(Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
What is documented in the Ryan report was a catastrophe, above all for the inmates of industrial schools and reformatories but also for the religious orders concerned, church, State and society. Systematic cruelty leaving lifelong scars, aggravated in some cases by appalling paedophile abuse, took place. Redress by way of apology, financial compensation or other forms of help and counselling or memorial, though all these are necessary, are bound to be pathetically inadequate.
We should be careful to describe what happened accurately. I deprecate Nazi death camp analogies or even Soviet gulag ones where large numbers were executed or perished. Nevertheless, there were a number of unexplained deaths in the Irish situation. How could these things happen in a country both Christian and that had recently won its freedom? Where was the gospel of “suffer the little children” or the proclamation’s ideal of cherishing the children of the nation equally? What happened to the spirit of Pearse’s indictment of teaching methods under British rule which he called the “murder machine”? How could these things happen and how could denial, cover up and suppression last for so long?
Michael O’Brien, even if mayor of Clonmel, confessed that these things could not be talked about unless one wished to be treated as a social outcast and ridiculed and I believe him. Intellectual and religious minorities, with rare courageous exceptions, kept their heads down. It has often been said that the church is not a democracy but this is perhaps also an exemplification of Lord Acton’s dictum that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It was a lack of accountability that allowed this to happen and fester for so long.
Unfortunately, Christianity for much of its history has been punitive and repressive and more old than new testament in its severity. Very different to what we are familiar with today, at that time those in religious orders did not value the worth of every individual or regard everyone as God’s creatures or have a special care of the marginalised or give people the affection and love that they need. The sexual abuse is incomprehensible in the terms of vocation and religious rules. One cannot but contrast the severity of punishment for things like bed-wetting with the mild reproof and sidelining of people who were caught or known to be involved in very serious acts of sexual abuse, even crimes. The tragedy for the church has been compounded through the mishandling of these cases until relatively recently though we should acknowledge that the spirit and ethos today is almost wholly different.
The compensation deal negotiated in 2002 was at best a first step but inadequate today. Assets not worth as much as they were a couple of years ago are still very substantial. Moral responsibility requires in this as in many other cases going much further than minimal legal obligation. The role of the churches in teaching and caring institutions is much attenuated and more residual than in the past. Like in situations of disaster that have befallen Christianity in other times, many people remain attached to their religion and church and are conscious of the much good that was done in other spheres and that can still be done.
This is also a failure of State and society. The country was poor and the social conditions for the majority of people 50 years ago were bad, even very bad. There is less documentation about the level of abuse outside of institutions but it undoubtedly occurred. State and society were content to abdicate their responsibilities and did not really want to know about sharp divergences from the ideal society or what was going on behind closed doors. Concerns were expressed privately, including by Archbishop McQuaid, and some actions taken but only very occasionally publically and then swept under the carpet.
I remember being told by a senior member of my party – not the leader – as late as the mid 1980s that two institutions one should never criticise were the church and the Garda. A strong authoritarian ethos discouraged questioning about allegations seen as improbable, implausible and defamatory and much of the evidence was mislaid or destroyed. As a sometime historian I regard the deliberate destruction of papers as an abomination that should not be tolerated no matter what the legal pretexts, even if they have to be held back. Any whistleblowing legislation that is introduced should contain a clause attaching severe penalties to the unauthorised destruction of documents other than of the most routine character.
It is interesting reading back on the history that the approach of EEC membership in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to the winding up of many of these institutions; it underlines, which is still relevant today, the benefits of international norms that do not, of course, have to be accepted uncritically. Most countries have events, periods or episodes of which they are rightly deeply ashamed. Institutional abuse was not confined to this country but our slowness in reacting appropriately to it and recognising that it was taking place is our shame. We must be extremely vigilant to ensure we allow nothing equivalent to develop.
Reading this report one is tempted to say, with Kant, that out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight can be made but having fallen down we must pick ourselves up again or, as Christ said, rise, take up thy bed and walk. A combination of the two would be as the philosopher Gramsci said, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”.
(Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
Those Members who read the Irish Examiner yesterday will be aware that at the march of solidarity to Dáil Éireann on Wednesday boy No. 117 met boy No. 146. They had not seen each other for 40 years and they recalled their memories of St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Salthill, County Galway. I read the moving report of that meeting by the journalist, Caroline O’Doherty, yesterday and thank her for writing about this encounter because I know survivor No. 117 who lives in my constituency and is now 59 years of age.
In their exchange of memories boy No. 117 said he remembered when boy No. 146 took his last bit of bread. Boy No. 146 told boy No. 117 that he remembered him having got such a beating from the Brothers he thought he was dead. Sadly, after 40 years these two men do not feel comfortable in making their identities public. Boy No. 117, as he says himself, was born out of wedlock. He had been cared for in a loving environment in Drogheda by the nuns as a tiny child but was treated brutally and savagely when he went to Salthill. When he left that institution at the age of 15 he inquired about his mother and was told by the Christian Brother, “You are a bastard. Your mother does not want you”. Those words still affect him psychologically. He did meet his mother and he was rejected as he refused to go to London with her. He was placed in a psychiatric hospital. He went on, at the age of 17, to work on a farm at Roscrea College where his life, as he said, turned for the better. He said that his crucifixion had ended but he has suffered ever since.
I join with Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, and all Members in apologising to boy No. 117 and all the children who were horrifically abused in this State during the dreadful dark period of our history covered by this report.
The report highlights societal attitudes of the time towards illegitimate children and single mothers. Illegitimate children were not to be spoken of but hidden away. I feel a sense of shame, having lived through that period as a young boy. That so-called Christian Brother who told boy No. 117 that he was a bastard has sullied the name of many good men and women of the Church whom I have met and known in my lifetime, especially the many selfless missionaries I came to know in Africa and elsewhere overseas during my time as Minister with responsibility for overseas development aid.
This is an historic debate. We must hope this report puts an end, once and for all, to that era of denial where blind loyalty to the Church superseded everything else, even the infliction of pain and suffering on vulnerable children. We must kill off forever a view that even suggested these were events of their time. Out of respect for all of those who suffered in these institutions, we must ensure we will never again turn a blind eye to the abuse and suffering of children whether it happens here or anywhere throughout the world.
We must create structures that will provide a safe environment and systems of care for our children and allow and encourage people in authority, at whatever level, to speak out if there is a threat to the safety and well-being of those under their care. The children in these institutions had nowhere to turn when they were abused. They had no parents to which they could turn. They were truly alone.
It is clear from this debate, and we have had an honest conversation in this Chamber, which I listened to throughout the day yesterday, that there is no doubt about our determination and ability to monitor abuse and negligence in our institutions in the future. There is no doubt about our ability to legislate and regulate to ensure there is accountability to the Oireachtas. The people on the streets have spoken, and in this Chamber the Parliament has responded with a comprehensive agreed motion.
Society is now prepared to believe what we are being told. The Ryan report allows us to take collective ownership of this history, yet society is constructed in such a way that money seems to be the only way to acknowledge people’s hurt and pain. We must examine broader societal issues in the course of this debate, something we might do in the months ahead.
It was the society of the time that sent young women to Magdalene laundries and other institutions. We now must implement, with a sense of determination and urgency, the recommendations of this commission, which are comprehensive. We must deal with the genuine concerns of the victims regarding the redress board. My constituent, boy No. 117, felt he was still being treated as a number when he engaged with the redress board. I share the views of Deputy Burton and other colleagues on the gagging order.
We must deal with the issue of repatriation. Many of the abused fled the country for fear they would ever meet their abusers on the street. We should establish an annual day of remembrance and atonement, with events organised throughout the country from Artane to Salthill and from Tralee to Letterfrack. We need to revisit those locations to celebrate the fact that these victims have survived the pain and to commit ourselves to not letting it happen again. My hope is that in Salthill we could shout out from the rooftops the names of boy No. 117 and boy No. 146.
I thank Mr. Justice Ryan and his predecessor, Ms Justice Laffoy, the members of the commission and their staff for their work. We must now get on with implementing the recommendations while continuing to engage with the people and the organisations. I refer to people like Christine Buckley and others who marched and spoke with such dignity outside Dáil Éireann on Wednesday. We owe it to them to do everything possible to protect our children, not just here in Ireland but throughout the world.
