Dáil debate Inquire into Child Abuse (1)
Friday, 12 June 2009
Ryan Report on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Motion (Resumed)
I wish to give a couple of minutes of my time to my colleague, Deputy Costello, if he joins us.
Is that agreed?
Before I moved the Adjournment last night I commented that it was unusual that in the debate so far no attention had been paid to the indemnity deal made between the Government and the religious congregations. I wish to avail of the few minutes available to me to comment on that.
To continue the point I was making last, to some extent or another, all of us in this society are to blame. The State must be indicted on the most grave charges, but Ministers did not savagely beat the children. Ministers did not sexually abuse the children. Members of the religious congregations did all of those things and committed crimes against little children with bestial delight. Then they lied. They covered up. They were still lying five days before Mr. Justice Ryan published his report. Today’s Government was still defending the religious and shielding them from making appropriate restitution right up to Michael O’Brien’s powerful intervention on “Questions and Answers”.
Even after the religious congregations themselves collapsed in the face of public opinion – if they have collapsed – Deputy Michael Woods, like the Japanese soldier who emerged from the forest 40 years after the war was over, was still defending them. It has been a most inglorious chapter in our history. Our carefully constructed self image is in tatters. How could it have happened? Why did the clerical authorities allow it to happen? Why did Deputy Bertie Ahern’s Government move to protect the religious from making other than minimal restitution and denigrate those of us who fought to make the religious accountable? Deputy Bertie Ahern’s apology, which emerged coincident with the “States of Fear” programmes, I take at face value and compliment him on responding so positively on behalf of us all. At the time his apology and the principle of the subsequent redress Bill had the support of all sides of the House. The indemnity deal was never brought to the House. It was concluded in secrecy by Deputy Michael Woods on his last day as Minister for Education and Science. He excluded even the Attorney General and his staff. The Cabinet nodded it through at its final meeting. The deal imposed on the taxpayer unlimited exposure but capped the contribution of the religious congregations at £100 million punts. That sum could be made up in part by property transactions, some of which had already taken place. In return, the religious congregations, whose members had perpetrated the abuse, were indemnified from any costs that might arise from court actions against the perpetrators.
My colleague, Deputy Róisín Shortall, was the first to expose the terms of the sweetheart deal. The record shows that she raised the critical questions in an Adjournment debate on 20 June 2002, immediately on the new Government taking office and three weeks after the deal was done. Time after time thereafter I used Leaders’ Questions to highlight the woeful deficiencies of an unorthodox secret deal that was more concerned with protecting the religious congregations than the taxpayer. For example, on no fewer than 13 occasions in 2003 I pursued the matter in the face of obfuscation, misinformation and downright untruths. My argument was straightforward; there must be accountability – the religious congregations were getting away with murder and their assets were not even subjected to audit, the exposure of the taxpayer was unknown and could be as much as €1 billion, the indemnity was drafted in the offices of Arthur Cox at the direction of the religious congregations, the Attorney General was excluded and the Department of Finance had recommended a 50:50 apportionment of costs. The then Taoiseach either denied each and all of those charges or muddied the waters in his own inimitable way.
It is now established that the “Woods deal” was suspect and is in any case a lousy deal morally, legally and politically. The Department of Finance had indeed sought a 50:50 sharing of costs. The indemnity was drawn up by Arthur Cox solicitors for the religious. There was no audit of the assets of the religious congregations. The Attorney General was excluded. The cost to the taxpayer will exceed €1 billion. The Comptroller and Auditor General found:
While the teams of negotiators were meeting, in the series of meetings which reached an impasse in October 2001, the State’s team included representation from the Office of the Attorney General. However, from October, 2001, to April, 2002, the Office of the Attorney General was not represented at meetings with the congregations and had no contact with those negotiating on behalf of the State.
In several replies to me in this House, Deputy Bertie Ahern denied that the Attorney General was excluded and as recently as the week of publication of the Ryan report, Deputy Michael Woods was still denying it in this House. Both Deputy Bertie Ahern and Deputy Woods could be relied on to muddy the waters by claiming that the Dáil discussed the approved deal. They knew it was easy to confuse the public as between the redress Bill and the indemnity deal. The Dáil debated the Residential Institutions Redress Bill but the Dáil did not debate the entirely separate, non-statutory scheme entered into between the State and 18 religious congregations. According to that scheme, the State was now underwriting any possible future liability of the contributing congregations arising from court claims, regardless of whether those claims had been notified to the redress board and an award offered and accepted.
