F'lines child ab 331
Child Abuse Scandal
The Good Priest: David Rooney's controversial illustration from 2005
It was 1985 when BRUCE ARNOLD first
wrote about the child abuse scandal
in Ireland. In a powerful new book on
The Irish Gulag, he is hugely critical of
the efforts of the State as well as the
Church, accusing them of conspiracy.
WORDS Jason O'Toole
The Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child to those in the camps, more or less at the whim of the
Abuse – also known as the Ryan Report – is flawed
Commandant. But one bad parallel is probably enough."
and "will bring no closure for the victims".
CONSPIRACY BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE
This is the damning assessment of the renowned polemic
Arnold was inspired to write The Irish Gulag for two "very
writer Bruce Arnold, who spent over six years investigating
personal reasons". The first came from his own childhood
the child abuse scandal. During this period in his Irish
experiences of growing up in a "dysfunctional family" in
independent column, Arnold broke many of the key stories
surrounding what is undoubtedly one of the most shameful
"My parents were not married as my father couldn't get
episodes in the history of the State's existence.
a divorce from his first wife. My mother had five children,
Arnold's tireless research has resulted in a new book,
two girls and three boys, with me in the middle. My father
which is an authoritative account of the abuse conducted
drank; my mother had a bad heart and died at the age of
by priests and nuns in the industrial schools. Entitled The
38,. That would have qualified all of us, in Ireland, for
Irish Gulag: How the State Betrayed Its Innocent Children, the book's
incarceration in one or other of the industrial schools.
title draws comparison with the notorious Russian Gulag
"In fact it led to my two brothers and myself going into
regime, which was a network of prison camps for children
what was variously described as ‘a home for boys' and
that masqueraded as schools.
‘Kingham Hill Orphanage for Boys'. That was in the autumn
"In the Russian Gulag – so well described by Solzhenitsyn
of 1943. As late as 1948, in the Ordinance survey maps of
– life itself was cheap and millions died at the hands of the
the area of the Cotswolds, the school was still described
Soviet Union's monstrous leader, Joseph Stalin," Arnold
as ‘Kingham Hill Orphan Homes'. It became a school but
explains. "One of the greatest ironies of the system was
always reserving special attention for children from broken
that a small but significant number of children were
homes. It was a wonderful school. I loved my time there.
incarcerated, for their whole childhoods, for truancy. And
We were treated kindly, educated well and given our self-
then they were put to work, on miserable rations and in
respect and dignity. But I was fortunate. It could have been
cold, unhygienic circumstances, working for the orders and
far different scenario if I had been reared in Ireland…"
not being educated. In Ireland, while few actually died, the
Arnold also became interested in the scandal after hearing
indifference was the same. Unlike Russia, in Ireland, the
first-hand some horror stories of abuse in the industrial
children were worth money so long as they were kept alive."
schools. The experience prompted his wife Mavis Arnold
He makes the point that comparisons with the treatment
to co-write, with Heather Laskey, a ground-breaking book,
of prisoners in concentration camps is not entirely off the
Children of the Poor Clares, on the subject back in 1985, long
before any of the other investigative works.
"In what was done to the children, there was a parallel
"My wife and I had a pregnant girl to help us with our
with the Nazi concentration Camp system," he insists. "At
children when they were young," he recalls. "It was her
the heart of this was the rule that anything could be done
third pregnancy. All had resulted from unhappy, transient
criticising its limited terms of reference," he recalls. "I condemned the fact that it operated under the Department of Education, the main culprit in allowing the abuse to continue over a period of six decades."
Nor is he done with controversy on the subject yet.
He is angrily dismissive of the way in which the entire process has been handled by the State,
"I need hardly say that my findings on the
completed Commission Report is that it is a white-wash," he says, "incomplete in crucial areas and lacking the forensic approach of other State tribunals. What Bertie Ahern and his Ministers did – and it has been the object of constant criticism and questioning by me – is nothing short of a cover-up and the Ryan Report is part of that. It is hugely expansive about the terrible things that happened in the past. It is mealy-mouthed and restrictive about the behaviour of the State over the past ten years: about how the State stopped Mary Lefoy in her tracks; about how the Department of Education failed to give the full story, ‘lost' documents, found them again, covered up essential material and in any case should not have been running a Commission of Inquiry when they themselves were being inquired into."
