Re: Dail’s recent debate on child abuse
Thank you for your email in relation to the Ryan Report debate in the Dáil last week. I know that people feel very strongly about the issues outlined in the Ryan Report, and I appreciate you taking the time to express your feelings about it.
The debate took place last Thursday and Friday. I have attached a copy of Enda Kenny’s speech, which he made last week (you may have read it already). He speaks about what we have learned from this awful discovery about the treatment of children since this first came to light and highlights the steps which desperately need to be taken to protect child safety. The horror of what so many children endured must not be forgotten and the recommendations of the Ryan report, the Monageer Enquiry report, as well as the recommendations of the other child protection bodies must be implemented without delay.
Again, I appreciate you getting in touch and please feel free to contact me if I can be of further assistance.
T.D. for Tipperary South
Thank You again T.Clarke
Speech by Enda Kenny on the Ryan Report
The Report of the Ryan Commission shames us. It shames us as a State and as a Society.
Down all the decades, we repeated that mantra about cherishing all the children equally – and, at the same time, we now know, the State ignored the neglect and abuse of the most vulnerable of our children.
This was not cherishing the children. This was not Christian compassion. This was a failure to care. We stand complicit in the criminalising of little children as a consequence of their poverty. But that’s just the beginning. This State was responsible for the destruction of life itself. It was responsible for the destruction of that precious, formative gift: childhood.
We are, as a country haunted by the Great Famine. We wonder at the inhumanity shown to the starving, a century and a half ago.
We should all be haunted by what Ryan has found out. Because he has revealed a Great Famine of compassion. A plague of deliberate, relentless cruelty. We stand shamed – and we must not excuse ourselves of that shame. Burke said that all it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to stay silent.
The reality is that generation after generation of good Irish people knew enough about these institutions to raise questions, to make themselves unpopular – and to rescue children. But our society stayed silent.
Therein lies a crucial lesson.
• None of us can ever outsource human concern.
• None of us can ever ignore evidence of societal failure.
• None of us can ever hand over our responsibility for the unprotected to some State agency or religious congregation and wash our hands.
And that applies, particularly, to politicians. On every side of this House, we must remember that we are the voice of the voiceless. We must relentlessly question. We must have a passion for justice and a bottomless well of anger against injustice.
Above all, we must listen. It should not have taken television producers and a State enquiry to give the victims of institutional abuse permission to tell their stories and be heard. Each and every story – told and heard only now, decades after the horror – fills us with shame.
Like the incident where a Br Percival ordered a boy out of his class for talking. A little boy wearing callipers on his legs. A little boy who tried to obey the brother’s orders and was fisted in the face as he stumbled to his feet.
And when the child fell, did the man, committed to a religious life, repent his actions and help him? No. Instead, we’re told, he jumped on him ‘like he was a bag of potatoes.’
But it wasn’t all violence. Sometimes, it was psychological torture. A boy in Letterfrack had his head shaved and was ‘sent to Coventry’ for a period that was to end when his hair grew back. A child was isolated from his friends, his companions, the only human contacts he could trust, and that lasted until his hair grew. The simplicity of his account of waiting to be let back into the human race is heartbreaking.
‘I don’t know how long it was,’ he recalls. “But it felt like an awful long time.’
I’m sure it did. I’m sure it did. As a teacher, and as a parent, I know – as do most members of this House – that children have an unformed notion of time. Any postponement is painful. Tomorrow seems forever away.
The brother who shaved this child’s head and isolated him until the hair was long enough to “justify” returning to his group had a sophisticated understanding of how to deprive and damage, how to diminish and degrade. Another witness told the story of a brother who thought he was being laughed at and who threw the child around the classroom.
“I hit desks, I hit the floor,” he remembers.
He remembers, too, that the commotion of boys screaming brought another brother into the room. The other brother pulled the violent man off the child, who, at that point, was unconscious from the beating he had received. To this day, that abused child, now grown, believes he would have died at the hands of a religious had the second man not intervened.
