Seanad Éireann - Volume 158 - 03 March, 1999

Adjournment Matters. - Sexual Offences.

Mr. Gallagher: A Chathaoirligh, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise this serious case in the House and I thank the Minister for coming in to deal with it.

The Minister is familiar with this case as he answered questions on it in the Dáil last December. On Tuesday, 18 November 1998, a retired teacher, Mr. Donal Dunne, from Portarlington, County Offaly, a prominent member of the local community who was involved in many local organisations, pleaded guilty at Tullamore Circuit Court to 17 sample charges of sexual assault perpetrated at Walsh Island national school between 1965 and 1969, when he was principal. He was sentenced at a resumed hearing of Tullamore Circuit Court on 9 February this year to two years' imprisonment. The charges related to sexual assault on six named male pupils. Further incidents while teaching in Castlecomer in the early 1970s were taken into account. He was prosecuted four years previously in Portarlington court on a similar charge.

When the hearing resumed for sentencing on 9 February, the garda prosecuting the case said that following his appearance at Tullamore Circuit Court last November and the resulting publicity, more victims had come forward. Former pupils at schools in Dublin and another school in County Longford made allegations, the details of which were read out in court and are too shocking to put on the record. The victims told gardaí of abuse perpetrated by Mr. Dunne earlier in his teaching career, from the 1940s onwards.

While no new charges were brought as a result of the victims' statements, the defendant accepted his involvement. The probation report made to the judge on that day stated that the accused did not appear to accept his behaviour, as outlined by the victims, and he appeared to have a limited understanding of the impact it had on them. Judge Kennedy said that a thoroughly alarming feature of the case was that his conviction in Portarlington for a similar offence in 1995 when he was 75 years old indicated recidivism 25 years later than the charges for which he was before Tullamore Circuit Court. The probation report said that for most of his life he had harboured a sexual attraction towards boys of a certain age and research suggested there was a risk of reoffending in such cases. A two year custodial sentence was imposed.

Gardaí stated in court that Mr. Dunne came to their notice following his prosecution in Portarlington in 1995, for an offence on a 12 year old boy. They acknowledged in court, and it has been stated to me by some of the victims that it has been acknowledged to them by senior gardaí in the Laois-Offaly division, that a file on the case [609] was open since 1969. However, it was “sent up the line” as they termed it, and when it was to be acted on it could not be found. I want a check carried out in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Garda Síochána and the offices of the DPP and the Attorney General to see if the 1969 file is available. The victims have told me that gardaí visited a number of their homes in the Walsh Island area in 1969. The investigation started and stopped but I believe that some of the gardaí involved are still working and I want what happened to be checked with them.

I raise this matter because a number of victims have contacted me. I compliment them on their persistence in following this matter and in having justice meted out to this man on their behalf and on behalf of the wider community. However, I am shocked at the documentation they supplied to me which seems to indicate inaction for a number of years by a number of parties associated with the case.

The man in question, who has been sentenced, taught in eight national schools; the information I have has come from victims so I am depending on the accuracy of their research. These were Scoil Mhuire, Marino; CBS, Mullingar; St. James's Street, Dublin, until 1957 when he left the Christian Brothers; Lanesboro, County Longford; Ballyfermot; Rath national school, County Laois and Walsh Island up to 1969 where he perpetrated the abuse for which he was found guilty. While in Walsh Island, he qualified as a post-primary teacher and following his removal from that position, he got a job in the Presentation Convent co-educational post-primary school in Castlecomer where he taught until 1975. Complaints there have also been taken into account by the Garda in the court proceedings. Following his departure from that school on 31 July 1975 he started the next day as a secondary school teacher in the Sacred Heart secondary school in Tullamore, County Offaly. The man is known personally to me, as are many of his victims.

I am satisfied that any inquiry will indicate that in at least half of the primary schools in which he taught, there were complaints about or allegations of serious sexual abuse against boys. There were also allegations of and complaints about physical abuse and cruelty to boys and girls under his care.

One of the victims has been very persistent in following this. In 1982 he took a number of courses of action. He informed me that in the early part of 1982, he went to see a curate in Tullamore. He spoke to a departmental inspector on two occasions and told me that the inspector said he was aware of complaints made in relation to this man. Did a departmental inspector make a report on this? The victim, who has contacted me, also met two bishops, the late Bishop Lennon of Kildare and Leighlin and the late Bishop of Meath, Dr. John McCormack. The victim told me that one of the churchmen said the complaints did not come as a surprise to him. In May 1982 [610] the victim also informed the authorities in the secondary school in Tullamore where Mr. Dunne was teaching. He continued to teach there until he reached the age of retirement in 1985.

The victim wrote a detailed letter of complaint to the Minister for Education on 27 May 1982. When he did not receive a response, he telephoned the Department on 8 June 1982 and was informed by a named official that there was no record of the complaint having been received. He then contacted the INTO and sought assistance in getting legal advice. The legal advice said he was statutorily barred so he decided to follow it up through the Oireachtas. He contacted Mr. John Boland, an Opposition Deputy at that time, whom he met on 10 June 1982. Mr. Boland replied to him on 13 July 1982 that he was having discussions with the Secretary of the Department concerning the matter and he hoped that as a result of these certain safeguards would not only be contemplated but implemented. The victim also contacted the then Deputy Michael Keating. Both Deputies put down questions in the Dáil on 27 October 1982, five months after the letter of complaint was sent to the Department.