"THE COMPLETED COMMISSION REPORT IS
A WHITE-WASH – INCOMPLETE IN CRUCIAL
AREAS AND LACKING THE FORENSIC
APPROACH OF OTHER STATE TRIBUNALS."
taking a meagre €127m in exchange for immunity for
Arnold's book challenges the motive, purpose
and direction of any supposed State process of
"Undoubtedly there was an conspiracy between
Church and State, and the so-called ‘Secret Deal' was
"Far from being for the abuse victims, this was
at the heart of this," explains Arnold. "How could
aimed at self-protection by the State," maintains
a deal of such consequence be put through, signed
Arnold. "The compensation issue is a completely
and sealed, by an outgoing Minister, without benefit
phoney one. The deal was signed and sealed in 2002.
of Cabinet approval and vetting by the Attorney
Though I investigated it and the Comptroller and
General? And why was it done? Why the secrecy?
Auditor General investigated it, nothing was done.
Why the haste? My probing drew the attention of the
Noel Dempsey, Education Minister at the time,
Comptroller and Auditor General, John Purcell, to the
defended it. He said that it could not be renegotiated.
responsibilities of the State in taking the lion's share
He says the same today. He is not shedding crocodile
of responsibility for abuse claims and letting the
tears, like the present Minister for Education, Batt
Church off with ten per cent responsibility.
O'Keeffe, who has a sentimental belief that the
"I also published articles, which were addressed
orders will come across with something more.
to the new Archbishop of Dublin, that helped to
"On the face of it, the State's compensation system
persuade Diarmuid Martin to release the highly
cannot be changed. It operates by law through the
controversial Henry Moore Report on Artane. This
Redress Board and everything awarded is given on a
was published in the Irish Independent against the
points system. There is no reason for the Religious
wishes of the Sean Ryan Commission. They sought
to give more to the State – but we will see on that
to dissuade Martin and suppress publication of
score. Compensation, or Redress, as it was called in
and abusive relationships. After a time she told
the Report. The Report was highly critical of the
the legislation, is a thorny issue. It was made secret
us of her background as a girl in the care – what
Christian Brothers and their administration of the
and this in itself was a cover-up. The payments are
a ridiculous word for it! – of the Poor Clares in St
largest Industrial School at Artane."
fractional compared with what the High Court would
Joseph's in Cavan town. Another friend, Heather
award for the dreadful levels of abuse involved. "
Laskey, also had a similar helper from the same
THE COMPENSATION DEAL IS PHONEY
How damaging is all this to the Catholic Church in
Arnold is also highly critical of the then Taoiseach
"Those girls were savaged by the nuns. There is
Bertie Ahern's handling of the scandal.
"I hope irreparably in anything that belongs to
no other word for it. In addition, through their
"I exposed serious misinformation by Bertie Ahern,
the old dispensation. The Church, if true and open
stupidity and religious fervour the same nuns caused
about the origins and motives for his so-called
and generous and loving, can possibly build for
the deaths of 35 children in the convent fire there
‘apology' in 1999. I showed – with the support of
itself a new life and role among the Irish people. I
in 1943. This was covered up by the State during an
confidential Cabinet papers – that it was primarily
regard myself as a Christian and the Christian faith
inquiry, which absolved the nuns. When the abuse
concerned with protecting the State against
as taught by Christ is infinitely valuable. Humans
saga erupted with the Goldenbridge revelations
legal action by the abused. Ahern also lied about
always mess it up by sanctimonious hypocrisy, lies,
and then with Mary Raftery's stunning States of Fear
consultations with organisations for the abused, at
arrogance and greed. All of that has to stop," Arnold
programmes, I was ready for all that was coming."
a time when none of these organisations had been
Indeed, he was ready. In 2003, Arnold was the
formed," says Arnold.
Can the Church survive?
journalist who exposed the controversial ‘Secret
Bruce stuck with the story through its various
"I am not optimistic," Arnold concludes.
Deal' negotiated by the then Minister for Education
twists and turns.
Michael Woods with the Catholic Church in the
"I analysed the workings of the Commission to
The Irish Gulag: How the State Betrayed Its Innocent Children is published by Gill
summer of 2002. The key to the deal was the State
Inquire into Child Abuse from its earliest operations,
and Macmillan and is in all good book shops now.
THE CHILD ABUSE SCANDAL
abuse certainly continued into the 1970s and indeed later. Corporal Punishment was banned from Irish schools in 1982 by the then Minister for Education, John Boland with the issuing of a simple regulation instructing teachers that it was banned.
How many people were affected?
It depends on how widely you want to interpret the
word ‘abuse'. Beating kids up in schools had been routine in Ireland in State-run national schools and boarding schools for the well-to-do alike. It is widely accepted that the Christian Brothers ran the toughest regime and everyone who went to a Christian Brothers-run school is likely to have witnessed varying degrees of brutality. But what happened in the reform schools like Daingean, and in industrial schools and orphanages generally, was far more systematic and more extreme. Religious orders were always at the heart of the action and responsible for the worst of the abuse.
