Posts Tagged ‘Institutions’

Truth beheads. For years this country believed that the religious lived blameless lives, that nuns/brothers/priests sacrificed membership of ordinary society to care for children in “Industrial Schools & Reformatories”. But we know now that this belief was wrong. The religious were well-paid for this “sacrifice”.

In these Child Detention Centres the religious received one-third of the average industrial wage for EACH child in their “care”. The religious in this country grew more powerful and influential while the task they were well paid for: The Care of You and I was forgotten about. These institutions were well-named as they were industries that had a stranglehold on a major part of the economy of this country. While the children in them worked long hours under brutalising conditions the religious sat in splendid favour at the tables of the political and social elite, indeed it can be said that these religious orders created and nurtured this elite.

They controlled the schools, the hospitals, the civil service, the press & media and it must be said, the minds of people through the churches and the confessional boxes. Society was stagnating under this choking hold that the religious orders had on society, mass emigration was the order of the day. For some people in society the choices were stark:> a convent or the boat to England. For a woman to be single AND pregnant was an unforgivable crime and the woman could end up incarcerated for life in a Magdalene Laundry and her child either sold on to America or “placed” into one of the many Child Detention Centres. To be poor was another crime. Despite Ireland signing many documents in the United Nations, and before that the League of Nations, affirming the rights of the individual and the imprescriptible rights of the child, and despite the blood sacrifice made by the fighters at the GPO during the Easter Rising to CHERISH ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE NATION EQUALLY, Ireland incarcerated more innocents, more helpless and more children, in their detentions centres than 800 years of “British Imperialism”.

Ireland embarked on a mission after Independence to take from public view the failures of their “brave” new Catholic Ireland. Whatever changes have come in this society since Independence have not come from the goodness of the Roman Catholic church, NO, the changes, the improvements have come through the sacrifice and the suffering of people like us. We no longer fear this Monolith. It has SHOT ITS LOAD. It SHALL NOT rise again.

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Murdered Drowned Echoes


Murdered Drowned Echoes

The men of black pain turn
in the uncomfortable earth,

as hints from our minds store
breathe in the unforgotten [and unforgiving] dirt,
and find no embrace amongst the shadows,

Twisting figures leave their tears in the water
where dragonflies whisper,
just small waves,
just small ripples
harmonies that vanish in the mass of water

drowned echoes

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Anger written on a page
Enchantment shattered,
sense scattered

Ink ravenous with rage hacks and scratches
Till hearts, scythed and asunder,
deaden, stiffen, nerves shriven.

Imagine that! As a child to feel
and breathe such cancer
Tear your insides inside out,
Bone to bat, bat to back and back again.

A grotesque dancer
On a stage where you have no part
except to simply suffer and wait

In hope that all this woe will soon abate
And curtain falls and violence exasperate.

Leaving me alone but lonely
– alive but dead inside – to wait
….and wait for scar blackened heart to revive

And adult squirmers to squirm in hate
To feel what I had felt

Black-strap leather of a belt
Brass-cankered bat across their bones
Meeting the meaning of madness in their moans

And exult at their discomfort
Stare in my face – my face of mirth
Carved and coloured from their owed-dirt
Fashion now their very fruitful hurt

But for what is this hurt worth
If payment is revengeful spurt

And anger boils – still boils inside
My loves and hopes away…. They died.

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Behind all the glitter, the flashing neon and the mood music there are many people outcast from society – cast into the shadow by a shamed system. Many who went through the Industrial Schools system ended up on the streets; many of them lived short, desperate lives before succumbing. We mustn’t forget them, or the system that destroyed so many lives.

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Sunday Business Post, September 14, 2003, by Barry O’Kelly and Sean Mac Carthaigh

For once, the lawyers are not to blame for the grinding down of a public inquiry. This time the culprits are the church and the civil servants. And if the Department of Education and the religious institutions had been deliberately tryingto scupper the Laffoy Commission, they could not  have gone about it a better way. Amid the spin and recriminations that have surrounded the crisis in the commission into child abuse, the victims say the real story has been overlooked. While the government failed Justice Laffoy in not delivering the extra staff she sought last  November, the crisis, say the victims, was provoked by a cynical, self-serving practice by the Church that has ensured only 39 abuses cases have been heard by the commission in four years. Cases that could conceivably been dealt with in a matter of hours dragged on for up to four days because of the adversarial approach of the religious institutions, the victims claim.

