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Government should read review of Murphy Report before launching further investigations

The day following the launch at the ACP AGM of the legal review by Fergal Sweeney of the Murphy Report,  the Irish Times published an item under the heading “Martin defends Murphy report“. This referred to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s statement on the Dublin diocesan website. It is worthwhile noting that Archbishop Martin did not contradict what Fergal Sweeney wrote. The Archbishop said that children abused by priests must be remembered during any criticisms of the Murphy Report. In saying that, Archbishop Martin is fully in agreement with Fergal Sweeney, who emphasises the same point. Any criticism of the Murphy Report must indeed recognise that the Report is to be valued greatly for its vindication and validation of the accounts of those who were abused.
On other matters, some qualification may be useful. Archbishop Martin says that diocesan officials had no problem in being accompanied by their lawyers.
The point which Fergal Sweeney makes concerns the conditions under which such legal assistance could operate. The legislation under which the Murphy Commission was established restricts a person’s minimum rights. That legislation states that the commission “shall disclose to a person … the substance of any evidence in its possession that, it its opinion, the person should be aware of.” Not the evidence in full, but “the substance”, if in the opinion of the commission it was relevant. In addition, the commission was not even required to disclose the source of any such evidence, unless the commission considered it should be disclosed. (Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, Section 12.) Further, a “witness may be cross examined …. only if the commission so directs” (Section 11). Legal protection procedures which would normally be an entitlement become here an option which is at the discretion of the commission. This may perhaps be acceptable if the Commission is investigating institutional failures in handling allegations of abuse. It is not acceptable if the Commission proceeds to identify and blame individuals, who will not then have the necessary means of defence in having full knowledge of evidence offered by others which is damaging, nor the means of cross examining that other witness.
Archbishop Martin states correctly that a person who had difficulty with fairness of procedures had a right to seek a judicial review in court. However, the memory of the public storm when Cardinal Connell took similar action would be a very strong deterrent.
It would be worth while for the government to read Fergal Sweeney’s review of the legislation and of the Murphy Report before any decision is made to set up another commission of investigation under that legislation.

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