Date: 23 Jun 2005
Time: 22:50:11 +0100
RYANWASH? An OPEN LETTER to Mr Justice Sean Ryan from a former inmate of a licensed industrial school in regard to the performance to date, of the Ryan Investigation Commission into Child Abuse. 1 APOLOGIES HOW ARE YOU! Mr Ryan, It seems odd to me that the first official acknowledgement that a range of chronically damaging abuse had been inflicted on children in the care of the State’s industrial schools by a sizable number of – take your pick – employees/ associates/ members of ‘unincorporated bodies’ of Religious Orders, run under the – take your pick 2 – stewardship/ agency/ direct instructions of, naturally, previous dumber and dumber Governments emerged only in 1999 when the Taoiseach addressed a public apology to the then unnumbered, widely dispersed and tragically reduced (largely by suicide or by so-called ‘self-destructive’ lifestyles) surviving victims long after the general public was boggled with, if not already bored with the whole subject. After all, there have been decades of ever-more-graphic details in newspapers and magazines about cases of sexual abuse against children in religious-order-managed institutions, as well as a steady output of books, plays and movies depicting the scary regimes behind the misnomer that ‘religious childcare’ neatly concealed.
While it is fair to say that the Taoiseach’s apology was generally welcomed by victims at the time (We felt that, at last, we would have a chance of being believed instead of, as we were used to, being blamed, physically punished or, at best, pushed away when we ventured to complain) in the light of the recent Jesuitical-style ‘apologies’ articulated by spokespersons for the institutions to the Ryan Committee, the whole concept of apology has now soured, for this victim at least, from being a spark of hope on the road to discovery – essentially Why did this happen to me? – to what I now regard as just part of a cynical damage limitation exercise – a characteristically cold and calculated reaction by the Church Establishment in order to appease outraged feelings among its flock while, with the same sly stroke, framing victims as incurable bad-egg chancers who, by coming forward and making claims, are merely expanding on the criminality that had us institutionalised in the first place. ‘We apologise. We admit that we did have the odd bad apple among our staff, but it was largely the children who committed the abuse on each other.’ ‘We apologise for the wrongs done; but we’re concerned at the numbers of alleged victims coming forward only after they saw the possibility of monetary awards. For the record – dismiss all images of car-joy-riding Dangers-to-Society lusting for Lotto-like awards – the ‘crime’ that had me institutionalised at four years of age was an Order of the Court, with the reluctant acceptance of my mother, because she was unmarried and in no financial position to continue caring for me; the Court specifying that I be taken care of by a particular order of nuns in a specific convent. She did not agree, however, and was not consulted about my later transfer to the hellhole industrial school that put an abrupt stop to my education; transforming me from being an infant with a future – top of my class in reading and writing at my old convent – into a depressed child, terrified to close my eyes in the dormitory lest the abusers catch me unawares; reduced in my labours (yes, for all but a chosen few boys, this ‘school’ was effectively a child labour camp) in ever-reducing steps to working, like some brute animal, on the school dump; or to me being transferred for periods of correction, following the alternative disciplinary strategies of this school, into mental hospitals; all of which led to my mother losing track of my whereabouts and to me being told by the psychiatric nurses the unhinging lie that she was dead.
My first reaction to the performance of the Ryan Committee is, therefore, astonishment and real anger that your response to the shameless PR attack by the religious powers-that-be on the past victims of their concerted abuse amounted to an overly deferential Thank you very much Father/ Brother/ Sister. As for the Taoiseach’s kick-off apology, one journalist (Bruce Arnold in The Irish Independent), on the very day that Mr Ahern was due to speak to the Ryan Committee, used his Column to urge him to come clean about the real reasons (He hinted at secret departmental documents) that had nudged him to apologise. In the event, the Taoiseach rearticulated his original stance to the Committee that what had prompted him was his personal conviction that it was the right thing to do following his face to face meeting with a group of alleged victims. No political agendas or hidden pressures then? To irreverent sceptics tempted to counter with ‘Bollix’ I can only add that now we may never get a more comprehensive perspective, because the apparently disinterested Ryan Committee failed to ask the Taoiseach either the subtle questions we’d expect of investigating professionals, or even the blunt, straightforward ones we victims were aching to ask. 2. ‘DIRTY DEAL? DON’T ASK! This perverse reluctance to probe shrouded events of the not-so-distant past continued in what can only be deemed another limp performance by the Committee on the day that ex-Minister of Education, Michael Woods, appeared before you. This was the Minister, representing all Jack and Jill citizens, remember, who – correct me where I’m inaccurate – signed the promptly labelled ‘dirty deal’ between the Catholic Church and the State ensuring that the Church authorities would escape from paying any amounts awarded against them for deeds they are found responsible for over and above their agreed limit of 128 million euros (less than a fifth of the current estimated cost of Dublin’s Port Tunnel); the unholy slack to be taken up by unlucky Jill and Jack. Saintly or otherwise, Woods surely owed his constituents more than the ‘shotgun-wedding’ type justification that he had up-to-then confined himself.
