News From The Oireachtas

By Tim Ryan Oireachtas Correspondent

By Tim Ryan Oireachtas Correspondent

Courts to decide on use of religious privilege - Hayes

The difficult issue of religious privilege in cases of child sexual abuse was raised in the Dáil by South Tipperary Fine Gael Deputy Tom Hayes during a debate on a new bill which makes it an offence to withhold information in the case of any sexual offence.

Under current legislation, it is an offence to withhold information in respect of a serious criminal offence. However, this excludes sexual offences. For that reason the Government has brought forward a new Bill to ensure that all serious offences, including those of a sexual nature, must be reported to the Garda.

“I want to address a related issue, which has come up regularly in my constituency of Tipperary South, that of religious privilege and the nature of confidentiality between a priest and his congregation,” he said. “This Bill will not change the use of that privilege. As it stands, religious privilege has been relied on in cases dealing with civil matters. However, dealing with criminal cases is a different matter and it is up to the courts to decide when this privilege can or cannot be used.”

He said he wished to reassure his constituents that this Bill applies to everyone in the State, and it does not target a particular group or organisation.

“It is a logical step in the effort to further protect our children from sexual abuse, an issue on which we can all agree,” he said. “I want to mention the people who have been at the heart of this campaign to protect our young and vulnerable people. In particular, I want to thank the victims and survivors of abuse who have spoken out and made their voices heard on this matter. I know personally that some people in South Tipperary have spoken out about their own experiences and I say well done to them for that. They may have been let down in the past but I want them to know that they have made a real difference to the safety and security of our children in the future.”

Role of An Taisce queried

The role of An Taisce in preventing the building of one-off houses in rural areas was highlighted by Cashel Fianna Fáil Senator Labhrás O’Murchú.

“I do not believe any fair-minded person wants to see the countryside destroyed in any way, but on the other hand, there are a lot of questions to be answered and we get those on the ground,” he said. “For instance, I have seen several cases where a family member could not build a house on their own land. One must bear in mind that would mean a young couple would have their children close to their grandparents. It is a big social issue. I have seen too many cases where permission has not been granted. In many of those cases An Taisce has had an involvement.”

Senator O’Murchú said he did not wish to take from the good work An Taisce does. It was a very important body and it must remain in existence.

“In this day and age it must also be answerable for any stance it takes,” he said. “I find it difficult to get any response from An Taisce on the issues I have mentioned. I hope the House can play a role in some way either by asking An Taisce to come and discuss the issues with us or by giving us an opportunity to bring it in to provide information. We are entitled to freedom of information in such cases.”

In reply the leader of the Seanad, Senator Maurice Cummins said he would try to arrange a debate on the issue later.