I READ the Executive Summery of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report and felt sick. The sheer scale of physical and sexual abuse carried out in our industrial schools, I found repellent. I felt I'd been kicked in the stomach. I was in an industrial school myself, and having been grateful for the care I'd received as a child, I came out with my own story to show not all of the Religious were horrific child abusers. That was in 2003, at a time when the Religious were being pilloried in the media.
Within a year, 130 ex-inmates from other schools -- Artane, Goldenbridge, Glin, St Joseph's in Kilkenny, and The Good Shepherd in Waterford -- had made contact with me to say that although they had either been abused themselves, or had witnessed abuse by the Religious, the vast majority of the abuse, particularly sexual, was from other inmates or lay workers. They also expressed concern at what they saw as some fellow inmates making exaggerated claims of abuse with the State-established Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB).
On this premise, we formed a cohesive group called 'Let Our Voices Emerge' (LOVE) to support inmates and the Religious workers who found themselves unjustly accused of abuse. One of our members, who'd been horrifically sexually abused as a child in St Joseph's, ironically found himself accused of abuse by a number of people in the RIRB. Some of the managers of the schools, particularly one Sister of Mercy in Dublin, and one Sister of Charity in Kilkenny, received extensive vilification in the media, yet these two women had (and still have) the most supporters in our group.
Over the years, we expanded to 300 and used our collective experience to carry out our own investigations. As far as we were concerned, some people who claimed they had been abused were speaking to the media in greatly exaggerated terms. If they'd stuck to their real experience we could all have benefited from each other, instead of fostering distrust.
Hysterical rants from the 'Victim Support' groups and some sections of the media followed us, particularly me, as I'm spokesperson for LOVE. Some, I found hilarious: "comes from a rich family", "religious fanatic", "paedophile-lover" etc. I actually came from a very poor family don't know much about religion, and haven't loved too many 'paedophiles' either. In fact, my own family background was very abusive. Of course, no point in dwelling on that too much, child abuse by one's own family doesn't really count -- does it? I wasn't put in the industrial school for summer camp. But this didn't matter to the detractors -- the main aim was to take us out of the picture. Why? Because we've spoken out against the RIRB system, believing the €1.5bn it's going to cost the State (ie, us the taxpayer), is far in excess of what true justice requires.
However, while we continue to support the individual managers of the schools who slaved against the odds to give us some sort of a life, the reality of living for many of our fellow inmates was horrific, dating back to the 1940s. Everyone seemed to be in on it -- lay workers, visitors, foster families and some Religious.
Physical abuse was a component of the vast majority of abuse reported in all decades and institutions. In addition to being hit and beaten, witnesses described other forms of abuse such as being flogged, kicked and otherwise physically assaulted, scalded, burnt and held under water.
Witnesses reported being beaten in front of other staff, residents, patients and pupils as well as in private. There were many reports of injuries as a result of physical abuse, including broken bones, lacerations and bruising.
They outlined sexual abuse by Religious and lay staff in the schools and institutions, and by co-residents and others, including professionals, both within and external to the institutions. They also reported being sexually abused by members of the public, including volunteer workers, visitors, work-placement employers, foster parents, and others who had unsupervised contact with residents in the course of everyday activities.
We feel the Religious congregational leaders failed the children in their care, just as they failed some of the struggling managers of the institutions. According to the report: "The system as managed by the congregations made it difficult for individual Religious who tried to respond to the emotional needs of the children in their care." It would seem it was more important to protect the reputation of the Religious congregations than it was to protect the children entrusted to their care.
Where is the Department of Education in all of this? Funding to some of the institutions was pathetic. How about the school inspectors? According to one of my sources "they went into the parlours and drank the tea -- that's as far as they went".
I'm sure that while some individual school managers tried their best, for the most part the State representatives failed the institutions, just as the Religious congregations did. Church and State must go hand in hand on this -- there can be no apologists for either one.