But your Committee failed to ask the questions that might have elicited an explanation for his arguably mutinous – inarguably furtive – behaviour in departing from standards demanded of a Minister in Government by meeting Church representatives in secret and emerging with the fait-accompli of this highly-questionable indemnity deal; or, for that matter, how he ended up being so overwhelmed in negotiation by Church Suits armed with such a – enlighten me if otherwise – feeble defence to argue. The Committee’s continuing failure to do what’s universally expected of investigation committees – to investigate beyond the given ‘lines’ and Public Relations handouts – is particularly puzzling in the light of the recent, albeit late-in-the-day revelation by the then Attorney General, Michael McDowell that, as far as the said Indemnity Deal was concerned, we must count him out of Mr Wood’s cute depiction of cabinet accord since he had never even been consulted on the issue. In the absence of such ‘mature reflections’ being further revised, and setting aside one cranky citizen’s gripe that, as a Minister of Government, he was surely obliged to consult the free in-house legal services of the State’s Attorney General first, we can only surmise that the then Minister-on-the-point-of-leaving-Office, for reason or reasons undisclosed – take your pick 3 – forgot/ eschewed/ chose not to ask McDowell the key questions and, instead, acquired the doubtful wisdom he ended up with from Lawyers Unknown in regard to a matter of Constitutional essence, on which subject the State’s official legal guru is – correct me where I’m losing the plot – none other than the self same studiously bypassed Attorney General. No cosy cabinet accord then, and a clear, though retrospective, inference from the then Minister’s stance that, by not consulting the Attorney General on such a crucial matter he had thereby relegated McDowell to the less-than-best in the legal advice stakes; which in turn begs the question: Why was Mr Second-Best appointed Attorney General in the first place, and why was he later promoted to Minister of Justice? Not for his constitutional perspicacity, apparently; so we can only guess that it must have been for his cunning and silence – however unforthcoming and short-lived. In any case, Mr Wood’s one and only justification of the indemnity deal as having been an inescapable consequence of the best legal advice on the day (to the effect that the Government had no other choice open to it but to settle for whatever was being offered since the Courts were likely to find the State itself, as the ultimate employer of the miscreant abusers, liable for all amounts awarded against them) astonished many people – lawyers among them – in the light of the Government’s existing stringent guidelines for those whom they had entrusted to keep children in care and given also the layers of individual managers bearing a more obvious direct responsibility.
Although the Government was inarguably guilty of inadequate policing of these managers, this sin of omission hardly equates with the litany of gross crimes perpetrated by the carers directly on the children or to the negligence of the school managers who allowed the culture of abuse and brutality to flourish and perpetuate in flagrant defiance of the self same ultimate employer’s dictates. 3 A TALL SCENARIO Those of us plagued with mid-investigation ruminations may be forgiven for asking What if? And for then imagining a scenario that tells it like it might have been. INTERIOR LEINSTER HOUSE GENTS TOILET TWILIGHT ZONE We follow in the confident strides of TALL, a gangly, fair-headed man as he approaches a urinal where SMALL, a diminutive, dark-haired man stands, doing what a man does. Small reacts nervously, splashing his shoes in the process. TALL: How’s it going, Woodie? SMALL: Oh, piss. A.G. Lovely to see - - Tall positions himself in the urinal beside Small, and points percy at the porcelain. TALL: Cut the smarm, Woodie; I’m not one of your pathetic constituents. I saw you skulking around with that bunch of I.R.A. types – bad haircuts and suits from the Fifties. Are you having talks about talks where you shouldn’t? SMALL: Suits? No – well – kind-of. That would be the holy Sisters and priests and TALL: Holy my tail. Don’t tell me.
