Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rome Rule, corrupt power and Irish child abuse

McQuaid The history of the Catholic Church in Ireland over the past 60 years provides specimen case studies that demonstrate the adage that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.  Irish bishops’ manipulated themselves into a position absolute power that was sufficiently robust to enable them panic the government of the day in much the same way as bankers do nowadays.  They did this without any mandate whatsoever except a presumption of trustworthiness, a benign acceptance that they act in the common good, like neighbourhood enforcers in gangland, the maintenance of secrecy and a tolerance for prevarication.  They were experts at flattering, smooching and cajoling politicians and still are.

Their deviousness was manifested in their manipulation of social policy on issues such as the availability of contraception, divorce and sex education and was clearly evident until the mid 1980’s.  But even before the publication on May 20th 2009 of The Ryan Report into child abuse at industrial schools, the Christian Brothers were routinely and stridently denying any culpability on their part.  There is now a new phenomena in Irish society – trust breakers who only respond to culpability when they are exposed.  They are wholly capable of reposing in a world of denial and obfuscation until the veil of secrecy is removed.

It is sometimes hard to comprehend the positive impact of the world wide web on the flow and velocity of information across the globe against this background and culture. I would imagine that the Irish bishops would have put a veto on the establishment of the internet in the early 1990’s had they the savvy to understand its potential. But, of course their technical know-how was restricted to the versatility of a fountain pen that used black ink and their cultivation of an ethos in Ireland that  ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule’

A milestone of this wretched environment concerned the legislation in 1951 to facilitate what was known as Mother and Child Service Scheme that had been introduced by Dr Noel Browne TD, then Minister for Health.  Browne became a minister on his first day in the Dáil following the 1948 general election at the age of 33.  This was intended to provide free maternity care for all mothers and free healthcare for all children up to the age of 16 years.  Browne, a medical doctor, had a particular interest in the treatment of tuberculosis which had reached epidemic proportions in Ireland in the 1950’s and he was also keen to overhaul the standard of public healthcare.

The bishops did not agree with his proposals and fought them vigorously on seven grounds:

  1. The State would control nationwide education relating to “very intimate matters of chastity – individual and conjugal”
  2. The health service proposed, the believed, ought to be secured on an individual basis and by “lawful associations”.  This meant they did not want any doctors involved on whose neck they could not stamp their ecclesiastical jackboots.
  3. They opposed the “undue and intimate interference in the relationship between parents, children and doctors”
  4. They argued that because they proposed services would be funded through taxation that citizens would feel compelled to avail of them and they objected to this.
  5. They considered that the raising of taxes to pay for a service “independent of the necessity or desire of the citizens to use the facilities provided” was objectionable.  I wonder what they would think of the Irish Government throwing €3 billion this month at the recently nationalised Anglo Irish Bank following the duplicity of its former Chairman, Sean FitzPatrick?
  6. The proposed scheme would “when enacted on a nationwide basis would damage gravely the self reliance of parents, whose family wage or income would allow them duly to directly provide whatever medical treatment they wished to avail of”.
  7. They were concerned that ministerial regulations rather than legislation would govern the service
  8. They pronounced themselves pleased that the proposed scheme did not have the support of the Government, as a whole.

The foregoing gives some insight into the unlimited capacity to connive and Machiavellianism and the concept of choice being limited to options that they approved of.

The prime mover on the part of the bishops was the Archbishop of Dublin (1940-1972) , Dr John Charles McQuaid who acted as principal manipulator and lobbyist with the politicians.  The consequence of their lobbying was that the proposal failed; the minister resigned from office and the Taoiseach, John A. Costello TD, took direct responsibility for health.

But it was this culture that also facilitated rampant child sex abuse; a culture of absolutism, denial, obfuscation, intolerance, autocraticism and a total absence of accountability and vicarious responsibility.

Following the publication of The Ryan Report on May 20th 2009 into child abuse in industrial schools and the appalling vista of paedophilia that it reveals, Ireland is awaiting the publication of another major judicial report into child sex abuse by priests in the archdiocese of Dublin.  This is likely to implicate up to 15 bishops and 4 archbishops, including McQuaid and his successors, Ryan (1972-1984), McNamara (1984-1987) and Connell (1988 – 2004) in respect of how they responded to these matters and handled allegations that abused individuals made.  Three of the four are long dead while Connell is a Cardinal.  Connell was appointed but the former president of the national seminary at Maynooth, Michael Ledwith, was strongly favoured by the then Nuncio, Dr Gaetano Alibrandi.  Ledwith resigned in disgrace from Maynooth College in 1994 and is no longer a Catholic.  He had been nominated for the presidency of the seminary for the former Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey, who also resigned in disgrace in 2002 when sex abuse in his diocese and the schools of his diocese became endemic.

The Dublin report is understood to contain up to 1,000 pages of detailed forensic accounts of child abuse by priests but unlike The Ryan Report it will name perpetrators, three of whom are currently before the courts.

Two serving bishops Walsh of Killaloe and McAreavey of Dromore in Northern Ireland, sat on a tribunal governed by Canon Law in 1992 to investigate allegations against a former priest, Fr Tony Walsh.  They found him guilty and recommend that he be dismissed from the priesthood – but no civil authority was ever informed.

Walsh had been a curate in the Dublin working class suburb of Ballyfermot

He pleaded guilty in 1997 to 12 charges of indecently assaulting six boys aged from eight to 14 between 1980 and 1986. He had been in charge of 60 altar boys as well as the children's Mass each week.

The Chairman of that tribunal Monsignor Alex Stenson wrote to the Gardai indicating the address at which Walsh was residing following his dismissal. The letter also stated 'in view of Fr Walsh's behaviour in the past, you might give this information whatever attention you may think it deserves.'".  Stenson has been parish priest of Killester, Dublin since 2007.

Walsh decided to appeal the 1992 tribunal decision and he attended a funeral in Palmerstown, Dublin in 1995 as a 'priest' where he abused the 11 -year-old grandson of the deceased in a church toilet at the child’s grandfather’s funeral service, despite having been told to stay away from that funeral by two other serving curates.