The Church has argued successfully before the courts that each and every cleric accused of abuse is entitled to a full legal team. And in practice this has led to the extraordinary spectacle of two senior counsel and a junior barrister being pitted against one, or perhaps two junior lawyers representing the victims. It is a setting that is greatly at odds with what was in mind when the commission was established.

“We just couldn’t believe it when we went in and were confronted by these heavy-hitters representing the Church,” said one victims’ lawyer. “After getting an indemnity from the state – after agreeing to hand over €128 million worth of property – they try this on,” he said.

The commission is a forum to investigate abuse. However, the hearings are not in public, the perpetrators’ names are not identified and the evidence elicited cannot be used to bring prosecutions.  The Church, the victims argue, is acting in every possible way contrary to the spirit in which it claimed to be assisting the inquiry. The leading role of the Department of Education in overseeing the project initially fuelled suspicions of an apparent bias. The department was responsible for overseeing the Church’s management of the industrial schools.

Before it was effectively suspended by the government,the Laffoy Commission uncovered new evidence that senior Department of Education figures knew about paedophiles operating in its institutions and did nothing to stop it.

James MacGuill, whose Dundalk-based firm represents 100 victims, said its initial fears about the role of the department had been confirmed. “I can say from direct experience with dealing with the Department of Education that representatives of the survivors have been frustrated at every turn,” he said. “We have had it for five years. There is an agenda, I have no doubt about it, at a high level in the department to ensure the truth never emerges in relation to how the state, at a minimum, on the best possible case,were grossly negligent in the way they allowed these institutions to operate and more likely were complicit in the cover-up. There’s been far too much spin in the last week and too little documentation.”

The Laffoy Commission relied heavily on the civil service for administrative support. At times, this descended into farce.

At one point an investigation team needed a printer to make copies of some of the thousands of documents involved. They requested this from the civil service. After more than a week, the printer arrived, but without any spare ink cartridges. Soon, the printer lay dormant. It proved beyond the capacity of the administrators to procure a replacement cartridge. Instead, after a delay, they obtained a second, brand new, printer. The cartridge soon ran out in this, and a third, new printer was obtained to sit alongside the other two. The cartridge ran out in this too, and soon there were three new printers, but none could actually print anything.  After yet another delay, the three printers disappeared and were replaced by three more new printers.

John Kelly, of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca), noted that the ceiling for victim’s lawyers is €800 per case brought before the commission. “The church can afford to spend what it likes on lawyers for the paedophiles; they are regularly bringing in full teams of lawyers,” he said. There is widespread agreement among the victims that Justice Laffoy should have been granted more staff when she sought them last November. It’s now clear that the government misjudged the situation when it announced after her resignation that only a sample of abuse cases would be heard at the commission.

It has not escaped the notice of the survivors that under “sampling”, not only would many instances of sexual abuse be buried forever – so would the repeated failure to act by senior figures in the Department of Education. Christine Buckley,of the Aislinn survivors group, said the planned sampling approach was unacceptable and would be boycotted. John Kelly, of Soca, described it as a “non-runner” that would lead to the collapse of the commission if the government attempts to force it through. “The temperature of all the victims has risen. We will have no option but to advise any witness not to cooperate with the inquiry. It would not have the confidence of the victims’ representatives if they force through these proposals.

“I don’t think that any other body will cooperate with an inquiry if they try to push it through,” he said. “We already have a watered down version. We supported this inquiry reluctantly in the first place.” He reckons a compromise can be found in the form of a less adversarial procedure for each case dealt with by the commission. “There are ways around it.The government has a duty to the taxpayer to ensure they are not financially exposed. The legal costs are disproportionate to the issue at hand,” he said. Soca is hopeful that all of the main groups representing the victims can unite on the issue. “A joint approach, involving the Alliance, Aislinn and Right of Place and Soca, is the best way forward,” he said.

Talks are expected to take place between some of the group’s members over the coming days.