I am a former Minister with responsibility for overseas development aid. We have an Irish Aid budget which is rightly supportive of organisations dealing with child protection, child labour and child prostitution internationally. It would be fitting if a section of that aid budget dealing with the protection of children and their human rights abroad would be dedicated to the memory of those children who suffered here in our institutions over such a long period of time.
(Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
I wish to share time with Deputies Catherine Byrne, Frank Feighan and Kieran O’Donnell.
(Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
We could offer sympathy to the survivors of the physical, sexual and emotional abuse outlined in the Ryan report. We could say we found the abuse to be disgusting, unbelievable or use any one of numerous other adjectives but such an approach would be inadequate.
Individually and collectively, we must ask for forgiveness for our failures to do much more to prevent this abuse and our failure to listen properly to the evidence put forward in earlier times. We must humbly applaud the courage of those who have spoken out and listen to them as they outline their experience of the full spectrum of this appalling abuse.
The desire for vengeance is understandable. Where prosecutions are warranted they must be taken. Prosecution of the perpetrators is one thing but we must also consider what action should be taken against those who looked the other way and who failed to carry out the responsibilities for which they were being paid. People who failed to act on evidence of abuse are just as guilty of abuse as those who pulled down the pants of young boys and girls and raped them. They too must be held to account.
As a schoolboy I knew many boys who were in residential care. At one time Kilkenny had the largest orphanage in the country. In 1979 there were 115 children in St Joseph’s orphanage in Kilkenny. It included a nursery for pre-adoption babies. St Joseph’s was about three times the size of the next tier of centres. There was a general sense of pride at this caring institution in our midst. How innocent we were. Local people gave financial support, and many local families took children into their homes at holiday time. Our home in Kilkenny was one of them.
Apart from their hairstyles and the quality of clothing there was nothing to distinguish the boys, who played with us during the summer holidays. There was no outward sign of abuse. We did not understand emotional abuse and we certainly had no knowledge, much less any understanding, of sexual abuse. It was not until the 1990’s that the whole area of sexual abuse, including clerical sexual abuse, came into our consciousness.
The befriending scheme, which had widespread support among local families, also had it darker side. The Ryan report deals with the case of a girl who was released to two people, known in the report as Mr. and Mrs. Lacey. They seemed quite old to her and they were introduced to her as her uncle and aunt. She went out for day trips initially and then she spent a couple of weeks over Christmas before going to stay with them permanently. She testified to the commission that, when she was released into the care of the Laceys, things changed. She was sexually abused by Mr. Lacey. He built a corrugated shed in the garden which he used solely for the purpose of raping her. He told her it was a playhouse. She believed Mrs. Lacey knew what was going on as, after being raped, she told her to have a bath. It happened two or three times a week in various places, wherever they were living at the time. They moved around the country to various counties and outside the country in England and Wales.
She now knows that the Laceys were not in fact married. They were of different religions and, although one of the conditions for them to be allowed to foster her was that they would protect her religion, they never brought her to mass or church when she was with them. I believe that none of the local people, who were involved in befriending, knew or suspected that such actions were even remotely possible. The survivors to whom I have spoken have very pleasant memories of their annual holidays with local families. Many of them have maintained enduring friendships.
There has been a good deal of debate about physical abuse. Many people have tried to compare the corporal punishment they endured in their school days with the hardship and abuse meted out to children in residential care. It is like comparing the waves which hit the Cliffs of Moher with the tsunami which hit Indonesia and killed up to 170,000 people. There is simply no comparison.
It is accepted that over the years many children were put into residential care because of neglect, poverty, poor housing,disability , parental separation, desertion, parents’ inability to cope and abuse. This does not tell the full story. Some children were transferred to psychiatric institutions which were never investigated by the Ryan commission and should be. Not all children were neglected or abused. “Cruelty” officers of the ISPCC took some children into care. Reflecting back on their work some would acknowledge that rather than protecting children from cruelty they were often used to enforce the moral code of the Catholic church. Children were taken away from unmarried mothers and from widows who had begun to establish a second relationship. The message to the wider community was that children were being rescued from cruel and incompetent parents. It was portrayed as a caring and charitable service for children in need. It was also a reminder, to others, of the need to adhere to the prevailing moral code.
