The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was established on an on-statutory basis in 1999. It was part of the range of measures designed to address the effects of childhood abuse which had been disclosed and publicised in the preceding years.
The Commission was established with a number of commission members and its own staff. The Chairman of the Commission was a High Court judge who was also the chairperson at the investigation Committee. The ordinary members were drawn to a number of backgrounds.
The Commission was given a broad range of reference and reported to the government in late 1999. In consequence, the Commission to Enquire into the Child Abuse Act 2000 was passed. The legislation followed the recommendations of the Commission.
The Commission was established on a statutory basis. The principal function of the Commission as established was
- to listen to victims of child abuse who wished to recount their experience in a sympathetic environment and forum
- to investigate allegations of abuse except where the victim does not wish for an investigation and
- to publish a report on findings.
The Commission provided a forum through a confidential Committee for victims to recount their experience in confidence. This allowed victims who wished to speak of their experience but who did not want to get involved in an investigation to do so. The Committee provided the Commission with a general report on the issues that it encountered.
The Commission also had an investigative Committee which facilitate the victims who wish to recount their experience and have allegations fully enquired into. This Committee also report it to the Commission. The Commission offered counselling services through the HSE.
Additional functions in relation to clinical trials involving babies and children in institutional settings between 1960 and 1973 and vaccine trials against institutions was added in 2001.
It was authorised to identify institutions in which abuse occurred or people responsible and to make findings regarding the management and the regulatory authorities. It was also empowered to make recommendations in order to alleviate the effect of sexual abuse on victims and to prevent recurrence.
The Commission and the Committees had the general powers of investigation including power to compel witness, discover documents and take evidence on oath. Failure to cooperate with or to obstruct a Committee or Commission was an offence.
The Committee operated through an informal request followed by completion of a form. The Commission was empowered to hear evidence of abuse of those alleged to have been abused in childhood in institutions between 1940 or earlier to the present day. It was authorised to conduct an enquiry into abuse in institutions during that period and where satisfied
- to determine the causes nature, circumstances and extent of abuse and
- to prepare and publish reports and the results of the enquiry and
- announce recommendations for dealing with such abuse.
There was no opportunity to challenge the veracity of statements. Hearings were conducted in a highly informal manner and setting and recorded with witness’s consent. The Commission was to compile its own notes and receive copies of documents and witnesses. Witnesses were not legally represented.
2005 Act Changes
The Commission to Inquire into Childhood Abuse (Amendment) Act 2005, give effect to the recommendations of a report to the government of the review group and the report and the subsequent recommendations on the workings of the Commission. The Amendment allowed for the extension of the Commission’s functions including duties to enquire into the manner in which the children replaced in institutions and the circumstances in which they continue to reside there.
The Investigation Committee obligation to hear all complaints was removed.. It was given a discretion as to which witnesses were to be called to a full hearing.
Abuse & Institutions
Abuse includes four types of abuse
- physical abuse being the wilful, reckless or negligent infliction of physical injury or failure to prevent such injury to a child,
- sexual abuse being the use of a child for sexual arousal or gratification
- neglect or failure to care for the child which results or could reasonably be expected to result in serious impairment of the physical or mental health or development of a child or have a serious adverse effect on his behaviour or welfare;
- emotional abuse which was covered any other act or omission which results or could be reasonably be expected to result in serious impairment of the physical or mental health or development of the child or have a serious adverse effect on his welfare.
Institutions covered included schools, industrial schools, reformatory schools, orphanages, hospitals, children’s home, and other places where children were cared for other than as members of the family. Children were defined as persons under the age of 18.
On completion of work the Commission reported to the general public based on the reports of its Committees.
The Committee’s final report did not identify or contain information leading to the identification of witnesses or persons against whom allegations were made or the institutions in which they alleged they were abused. They could not contain findings in relation to particular instances of abuse.