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Calls mount for inquiry into sexual abuse at Spiritan schools

By Carl O'Brien Pat Leahy - Irish Times - 18.08.2022 Pressure for an inquiry into sexual abuse at schools run by the Spiritan order is mounting, with Opposition politicians joining calls by victims for an inquiry.

And a campaigner for victims’ rights, who won a landmark case which found that authorities had an obligation to protect children from abuse in primary school, said the State should compensate victims for the abuse they suffered in the schools run by religious orders such as the Spiritans.

Louise O’Keeffe said her case established the principle that the State had an obligation to protect pupils from past ill-treatment at school and should have put safeguarding measures in place to help minimise the risk of sexual abuse.

“The State paid the salaries of many teachers, set those salaries, set the curriculum and the assessment rules. It inspected schools. It also had a duty to safeguard children in these school settings, at both primary and second level,” she said. Opposition politicians have backed calls for an inquiry into past sexual abuse at Blackrock College and other schools run by the Spiritan order after revelations of abuse by victims last week.

Sinn Féin frontbencher Eoin Ó Broin, who is a past pupil of Blackrock, said the process “must be led by the survivors”. “Many of them want an inquiry and if that’s what they want, that’s what they should get,” he told The Irish Times.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said, however, the Garda investigations currently under way could not be “compromised”.

Mr Ó Broin called for Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman to meet the men who were abused in Blackrock College, its junior school Willow Park and other schools run by the Holy Ghost Fathers, now called the Spiritans.

Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Riordáin also backed calls for an inquiry.

But Taoiseach Micheál Martin was cool on the suggestion of an inquiry when asked about the issue over the weekend. He said he did not believe the State should compensate victims, and that the gardaí should investigate instances of abuse where they were reported.

Senior Government sources acknowledged further revelations of abuse would add to the pressure for some sort of inquiry. “We will have to do something,” one source said, adding that any inquiry could not separate schools runs by the Spiritan order from other schools. “Any inquiry would need careful consideration to ensure survivors feel ownership of both the process and outcome,” said another source. “The question would be what legal basis could achieve that.”

A spokesperson for the Ms Foley said she was “conscious of the enormous trauma that has been endured by all survivors of abuse”.

“Crimes that have been committed should, in the first instance, be fully investigated by An Garda Síochána and it is important to ensure that any such investigation would not be compromised,” she added.

Gardaí have received additional complaints of sexual abuse against priests since last week but officers have privately warned that it will be difficult to make progress in some investigations owing to the loss of evidence and witnesses being deceased.

Ernest Cantillon, managing partner of Cantillons Solicitors, which took Ms O’Keeffe’s case, said the State’s decision to assign provision of education to religious organisations “did not and does not absolve the State from liability” for sexual abuse which might have been avoided if safeguards had been put in place.

“It seems clear, given the numbers of children that were so egregiously abused, that no safeguards were put in place,” Mr Cantillon said. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.

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