Monday 23 September 2019

Ellen O'Malley Dunlop: ''Journey of Light' can help us emerge from a dark past'

The Magdalene laundry site. Picture: PA
The Magdalene laundry site. Picture: PA

Ellen O'Malley Dunlop

Ten years ago, the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse - known as the Ryan Report - was published. It documented a very dark time in our history. It validated the stories told in therapy rooms, in parochial houses, in doctors' surgeries and in A&Es around the country.

These were stories told by adults who had lived through the most horrendous experiences as children, but who were far too often not believed at the time of the telling of their experiences.

These were stories about the heinous crimes committed against the most vulnerable of our society in 20th century Ireland.

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Crimes of physical, sexual and emotional abuse against children incarcerated in State institutions, mainly through no fault of their own, but because they were born outside of marriage, were orphaned, or abandoned. Yes, there were some who had committed some misdemeanour but so small were they, they did not in any way warrant the punishment meted down.

Until the report's publication, there was no real acknowledgment or responsibility taken for these atrocities. Far too often the order of the day was denial.

Following publication, the helplines that were made available to support victims and their families were barely able to cope with the escalation in the volume of callers.

In the interim, the 99 recommendations of the Ryan Report have, in the main, been implemented. We have a full Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, we have 'Children First' legislation in place, we had a referendum which delivered the inclusion of the rights of the child in our Constitution, to name just a few of the important, necessary changes.

However, the very first recommendation of the report has yet to be implemented - the construction of a memorial to the survivors of institutional abuse.

An international competition was held to come up with a suitable memorial after the recommendations were published. It delivered a winning entry called 'Journey of Light', to be constructed adjacent to the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin's Parnell Square.

Sadly, following a third-party appeal, it was refused permission by An Bord Pleanála. Is it not time that we revisited this recommendation for the construction of a memorial?

Since the publication of the Ryan Report, we have also seen those of the Murphy and Cloyne Reports documenting clerical child abuse.

Surely now is the time to remember all our citizens, our children our women and men who were so badly abused. We all have responsibility to remember, not just the State and the Church but all of us. And as Edmund Burke reminds us: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

At the time of the 50th anniversary of 1916, it was decided Oisín Kelly's wonderful sculpture of the 'Children of Lir' would be the fitting symbol to remember those who had given their lives for freedom.

However, we need to remind ourselves the 'Children of Lir' is not the sweetness and light story that so many think it is. It is about the abuse of power, the abuse of children and the abuse of women.

Maybe it's time to revisit the 'Journey of Light' and accept it as the fitting memorial for us to remember all the victims of institutional, clerical and Magdalene laundries' cruelty.

Situated adjacent to the Garden of Remembrance site, it would symbolically bring us out of the darkness of the past and into the light, so we never forget what can happen in plain sight to the most vulnerable in society.

Irish Independent

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