Many children in the orphanage in Kilkenny were from other counties. As Kilkenny had become their home many continue to live locally. As a public representative I meet some of these people regularly. Many are people I got to know in childhood. Even when they had grown into adulthood and had taken up employment victims did not have the vocabulary or the courage to disclose the abuse they endured. While in care they had quickly learned to keep their emotions in check and that they could not trust any authority figure.
Like many other people they occasionally asked public representatives to make representations on their behalf regarding housing or other matters that might be termed as ordinary issues. When they talked about their childhood experiences, as some occasionally did, they did so in whisperings. Like a friend who whispers something in one’s ear there were certain norms attached to these conversations: they were not to be repeated; the information was not to be attributed to the teller; and they were a sign of friendship and trust. In hindsight many of them were a plea for help or at least a plea to be believed.
A substantial amount of the Ryan report deals with events between the 1930s and 1970s. I would like to refer to the abuse which continued into, or which emerged, in the 1990s. In early 1993 graphic accounts of a court case involving incest appalled the nation. An inquiry was set up jointly by the Minister for Health and the South Eastern Health Board. Its recommendations were accepted and the process of implementation began immediately including implementation of the Child Care Act. This put a statutory obligation on the health board to promote the welfare of children in its area who were not receiving adequate care and protection.
As a health board member I became well acquainted with child care issues. New policy proposals came before the board almost on a monthly basis. There was some external resistance to change. While the opposition to the introduction of the “Stay Safe” programme had, by then, largely gone away there was some lobbying in opposition to other policy proposals. One which comes to mind was the opposition to the plan to reduce the number of residential places from 120 to 40. This involved the closure of a number of centres. It was in the course of discussion on this proposal that information on abuse in residential care began to emerge. I and other board members quickly learned of the horror of child abuse in residential centres and of the need to prioritise family support schemes as an alternative method of addressing problems.
One of the recommendations of the incest investigation report was that there should be much greater liaison between gardaí and health board staff. In 1994 during discussions between gardaí and health board staff regarding children abused by a clerical person in the county it transpired that there was a possibility that some children who had been in residential care in St. Joseph’s may have been at risk because of contact with this person. At an earlier stage I had made contact with the diocese regarding this person’s behaviour which was of concern to people in his parish. Gardaí interviewed a large number of people who had been in St. Joseph’s. Information emerged regarding abuse which took place between 1972 and 1990. Hundreds of witness statements were taken. Eventually three former staff members, two men and a woman were given lengthy jail sentences for the abuse.
It is to the eternal credit of the some of the local gardaí in Kilkenny that they believed the victims and carried out such a painstaking investigation which was followed by a successful prosecution. Sergeant John Tuohy, and gardaí Eddie Geraghty and John Dirrane are the names which come to mind. There had been few, if any, similar investigations prior to this and not many since that time. At about the same time as the Garda investigation into St. Joseph’s was taking place, an investigation by health board staff revealed evidence of systemic abuse in Cappoquin, County Waterford. A nun in charge of the centre was the focus of this investigation. The matter was reported to the Garda. The main allegation was that children in the centre had been made available to local men. Aspects of this allegation have been dealt with in the Ryan report.
I have taken a continued interest in this case and others. I raised matters relating to the role of the State in these matters as far back as 24 April 2002. In a motion on the Adjournment I sought an investigation by the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Michael Woods, into the role of the head the inspectorate of reformatory industrial schools in giving a clean bill of health to some housemasters and convicted paedophiles like David Murray and Myles Brady in Kilkenny. The Department of Education and Science was at the centre of the matters that were coming to the attention of public representatives and officialdom in the Garda Síochána. It stood idly by while this individual was allowed to roam free. The response I got from the then Minister for Education and Science was a request for me to give him more information rather than to investigate the complaints I had made. I agree with Deputy Rabbitte. I also met Loretto Byrne, a Department official from Dublin, who was treated as a crank and dismissed. However, the officials from the Department of Education and Science involved at the time were promoted.