Mr Boland said that the then Minister for Education and Science, Mr Micheál Martin, brought the issue of institutional child abuse to Cabinet for the first time on 31st March 1998, and the issue of litigation by former residents of reformatories and industrial schools. There was a general discussion at that meeting as to how the State might best respond to the emerging question of institutional child abuse. There was some discussion of the possibility of dealing with the issue through a Commission process, but at that stage the focus was on establishing a scheme that would provide counselling for the victims of abuse. The matter was not significantly progressed during 1998, but it was raised informally at a number of Cabinet meetings throughout that year.
Mr Boland said that the Cabinet Sub-Committee’s remit ‘was to bring forward proposals to Government on how to deal with the issue of sexual abuse’. However, according to Mr Micheál Martin, the then Minister for Education and Science, its remit was wider and ‘not just sexual abuse, but the, I suppose, the broad abuse of children’.
He said that this view was informed by ‘a folk memory, if I could use that word, that industrial and reformatory schools were very harsh places’, and also by the report of the Kennedy Committee, the media and, in particular, the ‘Dear Daughter’ RTE television programme. Mr Boland’s view was further informed by meetings with former residents and, to a limited degree, the work done by Dr Gerry Cronin, a social historian appointed by Minister Martin to review the Department’s files.
Mr Micheál Martin, the Minister for Education and Science at the time, said: Basically, I felt at the time that if we stopped short of issuing an apology from the perspective of the survivors it would have been a devastating blow. The package for a lot of them would have been meaningless if there wasn’t that State recognition that what was done to us was wrong and do you please believe us.
The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, told the Investigation Committee that the apology was his and Minister Martin’s idea: Yes, in fairness to the Working Group, I dont think they ever discussed the issue of the apology. The apology, Chairman, I remember how the apology [came] around very clearly, because while all of the issues that we were talking about; professional help and caring and trying to assist these people back who had been badly dealt with by the State in our view, the hurt was not going to be removed unless you said sorry. It was my view and Minister Martins view, we made the decision.
In the Department of Education and Science’s Statement to Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, made in the advance of its Phase III hearing, the Department wrote: Mr [Brander’s] conviction subsequently led to many parliamentary questions and ministerial representations on the apparent inaction by the Department of Education to deal with Mr [Brander] in [the early 1980s]. The letter appeared to cause no sense of alarm in the Department and effectively was not acted upon. This view was expressed by the Minister for Education in [the late 1990s], Michael Martin, when he stated that “following my review of the papers, I am firmly of the view that the Department’s response to this complaint was seriously lacking and that there can be absolutely no excuse by reference to the standards of the time”. Rule 4 of the 1967 Regulations for the registration of secondary school teachers provide for the removal of a name from the Register of Secondary School teachers by the Minister if warranted – “The Minister may, after giving the applicant an opportunity of being heard, refuse to register him on the grounds that, in the opinion of the Minister, his moral character renders him unfit to be employed as a teacher” and “the Minister may, after a similar opportunity of being heard, remove from the Register the name of any teacher who shall have been shown to his satisfaction to have been guilty of conduct which is, in the opinion of the Minister, unbefitting a teacher”. The Regulations allowed for legal representation. While the Department’s papers on this case indicate that withdrawal of recognition as a teacher was identified as possible course of action, this was not pursued.