What about Cabinet responsibility? SMALL: Well, what about it, A.G.? You’re confusing me. Are we being bugged? Tall stares back blankly as Small jiggles the dew off his jewel, closes his flies, and walks to a washbasin. Unnerved at the silence, he turns on the tap and blurts out: SMALL: All right A.G., I was going to tell you. Honest I was; even though they said “keep that Jesuitical Gonzaga Smartarse out of it. Why would they say that? TALL: Don’t ask! SMALL: What? Tall finishes he business at the urinal and joins Small at the washbasins. TALL: Never ask a direct question unless you know precisely what the answer is going to be. That way, you avoid getting caught short. SMALL: Short? But - - TALL: Try ‘If I was to ask you - - .’ SMALL: Okay, A.G., if I was to ask you what would you do if you were faced with an unholy quandary about institutional abuse - - TALL: Don’t ask! SMALL: What? Okay. Well, on another not wholly disconnected issue, what if I were to tell you that I heard a whisper about a Senior Counsel with a fondness for downloading underage you-know-what from you know where - - TALL: Am I my brother’s keeper? SMALL: Well, in this case arguably, yes, AG. You see, this creepy crawly is also an accepted candidate for the Circuit Court Bench, so it could be curtains unless you - - TALL: Shh! What did I just tell you? SMALL: What? ‘Don’t ask?’ TALL: No, you eegit. ‘Don’t tell me’. SMALL: Sorry, AG, but aren’t you - - ? TALL: Tempus fugit. Without further ado, Tall wipes his wet hands on the arse of his trousers and exits at some speed, leaving Small mouth-agape, preparing to whitewash his. 4 CLEAN HANDS ? Lest the Committee regard my scepticism as symptomatic of victim paranoia and conclude that we are irredeemably distrustful of authority, I say, give us a reason to trust you and we’ll at least try, given the damaged goods some of us undoubtedly are after the succession of betrayals inflicted on us by establishment figures in the past. But the Ryan Committee has to do its part to win our trust by being impeccable in all matters. And in this regard, with respect due only where due, you have not, to my knowledge, been entirely scrupulous.
I refer here to the fact that, from the outset, the membership of the committee has included individuals who are named as alleged abusers in at least one serious case (my own) due to be heard in the High Court. No doubt, the Committee’s Report will recommend ultimately that any body or institution empowered to take care of children in the future must have an ultra-strict system for screening its care workers. But why should we trust a man who is seemingly so cavalier about screening his own Committee? If your strategy (by allowing alleged abusers to sit on the Committee) is that such individuals could bring their particular perspective to bear on proceedings, we need to know; so please, Judge Ryan, make the effort and share your thoughts with us – however wacky. 5 SHUMTING WONG SHURELY Thought-through thoughts would be preferable, though. One moment of near hilarity that I witnessed at the hearings involved a lawyer complaining that he couldn’t make sense of the Application Form that the Committee had sent out for alleged victims to fill-in if they wanted to make a submission; the other notable feature of the day’s proceedings being your remarkable penchant for negativity when questioned; ‘not allowed’, ‘not relevant’, ‘not now’ being the constant pop-ups of choice. Not funny, but incendiary for the victims present was the element of coded messages being exchanged sotto voce between the Committee and Church leaders while they were giving evidence in public sessions. Gobsmacked journalists and members of the public alike turned to each other: Did you hear that? What are they playing at? Why the subtext? – before some of us came to the only conclusion that seemed to make sense i.e. that the Committee must have had pre-session discussions with Church leaders about the preordained submissions that they intended to present.
So why the whole sham of an investigation if the Committee’s participation amounts to little more than a Roll It Collette routine? 6 INVESTIGATION HOW ARE YOU Unacceptable too is the Ryan Committee’s decision to hear submissions from the Church authorities in public, but to confine victims to closed, private sessions. How is one to avoid the conclusion that in this discriminatory decision lies an outrageous pre-judgement by the Committee that what the Church leaders will say is bound to be truthful and fit for public ears, while what the victims come out with will be dodgy, unexpurgated and inherently unsuitable for impressionable Jack and Jill Public until such time as the Committee have selected their purged versions of the already-cherry-picked and published them in due course as sanitised ‘case studies’ in the next Ryan Report; that ‘due course’ – convince us of otherwise – involving further editing-down to fit the particular taste of Persons Unknown? No doubt the Committee would justify it’s singular discrimination by claiming that it is bound by legal constraints in that if victims give their submissions in public they could inadvertently blurt out details that could, in turn, compromise their forthcoming Court cases. A flaw in this argument is that only a tiny number of victims are actually High Court bound (the vast majority, following their failure to extract their personal histories from the schools concerned, or from unconscionable record-holders within the Departments of Education and of Health settling – however reluctantly – for the Redress Board route) and that, further, there is nothing to stop that Court bound minority from making submissions to the Committee after their cases are heard; all that it would require being that you Judge Ryan (a) declare that you are prepared to keep the investigation open until after those cases are dealt with and (b) you declare the ‘gagging-order’ confidentiality restrictions which, I gather, the Church authorities insist on with every Court case settlement as ‘non-binding’, thereby enabling the by then ex-Plaintiff victims to speak out once and for all.