But he also attended in full clerical attire including a Roman collar posing  was a friend of the family.

When this Dublin report is published bear in mind the history, context and the scurrilous and unaccountable culture that prevailed in this country for decades, if not centuries as being the oasis in which this cactus flourished.  There are even more formal reports pending. 

Monday, June 29, 2009

Madeira – a pleasant 2009 vacation destination

Map picture

Madeira June 2009_0764 I HAVE never been to Portugal so when the option of choosing Madeira as a one-week vacation destination was suggested, at relatively short notice, the novelty of visiting somewhere that was new to me prompted this choice.  I was there from 21 to 28 June. 

The landmass of Madeira is about the same size as that of Singapore, 741 km2 kilometres.  It is smaller County Louth, Ireland’s wee county - 821 km2

But unlike Singapore and County Louth, the largest piece of real estate on level ground is the airport runway!  The 1,100 extension to it is built on 180 vertical concrete stilts over the Atlantic Ocean!  It is actually closer to the coast of Africa than it is to Lisbon.

The flight from Dublin takes 3½ hours and takes a route over Waterford and Tramore, to the west of the Scilly Isles, along the Bay of Biscay towards La Coruna Spain, Porto Portugal before reaching Funchal Airport. SATA Airlines provided a modern, comfortable Airbus A 320 and the airport is modern and efficient offering machine-reading passport recognition facilities to expedite a visitor’s arrival.

 Madeira June 2009_0887 The population of the island is of the order of 280,000 people, most of whom work and live near the capital, Funchal.  It was nice to be close to a city that has a substantial indigenous population because so many resorts seem like transitory centres of human migration. 

The climate was warm and pleasant with temperatures in the mid-twenties unlike the arid Mediterranean coast in summer .  But the island enjoys many micro climates.  The mountain peaks frequently attract cloud cover which, in Ireland, would augur very wet weather, but that is not the case there.  The tourist zone is built around a very attractive eco-marine mark that incorporates many attractive features, including a lido with the blue EU flag. Madeira does not have sandy beaches although this is the principal feature of neighbouring Porto Santo.

There are several excellent hotels in the vicinity, including the Pestana Grand, which has a beautiful garden, sea views, pools, sauna, Jacuzzi, steam room and library.  It was built in 2004 and has 177 rooms.  I was impressed by the architects use of curves in the design, both inside and out and the very ample amount of daylight inside.  I was fascinated by the butterflies in the garden.  They were as large as little birds!Madeira June 2009_0802_edited-1

The vegetation is lush and colourful with many exotic species growing wild and much of this is of African origin – the coast of Africa being only 360 kilometres distant.  The mountains and valleys are quite spectacular and the presence of levadas, miniature canal-like structures that skirt the mountains and collect water for both irrigation and drinking purposes provide excellent walking routes. 

Madeira June 2009_0742 I had the opportunity of joining a group that walked along Levada do Rei for a 10-km trek.  The scenery along the route was awesome although concentration underfoot is necessary because of sheer drops at some stages.

There are several cable car systems on the island one of which links the old town on the shore with Monte Palace and its spectacular tropical gardens. The 15-minute journey offers unrivalled views of the city of Funchal and the southern coast.  It is also possible to take a toboggan ride down the hill from Monte.

Madeira’s comfortable climate encouraged many to visit the island for therapeutic reasons.  Former British PM, Winston Churchill, was a regular post-war visitor and relaxed in the coastal village of Câmara de Lobos. 

The island seems to cater especially for middle-class people aged 50 and above.  I met a mature English couple at a bus stop in Câmara de Lobos one afternoon who have vacationed in Madeira 8 times.  When I enquired what the special appeal was the woman responded, with a tone of unmistakeable conviction “no lager louts” and there are none!

There is an abundance of restaurants and I would recommend a local fish delicacy called scabbard.  This is typically grilled or fried but sometimes boiled.  I’m told that fish is quite ugly in appearance but it is really tender and tasty when it reaches the plate!

Map picture

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dublin European Parliament Election Postscript

EU flag Now that the dust has settled it is interesting to reflect who were the ‘king-makers’ in the Dublin European Parliament election on 5 June by comparing the vote transfers in 2009 with those of the previous Euro election on 11 June 2004


The electorate in 2009 at 812,465, was slightly less than in 2004.  The total valid poll was lower at 406,630 compared to 421,897 in 2004.  As there were only 3 seats to be filled in 2009 the quota was higher at 101,658 compared to 84,380 last time.

Fianna Fail

The outgoing MEP, Eoin Ryan polled 55,346 in 2009, slightly less than the 61,681 he polled in 2004.  But his running mate this time, former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Eibhlin Byrne polled over 17,300 few votes than Ryan’s running mate last time, Royston Brady.  He never recovered ground and his widely predicted defeat materialised. Byrne was an excellent and gracious Lord Mayor but the tide against Fianna Fail was overwhelming.

Fine Gael

Gay Mitchell polled 96,715 votes this time and this was a real boost for Fine Gael in Dublin whose electoral efforts in the capital did not surpass 90,000 votes in the last several elections.  When he achieved quota on Count 4, half of Mitchell’s surplus of 2,755 votes went to Proinsias De Rossa but over 20% went to Eoin Ryan of Fianna Fail.


De Rossa’s polled a very credible 83,471 votes as a solo candidate.  He had a running mate in 2004, Ivana Bacik, who polled over 40,000 votes.

Green Party

Deirdre de Burca polled 19,086 votes, less than half the 40,000 votes the Greens have polled in greater Dublin in the past several elections.  Former Green Party MEP, Patricia McKenna, polled 17,521 votes in 2009, less than half of what she achieved as a Green Party candidate.  However, she stayed in the race longer than de Burca, having achieved over 4,000 second preferences from Simons, the Libertas candidate and 2,833 from de Burca.  Approximately 18% of deBurca’s second preferences went to Fianna Fail but only 9.6% of Fianna Fail transfers went to The Green Party

Sinn Fein

The votes were simply not there this time for Mary Lou McDonald,  She polled an exceptional 60,395 first preference votes in 2004 but this time she just polled 47,928 and never caught up. She got over 2,100 second preferences from de Burca and over 2,700 from McKenna.

