Alliance Support Group

March 2014 Archives

Positive contribution of senior religious must be recognised



Fr Tony Byrne

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 17:41

He looked astonished at an elderly religious sister nurse dressing the gaping wounds of a poor leprosy patient. “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world,” he said. “Neither would I,” said the sister with a smile on her face.

This dedicated religious sister and so many other senior religious have given a lifetime of voluntary service in the medical, educational, counselling, social and caring professions.

The witness of their commitment to a life of prayer and service is seldom recognised or appreciated in contemporary Irish society. Yet it is important to remember senior religious who have given and those who continue to give tremendous service to the poor and needy, such as Pope Francis, the Ven Nano Nagle, the Ven Catherine McAuley, Br Kevin Crowley, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Fr Peter McVerry, and brothers Fr Aengus and Fr Jack Finucane of Concern.

Unproductive lives
“Eaten bread is soon forgotten

” and so too are the positive contributions to society made by senior religious, whose lives of dedication have been overshadowed by the scandalous atrocities of the minority of religious.

The impact of those scandals has tainted everything so that many senior religious think their lives have been unproductive and meaningless. They need to be reminded that their dedicated lives have had a tremendous positive influence on very many people in society. They need to realise how many people appreciate what theyhave done and continue to do.

Beneath the surface there is still an amazing trust of religious in our society. An example became evident when JohnLonergan, the former governor of Mountjoy Prison, asked a large number of prisoners who they would consult if they wanted to discuss a personal problem.

One hundred per cent of the prisoners replied, “the sister chaplains”. When asked to explain, they replied, “they love us and they would keep the matter confidential”.

Unfortunately, the influence of senior religious can be downplayed by attitudes to old people in modern Ireland. Ageism is too often evident. The opinions and experience of older people are often sidelined and disregarded.

We live in a disposable society where those who are old, not visibly economically productive, are brushed aside and not respected.

Pope John Paul II said “older people still have a mission to fulfil and a contribution to make. They should not consider themselves on the margins of the life of the Church or society”.

Senior religious are admired by many who feel privileged to know them. These religious are appreciated because they do not have the attitude of “what’s in it for me?”

Inspirational impact

The influence of senior religious can be intensified by telling narratives, ie accounts of their life experience. These narratives can have a formative effect on younger people.

Such narratives are also regarded by many psychologists as an effective therapy.

Dr Rita Charon of Columbia University has promoted what she called “narrative medicine”. This type of therapy requires deep listening with silent interest.

Senior religious, like all elderly people, deserve to be cared for in the greatest possible level.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made a profound statement when he said: “The provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much as an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude.”

Rev Dr Tony Byrne CSSp is the director of the Awareness Education Services which has produced a CD on Recognising the Influence of Senior Religio

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We need to fight for the truth about Bethany survivors



WILL there be truth now, or will we go on hiding?

As the memorial stone in Mount Jerome to the 221 babies and young children who died mostly of neglect at the Bethany Home, Rathgar, from 1922 to 1949 is raised this week, that question remains. 

Will we be forced to face our State’s complicity in these babies’ deaths when these babies have names and their names are incised in stone for all to see? 

The Government refused Bethany survivors redress last year, but it is hoped the stone will re-open the public mind to the question on this question and make the Department of Justice reconsider. 

Alan Shatter agreed last year that survivors should have what he sickeningly called a “modest” memorial. After much blood, sweat and tears the department stumped up €25,000 and the survivors’ group thinks the stone is magnificent. 

But the big question is whether the stone ends the debate or opens it again. The survivors want justice but the past can’t be bought back. What matters more is truth. What matters is that we the Irish public are forced to look in the face that fact that didn’t care that much if “illegitimate” babies died, whether we were Protestants in Bethany or Catholics in Sean Ross. The Government health inspector Winslow Sterling Berry put it very clearly when he excused the spike of deaths in Bethany in 1939 by saying it was well-known that illegitimate babies were “marasmic.” Which means starving. 

The past is another country. But some of this story happened in a past so recent that it is the past of a middle-aged woman like me. Bethany closed in 1972, but one of the Protestant homes to which Bethany babies went, Westbank in Greystones, finally closed in 1998. I went to school with Westbank children because my school kindly waived the fees. 