Who was responsible for running these
There were 18 different religious orders who ran
them on behalf of the State, including the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Charity, the Presentation
What is the Ryan Report?
Brothers, the Dominican Fathers and the Christian
The Commission To Inquire Into Child Abuse was
appointed by the Government in 1999. The first presiding judge was Mary Laffoy. She resigned
Which children were in the institutions?
Guide To What in controversial circumstances, slamming the
Their main shared characteristic was poverty. They
Government, the Department of Education and the
were children of unmarried mothers. Of broken
it's All About…
Religious Orders for obstructing her work. She was
homes. Of families that couldn't make ends meet.
replaced by Judge Sean Ryan. The Ryan Report is by
Children whose parents were alcoholic. Who were
some distance the most comprehensive and damning
caught mitching. Who were involved in minor
of all the investigations into Child Abuse in Ireland.
misdemeanours. Ordinary kids who happened to find themselves in a little bit of trouble, whether of
Why was the Commission appointed?
their own making or not.
Historically a cult of Omerta had prevailed in
relation to the abuse of children in Irish society.
What crimes were committed – against the
However, the gradual erosion of the control exerted
children, that is?
by the Catholic Church on the Irish body politic
The problem is that the litany is so shocking and
inevitably led to the breaking down of old taboos.
horrifying it'd take a week to list them all. The
With the rise of feminism and the emergence of a
kids were brutalised, beaten, punched, kicked and
culture of rebellion – broadly associated with the
leathered, had their heads immersed in water so that
civil rights movement, the influence of rock music,
they couldn't breathe, were sexually assaulted, raped
the emergence of students as a political force and a
and buggered, forced to eat their own excrement,
widespread liberalisation of attitudes to sex – people
thrown out in the freezing cold all night… Do I need
felt free to criticise the church. Victims found the
to go on? Irish industrial schools and orphanages
courage to speak out. Equally importantly a new and
made Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay seem like a
less deferential attitude in the media meant that it
fucking holiday camp.
was possible, finally, to begin to publish the truth about what really went on. The complaints mounted.
And was every priest or brother involved?
Journalistic investigations intensified. The floodgates
No, far from it. But a lot were. What's more it
seems impossible to believe other than that even the decent ones knew that terrible things were
Were there any particular watershed moments?
happening – and kept their mouths shut. Certainly
In journalistic terms, certainly, we can identify
the superiors of the orders knew. They ignored
crucial contributions: Mavis Arnold and Heather
complaints and expressions of concern. They hid the
Laskey's Children Of The Poor Clares; Julian Vignoles'
abuse and covered it up. There is no doubt that they
radio documentary Magdalen Laundries; Louis Lentin's
bear full responsibility for what happened.
TV documentary about Christine Buckley and the abuse in Goldenbridge Orphanage for Girls, Dear
Sexual abuse? By clerics? Are these the same
Daughter; Paddy Doyle's book The God Squad; and, most
people who tell their flock they can't use
powerful of all, Mary Raftery's superb three part RTÉ
contraception? And who are opposed to gay
documentary series States Of Fear, which lifted the
marriage? And who defend clerical celibacy?
lid comprehensively on the chronic persecution and
Indeed they are. You might say that the stench of
abuse of children in State-controlled institutions.
hypocrisy is rank. In the extreme.
For more on the Child Abuse Scandal, see The
How long was the abuse going on for?
You also mention violence by priests, brothers
Message (page 11) and Bootboy (page 80)
The Commission's remit ran from 1936 onwards and
and nuns? Are these the same people who preach
The deference to the Church was pervasive. The
Education Michael Woods and rushed through on
Somewhere along the way they seem to have
authorities were willing to sweep it under the carpet
the final day in Government of the Fianna Fail / PD
convinced themselves that they were entitled to
and that's what was done.
coalition. The orders agreed to pay a miserable €127
impose their will and their religion on people by
million. Meanwhile the taxpayer ends up footing
force. Which isn't all that hard to understand when
Presumably, as soon as it was identified the
90% of the bill. You could say that it was the final act
you look at the violent history of the Church. But the
religious orders came clean…
of official collusion. So we all pay for the crimes of
thrust of what you're suggesting is right: they seem
Not on your nelly. The Church and the religious
to have entirely forgotten the teachings of Christ
orders did everything they possibly could to squirm their way out of liability. They resisted investigation
Ehhhh, CORI… Are they the same people who
Jaysus, surely lots of people knew what was
with fire and brimstone and, more pertinently, with
keep talking about social justice?
court action after court action. They behaved without
Don't start me on that one. Please. I'm feeling ill…
Lots of people had an inkling. But that doesn't
any morals or decency. Their reputation is rightly in
mean they knew enough to go after it. Given the
tatters as a result.
