Speech by Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice & Equality Dáil Éireann

Statements on allegations regarding sexual abuse by members of the Provisional Republican Movement
Speech by Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice & Equality Dáil Éireann

12th November 2014

In my previous Ministerial role I often noted that child abuse hasn’t gone away.
Regrettably this applies not solely to child abuse. Sexual violence generally doesn’t go away. It persists as a dark stain on our humanity. It is amongst the most devastating of human experiences.

This morning I launched the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland National Statistics Report for 2013. The statistics in such reports never fail to shock. In 2013, 91% of perpetrators were known to the survivors.

The stark reality is that abuse and sexual violence happens in many settings, settings known to victims, by persons known to victims. Abuse occurred in religious dioceses and congregations; in institutions, both religious and state-run; and in sporting organisations. In the UK we have seen how sex abuse prevailed in show-business circles. Now, thanks to very public and courageous effort by one Belfast woman, Mairia Cahill, we know that sexual abuse occurred in circles of the republic movement.

Mairia was the victim of a heinous sexual abuse. But Mairia was also the victim of something else, equally heinous. She was the victim of cover-up.
She was the victim of a culture that sought to deal with abuse within a closed setting or institution, a culture which ultimately fails the victim while protecting the offender from the public rule of law, laws enacted by this Oireachtas.
While we now know of many of the settings in which cover-up of abuse took place, many questions remain. In the case of the IRA, we do not know what happened to abusers who were moved across the border. We do not know if high risk sex offenders have been resettled across the border, unknown to civil authorities, posing a lingering threat to children.

I note that Deputy Adams wrote a blog on 19th October titled “How republicans dealt with allegations of child abuse” in which he referred to how the IRA took “action against rapists and child abusers” including shooting or expelling offenders. However, despite Deputy Adams’ call for reporting, it still remains unclear as to how much Deputy Adams knows about the movement of sex offenders across the border. This matter is being currently investigated by An Garda Síochána.

Deputy Adams: Do you have any information on this specific matter which you have not shared with Gardai? Will you share this information with Gardai?

I would remind the House that this Government brought in the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information) Act 2012. Under that Act, withholding information on a serious sexual or violent offence committed against a child or a vulnerable person is itself an offence. There is a duty on everyone to provide information to the Garda Síochána where that information concerns serious offences perpetrated against the vulnerable in society.

Neither sexual violence, nor a culture of private justice or cover-up, can be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance by any political leader or Government, or any member of society.

But for all we know about abuse and sexual violence, what is even more frightening is what we don’t know: The abuse and violence which occurs in silence; the abuse and violence which is never reported. The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland Report which I published today shows that in 2013, only 48% of survivors of adult sexual violence reported to a formal authority. Contacts to Rape Crisis helplines throughout Ireland, saw an increase of 11% from 2012 figures. This highlights the important work that the Rape Crisis Centres do, work I wish to commend on the record of this House. However a reporting rate of 48% is far too low.

As Children’s Minister I led a high-profile effort, built around the publication of the Cloyne Report and the re-launch of Children First guidelines, to raise public awareness of the absolute need to report all child protection concerns to the civil authorities. This worked, leading to an approximate one third increase in referrals to child protection services in 2012 compared to 2011.

It is my firm belief that we must ensure a similar cross-society approach to all forms of sexual violence, in all settings. We must ensure that no barrier, no hesitation, no doubt ever comes in the way of reporting suspicions or concerns regarding the occurrence or risk of sexual abuse.

I also hope the very public efforts of Mairia Cahill, while undoubtedly a testing period for her; will nonetheless have a broader impact in empowering other victims, suffering in silence, to come forward. In this debate we heard of reports of more women who were victims of sexual violence by persons holding position in the republican movement. Some of these victims are now coming forward. I hope all victims can be supported to come forward.

I wish to commend the comments, in this House today, by my colleague Deputy Regina Doherty and her statement that she has made an appointment with Gardai to pass on information she has received. Her action is an example to us all. Her actions are an example to Deputy Adams and members of Sinn Féin, who should similarly seek appointment with Gardai to pass on what they know.

Before I conclude, I must of course say that I am not blind to the broader challenges that can be faced by victim. These challenges were brought into sharp focus in the report of the Garda Inspectorate published yesterday.

As Minister for Justice & Equality, it is my intention to legislate for victims rights and to ensure the implementation in Ireland during 2015 of the EU Victims Directive. In addition I welcome the plans underway by an An Garda Síochána which will see new Victim Liaison Offices established in each Garda division during 2015. I am also bringing forward a new Sexual Offences bill and I intend to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation which will allow Ireland to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

Abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence all sit on a continuum of offending and suffering which should never find succour in any contemporary, humane society. Together, we must ensure that cover-ups are again never entertained and that reporting of concerns becomes the norm. As Minister I will do all I can to crystallise such a cultural shift while ensuring that the laws and services of this state, for which I have responsibility, are fit for purpose and put victims first.