Day after day I pursued the issue with the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, in this Chamber. The record shows that even in the year 2003 I was alone in doing so. The reason the Labour Party was alone was the same old reason what happened was allowed to happen, namely, that Members of the House did not want to be accused of challenging a still influential church. The record shows that Deputy Bertie Ahern answered my reasonable questions by claiming that my purpose was to bankrupt the religious orders. The same charge was repeated around the country and on several occasions I directly encountered it in various places. It is that excessive deference and submissiveness to the Catholic Church that allowed the culture of abuse in the residential institutions to fester for decades.
The religious superiors were confident in their power. Senior politicians and senior civil servants were submissive or worse. As former Deputy Liz O’Donnell told this House: “The phone calls between All Hallows and Government Buildings must stop.” Deputy Ahern, for his part, made plain, in an untypically sharp response to Liz O’Donnell that, as far as he was concerned, the calls would continue.
Perhaps for the first time in our history, public opinion wants an end to the deference and a separation of church and State. Even in this debate, it has been noticeable that there has been so little craw thumping. There has been a nod in the direction of the good done by some religious, which is only fair because some religious have made an incomparable contribution to our society. However, the congregations must be told in no uncertain terms by the elected representatives of the people that they are not above the law, and they must pay for the crimes of those in their ranks exposed in such a measured way in the Ryan report. We, in this House, cannot ignore the conclusion that when complaints were brought to their attention “they chose to protect the institution and the reputation of the congregation rather than the children”.
That we were a poor country, even an impoverished one, was no excuse for the brutalising of our children. They were, of course, as Deputy Lynch said last night, the children of the poor. The respected theologian, Dr. Enda McDonogh, made a similar point when he noted the class nature of the provision made by different categories of the religious for the education of the young. Senator Eoghan Harris was essentially in the same territory in his thesis on land, nationality and religion.
Have we left the era of horrors behind us? I do not know. There are still very serious questions about child protection today. I do know it was only in the very recent past that a young woman civil servant, who believed she had tripped across the abuse of children in State-run institutions, was effectively forced to resign her job. I refer Members to an article in the Sunday Independent of two weeks ago. I have raised the case of this young woman, Loretta Byrne, in this House on a number of occasions. She was a civil servant in the Department of Education who believed she had uncovered a matter that was deeply disturbing. She ended up in the Department of Finance and was subsequently dismissed from that Department.
We have a lot to answer for. I complimented the Taoiseach last night on a fine speech. I agree with him on its conclusions and the wish that it should never happen again. In the interim, however, it is the task of the Minister for Education and Science and others to ensure there is a dedicated trust through which the religious congregations are required to make a proportionate contribution so that the sum of the injury and damage done to the people in these institutions can be redressed.
The involuntary committal of tens of thousands of innocent children to godless institutions run by religious congregations was a crime against humanity. That the State, the founding fathers of which had pledged to cherish the children of the nation, should be complicit in this inhumane treatment of its young within a few short years of its foundation is a shocking reflection on how high ideals can become corrupted. In a strange way, the writing was on the wall when, after the 1918 election the Provisional Government was established in 1919, the Deputies established in the Mansion House decided not to appoint a Minister for Education but to leave the portfolio to the churches; instead, they appointed a Minister for the Irish Language. The subservient role of the Irish State to the church in the area of the care of education of the young was set in stone from the very foundation of the State.
The Government and the religious orders have apologised to the victims but neither the Department of Education and Science, which had direct care for the education of children, nor the Garda Síochána, which was charged with their protection, have done so. I believe both should do so and that the Minister for Education and Science should immediately open a book of condolence in the Department of Education and Science, Marlborough Street, Dublin.
The destruction of so many young lives constituted countless personal tragedies. It dysfunctionalised and institutionalised the inmates of the reformatories and industrial schools, and often impacted negatively and violently on the body politic in a way that filled our criminal courts and our prisons. A survey of 200 prisoners conducted by the Prisoners’ Rights Organisation in 1979 for the commission of inquiry into the prison system revealed that some 75% of those surveyed had been inmates of reformatory or industrial schools. The negative impact on Irish society in the 20th century was colossal and this impact remains today.
I wish to put on the record of the House two cases in which I have been involved. A Dublin man who is now in his 60s and is present in the Visitors Gallery spent 12 years in Marlborough House in Glasnevin, Upton in Cork and Daingean in Offaly in the 1950s and 1960s. He escaped from Upton and went to the Garda station in Cork to complain about his treatment, but was promptly transported back to Upton. Eventually, his mother took him bruised and battered to the Department of Education in Marlborough Street. She refused to leave until the Minster for Education came out of his office and met her. The Minister came out eventually and agreed that if the boy went back to Marlborough House for two weeks, he would be released. The boy did go back and every day for those two weeks he was badly beaten for complaining to the Department of Education. His confirmation clothes were taken and his ragged clothes put on him. He was duly released after two weeks.
