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Ó Caoláin calls for independent international audit of assets of religious orders

11 June, 2009 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Speaking in the Dáil debate on the Ryan Report, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has called for the establishment of an independent international audit of the assets of the religious orders responsible for systematic child abuse. He also called for the Government to act urgently to protect vulnerable children today.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“The Ryan Report exposes a regime of fear that ruled on the dark side of Irish society for most of the 20th century. Because of the courage of the survivors in speaking out we have known for a long time of the horror of what went on in these institutions. But the Report of the Commission gives for the first time a widespread view of the full extent of that regime, based, as the Report is, on the direct testimony of the victims.

“The Government should now initiate an independent international audit of all the assets of the culpable religious orders. This must include assets held abroad as well as their assets in Ireland. The bottom line is that whatever it takes to make recompense to the victims should be provided out of the assets of the culpable organisations.

“The Government has to accept that the previous agreement was flawed and that it too has a moral obligation to ensure justice for the victims. The documents released yesterday to RTÉ demonstrate once more the disgraceful nature of that agreement and why it must be scrapped and replaced.

“The whole issue of prosecutions of offenders must be addressed. Where prosecutions can still be taken they must be taken and justice must be done.

“The Government must act urgently to protect vulnerable children today. The woefully inadequate state of our child protection services has been repeatedly exposed. There are insufficient social workers and other front-line workers and support systems in place. The HSE knows of cases where children are in grave danger but the services are not in place to make the interventions required. The nightmare of child abuse is not a thing of the past. It is happening every day. Most of this abuse takes place in the family home. If the services are not in place then the State today will be just as culpable as it was in the past when it conspired with the Church to cover up the abuse of children.

“I can only describe as grossly irresponsible the refusal of the Government to implement the first recommendation of the Monageer Inquiry which was to establish an out-of-hours social work care service. That Report and its recommendations should be published in full, under Dáil privilege if necessary. The Ryan Report documents a system of cover-up and secrecy. That should not be replicated in any way, especially in the Government’s handling of a report such as Monageer which has grave implications for the safety and welfare of children today.

“Finally, the separation of Church and State must be completed. We must move to a democratically controlled education system, truly representative of the community, respecting the rights of people of all religions and none and totally child-centred.” ENDS

FULL TEXT FOLLOWS:

I want to begin by reading into the Dáil record the text of the petition presented yesterday by thousands of people who marched to Leinster House, victims and survivors of abuse and members of the public who stood in solidarity with them:

“We the people of Ireland join in solidarity and call for Justice, Accountability, Restitution and Repatriation for the unimaginable crimes committed against the children of our country by religious orders in 216 and more Institutions.”

The Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is probably the greatest ever indictment of the powerful and the privileged in Church and State in Ireland. Religious orders, the Catholic Church hierarchy, successive Governments and the Department of Education stand indicted for the torture and murder of children and for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The crimes were compounded by the cover-ups and it has taken the survivors many long and painful years to expose the truth and to achieve the recognition they deserve.

The lives of children were destroyed in institutions run mainly by Catholic religious orders. The crimes included general neglect, deprivation of adequate food and clothing, denial of the right to education, forced labour for the profit of the institutions, emotional and physical abuse, sexual assault and murder. The survivors were left with a lifelong legacy of physical and psychological damage that condemned many of them to early graves and that tortures the survivors to this day.

This was a regime of fear that ruled on the dark side of Irish society for most of the 20th century.

Because of the courage of the survivors in speaking out we have known for a long time of the horror of what went on in these institutions. But the Report of the Commission gives for the first time a widespread view of the full extent of that regime, based, as the Report is, on the direct testimony of the victims.

The Confidential Committee of the Commission heard evidence from 1090 men and women who reported being abused as children in these institutions. Abuse was reported to the Committee in relation to 216 school and residential settings including Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Children’s Homes, hospitals, national and secondary schools, day and residential special needs schools, foster care and a small number of other residential institutions, including laundries and hostels. 791 witnesses reported abuse in Industrial and Reformatory Schools and 259 witnesses reported abuse in a range of other institutions.

More than 90% of witnesses who spoke to the Commission reported that they had been physically abused. They were beaten, kicked, flogged, scalded with hot water, held under water and burned. Many beatings were carried out in public in order to humiliate. Physical assaults were often carried out randomly and without pretext, creating a terror in children who never knew when they might be assaulted.

Half of the witnesses reported being sexually abused. On this key point the Report states:

“The secret nature of sexual abuse was repeatedly emphasised as facilitating its occurrence. Witnesses reported being sexually abused by religious and lay staff in the schools and institutions and by co-residents and others, including professionals, both within and external to the institutions. They also reported being sexually abused by members of the general public, including volunteer workers, visitors, work placement employers, foster parents, and others who had unsupervised contact with residents in the course of everyday activities.