“There is this conspiracy involving the church and the Department of Education which is refusing to give up documents requested by the commission,” he said. “These documents would show that they had knowledge that abuse was going on over many decades and would also show that they failed to act on that knowledge. And that’s why they decided to stall, hoping for a review.”

James MacGuill described the sampling proposals as deeply offensive for the victims. He said: “These children were institutionalised, treated as mere numbers in their youth and now they’re being denied the opportunity of getting an individual hearing. The only way you have a reliable and comprehensive report is to have all the evidence available to the deciding body. The second big concern you would have about this justice by raffle approach is that it would be impossible for the commission to draw firm conclusions about the culpability of the state while this systemic abuse was carrying on. I read with amusement that they accused the lawyers of refusing to negotiate on fee. We have been working for the past five years with no payment whatsoever. This is about giving equality of arms to victims . . . Not having them obstructed by the huge resources that the state has given to its defence and the congregations have to their defence.”

John Kelly said at least 20 victims who were waiting to go before the commission had died in the last four years. “We have had quite a few suicides, the odd murder. And people are being denied the right to justice. For four years, justice has been delayed and denied.” Christine Buckley compared the “sampling” proposal to the time there was a backlog of driving test applications, and anyone with three or more provisional licences was given a full one. We are being treated like that, as administrative objects,” she said.

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By By COLM SMITH  Sunday July 23 2000

Brendan O’Connor met the commanding, dogged and angry John Kelly, spokesman for Irish SOCA, who says States of Fear changed his life.

THE retirement of British social services expert Bob Lewis from the six-member Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, and the granting of individual legal representation to all victims of abuse appearing before the commission, will be seen as major victories for the group calling itself Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (Irish SOCA). More specifically, they will be seen as victories for the organisation’s public face, the commanding, dogged and charismatic John Kelly.

In recent months, Kelly has been at war with the Government, the commission and, perhaps most interestingly, with most of the other groups purporting to represent victims of child abuse. Kelly characterises many of the latter as opportunists who have resigned themselves to an unsatisfactory inquiry because they are in receipt of Government money through contracts to run counselling services, among other things. They in turn accuse him of trying to bully the commission.

Kelly himself has never taken the king’s shilling. He says that Government funding for his organisation was contingent on the Government seconding someone to his organisation. He mutters darkly about civil servants having access to his files and dismisses the idea of Government aid. Instead, this former London Underground worker has funded his own organisation with financial input from some of his supporters. Irish SOCA hoovers up Kelly’s disability pension from London Underground, a small inheritance from his mother and the proceeds of the sale of his house in Britain. Mainly, however, Irish SOCA runs on rage.

States of Fear changed John Kelly’s life. A former pupil of Daingean, he says he was horribly abused there until the age of 15, when he went to England. Though he had sought psychological help for his problems before then, it seems to have been States of Fear which finally explained John Kelly to himself.

After the documentary was aired, Kelly went to meetings of some of the abuse victim groups that sprang up at the time but he found he wasn’t satisfied with the tone of these groups. Impressed by speeches Kelly had made from the floor, people began to suggest to him that he set up his own group, and so he did. Irish SOCA was initially affiliated with SOCA UK, the British organisation, until a parting of the ways over co-operation with the current commission.

Irish SOCA first came to prominence late last year during the debate about the amending of the Statute of Limitations to facilitate those bringing claims of abuse many years after the abuse happened. From the start, Kelly was a natural politician. His powerful voice matching his imposing frame; his domineering manner made him a natural leader among a group who were all too often cowed, nervous and terrified of confrontation. He came in with all guns blazing, criticising not just the Government but the judiciary, the ISPCC and what he saw as the corrupt organisations that were rivals to his own.

Kelly claims that his group now has a membership of between four and five hundred members. He talks of the mandate these afflicted souls have given him and it is from this mandate that he draws his power. He believes, and he is probably right, that his organisation’s threat not to participate in this inquiry has gained the concessions granted thus far the resignation of Bob Lewis and individual legal representation for each victim of abuse appearing before the commission.