Why are the Catholic bishops breaking ranks to
culture of the time, ordinary people weren't in a
criticise the religious orders and suggesting that
position to challenge very powerful organisations.
There'll be compensation, won't there?
they should pay more?
Think of East Germans challenging the Stasi and
Yes, there will. A Redress Board was established to
Well, apparently the bishops have no authority
you get some sense of the scale of the task. Some
which victims have to apply. Others have chosen to
over the religious orders. It seems that the orders
tried, like Frank Crummey of the ISPCC. He was
go to court. But nothing could be enough. Over 940
report directly to their headquarters and to Rome.
silenced. The terrible truth is that every child was at
million euro has already been paid, so the bill will
The bishops want to distance themselves from the
risk, including those not in the institutions Judge
certainly exceed a billion euro, though that could
offenders – and also to make it clear that it's the
Ryan investigated, and many were molested or
continue to inflate.
orders who have to pay up and that the Church
abused. But they rarely even bothered to report such
won't. But don't take what you read at face value:
incidents as they would not have been believed – and
Who will pay for it?
there's a lot of spin going on. The orders are being
doing so would invite further violence or abuse.
An appallingly ill-conceived deal was done with
advised by PR companies. It is all about damage
the Conference Of
limitation, I'm afraid, and the institutional Church
So it wasn't just in the ‘institutions' that people
Religious in Ireland
is up to its neck in that.
were abused physically and sexually?
No. There was a pervasive culture of violence in
the 18 orders) by
So will the orders be forced to give more?
education and an endemic problem with sexually
With the current state of the public finances, the
abusive clergy. One of the other watershed moments
Government is scrabbling for cash.
came when Fr. Brendan Smyth was exposed. He
They are in a very strong position
was a Norbertine priest who raped and abused
to revisit the deal on the basis that
hundreds of kids, over a period of 40 years. Rather
the orders hid relevant facts that
than reporting him to the authorities, his
were in their possession at the time
order moved him from parish to parish with
the deal was done. There seems to be
the collusion of the Church authorities,
general agreement that they should
thus exposing more (and more) children
pay 50% – at least. It'll be interesting to
to his crawly paedophile attentions. He
see if the Government has the bottle to
was arrested in 1994. Delays in fulfilling
an extradition request from the RUC led to the collapse of the Fianna Fail-Labour coalition of
Well then, if the orders ultimately
report to Rome will the Pope dig
into his pockets?
But going back to the institutions, was nobody
Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Well, you never
keeping tabs on them?
know – but that's very unlikely. Very
In theory the Department of Education was
unlikely altogether. And if he were to,
supposed to oversee the system but it failed
it'd be impossible to see it as other than
to do so. Worse, in fact, individuals within
another PR stunt.
the Department over the years were guilty of an extraordinary level of abasement to the
What about nationalising all their
princes of the Catholic Church. They failed
dismally to protect the children committed
A lot of people think it's be a very
to institutional care. Judge Ryan's report
good idea indeed. They should also be
is clear on this: he says that Department
swiftly removed from any position of
officials effectively colluded with the
responsibility in relation to education
institution's regimes out of deference to
and health. The Government
the religious orders. For this reason nobody
should take the opportunity to
disagrees with the view that the State is
nationalise vital infrastructure. It
partially responsible too.
is shameful, in a Republic, that a
sectional interest was allowed to
What long-term effects were there?
control so much.
The extent of the personal trauma for the
individuals varied, of course, but the cumulative
Shouldn't the perpetrators be
effect and the extent of the emotional brutalisation,
punished? Will anyone even be hauled
and scarring, was horrendous. In many cases
before the courts?
victims suffered – and still suffer – an inability to
Yeah, in less tolerant societies they'd be
form relationships. Alcohol abuse was common.
tarred and feathered, dragged through the
Many experienced recurring nightmares. There
streets tied to chariots, stoned to death or
was widespread depression, mental illness, and
even hanged drawn and quartered. But we
attempted suicide. People like Christine Buckley and
don't want to see any of that! A lot of them
Mannix Flynn, (and Colm O'Gorman in relation to
are dead, presumably rotting in whatever
non-institutional abuse) have written very movingly
hell they believed in. Others are in advanced
about their experiences.
decrepitude. The Government has made some noises to the effect that if the evidence is there
Why wasn't something done long ago?
they'll act. But it seems unlikely, to be honest
As I already said, there was a culture of denial.
and we'll believe it when we see it.
Priest On The Run: Another of David Rooney's illustrations
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