Published Online: July 29, 2009

Ireland Unveils Plan to Combat Child Abuse

Ireland unveiled a plan Tuesday to better protect children from abuse after investigators documented decades of chronic molestation and brutality in Catholic-run facilities for kids.

The 99-point plan from Children's Minister Barry Andrews seeks to improve child-protection services and tighten enforcement. It also proposes building a memorial to thousands of children abused under Catholic care through the 1990s.

Andrews said all children's shelters must be subject to independent inspection by next year, and 270 more social workers must be recruited because too many kids had nobody to assess the dangers in their lives.

The memorial, he said, would "act as a constant reminder of the neglect and abuse of the past and as a warning to be vigilant."

Andrews' plan is a direct response to a fact-finding probe into past abuse in Catholic schools, orphanages and reformatories that shocked the nation.

The investigators determined in a 2,600-page report published in May that orders of Catholic brothers and nuns abused tens of thousands of children in their care — and secular authorities did nothing effective to stop it.

The nine-year investigation also highlighted how Ireland today still has poor standards for protecting children from beatings, molestation and other cruelty. It made 20 recommendations to the government that Andrews said have been fully accepted.

"The damage caused by a culture that tolerated and even encouraged physical, sexual and emotional abuse for decades will not be undone by words alone. It is by implementing this action plan that we will win back the trust of those whom we abandoned," Andrews told a Dublin press conference.

Andrews stressed that the major dangers to Ireland's children today come from other sectors of society, not Catholic Church officials, because the church no longer wields pervasive influence in the country.

"I believe that we have come a long way. The deference (to church officials) that was at the core of the problem is no longer there," he said.

The government plan specifies spending an extra €25 million ($35 million) in the coming year to hire more social workers and counselors, and require employers to observe a decade-old government policy on protecting children. For the first time, Ireland would provide emergency telephone support for children at nighttime and on weekends, when the most dangerous family disputes typically occur.

Andrews said the entire Cabinet of Prime Minister Brian Cowen has committed to the extra spending, even though Ireland is battling an unprecedented budget deficit and slashing spending on other fronts.

And he said leaders of victims support groups would be asked to join a committee to pick a design and location for a national memorial to all those abused in Catholic care in the 20th century.

Survivors of the Catholic Church's closed industrial-school system — spartan facilities where destitute, parentless and petty-criminal children were consigned by court orders and made to labor for church profit — offered mixed reviews of the government promises.

They criticized the government's decision that inspections at some children's facilities still should be announced in advance. They warned that abusive staff should get no opportunity to clean up their act temporarily — and intimidate children to keep silent.

"When visits were announced we were left scrubbing and cleaning for weeks before the visit, put in a little dress for the day of the visit, the table set beautifully," said Bernadette Fahy, who spent her youth in a nun-managed orphange where girls were forced to make rosary bead necklaces. "As soon as the inspectors left, it was back to the grind."

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