The Court cases that the Committee seem so concerned to leave untainted by damaging blurts are, in any case, two-sided affairs; on the one side Plaintiff/ alleged victims and on the other Defendant/ alleged abusers, among which latter group are the Church leaders who (between convenient bouts of ‘amnesia’) have been – take your pick 4 – improvising/ regurgitating/ reading-out their submissions at your public hearings without any discernible hints of incontinent ‘blurts’ emerging; or is that what your Committee’s coded messaging has been determined to contain? The way I see it, what’s good for the goose should also benefit the gander, and so I see no reason why victims cannot be afforded the same public arena for their submissions, along with the same bizarre – take your pick 5 – coaching/ leading/ muzzling by your Committee to keep us out of trouble. In the absence of such facilities being extended to victims, the claim of unwarranted discrimination stands. And please don’t give us the hairy excuse that, by confining the victims’ submissions behind closed doors your intention is to spare their delicate feelings from the effects of having their individual stories exposed. I’ve been round this mulberry bush many times – I’ve never yet met a victim who disagrees – so please let me snip it in the bud. We victims want, need, ARE SCREAMING OUT TO BE HEARD. Any further attempts to confine or otherwise shut us up will be interpreted, as part and parcel of an establishment cover-up that we have come to expect is inevitable. 7 HOLY BALONEY
The Redress Board, by dealing with the non-Court-bound, vast majority of victims in its own brusque fashion – no naming and shaming the perpetrators; no hearing of the victims’ evidence does absolutely nothing for them beyond the ‘blood money’ awards to start them on the road to ‘closure’ on their psychological injuries. For those determined to have a proper hearing, the High Court has been held out as the only real chance. In stark contradiction to the holy baloney being peddled by Church leaders that they are taking a ‘non- adversarial’ approach to the cases against them, their chosen Defence lawyers have, regardless, been frustrating cases from being heard by the High Court for up to ten years; many Plaintiff/ alleged victims giving up in despair and settling instead for the puny potato awards being doled out – testimony conveniently unheard – by the Redress Board. For the heroically-patient few Plaintiff victims who manage to hold out till the bitter (Don’t get me started) end, what invariably faces them on the steps of the Court is the ritual of opposing legal Counsels in last-minute negotiations and, once the bluffing and counter-bluffing is played out, real pressure from the Plaintiff’s own legal team to accept the last of the ‘final’ offers of compensation; the downside being that by so accepting, the victims thereby scupper their longed-for ‘day in Court. A less obvious, but more sinister consequence of such assiduous culling is that there is no hearing of the issues that were to be tried; no evidence presented and, as a consequence there is not a single case of specific industrial school abuse on record; the loss, not only for the frustrated victims who settled, but also for students of Law, History and Social Studies being that the totality of testimonies from victims of industrial school abuse remains unproven and thus forever ‘anecdotal’. 8 LAST CHANCE SALOON The Ryan Investigation may therefore be the last chance we have for official exposure of these so ruthlessly expunged case histories. But how can we trust a team that seems so oriented towards confining and so reluctant to expose; your efforts to appease seemingly aimed at Authorities Unknown – certainly not at victims? The test, of course, is how low the Committee’s bottom line is likely to be i.e. how broadly or narrowly you interpret your terms of reference. And in this, Judge Ryan, you seem to have – if you’ll pardon the expression – lowered that bottom in recent times. In January 2002, as a then Senior Counsel and new Chair of The Compensation Advisory Committee you published after only four and a half months preparation a much admired Report ‘Towards Redress And Recovery’, that incorporated stunningly perceptive insights on the plight of victims of abuse. By early 2004, in the wake of your former Chair, Judge Laffoy’s, resignation in disgust and frustration at the very Government Department of Education which had appointed her, you had lowered your readability – if not your standards – by publishing, in advance of Laffoy’s angry Report, your first interim Report as newly appointed Judge and Chair of the Investigation Committee; the bulk of the report amounting to, in my opinion, a lot of mystifying blather (echoes of your Application Form?) about terms of reference and plans to implement them (Don’t ask me!) Some journalists have already decided that your role is essentially that of trouble-shooter, and that your brief from the dreaded Department of Education (ref. Laffoy Report) is to adopt Parkinson’s Law, curb any tendency towards expansion, reduce numbers, shorten the time frame and to above all save money. And if that entails cherry-picking of victims so that precious few will get on the road to closure, then tough; that’s expediency Ryan-style. Your more sharp-edged detractors claim that you and your Committee