Last February, Irish SOCA held a meeting at Liberty Hall. The first part of the meeting was taken up with some very impressive demagoguery from Kelly. That was followed by addresses from Mary Raftery, who made States of Fear, and a handful of opposition politicians, including Alan Shatter, whose firm acts as solicitors to Irish SOCA. The enduring impression was of Kelly’s powerful exhortations to those present not to co-operate with the inquiry. The mandate was not so much given to Kelly as seized by him. But then it was easy to see how the disempowered could feel so empowered by visionary and appealing statements like “We need to have someone in our corner. We take centre stage here, not the judge, nor the State, as the State is indictable.”

Whether you like Kelly’s bull-in-a-china-shop-meets-sergeant-major style, you can’t but see the merit in many of his arguments. He opposes the fact that any evidence given at the inquiry cannot be used in subsequent criminal or civil trials. Like the “deal” he sees between other victim representatives and the Government, this so-called “immunity” is, he believes, also a “deal”. He believes immunity is being offered to abusers in return for co-operation with the inquiry. Judge Laffoy, who chairs the inquiry, has dismissed any suggestion of immunity. Furthermore, the commission has explained that the so-called “immunity clause” is essential under constitutional law in order to be able to compel people to appear at the commission. This is just a niggling detail to Kelly, yet another detail in what he sees as a vast conspiracy between “the unholy alliance of Church and State” to cover up the scandal of institutional abuse.

Slightly more difficult to empathise with is his argument that the Government should have no part in the setting up of any inquiry into this matter. Again, the language in which he conveys this is powerful, with poetic pauses perfectly placed. “The State is telling us again what’s good for us, like they did when we were children … but we’re not children any more.” Kelly wants a completely independent tribunal of inquiry with an international basis, a tribunal where the rules are set by survivors.

But just as John Kelly doesn’t trust the departments of Justice, Education or Health, the Catholic Church or the judiciary, neither does he trust many fellow survivors people in rival organisations. You get the impression that the only voice John Kelly trusts is that of John Kelly, which is in turn the voice of SOCA.

One international expert whom SOCA didn’t trust was Bob Lewis from the UK, who once worked in an institution which has been the subject of an investigation by the British police. Lewis resigned from the commission on Wednesday following SOCA’s demand that he do so. Bob Lewis’s record is impeccable and Kelly is careful to stress this.

In the wake of the resignation, Kelly claims that SOCA wanted Lewis’s retirement only because they felt he would empathise with other administrators of state institutions, having been one himself. As Lewis himself saw it, “People are being urged not to co-operate with the commission because, wrongly, the impression has been given that I am in some way implicated in inquiries related to child abuse in Britain.”

In fact, Kelly’s short career in the limelight has been littered with inconsistencies and about-turns. When I met him last week, his primary concern was the naming and shaming of abusers. He illustrated this point more than once by showing me a tabloid newspaper headline about a recently convicted paedophile. However, he also stressed the need for financial restitution as a tangible sign of the guilt and sorrow of the unholy alliance.

But just last December, Kelly was saying, “This is not about money, it is about uncovering the truth.” Kilkenny solicitor Michael Lanigan told an Irish SOCA meeting earlier this year that there was no need for a truth commission because we all know the truth. “You’re not going to get a compensation tribunal by polite request,” he told the audience. At the same meeting Kelly told the crowd that the commission was “just a confessional”. “We want compensation for what happened us,” he stressed.

Right now Kelly seems to want truth and much more. Through naming and shaming, he wants to see the families of the perpetrators of abuse stigmatised the same way his own family has been. He wants the State, the Church and the judiciary to pay for what they did, not just to come and confess their sins in the confessional of the commission. He would also like, he adds, to get back some of the money he has put into Irish SOCA.

When all that is done, he says, there will be no book or no political career. When that’s done he just wants to get on with his life.


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No one refuses a bargain. You might be checking out a funky 1960s coat at Se Si or a well-made pine table in an auction rooms and if you can get it for bottom dollar why say no? Rich as some of us are, everyone knows that if you count the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. The extra few bob come in handy, especially at this time of year. There is one bargain basement, benefit-in-kind which will not be the subject of a Public Accounts Committee investigation – that of the exploitation of child labour. Before getting into detail, let me acknowledge the debt this column owes to Questions And Answers, and specifically to a remark made there last Monday by journalist Breda O’Brien. Without her shared memories of her rural childhood, the insight she hit on would be consigned to the pages of Suffer The Little Children, by Ms Mary Raftery and Dr Eoin O’Sullivan, a book about which she is somewhat sceptical. And I would be fingering funky coats and pine tables without a second thought.  Ms O’Brien has been very busy since she hit the headlines trying to dispute certain facts reported there. Fintan O’Toole noted recently the “extravagant claims she made for her professional capability” in the matter while, of course, respecting her standing as a journalist.