Socialist Party

The sun and moon were perfectly aligned this time for Joe Higgins who won 0ver 50,000 first preferences in 2009 compared to the 23,218 he polled in 2004. He obtained a steady amount of second preference from the Independents and McKenna which helped put a margin of 2,800 votes between himself and McDonald when she dropped out at Count 6.  Higgins collected over 27,000 of her second preferences which meant that he was in the winners enclosure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ireland’s wilting personal wealth

euro The nest-egg of the average Irish household has declined by 42% from €95,022 in 2006 to €55,113 at the end of 2008.

This downturn is reflected in the financial assets owned by the households of Ireland. Net financial assets fell by €36.1 billion to €81.2 billion in 2008.

The Central Statistics Office has just issued a balance sheet of net financial assets for 2008 and this reveals the following downward trend:


€ Billion





Financial Assets, Jan 1





Net acquisitions





Valuation changes





Financial assets, Dec 31





Liabilities, 1 Jan





New borrowing





Valuation changes





Liabilities, 31 Dec





Net financial assets, 1 Jan





+ financial transactions





+valuations changes





Net financial assets,
31 Dec





Financial assets include deposits, shares and securities other than shares, life insurance and pensions, accounts receivable and liabilities comprise mainly loans, both short and long-term.

The decline in new borrowing from €23.2 billion in 2007 to €10.5 billion last year is both a reflection of the credit crunch and a decline in the demand for mortgages.  The main cause in the decline in personal wealth is the collapse in the valuation of financial assets in 2007 and 2008.

The 2006 Census of Irish Population indicated that there were 1,473,345 occupied houses in Ireland, an average of 2.81 persons per household. There were a further 296,000 vacant houses and apartments, including 50,000 holiday homes.

Residential construction was one of the major sources of taxation during the boom. The residential sector alone yielded over €1 billion in 2006 and 2007 but the total anticipated yield from stamp duties in 2009 is only €980 million.

The Irish economy is suffering the catastrophic consequences of a property bubble funded by Irish banks who raised the wherewithal on wholesale markets in Ireland and elsewhere.  The economy has been in damage-limitation mode since last Autumn.  The first initiative was the State guarantee of customer deposits, (or bank liabilities).  Ireland, I believe was the first of many countries to make this move last September.  The second step has been the recapitalisation of the banks using the resources of the National Pension Reserve Fund for this purpose.  The third initiative has been the establishment of a ‘bad bank’, the National Asset Management Agency.  A review of the banking sector is outstanding both in terms of its fitness for purpose, regulation and scope of activities.  Some consolidation is anticipated together with the removal of reckless and  incompetent bankers.  The sector has all the characteristics of a dysfunctional family for the time being with grandparents taking over parenting duties.  Old geysers, who have been retired for years are turning up in board rooms, some of whom never worked in the sector and who know as much about banking as I do about high-end prostitution!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Emotionally charged weeks for child abuse victims and citizens alike

Author and Taoiseach This is a picture of the author and the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, that was taken in Boston in 2005.  Every now and then Mr Cowen emerges from his shell and makes a really compelling, even passionate, speech and he did so last Thursday, June 11, in Dáil Éireann in the course of a debate on the report of The Ryan Report into child abuse in industrial schools. Many other contributors also made excellent contributions, including Ruari Quinn TD and Michael D Higgins TD.  It was noted, that for once, there was no game-playing by the politicians in this debate.  Their genuine sense of outrage and sense of purpose was clearly evident.

The previous day, Wednesday June 10th there was a march at lunch time from the Garden of Remembrance to Leinster House that attracted about 5,000 participants. Many travelled from well outside Dublin to demonstrate solidarity.  By all accounts it was a very dignified, sombre occasion but many of the victims interviewed in the media expressed what was a most deep-seated sense of relief as a result of the public recognition afforded them. President McAleese is to host them shortly at Áras an Uachtaráin. The President also made a statement on the findings of The Ryan Report. Victims met Mr Cowen on the evening of the march.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. was established in 2000 and their report was published its report on 20 May. Mr Cowen, in his contribution to the debate said that the Report is regarded as one of the most important reports, and almost certainly the gravest, ever published in the history of the State. It contains a shattering litany of abuse of children in care in Ireland over many decades. He acknowledged that it presents a searing indictment of the people who perpetrated that abuse, of the religious congregations who ran the institutions in which it took place, and of the organs of the State which failed in their duty to care for the children involved.

Cowen’s predecessor, Bertie Ahern TD, apologised to all victims on behalf of the State on 11 May 1999, ten years prior to the publication of the Report. The first recommendation of The Ryan Report is that a memorial be erected to the victims and that it be inscribed with the words of the Ahern apology.

“On behalf of the State and of all citizens of the State, the Government wishes to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse for our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue.”

The Government has accepted the recommendation of the Commission and admitted that the abuse of children, and the suffering they endured, occurred because of failures of systems and policy, of management and administration and of senior personnel who were concerned with industrial and reformatory schools. They are also deeply conscious that while the events inquired into by the Commission occurred, for the most part, many years ago, their consequences continue and live on in the burdens that the victims carry day by day. Cowen paid tribute to the dignity, courage and fortitude of witnesses who came forward to the Commission to recall events that happened those years ago and he remembered those former residents now deceased

The evidence presented in it makes clear that it was a correct decision to establish a system of redress which did not require victims to rely on the limitations of a compensation system based on litigation through the courts. Some people have had criticisms to make about the manner in which the redress board dealt with issues. However, the Taoiseach stated that it was right to have an approach which enabled survivors to be compensated without having to go through the courts and with a very different approach to proof and evidence.

This Report has radically changed the public perception of what went on in the institutions and the accounts of victims on radio talk shows have been very compelling. It has vindicated once and for all what was said over the years by former residents and by some others on their behalf. It is no longer possible to deny or to doubt. The Commission has spoken, the case is closed.