“Witnesses reported being sexually abused when they were taken away for excursions, holidays or to work for others. Some witnesses who disclosed sexual abuse were subjected to severe reproach by those who had responsibility for their care and protection. Female witnesses in particular described, at times, being told they were responsible for the sexual abuse they experienced, by both their abuser and those to whom they disclosed abuse.”

The Report is damning in the extreme of the role of the Department of Education. It was charged with ultimate responsibiltiy for the children. It carried out too few inspections, was aware that abuse was taking place but did little or nothing about it and, in the words of the Report, the Department “made no attempt to impose changes that would have improved the lot of the detained children. Indeed, it never thought about changing the system”.

The Department’s Secretary General, at a public hearing, told the Investigation Committee that the Department had shown a “very significant deference” towards the religious congregations.

The State, in the form of the Department, and the religious orders were in fact working hand in glove in this system of terror. Out of taxpayers’ money the Department paid a capitation grant to these institutions for each child they detained within their walls. This created a strong incentive for the orders to push for more children to be put in their so-called ‘care’. The larger institutions, in particular, could thus accumulate large sums of money which were spent on enriching the orders who ran them rather than improving the lot of the children whom they held in their virtual prisons.

And who were these children? They were predominantly the children of the poor. Because their parent or parents or other family members were deemed not to be able to look after them the children were effectively incarcerated by the courts. The State abdicated its responsibility to the children and handed them over to the religious orders.

This was a society where women and children were second-class citizens. Absolute power was in the hands of men in authority and absolute power corrupted absolutely.

This was also a conspiracy of the powerful against the powerless. People were afraid to speak out because to defy the Church was to face social death. And the poor were the least well equipped to stand up to the Church.

In May of last year I raised as a matter on the adjournment the case of the late Michael Flanagan, whose arm was broken by a Christian Brother in Artane Industrial School in 1954. His brother Kevin is still fighting for full information about what exactly happened and why, in particular, their mother was only allowed to see her son eight days after the assault was inflicted. This was a horrific example of what went on in those institutions.

Michael Flanagan was only 14. A Christian Brother used a brush handle to break his arm. The boy was locked in a shed at the back of the school for two and a half days. The Christian Brother responsible was not prosecuted nor expelled from the Order. The Order admitted to the Commission in 2005 that this criminal had simply been moved from Artane to another school. After release from Artane Michael Flanagan emigrated to England. He was unable to read or write because Artane was a ‘school’ in name only. His health never recovered from Artane and he died aged 59. His brother Kevin was asked by the Commission to seek the information from them through a solicitor. This he did but he has still not received the information he requests. These issues still need to be resolved.

But last May was not the first time the fate of Michael Flanagan was raised on the adjournment in the Dáil. It was raised by Independent Deputy Peadar Cowan, formerly of Clann na Poblachta, on 23 April 1954, a few days after the assault occurred. It is very instructive to read the exchange between Deputy Cowan and the Minister for Education Seán Moylan. Deputy Cowan seemed genuinely shocked and surprised that such an incident should have taken place. He said he had been a subscriber to the funds of Artane and that he had seen the boys “week after week passing my house, looking exceptionally fit, well clothed and happy”. He said he was satisfied that this was an isolated incident.

The official reply was delivered by Education Minister Seán Moylan. It is an extraordinary exhibition of the wilful blindness of the Minister and his Department in the face of the crimes being committed against children for whom they were responsible.

Taking up Deputy Cowan’s description the Minister went further and said this was an isolated incident and “in one sense what might be called an accident”.Remember, this was a 14-year-old boy having his arm broken by a Christian Brother wielding the handle of a sweeping brush. The Minister continued to describe the assault as an accident and said accidents will happen “in the best regulated families”. Then comes the most extraordinary statement which speaks volumes:

“I cannot conceive any deliberate ill-treatment of boys by a community motivated by the ideals of its founder. I cannot conceive any sadism emanating from men who were trained to a life of sacrifice and of austerity.”

The Minister also attempted to excuse the assault by saying that many of the boys were sent to Artane “because of the difficulties of their character and because of a good deal of unruliness of conduct”.

The Ryan Report covers the case of Michael Flanagan and found that the congregation falsely claimed that the Brother responsible for the assault had been transferred from Artane as a result of the complaint and their investigation of it. In fact the Brother himself had requested to be transferred. The Report says the action of the Brothers suggests there was a policy of concealing damaging information. The infirmary record wrongly described the injury to the boy’s arm as a result of an accident, a chilling echo of what was said in the Dáil by the Minister for Education.

The Minister claimed that there was a constant system of inspection of such institutions and that “nothing of the like will happen again”.

The Ryan Report has confirmed what was known for a long time that the inspections were too few and too limited in scope. It concludes, most damningly, that Department of Education officials were aware that abuse occurred in the schools, that the education was inadequate and that the industrial training was out-dated. As a result the Minister’s promise of 1954 that it would never happen again was broken day and night for many more years afterwards in institutions throughout the State.

