  Madonna House Inquiry, 1996; Kelly Fitzgerald, 1996 and in 1998 the West of Ireland Farmer Inquiry.

Equally there was a major issue in the Catholic Church. Also in 1996 there was the Fr Brendan Smyth case with clear evidence that people knew about this abuse. If he had been restricted from ministry and supervised, so many children would not have been abused by him.

As all these things were progressing there was a direction that was being developed in the Church. In 1996 the Catholic Church published a guidance document called Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response. I felt that the Church made a real step forward with direction that the dioceses and religious orders need to report allegations of abuse to the State.

The Church established two Child Protection Offices – the Episcopal Conference Child Protection Office and the Religious Order Child Protection Office. However, neither had jurisdictions to oversee either the dioceses or orders.


Following this the State needed to get its own guidance in place. The child protection State guidance called Children First was published in 1999. However, many State authorities and personnel ignored this.

As times went on my experience was that the Church and the State had a similar approach – they wrote good policies but it was clear that guidance was just guidance. It does not mean that people were required and compelled to be fully compliant with it.

So in 2003 the archdiocese was looking for an experienced practitioner to advise and guide them to address the problem. I applied and started the job in September 2003.


I met with Cardinal Connell frequently. From the first days there it was clear that there were cases that needed to be progressed. I would regularly phone the cardinal’s office and request the file in that office and then visit the chancellery to see if there were any files and more information. I conducted investigations and interviewed the complainants. I would meet with Cardinal Connell and give clear recommendations to him to refer to State agencies in accordance with the Church and State guidance. The cardinal accepted all recommendations proposed to him. I recall one case I looked at, which Archbishop Martin spoke of in the US Marquette Conference in 2011. Every file in the main office had been checked and on top of the file there were pages stating that it was “Inspected regarding CSA – Nothing found”. It was clear that the files were not checked properly and this had to be fully explored again.

At the beginning there was no child protection office and I then had to use a hot desk from the communications office. We were eventually offered an office – in the furthest area away from the Clonliffe College campus. There was no access to the other offices and no full access to all files. I was getting utterly frustrated and I had a meeting with the cardinal and made it very clear that I was focussing on the protection of children but realistically I was being blocked every day by senior officials. I told him that if these issues were going to be continue on a daily basis then it will be pointless for me to carry on. Cardinal Connell made the changes quickly and I do respect what he did.

Shortly afterwards in November 2003 Archbishop Martin called me to attend the Diocesan Priest Council. Archbishop Martin stated that he wanted all the priests to understand that Phil Garland had an important role; as Director of the Child Protection Service he should be treated as the Head of a Secretariat. As that was spoken there seemed to be a sharp intake of breath in the room. It didn’t mean much to me at that moment. Later I learned what that meant – that the Child Protection Service was identified as a secretariat and a diocesan curial office. All secretariats in the Archdiocese of Dublin had been led by monsignors. I was now a lay person at that level and that all priests should respect this office and respect the director in the appropriate way.

Turning point

For me this was a turning point as the years went on. Archbishop Martin initiated a clear green shoot by giving advance notice to all priests that the Child Protection Service would have the clear mandate and authority under the archbishop to deliver the safeguarding of children. As the years progressed nearly all heads of secretariats became lay people with expertise, and appointed by Archbishop Martin.

As the Child Protection Office was finalised and we moved in the new office the cardinal issued a press release on November 26, 2003 on the establishment of the Child Protection Service.

“Cardinal Desmond Connell, Archbishop of Dublin, has announced the establishment of a new Child Protection Service for the Archdiocese of Dublin.  The service will assist the diocese in the implementation of child protection policies and procedures, both in terms of prevention and in response to allegations.  The service will also provide pastoral outreach and support for victims of child abuse.”

In April 2004 Archbishop Martin was formally appointed as the Archbishop of Dublin. Cardinal Connell had accepted my recommendations and this did progress things significantly. With Archbishop Martin additional resources and staffing were agreed to ensure training, auditing and development. Every day I was meeting priests and briefed them in relation to the change programme.

I consulted with the archbishop nearly every day as so many allegations were arriving. He wanted to put online for the public and parishioners full statistics of the allegations. Transparency was needed. He was correct to do so and I was impressed. In 1995 Cardinal Connell issued a list of 17 priests with allegations to the Garda. By late 2005 we had identified 68 priests with allegations and concerns. The progression of detailed investigations meant that I was pushing hard to ensure that children were safe. Every month the figures continued to climb.