The catalogue of horror and terror that was visited over many years on children in the care of religious congregations, placed there by the State, is absolutely appalling. It is made even more appalling, if that is possible, by the fact that those who perpetrated the abuse had promised to uphold and practise the gospel of love and belonged to congregations founded to serve the very noblest ideals. It is worsened, too, by the repeated failure of the State, which placed the children in these institutions, to inspect or regulate the conditions in which they were held or the treatment to which they were subjected. The congregations should have loved them and the State should have cared about them. Neither did.

The report contains such horrific stories that it is difficult to know where to begin in talking about it. It provides detailed accounts of the regime and the suffering in seven schools run by the Christian Brothers, one by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, one by the Department of Education itself, two by the Rosminian Order, one by the Presentation Brothers and one by the Brothers of Charity. It also describes eight schools run by nuns, mostly by the Sisters of Mercy but including two run by the Sisters of Charity, and gives short reviews of documentary evidence about two schools providing residential care to deaf girls, though in their case most allegations of abuse referred to the harshness with which a particular mode of learning was imposed and in general the standard of care in those two schools was good.

The Report contains the report of the Commission’s confidential committee, which heard evidence from over a thousand men and women who reported being abused as children in Irish institutions. It devotes a whole volume to the role of the Department of Education, examining the extent to which the Department ensured, or failed to ensure, that its rules and regulations were upheld by the institutions and that the basic standards set for the children taken into the care of the State were being met.

The conclusions of the report are stark. The Commission found that physical and emotional abuse and neglect were endemic features of the institutions. Sexual abuse occurred in many of them, primarily in boys’ institutions. Schools were run in a severe, regimented manner that imposed unreasonable and oppressive discipline on children and even on staff. Inspections were not random or unannounced and, as a result, the inspector did not get an accurate picture of conditions in the schools. The inspector rarely spoke to the children in the institutions.

The Report concludes that rules governing the use of corporal punishment were disregarded with the knowledge of the Department of Education. A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all of those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.

As regards sexual abuse, the Report makes the truly appalling finding that sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ institutions. The situation in girls’ institutions was different; although girls were subjected to predatory sexual abuse by male employees or visitors or in outside placements, it was not systemic in girls’ schools.

Perpetrators of abuse were able to operate undetected for long periods at the core of institutions. Cases of sexual abuse were managed with a view to minimising the risk of public disclosure and consequent damage to the institution and the congregation. When lay people were discovered to have sexually abused, they were generally reported to the Garda. When a member of a congregation was found to be abusing, it was dealt with internally and not reported to the Garda. The report finds that when confronted with evidence of such abuse, the response was to transfer the offender to another location where, in many instances, he was free to abuse again. The relevant religious authorities knew that sexual abuse was a persistent problem in male religious organisations throughout the relevant period. However, the Report finds that some congregations remained defensive and disbelieving of much of the evidence heard by the investigation committee about sexual abuse in institutions, even where men had been convicted in court.

Sexual abuse of girls was generally taken seriously by the sisters in charge and lay staff were dismissed when their activities were discovered. However, the attitude of nuns made it difficult for them to deal with such cases candidly and openly and victims of sexual assault felt shame and fear of reporting sexual abuse.

The Report also makes bleak findings about neglect and the education provided in the schools. Children were frequently hungry, accommodation was cold, spartan and bleak, sanitary provision was primitive in most boys’ schools and general hygiene facilities were poor. Academic education was not seen as a priority for industrial school children and the industrial training afforded by all schools was of a nature that served the needs of the institution rather than those of the child.

There was a disturbing level of emotional abuse by religious and lay staff in institutions. Witnessing abuse of co-residents, seeing other children being beaten, seeing the humiliation of others and being forced to participate in beatings had a powerful and distressing impact, while separating siblings and restrictions on family contact were profoundly damaging for family relationships. Complaints by parents and others made to the Department of Education were not properly investigated. The Department sought instead to protect the religious congregations and schools.

It is not possible to adequately describe in detail the stories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse the Report contains and it would not be right to choose particular incidents or examples. Each story involves a child. No mother or father, no grandparent or brother or sister, no human being with a shred of feeling could read this report without constant and intense loathing and revulsion.

A haunting summary of the evils that were done and the opportunities that were lost. That paragraph recalls that many witnesses who complained of abuse nevertheless expressed some positive memories. Small gestures of kindness were vividly recalled. A word of consideration or encouragement or an act of sympathy or understanding had a profound effect. Adults aged in their 60s and 70s recalled seemingly insignificant events that had remained with them all their lives. Alas, often the act of kindness recalled in such a positive light arose from the simple fact that the staff member had not been given a beating when one was expected.

The Report concludes that more kindness and humanity would have gone far to make up for poor standards of care. How different now would be the lives of those who spent time in those institutions if acts of kindness and humanity, rather than of horror and abuse, had been their daily experience and how different, too, would be the reputations of the religious congregations and State.

The Report presents a portrait of Irish society which is deeply unsettling. How was it that so many children were committed to institutions where not only were they removed from care of their family but they were subjected to regimes of incarceration which were cold, impersonal and degrading when they were not violent, oppressive and abusive? How did the State, in whose name and through whose courts, police and laws children were consigned to institutions which were funded, regulated and inspected by the State, preside over such conditions for so many decades? How could religious communities, founded on the highest ideals of service and compassion for the poor, so completely turn their claimed vocation on its head and inflict such suffering and neglect almost as a matter of policy? It is a tribute to Mr. Justice Ryan and the members of the commission that their report brings together in a most persuasive fashion extensive material that helps us to begin to understand how and why this came about, as well as documenting with great care the reality of the sufferings endured by generations of children, neglected and abused in the so-called care of the State.

The historical survey contained in the report demonstrates how the industrial school system came to form part of the apparatus of social control which, together with the effects of sustained emigration, came to be a primary response to the endemic problems of under-development, under-employment and poverty. As the report notes, against the background of extreme poverty, some saw the schools as no worse than anything else and as offering children at least adequate food, clothing and housing.

