DÁIL DEBATE ON RYAN REPORT: BATT O’KEEFFE criticised the Department of Education for failing to protect children in residential institutions, but strongly defended the department’s current civil servants.
The Minister for Education said that had the department done its job properly, thousands of children would not have suffered the way they did.
“We failed them,” he said.
Mr O’Keeffe rejected claims made in the Dáil on Wednesday by Labour’s education spokesman Ruairí Quinn, who had complained about the department’s failure to provide him with details of the ownership of schools.
Mr Quinn said that either department officials were members of secret Catholic societies or the Minister was incompetent.
Mr O’Keeffe said yesterday: “Deputy Quinn is right to point to areas where improvement is needed. I and my department would agree with him on some of that.
“I accept it is a problem that the information sought by the deputy is not readily available because of information technology and database inadequacies.
“I have already asked my department to go through individual school files and compile the ownership information for all schools into an accessible format for presentation.
“However, I do not accept that Deputy Quinn has the right to use the privilege of this House to impugn the personal integrity and motivations of civil servants working in my department or any other department.
“His language and personal allegations about those civil servants would be risible if it were not for the serious context in which they were made.
Labour’s Michael D Higgins interjected: “But in the past senior civil servants hid this abuse. The Minister knows that.”
Mr O’Keeffe, who was concluding the two-day debate on the Ryan report, said that during his time as Minister he had found civil servants to be motivated by a strong desire to make the best choice in the public interest.
“Far from the laziness and destructiveness Deputy Quinn alleges, I have found a huge commitment to their work and willingness to go the extra mile, but I will not dwell on that matter today,’’ he added.
“The focus of this all-party debate is on the serious issues covered in the Ryan report and our responsibilities to those former residents who we failed in their childhood.’’
Mr O’Keeffe acknowledged that prior to 2003, some difficulties were encountered in his department’s dealing with the commission, especially regarding the complying with a small number of discovery directions.
He added: “However, in this regard, the commission’s third interim report of December 2003 acknowledges some of the difficulties that were caused, or contributed to, by the committee in that, for example, there was not sufficient clarity in the direction as to what was sought or insufficient time was being allowed for compliance. Furthermore, I would point out that in December 2003, in order to ensure that criticism of the department’s responses to the commission were fully explored, the then minister for education, Noel Dempsey, appointed an eminent QC and former chairperson of the Bar Council of England and Wales to conduct a review of the department’s interactions with the commission.
“The report reached the conclusion that the difficulties over discovery were not due to obstruction or concealment but rather to poor historic record storage systems and misunderstandings about what was required.”