In October 2002 RTE screened the award winning Prime Time Special Cardinal Secrets. This programme detailed the sexual abuse of eight children by priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin and laid bare the Diocese's mishandling of allegations of abuse.
The response to Cardinal Secrets was much public and media outrage and the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell TD promised a full statutory inquiry into how allegations of child sexual abuse by priests had been handled by church and other authorities. Along with Colm O'Gorman, Director of One In Four, I met the Minister at that time and he was very keen to set up a new form of public inquiry that would be available to investigate urgent matters of public concern as and when they arose. The Minister made it clear that this new mechanism of inquiry would be more suitable than a tribunal of inquiry.
We agreed to patiently and publicly support the Minister as he set about providing the legislative basis for this new form of inquiry. Nine months later, in July 2003, the Minister published the Commissions of Investigations Bill with a view to bringing his legislation before the Dail.
Seven months after that, in February 2004, we had another meeting with the Minister to ask where his legislation was. The Minister assured us that this legislation was a high priority for him and that he was doing everything possible to get it onto the statute books. He also promised that other preparatory work (Terms of Reference / Accommodation / Chairperson & Staff / Resources) would be attended to while legislation was going through various Dail stages in order not to cause delays when legislation passed. He told us that he saw no reason why the Commission of Inquiry into the Archdiocese of Dublin could not start its work in September or October 2004 if this legislation was passed before the summer recess.
In the following weeks Colm O'Gorman, Marie Collins and I met with Labour and Fine Gael opposition leaders and their Justice spokespersons to ensure that any concerns they had about the legislation would be raised and addressed efficiently and without undue delay. They were happy to help in this regard.
We then met with officials at the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform in October 2004. The Commission of Investigations Act 2004 was now on the statute books, some two years after the Cardinal Secrets programme. None of the other preparatory work as promised by the Minister had been done. In fact departmental officials were just commencing this work specifically looking at possible Terms of Reference for the Inquiry.
Again in February of this year we met with the same officials. More work was being done on the Terms of Reference but there was no confirmation of a Chairperson, Accommodation or other Resources for this Inquiry. A submission was made in February to the Department of Finance to secure resources for the Inquiry. No resources have been made available to date.
This government has proven that it can both legislate and spend taxpayers’ money
speedily when it wants to, and Minister McDowell has benefited politically from being seen to respond to the Cardinal Secrets programme positively. After 2 years and 8 months those of us who have worked hard and waited quietly for this Inquiry are fast running out of patience.