Let me read the words of his account into the record.
“I know to God that if it hadn’t been for him coming in, I do not think I would be here today, in all honesty…When you seen this man when he lost his temper he was like a wolf. His jaws literally went out and he bared his teeth and he just lashed at me. I was running trying to get away from him. He hit me, it didn’t matter where, legs, back, head, anywhere. During that I must have passed out because when I came around there was water running on my head and … I thought I was drowning. I drew back and I cracked my head on the nozzle of the tap so I had blood coming down, I had tears, I was soaking wet. He wasn’t finished then. He threw me on the ground and he said ‘you’ll walk that floor for the rest of the night.” The watchman didn’t come that night. Nobody came and I walked that passage until 6.30 the next morning. I was so terrified of going to bed that he might come back and beat me again. I walked the whole night without sleep, I swear to God…”
Imagine it. Just imagine it.
A bruised and bloodied child – not convicted of anything, mark you, just suspected of – God help him – laughter. A bruised and bloodied hungry child, cold from the water used to restore him to consciousness. A bruised and bloodied child walking a corridor in the dark hours of the night, never ceasing to move, filled with fear…
Some of us, growing up, read Charles Kingsley’s accounts of what the Victorians did to the poorest of their children. Some of us read the Bronte’s accounts of what their powers-that-be did to orphans. We were horrified. It gave us bad dreams. But it was fiction. That was the great thing. It was fiction. It hadn’t happened. Not really. And certainly not in Ireland.
Now, we know different.
Now, we know, courtesy of the Ryan Commission, that, within living memory and within our own country, we visited comparable horrors on our children. Let us not hide behind euphemisms. This was not just “failure to protect.” This was torture, pure and simple.
The State and the religious congregations must make atonement for the crimes they committed, and the 2002 deal – as we now know – doesn’t come near to what is required.
This is about money – but it’s about a lot more than money. Ireland has become a world black spot for decades of institutional and State child abuse.
Ireland must become a world leader in reconciliation and reparation. We must seek world experts in helping adult victims of child abuse to achieve wholeness. We must set up a body, independent of Church and of Government, which will work with support organisations and individuals to develop the best response to this tragedy.
There is no solution.
That’s sadly clear. But that does not absolve us. There must be a response that draws together all the generosity, sensitivity and compassion that should have been shown to survivors when they were children.
Then, we must move on to abolish the culture of secrecy and denial still to be found in some aspects of childcare services. That culture means that some reports on child welfare – who are citizens of this State and entitled to the protection of this State as much as anyone else – have not yet been published. The culture of secrecy must end – and the Monageer report is the latest example.
The solemn commitments that we make in this regard should be clear and unambiguous. By our actions we will be judged. So we must:
• Implement in full the recommendations of the Ryan Report
• Implement in full the recommendations of the National review of the compliance with children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of children (2008)
• Implement the published recommendations of the Monageer Enquiry report and to make arrangements necessary to publish the redacted recommendations.
• Implement the report of the Joint Committee on Child Protection (November 2006)
• Implement the First Interim Report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children and prioritise the publication of legislation to give legal authority for the collection and exchange of information concerning the risk or the occurrence of endangerment, sexual exploitation or sexual abuse of children.
We must seek to lead Europe in child care and prevention of child trafficking.
The corpus of legislation passed during any Dáil term is an aspect of national record-keeping. It is part of the first draft of history.
But the stories told in passion and pain by individuals — that’s ultimately what matters.
Media is frequently criticised by politicians on all sides. But in this instance, we must register the pivotal role played by media in allowing survivors’ stories to be told – and heard. Television, radio and print media did the State – and the survivors – some service.
We cannot re-write those stories.
Nor can we write a happy ending to them.
But it is our clear and inescapable duty to reach out and rescue, to listen and to learn and to create something out of this catalogue of cruelty in which, as a nation, we can take some pride.