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THOUSANDS OF children suffered physical and sexual abuse over several decades in residential institutions run by religious congregations, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has found.

The report published yesterday describes how children lived in “a climate of fear” in the institutions and finds that “sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ institutions”. Cases of sexual abuse were hidden by the congregations that ran the institutions and offenders were transferred to other locations where they were free to abuse again, the report says.

The commission, which was chaired by Mr Justice Seán Ryan, heard from more than 500 witnesses who said they had been sexually abused.There were also many reports of injuries, including broken bones, lacerations and bruising.

Eight chapters in the report are devoted to the Christian Brothers, the largest provider of residential care for boys in the State. More allegations were made against the Christian Brothers than all other male orders combined.

The report sharply criticises the Department of Education for failing to carry out proper inspections. “The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection,” the report says. The commission, which was set up in 1999, investigated industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages, institutions for children with disabilities and ordinary day schools. It heard evidence covering the period from 1914 to the present but the bulk of its work addressed the period from the early 1930s to the early 1970s.

More than 1,700 men and women gave evidence of the abuse they suffered as children in institutions, with over half reporting sexual abuse. Accounts of abuse given in relation to 216 institutions are detailed in the report, which runs to nearly 3,000 pages.

More than 800 priests, brothers, nuns and lay people were implicated. The final cost of the commission may be over €100 million.

Responding to the report, the Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady said he was “profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways”. He added: “Children deserved better and especially from those caring for them in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Reacting to the report, Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe said “the wrongs of the past” could not be undone. “However, as a responsible and caring society, we must fully face up to the fact that wrong was done and we must learn from the mistakes of the past.” Mr O’Keeffe extended his “sincere and profound sympathy” to those who were abused.

Speaking in the Dáil, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government would “carefully study the findings and recommendations”. He acknowledged the report would show the “great failings of the State and many others in the care of children. . .”

The Christian Brothers, who are severely criticised in the report, also issued an apology. “We are deeply sorry for the hurt caused. We are ashamed and saddened that many who complained of abuse were not listened to . . .” they said in a statement. “We appreciate that no healing is possible without an acknowledgement of our responsibility as a Congregation for what has happened,” they added.

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, said the stories of abuse were “stomach-churning”. All church organisations mentioned should seriously examine how their ideals had become debased by systematic abuse, he said.

There was a mixed reaction from victims groups. The One in Four organisation, which offers support to victims of abuse, said publication of the report marked a “shameful day” for Ireland. Chief executive Maeve Lewis said: “We all turned our back on the children who were so shamefully treated in these institutions.”

Child welfare organisations called for a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of the child. Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos, said: “We must guarantee that the voices of children are never silenced again.”

The report recommends an overhaul of the inspection system for childcare services to include unannounced inspections and objective national standards. It also proposes the erection of a memorial to victims of abuse in the institutions.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is separate from the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which has received some 15,000 applications. It is expected the total cost of awards by the board will exceed €1 billion, of which €128 million has been contributed by 18 religious congregations.

PAUL CULLEN and PATSY McGARRY Irish Times

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The Abuse of Children.

IN THE aftermath of the shock and horror expressed by politicians on both sides about the scandal of the abuse of children in Institutional Care, the most inane remark must be accredited to Taoiseach Eamon DeValera. Remember, the Child Abuse Commission exposed a litany of horror in the Institutions, including children being physically and sexually abused, abandoned and exploited and the reason, according to Eamon DeValera, was that the Inspectorate at the Dept. for Education was “duped”.

It wasn’t just duped; it showed an incredible degree of naivete, gullibility and a laissez faire attitude to the children’s well-being. It would appear, from what the Taoiseach said, that the inspectorate had been aware of most of the appalling things happening in those places for quite a considerable time. DeValera said the inspectorate had been dealing with the Institutions and their management and thought progress was being made. Then he said: “The Inspectorate believed that what they were told on these issues was being followed through and the systematic abuses we read about in this Report were issues that they did not think were happening anymore.”

The issues that were happening in the Institutions, – several of which DeValera officially visited throughout his years as an elected member of the Dail, – included unaccounted deaths of children, criminal neglect, abuse, outrageous physical punishment, sexual abuse, child labour, starvation of children, the selling of babies to rich American cathilics.

It seems incredible the Dept. for Education should merely accept an assurance that such things weren’t happening. In saying it was “duped”, the Taoiseach in some way seeks to mitigate its responsibility to the children. The Dept. for Education wasn’t so much duped as criminally inept in carrying out its responsibilities. But the worrying aspect is that it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that similar, if not worse, abuses are taking place in all Child Care Institutions.

The system of inspections or, more accurately, the lack of inspections encourages unscrupulous Religious Orders to inflict a regime of abuse on their very young charges. Legally, the Institutions should be inspected twice a year but only one-fifth of them were “inspected” just once a year. Only God really keeps an eye on the Institutions because the State has deemed they need very little supervision at all, the standards of care being presumed to be impeccable in all of them !!! It was with a certain amount of disbelief that the horrified outpourings of TDs of all parties were greeted because we could see the politicians in competition as they sought to better each other in the indignation stakes.

The Minister for Education’s apology to the children, and their families (those children that had any family), must have been a great consolation to them !! – and they must have felt sorry that the “Minister” should be so shocked and disturbed !!! No Education minister should have to go through such trauma !!! Dr. Anna McCabe has time and time again called for a statutory, independent, transparent inspectorate with the right to close negligent Institutions. Nothing happened, of course, despite the fact that such a provision is contained in the Regulations governing Industrial Schools.

You might have imagined, given the outbursts of outrage and indignation from the Dail over these revelations, that our national parliament was on the verge of doing something over this scandal and prevent it happening again. Seeing as a bill is being drafted at the moment which could facilitate such prevention, it would be logical to expedite and enact it urgently. The problem is the Dail would have to defer its three-month summer holiday, which is about to begin, and nothing will be allowed to interfere with that. Eamon DeValera made his mind up very quickly about the independent inspectorate the bill could wait until the autumn – besides he has to get some work done on his eyes in Belgium this summer.

So, while Eamon is away for the summer, the Religious Orders, who couldn’t care less about those in their charge, can carry on regardless. They have anyway, up to now, because the chances of being inspected are remote and even then the inspectors will give them a ring to let them know they’re coming.

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