When a Westbank boy was pushed off a train on the way home from school, suffered catastrophic injuries and never returned to school, he was never mentioned again. I don’t believe the incident was reported to the police. He just fell off the face of the earth, because we let him, and it took me 30 years before I asked questions. 

Because my beloved best friend was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, I went to the Bray Gospel Hall with the Westbankers. I sang and clapped with them on the beach at Greystones when the Children’s Special Service Mission came to town. But orphans were different and they knew their place. We made sure of that. 

Former Westbanker Colleen Anderson is returning to Ireland next Wednesday to play the organ for the multi-denominational service to mark the unveiling of the memorial stone. She remembers “the Bethanys” as an inferior subset within Westbank. In a beautiful phrase, she says she is coming “to be honest for those babies.” 

“Being honest” is the challenge which faces us all. To admit, in the light of the European Court of Human Rights judgement in January that the Irish State was reponsible for Louise O’Keeffe’s abuse in a Catholic national school, that it was the Irish State which abused and neglected children, not the Catholic Church. The Irish State, with its particularly painful relationship with colonialism, poverty and mass-starvation, hived off to the churches the care of children which it didn’t want. 

This happened for Protestants as well as Catholics and what’s more, Protestants were almost completely ignored thereafter. They were not considered full citizens of this Republic. While some Protestants were slow to accept the legitimacy of the new State, the new State seemed to hope that Protestant children would “go back to where they came from”. That makes the State’s contention that Bethany and Westbank survivors are unworthy of redress because they were not in State care all the more galling. 

We can’t change the past but now we can have truth. Colleen Anderson talks of a “Truth and Reconciliation” process for Ireland and she has good reason. Illegally exported from this State, she was adopted by a Brethren family in Scotland, which means she has access to more adoption records than a person adopted in Ireland. Through her Brethren links, she was able to get access to some of her Westbank records a few months ago and found out that her sister was at Westbank while she was but they weren’t told they were related. 

Colleen doesn’t know where her sister is. Susan Hobson, are you out there? 

We can’t change the past but now we need truth. Westbank’s supremo Adeline Mathers blanked Colleen Anderson as comprehensively as Sister Hildegarde blanked Philomena when she asked about her birth family. But what’s more horrifying is that the HSE-funded PACT, the Protestant Society, handed the Westbank records back to the trustees at the Bray Gospel Hall in 2010, at the same time as Mike Peelo’s 2011 Would You Believe? documentary about the home was in the offing. Those records are now sitting in private houses under the care of people with no professional training to deal with them because our State has chosen not to give our people a right to their own identity. 

The Bethany survivors hope next Wednesday’s service at Mount Jerome at 4pm and the unveiling of the stone will force the powers of Church and State to face their responsibilities. But it could be a full-stop instead. There has been a lot of buck-passing already about the service. It’s being led by a Church of Ireland priest, Canon Mark Gardiner, but though virtually every inmate of Bethany was a Church of Ireland member and most were consigned to the home by Church of Ireland priests, though the home was opened by the C of I Archbishop of Dublin and C of I clergy sat on the board, the Church of Ireland’s response so far has been to distance itself. 

NEITHER the C of I Archbishop of Dublin nor C of I Primate of All Ireland is attending in person. The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin agreed to attend and then cancelled — for which the Church of Ireland can be grateful. “The Church of Ireland has got away with it for 80 years”, says Bethany survivor Derek Leinster. “Now they’re going to be on the same level as Catholics. It’s unthinkable.” 

Former inmates and their relations from as far away as Australia are attending as well as many from the UK and the public is invited to attend. Colleen Anderson is thinking of playing Allegri’s Miserere — “Have mercy” — “Because” as she says, “no-one had mercy on those children in their own lives. One hopes they have mercy in heaven.” 

One hopes they have, those little souls who, as Anderson says, “probably hardly saw the light of day.” It will be their moment when we stand and pray for them in Mount Jerome. 

But then the fight for the right to truth begins. Truth for all, under the laws of this State, whether your parents were married or not. Truth for all, Catholics and Protestants alike. The truth will hurt some people, but without it we are no Republic.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Irish ex-priest jailed in UK for child abuse



FOR JIM MC CULLOUGH, FINANCE... Justice figure, Dublin Castle. PHOTOGRAPH - FRANK MILLER 11.2.98

FOR JIM MC CULLOUGH, FINANCE... Justice figure, Dublin Castle. PHOTOGRAPH - FRANK MILLER 11.2.98

Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 01:00

An Irish former priest, Francis Cullen (85), was given a 15-year sentence yesterday for sexually abusing four altar boys and two young girls over 35 years in the English Midlands.