Children’s allowances were introduced only in 1944 and only in respect of the third child and subsequent children. The Report notes that the decline in numbers committed to the schools coincided with that development. It also notes that the Adoption Act passed in 1952 and the general improvement in the economic situation from the late 1950s, accelerating in the 1960s, brought about a significant reduction in the numbers committed to schools. In this respect, the industrial schools formed part of a wider pattern.

Writing about the persistence of large mental hospitals in Ireland, the late Dr. Joseph Robins, who also wrote one of the first detailed accounts of the history of residential institutions for children and played a leading role in creating the modern child care system, wrote: “Institutionalisation both under the British administration and until recent times under native government was regarded by the authorities as the most economic and controllable way of dealing with social problems”. It is small wonder then that Irish society produced generations of what Dr. Robins rightly called “the lost children”.

The desperate economic and social conditions of many in Ireland were not in any sense an excuse for the conditions experienced by those who were committed to industrial schools. The report contains a devastating critique of the failure of the State, in particular through the Department of Education, to discharge its responsibilities in ways which would have protected children. The disregard for its own rules; the absence of any effective inspection system; the disregard of such problems as the limited inspection system revealed and of complaints from parents and others; the resistance to the growing volume of criticism and unease, including from other Departments and members of the Judiciary; the failure to act on the recommendations of a comprehensive review from an independent commission established by the Department in the 1930s at a time when the industrial school model was being replaced in the neighbouring jurisdiction; and the failure to exercise any proactive policy-making or standard setting role make for an overwhelming indictment of failure of responsibility.

The report attributes this to a deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the congregations concerned which compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty. This is undoubtedly a very significant part of the story. However, the evidence assembled in the report suggests that the Department shared, at least in the earlier years, much of the prejudice against the residents of industrial schools displayed by the general population. It is also clear the Department feared that interference in the school system could lead to the closure of the schools and a much greater financial liability for the State. In this, as in the behaviour of the religious congregations concerned, maintenance of the institutional system overshadowed other considerations, including the safety and not just the best interests of the children. Furthermore, the evidence in the report about conditions in Marlborough House Place of Detention, which was under the control and direct management of the Department, shows that the failings were not solely based on the involvement of the religious orders.

It was seldom in the industrial school system and the needs of children in the care of the State were raised. Even then, the discussion was generally about specific issues rather than the adequacy of policy and provision. As for the religious congregations concerned, the Report calls on them to examine how their ideals came to be debased by systemic abuse. It states: “they must ask themselves how they came to tolerate breaches of their own rules, and when sexual and physical abuse was discovered, how they responded to it, and to those who perpetrated it and more generally, how the interests of the institutions and the Congregations came to be placed ahead of those of the children who were in their care”. An initial attempt at such understanding is reflected in a submission from the Rosminian Order published by the commission and referred to approvingly in the report. It is necessary that the other congregations undertake a similar review since, in this as in all things, only the truth provides a basis for living with integrity.

Confronted with this appalling story, the Report naturally makes a wide range of recommendations. Some aim at alleviating or otherwise addressing the effects of the abuse on the people who suffered. These include that a memorial to the victims should be erected with the words of the apology made by my predecessor in May 1999 inscribed on it. Also, counselling services should continue to be provided to ex-residents and their families, family tracing services should be continued and the lessons of the past must be learned by the State and by the congregations.

The second set of recommendations is aimed at preventing, where possible, and reducing the incidence of abuse of children in institutions, and protecting children from such abuse. Briefly, these recommendations are that the overall policy and practice of child care should respect the rights and dignity of children and have as its primary focus their safe care and welfare.

In pursuit of this, national child care policy should be clearly articulated and reviewed on a regular basis and a method of evaluating the extent to which services meet the aims and objectives of the national child care policy should be devised. Rules and regulations must be enforced, breaches reported and sanctions applied. Services for children should be subject to regular inspections and these inspections should meet a specific set of requirements. Children in care should be able to communicate concerns without fear and should have a consistent care figure. They should not, save in exceptional circumstances, be cut off from their families and full personal records of children in care must be maintained. Finally, “Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children”, should be uniformly and consistently implemented throughout the State in dealing with allegations of abuse.

The Report has been published and its findings, conclusions and recommendations are known. It is proper that I should put on the record of this House the actions the Government has taken so far in response to it. In doing so, Mr Cowen said that the Government’s priority will continue to be the needs of the survivors, and that we will continue to engage with them in meeting those needs and in implementing the recommendations of the report that relate to them.

The Government held a special meeting on 26 May to discuss the report. A statement afterwards which reiterated their apology, on behalf of the the State and all Irish citizens, to the victims of childhood abuse for the failure to intervene, to detect their pain or to come to their rescue. The statement made clear that the Government accepts all of the recommendations of the Commission and is committed to their implementation, and that the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Barry Andrews TD, will develop an implementation plan for them that he will bring to the Government for its approval by the end of July.

The following day the Dáil passed a unanimous motion which among other things called on the congregations to commit to making further substantial contributions by way of reparation, in the context of discussion with the State, including to a trust to be set up and managed by the State for the support of victims and for other education and welfare purposes.

The Taoiseach and two ministers have met representatives of the 18 religious congregations. The congregations were told that the Government had accepted that the failings of the State had clearly contributed to the conditions in which the pain and suffering experienced by thousands of children in ways documented in the report of the commission came about and went undetected. They expressed the dismay and abhorrence which, with the whole of the population, the Government experienced on reading the report and the catalogue of suffering, deprivation and abuse which was the lot of so many children committed to institutions under the care of the religious congregations. They recognised that there was a variation in the extent to which the congregations at the meeting are covered by the report’s conclusions, and also that those now in leadership positions in the congregations, like the Government, are faced with the consequences of actions and failings of those who have gone before them in earlier generations. Some of the severest conclusions of the commission regarding religious congregations related to recent attitudes and behaviour.

