Tuesday 22 October 2019

'Shining a light into the State's darkest corner'

Taoiseach offers apology for decades of institutional abuse

Members of the group Irish Survivors of Child Abuse – (from left) Peter Stanton, Noel Kelly, co-ordinator John Kelly, Desmond Heeney and Thomas Sweeney – all of
them victims of abuse in church-run institutions, arrive at Leinster House yesterday to listen to the debate on the Ryan report.
Members of the group Irish Survivors of Child Abuse – (from left) Peter Stanton, Noel Kelly, co-ordinator John Kelly, Desmond Heeney and Thomas Sweeney – all of them victims of abuse in church-run institutions, arrive at Leinster House yesterday to listen to the debate on the Ryan report.

ine Kerr Political Correspondent

THE Ryan report has shone a powerful light into the darkest corner of the State's history and is the source of the deepest shame for the nation, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said yesterday.

The catalogue of horror and terror endured by children in the care of religious congregations was "appalling beyond belief", Mr Cowen said in the Dail, where campaign groups and victims of child abuse had gathered in the public gallery.

On the first of a two-day debate on the Report of the Commission into Child Abuse, Mr Cowen made a heartfelt and sombre speech in which he claimed the State had failed hundreds of children in care. He again apologised on behalf of the State.

Shattering

"The Ryan Commission report has shone a powerful light into probably the darkest corner of the history of the State," the Taoiseach said. "It contains a shattering litany of abuse of children in care in this country over many decades. In doing so, it presents a searing indictment of the people who perpetrated that abuse, of the religious congregations who ran the institutions in which it took place, and of the organs of the State which failed in their duty to care for the children."

Launching a scathing attack on the Department of Education, Labour's Ruairi Quinn said he had lodged a series of simple questions since February seeking details about the nature and ownership of schools and the location and name of schools in the ownership of a religious order or a Roman Catholic bishop.

However, the department had refused to provide such information.

"Either officials in the department are members of secret societies, such as the Knights of St Columbanus and Opus Dei, and have taken it upon themselves to protect the interests of these clerical orders at this point in time. . . or, alternatively, the minister is politically incompetent and incapable of managing the department," Mr Quinn told the Dail.

Ireland is the only country in Europe where the primary school system is controlled by "private organisations", Mr Quinn said.

In order to begin the transfer of schools out of "private" ownership, the department needed to provide an inventory of religious assets.

However, Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe has refused to provide details to the Opposition, the Labour Party said.

Mr Quinn added: "I do not believe Mr O'Keeffe, is a bad man. I do not believe he is a Catholic right-wing secret obscurantist, but many of the people working for him on a permanent salary -- he will be gone in a couple of years -- most certainly are, or else they are incompetent, lazy and destructive."

The Labour spokesman concluded there was a continuing culture of "deferment and obedience" to the Catholic Church in the department.

Destruction

In a powerful speech, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the State itself had been responsible for the destruction of life and the most precious formative gift which is childhood.

"We are, as a country, haunted by the great famine. We wonder at the inhumanity shown to the starving, a century and a half ago. We should all be haunted by what Ryan has disclosed because he has revealed a Great Famine of compassion, a plague of deliberate, relentless cruelty," he said.

Mr Kenny said all politicians should remember that they were the voice of the voiceless and relentlessly ask questions.

Yesterday's speeches were delayed because of the motion of confidence in the Government which dominated proceedings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The motion on the Ryan report, which had been agreed by all the political parties, accepted that all the commission's recommendations should be implemented and recognised that supporting victims was a key priority. Debate on the motion will resume today.

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