Almost every metropolitan newspaper across the world published a story on Thursday, May 21st about the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in Ireland.
The Commission was established on 23 May 2000 and heard evidence of childhood abuse from attendees of industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages, and a hospital or in a child’s own home since 1940. Industrial schools were established under law in 1868 Ireland to cater for neglected, orphaned or abandoned children.
Public awareness of extensive childhood abuse in these schools was heightened by a television documentary, States of Fear in 1999 that lead to a public apology in the Dáil (Parliament) by the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern TD. This coincided with the exposure of widespread clerical child sex abuse in Ireland, United States and elsewhere.
The types of abuse investigated included:
- Physical abuse - infliction of injury or failure to prevent injury
- Sexual abuse – use of a child for sexual gratification or arousal
- Neglect – failure to care properly
- Emotional abuse
Examples of abuse included, for example, being caned on bare buttocks, being invited to ‘search’ for a coin in the pant pocket of a cleric, being obliged to spend overnight in the open air, often during inclement weather, sharing a bed with an alcoholic nun, being stripped and beaten in front of other people and inflicting bruising and black eyes.
Approximately 170,000 children attended these institutions between 1936 and 1970. The issue of compensation was determined by a Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) and a total of 14,584 applications were received by 15 December 2005.
The position in May 2009 is that RIRB has completed 13,190 cases and has made awards totalling €787.45 million and the average value of the 12,436 awards made to date has been €63,320. A total of 1,892 awards were for sums in excess of €100,000 and 27 were in the €200,000 - €300,000 range.
A total of €138.5 million was paid in legal costs to 817 firms of solicitors.
The Irish Government entered into a contractually binding agreement in 2002 with the 18 religious congregations implicated in the Report which capped their liability at €127 million. It was anticipated that this would represent a 50-50 burden share between the State and the religious congregations. But this has not been the case in practice and the religious congregations will not increase their contribution.
The publication of the Report was spurred debate and discussion about:
- The issue of compensation and burden sharing with many advocating a greater contribution by the religious congregations in the light of the evidence contained in the Report
- The violation of public trust and the future relationship of citizens with the religious congregations and their representative organization the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI)
- The appropriateness of a memorial to commemorate victims.
Response of Religious Congregations
There are 80 active religious congregations in Ireland and of these 18 are cited in the Child Abuse Report.
When this report was published last week it would have been interesting to discover the response of their representation, the Congregation of Religious of Ireland (CORI), especially from a justice perspective. But there has been no comment whatsoever.
The nation has, however, heard CORI, at its most passive, “is not aware of any plans to revisit the terms of the compensation deal concluded in 2002” . This has been reconfirmed on Monday, May 25th. The counterparty to this agreement, the Irish Government, advise that it is inviolable from a legal perspective, while other politicians seem content to exploit the revulsion of the electorate for the purpose of aggrandizing, grand-standing and posturing within days of a set of elections.
Three compelling issues arise as a consequence of this Report and the forensic detail contained therein:
- The first and most obvious relates to the compensation of victims and on whom the burden for this falls. The timing of the compensation agreement reached 7 years ago was two years after the Commission was established on 23 May 2000 and 17 months before the resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy as Chairman of the Commissioners on 12 December 2003 on grounds of dissatisfaction with the level of government cooperation being given the Commission at that time.
The evidence that is now in the public domain combined, with the very large number of victims whose claims has been accepted, put the matter of compensation and burden-sharing into a completely different context than that which prevailed in the summer of 2002 and this perspective was supported by Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin.
This agreement maybe watertight and it may define the finite element of burden-sharing from a legal perspective. But it is not an agreement on faith, hope, charity or justice. It is an agreement that is essentially based on low peasant-cunning.
The diminishing cohort of Irish taxpayers, at a time of chronic economic recession and whose own livelihoods are under constant threat, are to bear a burden for the criminality of your members’ which will absorb all of the customs, all of the capital gains tax and all of the capital acquisition tax revenue that that State will receive in 2009.
- The second issue concerns the violation of public trust. Public trust is not something that is created from money, or by a photo-opportunity on the plinth of Leinster House with an ageing government minister and a soon to retire secretary-general of the Department of Education & Science, or over a glass of port, or cup of coffee in Buswells Hotel. It is certainly not a commodity that is a function of the amount paid in respect of victim compensation, however adequate or inadequate, the burden-sharing of that might be.
Trust is precious. It is hard-earned but the pantheons’ of upon which it exists collapse to powder and rubble when the basis for it has been fatally undermined. The18 religious congregations concerned with these episodes of grotesque abuse have lost public confidence and respect. The genesis of the social and justice objectives that CORI seek to alleviate – homelessness, binge drinking, social isolation, destitution of body and spirit, can be attributed directly to the abuse cited in the Report which covers 170,000 poor, wretched, vulnerable minors, many of whom now have issue and lineage.
This rupture of public trust means that the heirs, successors and lineal descendants of those who demanded that a child lick faeces off the boot, or was regularly raped and sodomised by a members’ of up to 18 religious congregations’ now have as much authenticity in the forum of public esteem as those of a ventriloquist representing the interests in Ireland, of the successors, issue and lineal descendants of Oliver Cromwell, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.
- The third issue concerns whether a memorial of some sort is appropriate to commemorate the legacy of what has been revealed in the Report. I can think of no more appropriate memorial than the immediate disbandment of each of those congregations’ cited in the Report.
If it can be successfully demonstrated that this would ignore the contribution of many fine contemporary individual members of a congregation, then perhaps alternative proposals might be put forward to capture whatever energy and remnants of integrity are worthy of perpetual continuity. But one thing is abundantly clear – the high minded ideals and mission of their founders’ have been diverted and embedded in the genitals and rectums of too many children for them to continue as the paragons of virtue which they deem themselves to be.
List of Cited Congregations
- The Rosminian Institute of Charity
- The Dominican Order
- The Sisters of Mercy
- Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
- The Presentation Brothers
- The Religious Sisters of Charity
- The Christian Brothers
- The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul
- The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge
- The Brothers of Charity
- The Daughters of the Heart of Mary
- The De La Salle Brothers
- The Sisters of St Clare
- The Presentation Sisters
- The Sisters of St Louis
- The Hospitaller Order of St John of God
- The Sisters of Nazareth
- The Oblates of Mary Immaculate