The systemic nature of the findings and the sheer scale of the suffering endured by children and the grievous abuse of so many of them while in the care of the congregations meant that there is a moral responsibility to be faced. The view of the Government that further substantial contributions are required by way of reparation that is capable of being assessed by the public for their significance by reference to the full resources available to the congregations and in a context of the costs of well over €1 billion being incurred by the State.

It was agreed at the meeting that the congregations would meet with the other Ministers and Mr Cowen again shortly, where he expect them to outline to us the nature of the process by which their further contributions by way of reparation to the victims will be made. That process needs to be robust and transparent so that their response to all that has been revealed in the commission’s report meets the expectations of a public that is demanding a definitive, strong, clear, expeditious and sincere demonstration of the congregations commitment in this regard. The extent to which this is achieved will be assessed by the Government and we will consider what steps, if any, are necessary to ensure public confidence in the adequacy of any

The Residential Institutions Redress Board was set up to enable survivors to be compensated without having to go through the courts. The commission has reported with a clear and measured account of the suffering of children in our institutions, and with specific recommendations aimed at two objectives, namely to alleviate the effects of abuse on the people who suffered and to protect children in care from abuse.

The Government will work with the representatives of survivors to implement the recommendations relating to them. It will also have before it by the end of July a plan for implementing all of the report’s recommendations. While it is clear that putting all of the Report’s recommendations into effect will take time it is equally clear, given the abuse of children recounted in the Commission’s report, and the scale of it, the implementation of that plan, when approved, will be a major priority

Thursday, June 11, 2009

‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’

Anglo The board of Anglo Irish Bank that created the debacle that led to its nationalisation, – chronic losses, impaired directors’ loans and the elimination of its equity, contains an interesting set of mutually beneficial relationships.  What is particularly noteworthy is the cosy, intimate nature of these relationships is that they are seemingly blind to the most appalling violation of public trust committed by Sean FitzPatrick, the former chairman of Anglo until he resigned, in disgrace, from all board positions on 18 December 2008.  But the unctuous tributes would make a casual observer believe that a saint was being celebrated, not a flamboyant spiv who has destroyed the reputation of a proud nation.

He disclosed that he he concealed tens of millions of € at Irish Nationwide Building Society to conceal the existence of personal borrowing from Anglo Irish Bank from the contents of the Bank’s annual report and he also inveigled Bowler’s Irish Life & Permanent Plc to deposit €7.5 billion at the end of September 2008 in Anglo to appear to boost the deposit base of the Bank.  The Tier 1 capital at Bowler’s bank was a mere €4 billion and, coo, shucks, she didn’t know nothing about this deposit beforehand, notwithstanding that her fellow director, Danuta Grey, was a contemporaneous director of Aer Lingus with, guess who – FitzPatrick. 


Greencore Plc

                               greencore grp FtizPatrick became a director of Greencore Plc on 1 January 2003 and the Chairman of Greencore, Ned Sullivan, was a non-executive director of Anglo since 12 November 2001. 

The following summarises the fees’ aspect of this episode of mutual back-scratching:


Sullivan’s fees at Anglo Irish Bank

FitzPatrick’s fees at Greencore Plc

























Sullivan was a member of the 3-person Risk an Compliance Committee at Anglo in 2008.  This Committee would have risk evaluated directors’ loans amounting to €175 million, of which €31 million are impaired since nationalisation and approved loans to property interests that account for losses of over €4 billion in the half-year to 31 March 2009 and the moral hazard associated with this.

Sullivan, in his chairman’s statement in the 2008 annual report of Greencore Plc eulogises FitzPatrick, as follows:

“In December 2008, Sean FitzPatrick resigned from the Board.  Sean has been a key contributor to the Board for six years during a period of significant change for the Group.  The Board would like to thank Sean sincerely for his valued input and wise counsel which has contributed greatly to the growth and development of the Group during that period".”

Greencore Plc
YE: September 26

2003 – €(000)’s

2008 €(000)’s




Profit after tax



Share price

€2.70 (31 Dec 2002)

€0.95 (18 Dec 2008)


Smurfit Kappa Plc

smurfit Gary McGann, chief executive of Smurfit Kappa had been a director of Anglo Irish Bank since January 2004 and FitzPatrick joined the board of Smurfit Kappa on 20 March 2007.  The following summarises the fee trawl:



McGann’s fees at Anglo Irish Bank

FitzPatrick’s fees at Smurfit Kappa

















At 30 September 2008 Sullivan owned 440,084 ordinary shares in Anglo Irish Bank and McGann owned 5,900 ordinary shares.  McGann was a member of the Audit and Remuneration Committees.

The Chairman of Smurfit Kappa is Liam O’Mahony former boss of CRH Plc, and in his statement in the 2008 annual report about FitzPatrick was “I would like to thank all of the Directors for their contribution to the development and effectiveness of the Board and its various Committees.”  The Remuneration Report formally noted that FitzPatrick resigned from the Board in December 2008.  Is this not a perfectly dignified and appropriate way to deal with this matter!  No empty platitudes, no peasant cunning! 


Aer Lingus Plc

aer lingus tail FitzPatrick was appointed to the board of Aer Lingus in 2004 when it was a state enterprise.  He received a fee of €13,000 in 2005 and €18,000 in 2006.  The airline became a public company in September 2006.  Non executive directors’ fees at Aer Lingus were tripled from €18,000 to €45,000 immediately following the IPO.