The book is a must-read for every citizen, drawing as it does not only on over two years’ research by the award-winning Ms Raftery, who was accountable to RTE for the original programme’s accuracy, but on close to a decade’s academic scrutiny by Dr O’Sullivan, whose rigour won him a Ph.D. from Trinity College. Nothing it says has been disproved.  Unfortunately, Ms O’Brien’s words coincided with the timing of a debate about the Statute of Limitations Bill, a blunt and arguably unfair instrument now passed by the Dail and about to be heard in the Seanad.  Doubly unfortunate is their coincidence with Dr Patricia Casey’s public remarks about the condition labelled “false memory syndrome”, along with her earlier opinions about what she perceives as shortcomings in both the social worker and counselling professions. Incidentally, those two professions are the principal routes to uncovering child abuse and helping victims survive it.  MS O’Brien shared with us her childhood memories of Artane boys who worked on her father’s farm. It was a touching moment. You glimpsed a family bond which was strong and enduring, close enough for that little girl to ask her daddy if the rumours about Artane were true. He explained that he had also been punished at school.

The unasked question was did everyone have a rough time then? There is a world of difference between being hit with a strap, as my father was also, and being beaten within an inch of your life. We blur that distinction at our peril.

The facts about child labour uncovered by Dr O’Sullivan and Ms Raftery are shocking. So many people gained from the unpaid or underpaid work of industrial and reformatory school children that their sweat, blood and tears are buried deep within this economy.  People could, and did, buy their produce for half-nothing. Many of those goods survive today.  “Artane’s vast army of 800 boys worked the school’s 290-acre farm of prime land. Well into the 1960s, no labour-saving machinery had been purchased . . . With so much free child labour, Brothers presumably felt there was no need,” according to the book. Meat, eggs and dairy products were sold from Artane at market prices until the 1970s. No available records disprove the assertion that profits were denied to the boys who had helped create them.  Individual testimony tells how boys were sometimes hired out to farms and businesses who needed an extra hand. The effect was to offer an invisible layer of subsidy to farms and businesses who would otherwise have to pay considerably higher labour rates.

Older boys often went directly from Artane to be boarded out as farm labourers. Some were never paid, others were paid a low rate directly into an account controlled by the Brothers, with no guarantee that the boys would ever see it. Some were treated badly; others were encouraged and fed well for the first time in their lives.  THE demand for both farm labour and domestic servants was such as to encourage some school managers to reduce the children’s formal education on the basis that it would not get them a job. Within the schools, inmates did the heavy work, which saved on the need for paid staff and thus kept fees down in boarding for the day-pupil children from “respectable” families.  Trained to be meek, the boys and girls were biddable and vulnerable when they took up employment outside.   Dr Mona Hearne’s research on domestic servants revealed that attempts to unionise the sector never succeeded: you couldn’t afford to alienate your employer because only a reference from him or her would secure you another job. For former inmates, the choice otherwise was to be returned to a school or Magdalen laundry.

Even if people didn’t buy the rashers and sausages and eggs they produced for their high-fat Irish breakfasts, or get a “little girl” to do the heavy work, other benefits accrued to those who used their products and services. Tailored clothes rosary beads, hand-finished furniture, souvenirs and ornaments, boots and shoes were made by the schools. Mattresses were stuffed by hand, slip-overs and head-rests painstakingly sewn, tablecloths crocheted, embroidered or laundered according to need.  All were sold relatively cheaply, keeping consumer prices down for those items.  Everything was made possible by the institutional Catholic Church in Ireland. In the absence of contrary evidence, it still stands accused of pocketing the profits for unspecified purposes, and encouraging people who might otherwise have claimed to be “good Catholics” to exploit their labour with official approval.  

Buried in our thriving GNP is the unpaid debt we owe those workers. I’m dedicating my Millennium Candle to them.

Irish Times: Mon 12 Dec 1999



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