are merely ‘the Church’s firemen’; but since your Investigation is by no means close to completion, let’s not go quite that far – yet. Judging your Committee by its actions to date rather than by its stated aspirations, I nevertheless regret that I have to concur with the victim’s popular perception of you as being unhealthily absorbed in accounting rather than in accountability; too quick to cut off the fractious outpourings from damaged victims and too indulgent of listening to any old crap from Religious leaders in denial of their complicity. A key point that you seem to be missing is that, by what we see as your connivance in reneging from earlier promises to let every victim have his or her chance to face their abusers, articulate their hurt and to name and blame the perpetrators, you are perceived as having been compromised from the outset of this investigation and, as a result, you may have chronic difficulties in achieving credibility with victims. The growing impression that accommodating victims is the least of your priorities, of course, only consolidates that distrust. You should know better than most that the Redress Board doesn’t do ‘naming and shaming’ and that anyone dissatisfied with its short-shrift no-testimony-award system and who is still determined to have his or her testimony heard is forced along a route whereby he or she first has to refuse the monetary compensation on offer and then to appeal it. The catch to that appeal then comes into play in that the Board can use its discretion to charge him or her for the costs of the entire process by, in turn, reducing the figure of compensation below the level of that which had originally been awarded. It took a widely publicised hunger strike by a victim who had been thus treated before this Ryan-style catch was exposed for the disgrace that it is. Now, posing in the Last Chance Saloon, we have your Ryan Investigation Committee who, from the vast list of effectively silenced inmates from industrial school that have come forward, have now chosen a token number of notably anonymous individuals that you condescend to grant a hearing to, but even then only in closed session, safe from inquisitive and analytic minds. In the words of an ex-tennis champ who played at a rather higher standard than your Committee apparently investigates ‘Can you be serious?’ 9 UNCIVIL SERVANTS It has long since been common knowledge that many Civil Servants in the Department of Education responded to the Taoiseach’s apology to victims with, in effect, an impertinent ‘Count us out!’ As Justice Laffoy confirmed in what turned out to be her last Report, this department, in particular, by obstructive tactics and by inordinate delays, has been defiantly uncooperative in providing key information to the victims who are entitled to it. What have they to hide and, more to the point, what are the Ryan Committee going to do about it? A lack of courage in this regard could clinch the suspicion that you are loathe to confront the authority who – we’re not forgetting – appointed you and your Committee in the first place. I have been lucky, I know, in pursuing many facts about my life and incarceration in that I was quick and relentless in benefiting from the Freedom of Information Act; and I got an astonishing amount of pertinent details in the process. I’m also aware, however, that I am very much in the minority in this respect. Most of the alleged victims that I have spoken to have had little or no success in researching their pasts via the government departments who were at least nominally in charge of them. Some have received only the shrivelling response that the department cannot acknowledge that they were ever in an institution or even, in some cases, that the department effectively denies knowledge of their very existence. Your Committee, being made up of people in professions where your name is your bond and your good name is yours by right, should have no difficulty in empathising with those who have had their names and personal histories so cruelly denied. It would show that the Committee has at least some affiliation with basic decency if it let both the Departments of Education and of Health know that they must stop hindering the victims in their searches. And in the event of them continuing to fail in meeting those demands, it would be nice to see the Committee showing some righteous mettle by kicking some uncivil asses or, failing that – deep breath now – naming and shaming the culprits concerned. 10 HEY MINISTER Talking of foul deeds and of chickens come home to roost brings to mind the question of Ministerial culpability in the shameful exclusion of hospitals from the remit of the Redress Board thereby making it all but impossible for inmates of mental hospitals in particular to achieve equal status with industrial school victims in their struggle for some level of recompense. The Redress Board have been upfront and clear in declaring that they would only deal with cases relating to institutions that were on a specific list provided by Government; this cut-off stroke leaving hospital inmates conveniently-for-some outside the loop. On February 20th, 2002, The Irish Independent published an article by Gene McKenna under the headline ‘People Abused in Hospitals To Be Compensated’; the piece stating that the then Minister of Education was about to extend the ambit of