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Wednesday 26 June 2019

Victims welcome Sisters of Mercy apology

David QuinnReligious Correspondent

VICTIM groups have welcomed the latest apology from the Sisters of Mercy to those who suffered abuse while resident in their institutions, describing it as "encouraging" and "very brave".

The Mercy Sisters yesterday made what they called an "unconditional" apology to abuse victims and have directly appealed to victims to forgive them for any "physical and emotional trauma" they suffered while in their care.

The historic apology, which was issued suddenly and unexpectedly, was prompted by complaints from victim groups that an earlier apology, issued in 1996, was conditional and appeared to cast doubt on whether abuses had actually occurred in orphanages and industrial schools.

Crucially Christine Buckley, the woman who first brought to public attention abuses that occurred in Mercy Sister-run institutions with the 1996 drama-documentary 'Dear Daughter', called the apology "a very brave and positive step towards healing".

Ms Buckley, who heads the Aislinn Centre that supports victims of abuse, said her response to the Sister of Mercy statement was "one of disbelief".

"It is a step towards healing. This vindicates us. Up to now we have not been believed. This is unconditional for the first time ever." She said that she received "many calls" from Aislinn members yesterday and they were "overjoyed".

One woman had described it "as the best day of her life", according to Ms Buckley.

John Kelly, of Survivors of Child Abuse, said the statement was "an encouraging sign, a positive sign".

However, both Mr Kelly and Ms Buckley said it was crucial that the Mercy Sisters, Ireland's largest religious order with 3,000 members, followed up their apology with action.

Ms Buckley said there was a need to meet with the congregation to discuss the Laffoy/Ryan Commission.

Mr Kelly went further saying that the Mercy Sisters needed to "join victims in calling on the State to revoke the criminal status of children sent into the institutions, hand over our records to us and end the uniform adversarial approach that is taken against every complaint before the Laffoy/Ryan Commission".

Reading out the statement on behalf of her congregation yesterday, the head of the Mercy Sisters, Sr Breege O'Neill, pleaded with victims to forgive them for any abuses they had suffered.

Responding to questions afterwards, she said she accepted that all her fellow sisters could do was to ask for forgiveness and it was up to the victims to give it.

Sr O'Neill said she believed that the previous apology issued by the order in 1996 was sincere, but she accepted that many victims did not interpret it as such.

She stated that the latest apology was intended to clear up any misunderstanding on this point among victim groups.

She also tried to explain the 'adversarial' approach being taken by religious orders at the Laffoy/Ryan Commission, which is investigating allegations of abuse, insisting that the order was "cooperating fully" with the body.

She added: "If testing evidence is adversarial, then we have to accept that."

In addition, Sr O'Neill defended the amount of money the Mercy Sisters are paying to the Residential Institutions Redress Board set up to compensate abuse victims describing it as "very generous".

She would not say how much the Mercy Sisters are contributing to the scheme.

On the question of false allegations, Sr O'Neill said she was "glad the issue is now in the public domain, and glad that the Laffoy/Ryan Commission will be able to make a judgment on this. But we don't want to comment any further today".

Yesterday's statement came as a result of a long process of consultation between the Mercy Sisters' leadership team and members of the congregation, most of whom are now in their late 60s.

The congregation has invited those who were resident in their institutions to contact them at free phone 1800 321 123 between May 9 and June 9 on each Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday between 5pm and 8pm.

They can also be written to at 13/14 Moyle Park, Clondalkin, Dublin 22, or e-mailed at mercy@csm.ie.

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