The Dublin-born ex-priest was arrested by Nottingham police in 1991, who had begun to investigate allegations made by three of his victims..

However, he fled to Spain while on bail. Having lived for more than 20 years on the run, Cullen was extradited to Britain from Tenerife under a European Arrest Warrant.

Sentencing Cullen yesterday in Derby crown court, Judge Jonathan Gosling declared: “You took full advantage of your position, and the trust in which you were held, to satisfy your perverted lust.

“To say that you were a disgrace to your cloth understates your activity. This was gross hypocrisy. In a sentence, your entire life was a lie,” the judge went on.

The abuse
The decision of the three prompted four more to come forward to give details about the abuse carried out by Cullen in Derby and later in Nottingham from 1957 to 1991.

The ex-priest had been expected to deny the charges against him at Derby Crown Court in February but changed his plea to guilty when he came before the judge. “As a Catholic priest, Francis Paul Cullen was a trusted member of his community and held in high regard by his parishioners,” said prosecutor Janine Smith.

“Yet right from the very start of his ministry, he was abusing children, boys and girls, in his pastoral care. 

‘Betrayal of trust’
“This was a betrayal of trust that devastated the lives of his victims,” she said.

The Catholic Diocese of Nottingham welcomed the jail term, saying it reflected “the gravity of his offence and the scandal which they have caused”.

“We realise that no sentence, however long, can fully make up for the lasting damage which his victims have suffered but we hope that his sentence will contribute towards their healing,” said Fr Andrew Cole.

“We are truly sorry for the wrong that has been done by Cullen to his victims and their families; their trust was betrayed and their dignity violated,” he went on.

Cullen abused four altar boys in Mackworth, Derbyshire, between the 1950s and 1970s.

In the 1980s, he abused two girls after he moved to work in Buxton, Derbyshire, and then went on to abuse another altar boy in the early 1990s after he moved to Nottinghamshire, the court was told.

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Marie Collins appointed to Vatican commission on protecting children from abuse


Marie Collins has been appointed to the Vatican commission on protecting children
Marie Collins has been appointed to the Vatican commission on protecting children

Irish abuse victim Marie Collins has been appointed to the Vatican commission on protecting children from abuse. 

In December, the Vatican said it would set up a special committee to improve measures to protect children against sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis announced the first eight members today, four men and four women, but the scope of the commission remains unknown.

Also on the commission is Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, who revealed the initiative last December. 

The initial members will be responsible for rounding out the "commission for safeguarding minors" with other experts from around the world and defining the scope of the group's action.

"Pope Francis has made clear that the Church must hold the protection of minors amongst Her highest priorities," Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

"Looking to the future without forgetting the past, the Commission will take a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection," he said.

These will include taking criminal action against offenders, educating people about the exploitation of children, developing best practices to better screen priests, and defining the civil and clerical duties within the Church, Rev Lombardi said.

In 2012, Ms Collins was the opening speaker at a four-day symposium on child sexual abuse in the church held in Rome.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin extended his congratulations to Ms Collins saying: "Her contribution to the work of child protection in the Archdiocese of Dublin has been crucial and her advice and critical comment have been of invaluable help and inspiration to me personally".

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Wicklow priest jailed for 'systematically' abusing boy


Former parish priest Denis Nolan (61) abused child for five years from age of 12

Denis Nolan (61) with an address 
in Tinahely, Co Wicklow, pleaded guilty to sexual assault 
on a date between January 1st, 2007, and June 30th, 2007. Photograph: Frank Miller /The Irish Times

Denis Nolan (61) with an address in Tinahely, Co Wicklow, pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a date between January 1st, 2007, and June 30th, 2007. Photograph: Frank Miller /The Irish Times

A Wicklow priest was jailed yesterday for seven years when he was convicted of ‘systematically’ sexually abusing a boy over five years starting when the boy was 12 years old.

Denis Nolan (61) with an address in Tinahely, Co Wicklow, pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a date between January 1st, 2007, and June 30th, 2007.