the Residential Institutions Redress Bill. It went on: ‘Dr Woods has said the compensation scheme will also apply to those who suffered abuse while they were resident in orthopaedic or psychiatric hospitals’. Two years, several months and two changes of Ministers on and mental hospitals are somehow still noticeable by their absence from that essential list despite the fact that I, for one, had landed Mr Wood’s successor, Mr Dempsey, with constant faxes imploring him to include specific hospitals that I had suffered abuse in, and despite the fact that I received continuous promises from his secretariat by telephone that those named hospitals would indeed be listed within a short time. By the time Minister Dempsey was finally shifted from his job, his Department of Education could add a reputation for misleading leaks to its more longstanding notoriety for non-cooperation and incompetence; the Minister himself being remarkable merely for his talent for blather and evasion as evidenced by his managing to quit office leaving his undertaking to victims who suffered abuse in mental hospitals one hundred per cent unfulfilled. His replacement as Minister of Education, Mary Hanafin, wasn’t shy about nailing this State-choreographed thuggery to the post. Within a fortnight of taking up Office, she announced an extended list in the number of institutions that can now be dealt with by the Redress Board; not one of which was a mental hospital. With Mary Harney now in place as the new Minister of Health, those who can swallow the new image of her as a compassionate reformer may hold out hope that she will finally deal with what Minister Hanafin has so cruelly dodged. The rest of us will, of course, continue looking out for flying elephants. Ministerial oblivion and departmental disorders notwithstanding, there is no way that you can convince me that the studious exclusion of the most vulnerable and least voluble of our citizens from the possibility of getting some monetary compensation from the Redress Board is anything less than a conspiracy. Irish Crime magazine’s (Oct-Nov 2004) heartbreaking cover story about Elizabeth Keegan (who sadly died after publication day) described a childlike victim of appalling circumstances; damaged by her early incarceration in industrial schools and all but destroyed by a series of abuse, rapes and consequent self-mutilation while being ‘cared for’ within a mental hospital which was – lest we forget – founded, funded and entrusted to keep her safe. What should be troubling the consciences of the dodging Ministers is the fact that poor Elizabeth, had she lived, would not have been entitled to seek compensation for her suffering in mental hospitals as these are the very institutions so callously banned from the Redress Board route. 11 FACE THE APPALLING VISTA The issue of child abuse is hardly a subject for cherry picking, or for pussy-footing around for that matter. Pardon me if I venture to avail of this rare opportunity to turn the tables for a bit and to patronise you with my advise for getting the Investigation Committee back on tracks before it’s too late. For the benefit of past victims and with a view to the future protection of children, please try to detach yourselves from your establishment instincts and persuasions. Don’t settle for the low standards some would try to impose on you. Lift the sheets and face the appalling vista. Ask the hard questions. And don’t let the perpetrators off the hook by allowing their ludicrous ‘happy stories’ of life in their industrial schools to stand as anything but the cynical distortions that they amount to. Just as the PR people for the Church have excised the images of the worst abusers from some of their ‘happy story’ videos, please keep your Report free of the well-worn John Watery refrain that it was the climate of society at the time (What ‘time’? Child abuse never ceases.) which was at fault; these being normal industrial schools – typical of their times – that just happened to have a disproportionate amount of suicidal and runaway children; the lasting damage to their personas quite disconnected from the variety of perverse abuses and brutal treatment meted out to them by specific religious staff. 12 CLERICAL FROLICS? DONT ASK! It was infuriating to witness your Committee indulging leaders of Religious Orders at your hearings in their perpetuation of the legend that ignorance of sexual abuse is somehow an explanation for its evident popularity among their members and, by limp extension, as an excuse for the Church’s remarkable history for concealing and protecting known abusers from the forces of Law and Order. A memorable Profile of the then Archbishop McConnell in The Irish Times was a classic defence of the three monkeys (See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) genre. McConnell had spent a life so deeply engrossed in books and in lofty thoughts, we were told, that he would never have become aware that such dreadful goings on could occur; which prompts the query Why would the Church appoint as one of its leaders a man so ignorant (not least of Canon Law which specifically condemns child abuse; or of the Scriptures which proscribes that a corrupter of children should have ‘a millstone tied around his neck etc.) that he is rendered incapable of even the most fundamental insights concerning the activities of flesh and blood men