Clear evidence

Also, in late 2005 The Ferns Report was published and there was clear evidence that children were abused and that priests should have been prosecuted, convicted and removed from ministry; bishops knew this and did not help children at that time. I commend the survivors who progressed this to force the State to establish the inquiry, particularly Colm O’Gorman, One in Four and Marie Collins who made a huge difference. The next inquiry was the Dublin archdiocese Commission of Investigation (The Murphy Report) which was announced after Ferns. There was then the publishing of the new Church guidance Our Children, Our Church. This really made a difference for Church procedures as it was aligned with the Children First 1999.

Whilst the commission was working intensively, Archbishop Martin and the dedicated Child Protection Service managed to investigate internally and engage with all agencies helping survivors. Everything was looked at, with collation of material and all investigations being operated with the HSE and An Garda Siochána. We also commenced training and development for all parishes. All priests, parish council chairs and volunteers were given clear information in relation to safeguarding.


I met so many people who have been harmed who were so committed to stopping the abuse of children. Interviews are not easy for anyone and I commend all those who told what happened to them when they were so young.

By 2007 many members of the archdiocese were interviewed by the commission. The Child Protection Service was fully investigating, training, developing policies and completing auditing. In that year the national Catholic Church took a major step with the establishment of the National Safeguarding Board and the appointment of Ian Elliott as CEO. I recall that some dioceses and orders felt that they had no issues and that Dublin and Ferns were the problem.

In 2009 the Archdiocese of Dublin updated its statistics, with 84 Dublin priests and 60 order priests who worked in the diocese, and 450 complaints. In the latest figures in 2013 it is now 98 diocesan priests with allegations.

In November 2009 the Murphy Report was published. I am aware that there are different views of people in relation to this report today. Some think that the priests in the diocese were not treated well by the diocese and the commission.

After the Murphy Report, there came the Cloyne Report 2011, the HSE Catholic Church Diocesan Audit 2012 and the Safeguarding National Office with ongoing reviews of the dioceses and orders.


Today, all is progressing, but it is clear that there must be external evaluations to ensure that an organisation is not ticking a box, but it is protecting children.

However, will everything work out? For example, the Murphy Report raised a key issue: “While acknowledging that the current archdiocesan structures and procedures are working well, the commission is concerned that those structures and procedures are heavily dependent on the commitment and effectiveness of two people – the archbishop and the Director of the Child Protection Service. The current archbishop and director are clearly committed and effective but institutional structures need to be sufficiently embedded to ensure that they survive uncommitted or ineffective personnel.”

The Cloyne Report, too, stated: “The Diocese of Cloyne was unfortunate in that the structures were never embedded because it had an uncommitted delegate/director of child protection and an ineffective bishop for the period 1996 – 2008.”

For any diocese or an order with several allegations there has to be experienced practitioner. For example, provincials in religious orders frequently switch every six years. If there is no dedicated practitioner then it will be likely to fail. I hope that the safeguarding board will move towards clear registration for safeguarding officers based with CORU, Ireland’s first multi-profession health regulator (The title comes from cóir, Gaeilge for ‘fair/just’) – statutory regulating bodies for health and social care professionals.

That means they have someone who knows what they are doing.

So this year is the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Child Protection Service in the Archdiocese of Dublin. I commend the progress with the new Director Andrew Fagan who is an expert on safeguarding and inspections. Following the Murphy Report Dublin has progressed more and many dioceses and religious orders are getting their act together.

However, this year is the 20th anniversary of the Kilkenny Incest Inquiry. Again steps have taken forward but there is an awful lot more to go to make sure children are safe. Will there be a requirement for reporting all abuse with mandatory reporting? Perhaps the new Children First legislation will complete the Kilkenny recommendations on the 21st anniversary?

Finally, when the Murphy Report was about to be published I was offered the role of Head of Children Services in the HSE. Within eight days of starting work, in November 2009, I appeared on Primetime about HSE failures in protecting children in asylums in Ireland.

 As I was driving out of RTÉ I was prompted to recall my question in Clonliffe College – “How on earth am I going to fix the HSE to protect children?” The Archdiocese of Dublin and survivors have fixed the problem and is now maintaining and progressing. I hope the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and the HSE, and forthcoming Child and Family Agency, will fix it too. Then in years to come there may be an anniversary when there is clear evidence that the State really protects children.