The Taoiseach has tonight issued an apology on behalf of the State and its citizens to the victims of child abuse. Mr. Ahern made the apology as he announced a package of measures to tackle such abuse. These include the establishment of a Commission to inquire into child abuse and the establishment of a £4 million professional counselling service for victims.

The Christian Brothers have welcomed the decision to set up the Commission. The Brothers say that they are ready to face up to what ever the inquiry brings and they have promised full co-operation. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate have also welcomed the establishment of the inquiry. The group said that they apologised to those who suffered.

The Fine Gael spokesperson on Education, Richard Burton TD, said that the decision to announce the commission was welcome, but he stressed the urgent need to bring forward new laws to underpin these initiatives. Labour Spokesperson on Children, Roisín Shortall, said that the package of measures was a welcome start by the state to the measures necessary to redress some of the appalling treatment inflicted on children in institutions in this country over several decades.

The Taoiseach said that, on behalf of the State and all its citizens, the Government wished to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of child abuse. Mr. Ahern said that too many children had been denied the love, care and security to which they were entitled. Abuse had ruined their childhood and has been an ever-present part of their adult lives. He said that he wanted to say to them that we believe they were gravely wronged and that we must now do all we can to overcome the lasting effects of their ordeals.

The government measures include the setting up of a Commission to inquire into childhood abuse, which Mr. Ahern said would provide victims with a sympathetic forum in which to tell their stories. The Commission will consist of three people to be appointed during the coming week. A dedicated counselling service for victims of child abuse will be established and funding of £4m pounds a year has been promised for this. Mr. Ahern said that this new service might have to be phased in as there might be initial difficulties in relation to the availability of qualified staff.

Mr. Ahern also promised that proposals on mandatory reporting would be published as soon as possible and acted upon without delay. Legislation introducing a register of sex offenders will be enacted and should be operational by the end of the year, he said. The Government is to legislate during this Dáil session to extend the concept of disability under the Statute of Limitations to include victims of child abuse, who because of that abuse who have been unable to bring claims within the normal limitation period. The Child Care Act is also to be amended. The effect of this will be to bring children's homes under the scope of the act.