The second sad case is that of Marion Howe, a baby of 11 months who was entrusted to the care of the nuns in Goldenbridge orphanage in Inchicore in 1955. She entered the convent as a healthy child on 17 May but was dead four days later, having sustained serious visible physical injuries. There were large holes in the bone in both of her knees. The family went to the Garda Síochána but got no satisfaction. In the words of the doctor’s report, she had died of acute dysentery. There are so many question marks about this case that I want to support the call by the family that the remains be exhumed so we can find out precisely what happened on that occasion in those sad circumstances.
I wish to share time with the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, and Deputy Mary White.
I understood Deputy Tom Kitt was also sharing time. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The findings of the Ryan report are appalling and devastating, so much so that any words spoken in a political debate like this can seem hollow and empty. There is an enormity to the crime that was perpetrated in our industrial schools. It spanned close to a century and blighted thousands of lives through abuse, neglect and violence. This debate comes decades too late and I feel a great sense of regret and sorrow for that. It is nearly 40 years since most of these institutions closed and it has taken until now for the true nature and extent of the abuse to be laid bare by the Ryan report. The great shame on this House is that this debate did not take place while these abuses were going on, when we could have at least saved some of our children from the unspeakable horrors they endured.
When faced with such a great evil – that is what it was – there is a natural inclination to find culprits and apportion blame. Yes, we can blame individuals for their crimes against children in their care. We can blame their superiors for turning a blind eye or, worse, covering up and moving them on. We can blame whole groups of religious for neglecting and assaulting those they were supposed to care for. We can blame the orders for creating, sustaining and protecting a system whereby children were incarcerated simply to keep numbers up and the capitation money flowing. We can blame the hierarchy for sitting in their palaces while this system grew up and prospered in their dioceses. We can blame the Department of Education for failing to inspect these places in any proper way. We can blame that Department for ignoring and dismissing individual complaints without even a cursory investigation.
We can blame the ISPCC for being part of the system and its inspectors, who were chillingly called “cruelty men”, for committing to care children who could and should have remained with their families. We can blame the judges for signing orders incarcerating children as homeless or delinquents and the gardaí for enforcing those orders. However, we must remember that the system could not have grown, flourished or survived without the acquiescence of the general public. What occurred in Ireland is without precedent in 20th century western democracies. We managed not only to institutionalise but also to industrialise child abuse and neglect so that it became systemic and systematic. Children’s homes became factories producing broken people. Edmund Burke once said that for evil to triumph, all it takes is for good men to do nothing. As with many of the evils we have seen in this world, such as the police state in post-war East Germany, a compliant populace was necessary. These schools were located in the hearts of our towns and cities. We saw the children as they trooped out to mass. We threatened our own children with names like Artane, Letterfrack or Newtownforbes if they were bold.
Yesterday I met a group of survivors led by Michael O’Brien and including Tony Deeney and Christopher Heaphy. Christopher, who is here today, told me that what really got to him was the apathy about and sheer indifference to his plight. These institutions are a stain on Irish society which can never be washed away and, as a society, we must accept the blame. We must also pay tribute to those whose bravery and perseverance led to the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. We should recognise the bravery of survivors like Christine Buckley, Paddy Doyle, Bernadette Fahy and the late Pat Tierney, who came forward to tell their stories publicly in the 1990s. We must also recognise the role of investigative journalism and academic research by individuals such as Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan.
Following the State’s apology in 1999 we thought we had turned a corner. We believed that the religious orders accepted and acknowledged the hurt and wrong done and were committed to truth, reconciliation and restitution. The redress board and the commission were intended to be non-adversarial but they ended up causing further abuse and undermined the survivors. The religious orders adopted an intractable line during the negotiations on their contribution to the redress scheme and, yet again, the State allowed the orders to minimise their exposure to compensation. The redress scheme was supposed to minimise the distress caused to our survivors but in many cases it added to the hurt. Some felt further trauma because the abuse they suffered was not sufficiently recognised. They felt pushed into accepting settlements they believed to be insufficient and were then legally gagged from talking about the matter. They were further traumatised through the commission. Certain orders approached the commission in the harshest manner imaginable. They trampled over the survivors by challenging, denying and obstructing the process. Protecting the orders was put before the abuse of the victims. The abuse, neglect and disregard of our survivors must end now. I hope the orders have turned a new leaf in their approach and I want to believe them. Their engagement with the Government in the coming weeks will be a measure of that.