Colm Barrington, Chairman of Aer Lingus, in his statement in the 2008 annual report would almost fill a spinnaker with the effusiveness of his eulogy of FitzPatrick “In 2008 Sean FitzPatrick resigned from the Board.  Sean served Aer Lingus extremely well and had a significant and positive influence on the company both before and after the IPO.”  Of course, given a share price of €0.59!  Fees paid to professional advisors in connection with and subsequent to the IPO at Aer Lingus were close to €60 million.  The cumulative loss recorded since the IPO is €72 million.  Enchanting!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dublin Euro Election, post mortem

EU flag The voters of Dublin have chosen Gay Mitchell (Fine Gael), Proinsias De Rossa (Labour) and Joe Higgins (Socialist Party) as their three new MEP’s on June 5th.  The media has been full of comment of winners and losers, victors and vanquished, the disappointed and forlorn.  Her is my perspective on the outcome in the Dublin Euro constituency:



2004 Election

% Share of Poll

2009 Election

% Share of Poll






Valid Poll









Fine Gael





Fianna Fail







De Rossa












Sinn Fein











Fine Gael

I speculated that if Mitchell obtained 100,000 votes that would be a real breakthrough in Dublin because they never surpassed 90,000 votes heretofore and are poorly organised and poorly represented in several parliamentary constituencies.  This election marks real progress.  Fine Gael now has 334 council seats throughout Ireland and 12 on Dublin City Council, a gain of 2.

Fianna Fail

A drop from 22% to 18% and a rout in the local elections and two by-elections is the reflection of a very angry electorate, many suffering severely as a consequence of the economic downturn and poor government economic management.  Ryan is a well respected politician but he bore the ire of the voters.  His running mate is completing a very successful year as Lord Mayor of Dublin. The number of councillors in Dublin has dropped from 12 to 6 and by over  100 throughout the country to 213.


Great strides in the local elections cannot mask a 2% drop in Euro support but De Rossa did well as a solo candidate.  While he has service in the European Parliament since 1989 he is not universally known throughout the county.  Labour captured a third of the Dublin city vote in the local elections and are the largest party in Dublin City Council with 19 seats.


They are suffering the consequences of being a coalition partner in a thoroughly unpopular government and also lost all of its 9 council seats in Dublin. 

Sinn Fein

The 2004 vote was a high watermark that was not sustainable in 2009. They lost 3 of their 10 seats on Dublin City Council.

Socialist Party

Higgins more than doubled his vote but is this surprising when the Live Register exceeds 400,000?  He is regarded as being very committed to his particular perspective.


Rejected by the electorate following an anaemic campaign by Simons.  The upstart organization had a substantial seat target across Europe but managed to have only one outgoing French MEP re-elected.  Its tears for the great vision.


McKenna’s star is on the wane and she is jaded.  The promise she presented as a Green Party candidate failed to inspire.

Moral hazard of nationalising Anglo Irish Bank

Lenihan The response of many prominent Fianna Fáil politicians to the result of the elections last Friday was to plead for more effective communication of Government actions. The saga of Anglo Irish Bank must provide a specimen illustration of ineffective communication.

It was nationalised on January 15th, less than a month after the abrupt resignation of former Chairman, Seán FitzPatrick, fellow director, Lar Bradshaw who has been the Government appointed director of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, David Drumm former Group Chief Executive, William McAteer, Group Financial Director and Chief Risk Officer, to mention but a few. McAteer is a former partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers. The current chairman of the nationalised bank was managing partner of that firm for a number of years. But the Government has failed to educate and convince the public that maintaining Anglo is in the national interest.

John McManus, has written a very compelling article in today’s edition of The Irish Times that argues the time has come to shut Anglo Irish Bank for good and the argument that it is too costly to close it is false.

No State money was invested since nationalisation but the begging bowl is out now. When the 6-month report to 31 March was issued on 29 May there was an immediate demand for €4 billion of additional capital. It was also signalled that further losses of €3.5 billion are anticipated. Anglo had assets of €101 million when it was nationalised. But the results at 31 Mar have diminished to €88.5 billion in a matter of 75 days since nationalisation.

The nation's capacity to bail out zombie banks is not infinite, nor is there much faith in their capacity to redeem themselves without extensive changes at the top. The National Pension Reserve Fund was valued at €15.5 billion on 31 March, having lost 30.4% of its value in the previous year. €7 billion of this has been invested in AIB and Bank of Ireland and if €4 billion is to be immediately committed to Anglo and a further demand for €3.5 billion is lurking in the shadows, the nation's sovereign wealth will amount to a mere €500 million.

The incidence of moral hazard is never far away when a fairy grandmother emerges to bail out an errant entity, and the former discipline of the stock market no longer prevails. It has emerged that Anglo made loans of €175 million to 10 directors and that €31 million of these are impaired. Would this impairment arise if the State was not involved and the stock market had to be impressed by the prowess of the business?

Apart from FitzPatrick who owes €106 million, Bradshaw, Drumm and McAteer the former directors were Tom Browne, Fintan Drury, Noel Harwerth, Anne Heraty, Michael Jacob, Gary McGann, Ned Sullivan, Declan Quilligan and Pat Whelan.  The former board received emoluments of €11.5 million in 2008, a slight reduction on the €12.9 million doled out in 2007.  But these far-sighted people decided that, had they remained, fees for non-executive directors would have been reduced by 20%!

This success of nationalisation is predicated on maximising the collection of outstanding liabilities. What signal is conveyed by a high incidence of impairment in the directors' loan account? There should be no directors loans whatsoever outstanding in a nationalised company.

The immediate call on State support of €4 billion immediately, is apparently to be made before the investigation of the Garda Fraud Squad and Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement is completed. Impaired loans amount to €10.7 billion and a further €12.9 billion are deemed, at this stage, to be 'past due, but not impaired'. But they could be against this background. Loans of over €300 million, provide by Anglo to its own customers to buy Anglo shares, are now impaired and await the pleasure of the Irish taxpayer.

The cost of running Anglo Irish Bank, now a State enterprise is exorbitant. The average salary for the 1,753 employees for six months was €48,488 (equivalent to €96,976 per annum). A comparison with those public entities that engage with Anglo reveals that the average salary at the Department of Finance in 2009 will be €58,601, while the average salary of staff in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is anticipated to be €64,946.

