By Cillian Sherlock and David Young, PA
The Government has announced a scoping inquiry to shape its response to allegations of historical sexual abuse in schools run by religious orders.
Minister for Education Norma Foley made the announcement having secured Cabinet approval for the inquiry.
She said it was the “first stage” of the Government’s response to the abuse allegations.
The scoping probe will be led by senior counsel Mary O’Toole.
The inquiry will produce a report that will include recommendations to the Government on next steps.
The move follows a public apology last year from the Spiritan Congregation to victims of abuse and the announcement of an independent group to engage with survivors at its schools and institutions, including Dublin’s Blackrock College.
The abuse allegations go back as far as the 1970s.
In November, then-taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed there would be an inquiry to examine the allegations.
Ms Foley said the scoping inquiry would be informed by experts across a range of areas, including child protection and restorative justice. She said its most important element would be engagement with survivors.
She said it would factor in analysis of previous abuse inquiries in Ireland including the Ferns Report, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation.
“The revelations of abuse in a number of schools are deeply disturbing and heart-breaking,” said Ms Foley.
“I – and indeed the whole of Government – are very conscious of the enormous trauma which has been endured by all survivors of abuse.
“It is vitally important that survivors of historical child sexual abuse have the opportunity to be heard in full, and with appropriate respect and sensitivity.
“I have said that survivors need to know that there will be a serious response from Government. Today, with the support of Government, I am announcing the first stage of this response.”
Ms Foley said she had met with a number of survivors in preparing to establish the scoping inquiry.
“I would like to thank Mary O’Toole for agreeing to oversee this scoping inquiry, to give full consideration to the views of survivors and experts, and to provide me with recommendations as to the next steps required,” she said.
“The views of survivors are integral to this consideration and this scoping inquiry, including survivor engagement process, provides an appropriate way of enabling survivors to give their input, along with the views of experts in areas such as restorative justice and child protection.
“I commend the courage of those who have come forward, and indeed all of those who have been living with the impact of this abuse for many years.”
The Minister said survivor engagement would be a “central part” of the inquiry’s work.
The survivor engagement process will be conducted by facilitators trained in trauma-informed practice.