In the replies to Mr. Keating and Mr. Boland, the then Minister of State, the former Deputy, Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn, who was deputising for the acting Minister for Education, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, when questioned about procedures stated that the divisional inspector for the area in which a school was located would normally take statements from both sides, give a history of the case to the Department and a decision would then be made. She also stated that as far as the Department's files were concerned, there were no such outstanding cases and that she was satisfied that the training which teachers receive was good enough to ensure that the type of practices about which the Deputy was concerned would not occur in national schools.

In a written reply to Mr. Keating, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, said that only three complaints of this type of abuse had been received and none of the three teachers involved remained in the teaching service. That is factually incorrect. In response to questions on the matter in the Dáil last December, the Minister acknowledged that a letter of complaint was received in the Department in 1982. The wrong information was conveyed to the Dáil and sent to the victim. The victim was in touch with other Members of the Oireachtas but it is not known whether the matter was raised officially. A letter was sent to the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Mr. Barry Desmond, in 1983. This was acknowledged and referred to the Minister for Education.

That is a brief synopsis of this case. Will the Minister initiate a full public inquiry into the Dunne case so lessons can be learned, accountability established and new procedures put in place to ensure the risk to children is minimised? Will he accept that, had there been a legal obligation on the boards of management to report cases of sexual abuse, Donal Dunne would not [611] have been able to move from school to school, almost at will and with the connivance of both church and State to commit further offences? I ask the Minister to accept that a register of sex offenders would be a basic safeguard against this type of abuse. Will he investigate and inform us how many cases of sexual abuse allegations against teachers in schools are currently being investigated?

In the context of the responsibility of the Department for children in schools, does the Minister agree the Department has ultimate responsibility for ensuring the safety of pupils in schools? Will he exercise this responsibility in the cases of the victims of this man and ensure counselling and support are provided for the victims? It has not been done in most of these cases. These lives have been shattered. Those who managed to put it together to some extent have had everything reopened through the recent court cases. Justice has been done to an extent, but justice has not been done for these victims to the extent it should. I ask the Minister to respond positively to my call.

Mr. Martin: I thank the Senator for raising this issue. As the Senator will be aware, this case has been dealt with in the courts following a Garda investigation and accordingly a full inquiry has already been conducted. In addition, I have already made a number of statements on this matter. I am satisfied that the existing procedures within my Department, which are much more stringent than those applying in the 1960s or in 1982, are sufficient to ensure that a situation like that which arose in this case cannot be repeated.

I have instructed my officials to ensure that procedures relating to sex abuse are kept under continuous review to ensure the adequate protection of school children. I can assure the Senator there is no complacency in my Department on this matter, as demonstrated in particular by the current review of procedures which is taking place with the Department of Health and Children. The completion of this review is a high priority. I will ensure updated guidelines are issued to all schools as soon as possible after that review is completed.

I am sure this House is aware I completely deplore the abuse which occurred in this case. However the Senator will also be aware that the allegations relating to the teacher concerned were not brought to the attention of the Department [612] until 1982 while the abuse actually occurred in the mid to late-1960s. If the Senator has any additional information, I ask for that to be passed to my Department and the Garda. The aspect of this case which leaves the Department open to serious criticism relates to the failure to take action in 1982 to ensure, as far as the Department could, that the allegations then made were properly investigated. I accept, as I have stated previously, that the Department's response at that time was seriously lacking and, although I was not Minister at that time, I deeply regret that. Furthermore, as an indication of my willingness to be as open and helpful as possible on this disturbing case, I offered access to the Department's file on the matter to any Deputy with an interest in the case. I assure the Senator this offer equally applies to Members of this House.

The Government has also taken action which has as its aim the more general protection of children from child abuse. Earlier this month the Government approved the preparation of a Bill which would provide for greater protection of children from the actions of sex offenders, including the establishment of a sex offenders register, the principal focus of which would be offenders against children. The Bill would also give the courts power to order post-release supervision of sex offenders.

I am strongly of the view that people who suffer abuse of the kind which occurred in this case should have available to them adequate professional counselling and support services where they need it to deal with the hurt and trauma caused by the abuse. For adults who were victims of sexual abuse as children such services are available from the health boards while my Department, through the psychological service, focuses on the needs of children. The provision of counselling and support services to people who as children were victims of sexual abuse is one of the issues being examined by a Cabinet subcommittee set up under my chairmanship last December to review issues relating to sexual abuse. One of the key objectives of the subcommittee is to find effective ways to help victims of abuse access the kind of supports they need to help them with the long-term effects of the abuse. The subcommittee, as part of its work, is considering developments in this area internationally. It hopes to report to the Cabinet in the near future. I will keep the Senator informed of developments. I intend to keep the situation under review.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 4 March 1999.