independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Anger and anguish in huge show of support

Many in the crowd struggled to contain their emotion

THE centre of Dublin was silenced yesterday by 5,000 people marching on the heart of government in the name of all those abused in Church-run institutions over 60 years.

The extraordinary, raw demonstration of suffering, anger and grief came just weeks after the Ryan Commission had catalogued the full horror of what took place.

Yesterday, under the emotive banner 'Cherishing all of the children of the nation equally' -- taken from the 1916 Proclamation -- the throngs marched to the gates of the Dail at Leinster House.

The march was led by the familiar articulate faces of the victims, such as Christine Buckley and Michael O'Brien, and attended by many, many, more from across Ireland who thanked the most vocal among them for giving them a voice.

Ms Buckley was supported every step of the way by her son Conor, the popular young manager of Dublin's trendy Krystle nightclub, who squeezed his mother's hand and hugged and kissed her in support as they walked.

Shaking with emotion, she said she never thought the day would come. "I wish we had 365 days like this," said the former Goldenbridge resident. "We have tried and tried to say what happened to 165,000 children in 216 hellholes."

Also in attendance was former Waterboys singer Mike Scott and broadcaster Ray D'Arcy. There too was Brother Edmund Garvey, of the Christian Brothers, who, virtually unnoticed, joined the march from the Garden of Remembrance.

Nearby walked Sister Marianne O'Connor, the Mercy Sisters nun who helped broker the controversial Church and State indemnity deal in 2002, as well as scores of other brothers and nuns from other orders named in the report.

Representing Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was Monsignor Mike Callan and Phil Garland, the child protection officer for the diocese. Speaking later, the Archbishop said it was a day of "rising up".

When they arrived at Leinster House, the crowds expressed fury that Fine Gael had forced the cancellation of a debate on the report in favour of the entire afternoon devoted to a post-election motion of no confidence in the Government.

The survivors laid children's shoes at the gates the Dail in a symbol of their lost innocence, as well as floral wreaths -- a white one for survivors and a black one for those who died in institutional care.

Petition

They wanted too to hand Taoiseach Brian Cowen a copy of a petition given to Christian Brother Kevin Mullan and Sr O'Connor, now head of the Conference of Religious of Ireland, but the plan was delayed until later amid security concerns.

It was the postponement of the Dail debate, however, which led to the reflective quiet of the day exploding in anger, frustration and fury.

Much of it was directed at Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny over the motion of no confidence, though he was the only party leader to leave his office to meet those who took part.

Among the gathering of abuse survivors, their families and their supporters, there was a palpable sense the politicians were simply not listening.

"We're really pissed off," said Paddy Doyle, author of 'The God Squad', his searing 1989 personal account of how he spent years being abused.

"We met the Government just weeks ago and it was all tea and sympathy. Now we know they were never listening," he said.

One by one the survivors took the microphone from a trailer in Molesworth Street (barriers and gardai blocked their way to Kildare Street) and voiced their distress.

In the warm lunchtime sunshine office workers and passing tourists stopped and listened to some now notorious names being read out along with sickening accounts of abuse that took place there: Letterfrack, Artane, the O'Brien Institute, St Vincent's, Limerick and Goldenbridge.

The victims included Marie Therese O'Loughlin, who attended Goldenbridge, run by the Sisters of Mercy.

She said that she was forced to make rosary beads in what she called the "Goldenbridge factory".

She demanded to speak and was handed the microphone. "There are lots of people like me," she told the crowd. "We want justice," she cried to loud applause and cheers.

Scandal

As 216 black and white balloons marking the number of institutions were released into the air, many protesters made the short walk to the front of Leinster House and tied white ribbons, children's shoes and teddy bears to the gates.

It's all they could do after a day in which TDs had turned their backs on debating the abuse scandal in favour of post-election fallout. It will have to wait for another day.

John Kelly, of Survivors of Child Abuse in Ireland, pleaded with protesters not to get angry but maintain their dignity like they had for many years. He revealed that up to 300 survivors will be invited to a reception at Aras an Uachtarain on June 28 by President Mary McAleese.

"This will have great significance because you were denied your constitutional rights as a child," he said.

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