The Minister for Finance advised that nationalisation would mean "drawing a line under past activities". As the Minister is the only shareholder, why was it even necessary to engage a public relations firm in connection with the publication of the first interim statement since nationalisation? If the intention is to signal the drawing of a boundary with life under the ancient regime, why would the new board of directors and not be bold enough to 'go for change' rather than choose Drury Communications, a public relations firm established by Fintan Drury?  Drury was a former director of Anglo Irish Bank until June 27 2008. He was paid €85,000 in 2008 as a retainer to attend 4 board meetings and 6 meetings of the Anglo Risk and Compliance Committee and 2 meetings of the Nomination and Succession Committee.  Surely there is some due out of a staff of 1,753 that could coherently articulate what is happening, or have all those with these qualities already resigned?

The Government has not done enough to convince the public of the systemic importance of either Anglo Irish Bank or Irish Nationwide Building Society. The McManus article suggests that since it is most unlikely to redeem its reputation. Customer funding has dropped from €47.8 billion on 30 September to €34.1 billion on 31 March – driven by “a market wide aversion to risk”. But is also reflects the decrease of €7.3 billion of customer deposits received from Bowler’s Irish Life Assurance Company that was designed to hoodwink stakeholder at the end of the last financial year – 30 September 2008. 

Customer lending, to existing customers, increased fractionally from €71 million to €72.3 million and €700 million of this concerned capitalised interest and the roll-up of other interest outstanding.  Basically it is a matter of endemic stagnation combined with a ruined reputation and an open-ended drain on public funds.

Ireland’s credit rating was reduced on June 8th to AA negative by Standard & Poor’s on account of the fiscal cost of weakening bank sector asset quality.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Anglo Irish Bank -Taxpayer: ‘open your wallet’!

Anglo The publication of the latest 6-month results from recently nationalised Anglo Irish Bank, to 31 March 2009, have been described as ‘very disappointing’  by the Minister for Finance.   Chairman, Donal O’Connor, says they are a reflection of trading conditions that have been ‘very challenging’ and a funding environment that is ‘extremely challenging’.  All of this is now to be ‘very challenging’ for the Irish taxpayer who will be asked to immediately fork out €4 billion in additional capital out of ‘very disappointing’ Irish tax revenues in 2009 – not anticipated to surpass €34 billion.

Anglo has incurred a €4.1 billion loss including a specific impairment charges of €3.7 billion and collective charges of €400 million.  But there will be more, much more, perhaps as much as €3.5 billion more.  These calls on public resources have absolute precedence over all others, including special needs education, medical cards for older citizens because Anglo Irish Bank is of ‘systemic importance’  Citizens’ are not systemically important in this republic.  They are expendable pariahs’, apart from their capacity to sustain Ireland’s crony capitalists and the herd of politicians who feed of them.  The comments and supplications of economists employed by Irish banks’, brokers and representative bodies – reveal the insight of eunuchs with possibly a junior certificate grasp of economics and an overwhelming sense of their own self-importance.

It is particularly distressing to observe that a €31 million impairment charge relates to loans to directors of Anglo Irish Bank, including €8 million granted on ‘non-recourse’  terms but renewed on ‘full-recourse’ terms.  Directors’ loans total €175 million at 31 March 2009 before the impairment split between 10 directors, none of whom held office at 31 March 2209.  There are also loans of €7 million due from two senior managers.  Directors’ deposits at €20 million are €7 million less than on 31 March 2008.  The risk management processes at Anglo Irish Bank were as effective as splashing after shave on a skunk in order to eliminate foul odours.

The €175 million directors’ loan figure includes €106 million due from the former chairman, ‘Seánie’ FitzPatrick.  He owed €83.3 million on 30 September 2008 and €119.8 million on 31 March 2008.

Total loans outstanding increased slightly to €72.3 billion.  The proportion of this classified as ‘good’, ‘satisfactory’, ‘lower quality, but not impaired’ is €48.6 billion, compared to €68.44 billion on 30 September 2008.

Those that are ‘past due, but not impaired’ are €12.9 billion and, of great concern to taxpayers, the proportion of the loan book that is impaired is €10.7 billion.  The combined sum, €23.6 billion compares to €2.53 billion just six months earlier.

The are also some interesting changes in staff levels and remuneration following the disposal of Anglo’s Swiss and Austrian private banking businesses:


Anglo Irish Bank

6-Months to
31 March 2009

6-Months to
30 September 2008

Staff remuneration



Staff numbers



Average pay
for half-year




When restated on an annual basis, the average pay at Anglo Irish Bank is €97,776, now funded by increased government borrowing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

By-election woes in Dublin for Fianna Fail

The voters have spoken and cast their verdict. George Lee’s political ambitions have been wholeheartedly endorsed in Dublin South while the voters, while the voters in Dublin Central have remained loyal to the memory of the later Tony Gregory and seemed set to elect his chief aide, Maureen O’Sullivan


General Election
24 May 2007

5 June 2009




Fianna Fáil

25,298 (41.3%)

9,250 (17.7%)

Fine Gael

16,686 (27.2%)

27,768 (53.4%)


6,384 (10.4%)

10,294 (19.7%)


6,768 (11.0%)

1,846 (3.5%)

Sinn Féin

1,843 (3.0%)

1,705 (3.2%)

Progressive Democrats

4,045 (7.1%)



1,173 (2.5%)

Valid Poll / Turnout

61,204 (67.3%)

52,036 (58.2%)

The Ahern brand only managed to secure a 5th place for Maurice.


General Election
24 May 2007

5 June 2009




Fianna Fáil

15,398 (44.5%)

3,848 (13.5%)

Fine Gael

3,302 (9.5%)

6,439 (22.6%)


4,353 (12.5%)

4,926 (17.3%)


1,995 (5.7%)

819 (2.8%)

Sinn Féin

3,182 (9.1%)

3,770 (13.2%)

Tony Gregory

4,649 (13.4%)

Maureen O’Sullivan

7,639 (26.8%)


1,760 (5.3%)

817 (3.8%)

Valid Poll / Turnout

34,639 (54.6%)

28,412 (45.7%)

Fianna Fail are in a quite a pickle in Dublin. The have 18 of 130 council seats in the 3 Dublin councils and no representation at all in 10 of the 27 wards. This is quite a tumble from the 40.4% share of the poll achieved in the May 2007 general election and the 19 TD's that it produced.