and women? The lawyers defending the similarly afflicted Religious managers of schools where they, likewise, could apparently perceive only lofty thoughts while the ‘unimaginable’ was a nightly experience for us victims now rub salt in our wounds by littering their defence documents with similar lofty – surely sarcastic – responses. ‘Our client is a stranger to - - these independent frolics’. Which, of course, begs the rhyming response – all together now: Bollix. No, this defence isn’t worthy of serious consideration – even by Judges who wear seventeenth century horsehair wigs. It would take insane bouts of denial and self-delusion not to notice that, just as the bees will follow honey, so too will the paedophile gravitate towards a ‘Religious’ life where he or she can have easy access to trapped children. 13 SELF-ABUSE? And as to the allegation by the Religious Orders that most of the sexual abuse going on in the schools was committed by the boys on each other, I must say, that such a slur is rich coming, as it does, from managers of religious institutions who – you better believe it – managed to control each and every movement of their child inmates during the day with fists of iron, only to go conveniently blind, deaf, dumb (and lofty?) after dark thus enabling the perverted members of staff to stalk the boys’ dormitories, picking out victims for their sexual gratification with the brazen assuredness of authority figures confident of their license to roam unchecked. It was intriguing, therefore, to hear the head priest at our school telling the Investigation Committee that he had always punished boys who were caught having sexual relations together, and that he had always stressed the importance of the commandment Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. Well, quite apart from the fact that I have no memory of the latter emphasis on avoiding adultery (Isn’t that the one about not having sex with other men’s wives? Not a heap of use in our dormitory.) I would have thought that a more pertinent question for your Committee to ask was How much actual sex education did you supply at the time – the mid-Seventies – to the boys in your care? The answer I can supply was none, nothing, zilch – unless you choose to count the forced sex by staff members on the children as sex education in action. Is it any wonder that so many of us absorbed fractured concepts of right and wrong in relation to sexual morality; and that when we left the schools we also took away with us the extra-painful baggage of confusion in relation to our natural sexual orientations; the aligned feelings of guilt and worthlessness proving to be all but impossible to shake off. 14 RELIGIOUS ORDER DISORDERS Another glaring aggravation for us victims present at the live hearings of submissions by the heads of the Religious Orders was the way that they were allowed to perpetuate more or less unchallenged the fond myth of the ‘odd bad apple’ being responsible for most if not all of the adult sexual abuse. For such situations, of course, the term ‘scapegoat’ was invented. Why on earth were the head priests allowed to rattle on and on, put on a show of righteous anger and even to shed crocodile tears about men already condemned by the Courts of the land, a matter of public record and therefore stale news compared to the fresh allegations your Committee surely should be investigating in their stead? Given the difficulty of bringing perpetrators of abuse to Justice – don’t get me started again – it is too easy – damn silly, in fact, to try and blame a school’s entire culture of abuse and ritualistic cover-ups on the few abusers actually convicted. The fact that our school produced several suicides, numerous cases of self-mutilation, the regular transference of boys to mental hospitals and constant runaways cannot be lumbered on a couple of bad apples. It would be a devastating blow for victims if your Committee is seen to be complicit in such daft conceits. Likewise with the impression given by the Religious-in-charge that it was a rare event for a boy to complain that he had been sexually abused. I find it hard to endure this minimising of the reality, which was that many, many of us tried to complain about what was happening to us only to end up punished for our ‘illogical accusations’. 15 FRUIT AND NUT CASES I urge the Committee to be brave and delve into taboo territory. Expose the scandals of how the institutions systematically used the mental hospitals of the State as mere extensions of their punishment regimes. And don’t accept the easy defence that the boys were just getting the caring treatment that they needed. In my case, the not-so-sweet old lady who happened to be my allotted unit Psychiatrist reacted to my outburst of anger at her unrelenting questions about my mother (I was then fifteen years of age, and the nurses tortured me with the ‘news’ that my mother was dead) by having me dragged kicking and screaming into the locked adult ward. The lesson I duly learned – and something I stand by unswervingly to this day – was to never ever trust a psychiatrist. The bedlam Irish-style conditions into which she had so abruptly dumped me into are, no doubt, too grim and scarifying (Believe me, the ‘Cuckoos Nest’ in comparison was a five-star Nursing Home) to inflict on your doubtless delicate, establishment sensibilities – despite the vague