The Government must ensure that the additional funds paid by the orders are used to provide proper redress and support to the survivors. Yesterday Michael O’Brien told me of the ongoing problems experienced by survivors who are now entering middle and old age. Many are living in poverty in Ireland, England and elsewhere and suffer serious psychological, emotional and addiction problems. Their families have also been traumatised. We must work to ensure that resources are provided to meet their housing, health, educational and occupational needs. We must also address the legal status of their incarceration. The existence of court records has caused serious problems for many. We must find a legal mechanism of providing complete and unambiguous clarity to each survivor in respect of these records.
We can never undo the beatings, abuse and lost childhoods or the broken lives and shattered families that flowed from these institutions. However, we can do all in our power to ensure that the needs of the remaining survivors are met in full and the Green Party as part of the Government is committed to achieving that end. We must act on all of the recommendations contained in the Ryan report on future child protection. A national monument and day of commemoration are needed but the greatest monument we can leave is to enshrine children’s rights in the Constitution through a constitutional amendment. We have been debating this issue for more than four years in this House but the time for debate has concluded. I urge all parties in the House to find consensus through the work of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, which is due to report in September.
In the debate on institutional abuse both within this House and in the wider media, the voices of the survivors have not been sufficiently heeded. For that reason, I would like to rehearse the words of Christopher Heaphy, who gave me a copy of an open letter he had written. Christy spent seven and a half years in Greenmount industrial school in Cork, where he was violently abused. He now has a degree in electrical engineering but the scars will remain with him for life.
Christy writes of his experience:
Life for us children was to become one long hard struggle, trying to overcome the enormous disadvantage bestowed on us by being institutionalised. Our education was totally deficient – so much so thousands left the institutions illiterate.
We left the institutions with little or no conversation skills whatsoever, having had it beaten out of us, and therefore had to spend a large proportion of our lives in solitude and loneliness being shunned by ‘normal people because we could not converse’.
We had to overcome our ignorance in every aspect of a normal life. Being very naive we were cripples, emotionally and educationally.
Many of us have lost sons, daughters and families through our inability to give and accept love. We were unable to respond to any form of affection or compassion because of the callous indifference bred and beaten into us in the industrial schools.
We have inflicted suffering and pain on other human beings through our inability to show little or no emotion or love. Because of our ignorance we have been used, abused and manipulated by people in privileged positions. Externally we look and behave normally but internally every day is a constant struggle.
How does one measure the cost of a lost childhood? Those formative years when family values, moral values, bonding with siblings, education, and all the social skills and graces are learnt as the basic building blocks for life. Where a child learns through fun and play how to get the most out of life.
We on the other hand had to perform tasks like emptying animal cesspools and we were being sexually abused as children. One of the greatest crimes committed against us – apart from the many forms of abuse inflicted upon us – was the total ignorance we had which deprived us of even a fighting chance of making our own way in the world.
We were put to work as babies and we were beaten and flogged if we didn’t perform the tasks assigned to us.
How could the Government and the people of our country ever repay the debt they owe us through their indifference to our cries for help? How can you repair the mental damage caused or stop the nightmares when they occur?
We were the lifeblood of this country, precious, and we were totally neglected. We were thrown to wolves to be savaged, abused and treated like animals. When we cried no one could hear us because we were locked up behind great walls and doors, our tears eventually stopped and we became like them animals in thought and act.
There are no second chances to re-live a life. Therefore the memories of our childhood in the Industrial School system will always be ones of terror and anxiety, loneliness and fear.
We believe that the Redress Bill is another cruel pretence of token atonement. We have had to relive vividly the horrors suffered in the industrial schools to total strangers. We have had to confront our most hideous nightmares. We feel totally defiled again.
To date we have had to recount to the following list of people the horrors of our childhood – all of these people have to be paid substantially for their time and none of them come cheaply; Judges, barristers, solicitors, psychiatrists, medical doctors, counsellors. From the above list the privilege of an education is a prerequisite in obtaining a profession.
Thousands of us are paid unemployment assistance by the State. Many many of us survivors have very little hope of building careers or of living happy homes and stable family lives. There is no restitution that can give us back our childhood. There is no restitution that can take away the nightmares when they occur or relieve the fear and anxiety attacks as they frequently happen. There is no restitution that can undo the harm done to us.
We would do well to heed the words of Christopher. Indeed there can be no restitution but while we cannot undo the violence and abuse of the past, we can at least listen to their pleas and attempt to restore their dignity by providing the support and services they so rightly deserve.