When the victims finally began to be widely heard in the media in the 1990s the State was compelled to accept its responsibility. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern issued an apology and a redress scheme and commission of inquiry was established. But even then the “deference” towards the religious orders was far from dead.

The deal negotiated with the religious orders by Education Minister Michael Woods, on behalf of Bertie Ahern and the Fianna Fáil/PD Government, was fundamentally flawed. The religious orders’ contribution to the compensation scheme was capped while the State’s was unlimited. That deal has now become totally discredited and the whole issue has been blown wide open again by the Commission Report.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has attempted to defend the deal and has described its critics as “anti-Church people”. This is an insult to the victims and to all those who see this flawed deal for what it is. But the former Taoiseach’s intervention has made little impact, such is the public anger at what was done and such is the support for the victims’ demand for justice.

Firstly all the recommendations of the Commission Report should be implemented. These recommendations focus on alleviating the effects of abuse on those who suffered in the past and preventing abuse of children in care today.

But the Government needs to go further. It must address the need for truth and justice and recompense for those abused in institutions, both residential and non-residential, not covered by the Ryan Report. This includes the Magdalen laundries and institutions established after 1970. Justice must be done for former residents of Finglas Children’s Centre, Scoil Ard Mhuire in Lusk, Trinity House, Trudder House and Madonna House. In the case of Trudder House, where many Traveller children were abused, there was one successful criminal prosecution. In the case of Madonna House, there was one prosecution and an inadequate investigation but no proper support for the victims. A former civil servant who worked in the Department of Education tried to blow the whistle on one of these institutions but was ignored.

There needs to be full accountability and restitution from the religious orders. They need to fully accept their moral obligation to the victims. It beggars belief that up to a few days before the publication of the Ryan Report the Christian Brothers were still sending letters, written in a legal formula, to the Residential Institutions Redress Board refusing to accept that children were abused in their institutions. The letter “totally rejects any allegations of systematic abuse”.

Of course what the Ryan Report clearly demonstrates is that abuse was systematic. It was happening throughout the system and the structures of the system were used to protect the abusers. If that is not systematic then what is?

After these letters emerged in the media last week the Christian Brothers stated that their response had been “shamefully inadequate and hurtful” and that since the publication of the Ryan Report the Order had accepted its culpability. One survivor spoke for many when he said that the Christian Brothers had only apologised after the publication of the Ryan Report because of the strength of public opinion.

The Government should now initiate an independent international audit of all the assets of the culpable religious orders. This must include assets held abroad as well as their assets in Ireland. It has been claimed that many of these assets are lands and buildings currently used for educational and healthcare purposes. A full and open audit will test the veracity of that claim. The vast majority of hospitals, nursing homes, schools and other institutions in the ownership of religious orders or of Catholic dioceses are funded by the State in any case. The bottom line is that whatever it takes to make recompense to the victims should be provided out of the assets of the culpable organisations.

The Government has to accept that the previous agreement was flawed and that it too has a moral obligation to ensure justice for the victims. The documents released yesterday to RTÉ demonstrate once more the disgraceful nature of that agreement and why it must be scrapped and replaced.

The whole issue of prosecutions of offenders must be addressed. Where prosecutions can still be taken they must be taken and justice must be done.

The Government must act urgently to protect vulnerable children today. The woefully inadequate state of our child protection services has been repeatedly exposed. There are insufficient social workers and other front-line workers and support systems in place. The HSE knows of cases where children are in grave danger but the services are not in place to make the interventions required. The nightmare of child abuse is not a thing of the past. It is happening every day. Most of this abuse takes place in the family home. If the services are not in place then the State today will be just as culpable as it was in the past when it conspired with the Church to cover up the abuse of children.

I can only describe as grossly irresponsible the refusal of the Government to implement the first recommendation of the Monageer Inquiry which was to establish an out-of-hours social work care service. A proper system must be put in place. And it is disgraceful that key recommendations of the Monageer Inquiry Report have been censored by the Government. That Report and its recommendations should be published in full, under Dáil privilege if necessary. The Ryan Report documents a system of cover-up and secrecy. That should not be replicated in any way, especially in the Government’s handling of a report such as Monageer which has grave implications for the safety and welfare of children today.

Finally, the separation of Church and State must be completed. In the 26 Counties today the State pays for education through capitation grants, teachers’ salaries and a range of other funding. But the vast majority of primary and secondary schools are not under democratic control. They are predominantly under the patronage of Catholic bishops and in the ownership of the Catholic Church. It is a legacy of the old era of ecclesiastical power and control. This must change and we must move to a democratically controlled education system, truly representative of the community, respecting the rights of people of all religions and none and totally child-centred.

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