possibility that one of you or one of your loved ones – given the law of averages – may end up there. But given that, I’m told, mental hospital conditions have not changed substantially, and that I did make a promise to the patients before I left that I would try my utmost to let the outside world know what goes on behind the gates, I urge your Committee to at least get a start on what so urgently needs exposure by investigating the testimony of the ex-inmates passed on by the Religious industrial schools as children into adult mental hospitals and what those immature minds were then subjected to. Now that would be a truly heroic first. And lest you think that it was a rare aberration for these schools to resort to adult mental hospitals, I beg to differ. In my own case, I can testify that over a period of a few months while I was incarcerated as a child in an adult ward, two other boys from the same school were admitted to the same unit following their suicide attempts. I suppose it would be too much to expect of an Investigation Committee so indisposed towards investigating, but I’m going to ask anyway: please investigate and duly reveal in the detail that it warrants the scandal of the sideline businesses the religious institutions had going for themselves from the 1950’s to the1970’s whereby, for fees unknown, but doubtless accounted for – Don’t make me laugh – they forced their child inmates to be the subjects of medical experiments during which they were injected with then unapproved – some later notorious – drugs. 16 CLERICS CANT COUNT And talking of wilful denial, and of invisible accounting, the Committee hearings have produced some jaw-dropping moments; not least when the Head Priest of our industrial school added to the hardening collective image of clerics in blissful oblivion by boasting straight-faced of his administration’s inability to keep proper records of the pupils, or even Accounts of the moneys that passed through his Order’s hands. Our forgetful educator was adamant that our school had not even started to keep accounts until the Nineteen Nineties. This about an institution that, to my certain knowledge in the mid-Seventies, had an in-house Bursar; where the boys were hired-out as labourers to local farmers and as workers to the cider factory; where we grew and cooked our own food, made our own clothing and worked in the carpentry shop and on the dump. And this from a Priest who was successful in filling theatres all around the country for his all-boys variety show. All this and a sizable per-head capitation fee too. Methinks the Reverend doth protest his vacuity overmuch. Anyone listening to this unholy malarkey must have concluded that there is no way that the Bishops of Ireland – let’s face it, wicked money handlers – would have allowed the schools to get so lax in the management of funds; and no way also that the Department of Education would just hand over capitation fees without receiving, in return, progress reports on the pupils that the fees applied to. Harsher observers might say that such claims of a paperless regime by the Church authorities simply amount to an unholy pack of lies; and that the bonfires and shredders of the institutional schools must have been kept pretty busy to keep it so. 17 COMPOST BOUND? There has already been a steady trickle of earlier Irish reports (notably The Kennedy Report) on the subject of childcare and child detention, duly ignored by the powers-that-be for the most part, and presumably now reduced to some Civil Service compost heap. Can it be that the Ryan Investigation Committee is content to have their Reports treated in like manner? As it is, there are ominous signs that your Report will not be as comprehensive or as complete as the public might reasonably expect; not least because (as anyone who was actually present at the hearings can check on www.childabusecommission.ie) the transcripts of the Investigations Public hearings have already been heavily edited. Why, and by whom? We need to know. And lest I be accused of being paranoid by reading such seeming incongruities as signals of betrayal, let me resort to the old joke that just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me and, in the same vein, just because you’re part of an official Investigation Committee doesn’t mean that you’re not prejudiced against us. With a view towards fair reparation for victims in the monetary terms that you seem to be more comfortable with, I remind the Committee again to keep in mind – my turn to be wacky – the current cost of constructing that Port Tunnel in Dublin, and to ask yourselves how many yards worth would you begrudge people who have been so cruelly deprived of an education, a normal life, even of their rightful names? As a victim of the industrial school system, my enduring wish is that the future care of children will match precisely to what ‘care’ actually means; and that the authorities in charge can no longer resort to the lie that ‘We did not understand the nature of abuse’. For the sake of keeping future generations of children safe, I hope that you will grasp the opportunity to make a radical stand. Worth considering above all, of course, is the question as to whether young children should ever be incarcerated in the first place. I await your findings with some trepidation, but not entirely without hope. Yours sincerely, Robert Dempsey