Monday 22 December 2014

Christine's brave decision to talk about the abuse she suffered as a child made Ireland a better place

Published 12/03/2014 | 02:30

Christine Buckley, with Sam Shepard, after receiving her Doctorate of Law from Trinity College in 2012. Photo: Collins
Christine Buckley, with Sam Shepard, after receiving her Doctorate of Law from Trinity College in 2012. Photo: Collins

Once in a generation a person comes along who singlehandedly forces significant and fundamental societal change.

Courageous child abuse campaigner Christine Buckley, who passed away yesterday at the age of 67 after losing a long battle with cancer, has her name firmly counted as one of these game changers.

A hugely important figure in modern Ireland, Christine told a lot of hard truths and used her own horrific story not for personal gain but to give a voice to the thousands who suffered silently and brutally for years in our industrial schools.

She held a mirror up to Irish society and made us face the dark and shameful legacy of child abuse.

She lifted the lid on an ugly chapter in our history. Her story was not nice to hear, and many initially railed against it, especially those in power and authority.

In fact, many politicians and religious were determined to deny the unspeakable things that Christine revealed had happened to vulnerable children who were supposedly in "care".

Rather than face up to the fact that harsh regimes had been operating in homes and detention centres funded by the state and run by the Catholic Church, those in power tried to bury the facts. They did not want us to face up to the past.

But they hadn't a hope of being let off the hook with a true hero like Christine leading the charge for truth and justice, with her testimony and unrelenting public activism.

If you haven't heard it before, or even if you have, I would recommend everyone to take time out to listen back to the 1992 Gay Byrne radio interview in which Christine first publicly told of how she was abused as a child in Dublin's Goldenbridge orphanage, which was run by the Sisters of Mercy.

The daughter of a Nigerian medical student and a married Dublin woman, Christine told how she was sent to Goldenbridge as a young child.

Hearing the interview again yesterday had as much an impact as when it first aired 22 years ago. It still had the power to bring tears to the eyes.

It was this interview that ultimately led to the Louis Lentin documentary 'Dear Daughter', which dealt with Christine's shocking experiences and those of other children.

She told how she was once beaten so badly by an unidentified nun that she had to get about 100 stitches in her leg. On another occasion she had a kettle of boiling water poured over her right thigh when she was just 10.

The documentary featured allegations made against Sister Xavieria, one of the nuns belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order which ran the home

There was a massive reaction to the documentary, and not all of it good, with Christine and others accused of telling lies and of church-bashing. But these campaigners were fearless and carried on to fight the battle.

In 1999 the late Mary Raftery's three-part series 'States of Fear' was broadcast on RTE, dealing with the abuse of children in orphanages, reformatories and industrial schools, and partly based on Christine's story.

Inspired by many meetings with Christine, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern eventually apologised on behalf of the State to all those who suffered as children in institutions. That was a huge day for victims of institutional abuse.

Ahern also set up the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, known as the Ryan Commission, and the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which has to date paid compensation to approximately 15,000 to people who had been in such institutions as children.

The 2,600-page Ryan report vindicated the abuse allegations made by Christine and others.

But she always felt it didn't go far enough and that it was too gentle on the religious orders.

In 1999, Christine set up the Aislinn Centre in Dublin with her close friend Carmel McDonnell Byrne – and she had since dedicated her life's work to the centre which helps survivors of institutional abuse and their families through therapy and education.

Christine's husband, Donal Buckley, described her yesterday as "a warrior against injustice and for people's rights and dignity".

HE said the Aislinn Centre, which has helped turn so many people's lives around, was one of her proudest achievements. Another huge moment for Christine was receiving a Doctorate of Law from Trinity College in 2012.

She was always interested in law and would no doubt have made a great barrister in a court.

No value can ever be put on the tremendous work this tough and remarkable woman put into addressing the pain of all those who suffered at the hands of the so-called caring professions, both religious and lay.

May she rest in peace, and may her husband and adult children, Cliona, Darragh and Conor, be comforted in the knowledge that Ireland is now a better place for our children and that thousands of victims got an apology and financial redress for the horrific wrongs done to them.

Christine Buckley made us think about and face up to our past. And she made us listen.

She was a woman of courage.

Irish Independent

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