He also pleaded guilty to five counts of defilement of a child under the age of 15 years between July 1st, 2007, and August 25th, 2009, and five counts of defilement of a child under the age of 17 between August 26th, 2009, and August 25th, 2011.

All defilement charges occurred in the Presbytery, Rathnew where Nolan was curate at the time. The victim, who is now 19, waived his right to anonymity.

Det Sgt Fergus O’Brien told the court that when the victim was 12, he approached Nolan with a view to carrying out some odd jobs to gain extra money.

After he started doing odd jobs in the presbytery, Nolan asked him to go to his family home in Tinahely and there assaulted him.

Nolan told him it was “what adults do” and not to tell anyone. On arrival back in Rathnew, he gave him €10 and €15 after abuse in the presbytery and then €40 as the abuse escalated.

When the child’s mother confronted Nolan, he said he had been giving him money because he was afraid of her son.

The HSE also visited Nolan in March 2010 and told him that if there was any contact between him and the victim he was to inform them. However, he didn’t contact them again and the sexual abuse continued.

‘Position of trust’
Judge Michael O’Shea said Nolan was in a “position of trust” and “should have been a protector [of the young boy] and not a predator. He was just a child – innocent in the ways of the world”.

He said the victim was “exploited by the systematic sexual abuse”, adding the victim impact report was harrowing in the effect the abuse had had on the young man in question.

“I describe the abuse and defilement as being disgusting, horrific, embarrassing and humiliating,” he said, adding that the abuse was “cold and calculating”.

He sentenced Nolan to seven years in prison for each of the five charges of defilement of a child under the age of 15 years and 3½ years on each of the remaining six charges, with the sentences running concurrently.

Nolan, who is already on the sex offenders register, is to have three years post-release supervision.

Leave to appeal was refused.

l Archbishop apologises to victim

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and others involved in child safeguarding and protection in the diocese are distressed by the details of this case as they emerged in court , a statement from the archbishop said last night.

“Archbishop Martin wishes to express his sympathy to the young person who was abused and to unreservedly apologise to him and his family. He encourages anyone else who may have information to come forward.”

The statement said “A complaint of child sexual abuse against Fr Denis Nolan, not related today’s proceedings, was first received by the Archdiocese of Dublin in April 2012. Fr Nolan was then removed from priestly ministry.

“He was obliged to co-operate and engage with the diocesan priest support co-ordinator, who monitors priests in such situations to ensure compliance with restrictions placed on their activities. All information received by the diocese was given to the Gardaí and the HSE.

“Subsequently, the director for child safeguarding and protection, Andrew Fagan visited the parish of Rathnew and met with parishioners and others in the local community. All relevant information from that visit was provided to the gardaí and the HSE. A thorough investigation by the gardaí led to the conviction today.”


Religious Affairs Correspondent

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Minister ordered to provide documents to former nun Nora Wall


65-year-old was wrongfully convicted of raping girl (12) and is claiming damages

A file photograph of Nora Wall (left) leaving the Court of Criminal Appeal in Dublin in December 2005. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA

A file photograph of Nora Wall (left) leaving the Court of Criminal Appeal in Dublin in December 2005. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA

Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 20:01

The Minister for Justice has been ordered by the High Court to hand over documents sought by former nun Nora Wall for her action claiming damages against the State arising from her wrongful conviction for the rape of a 12-year-old girl.

Ms Wall (65), whose case was previously certified by the Court of Criminal Appeal as a miscarriage of justice, is claiming  damages arising from her prosecution.

She claimed the Minister for Justice, the State and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) knew, or ought to have known, that the complainant, and an allegedly corroborating witness, had lied in their statements to gardaí.  

In 1999, the former Sisters of Mercy nun, known as Sr Dominic, became the first woman to be convicted of rape in Ireland.

Ms Wall was released on bail four days into a life sentence after it emerged a prosecution witness had been called, against the direction of the DPP, to testify at her trial. That witness later admitted fabricating evidence in which she claimed to have seen Ms Wall holding down the alleged victim during the attack.
Miscarriage of justice 
In light of those new facts, the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2005 declared Ms Wall’s conviction a miscarriage of justice.

Ms Wall then sought damages against the State and sought discovery of documents.

She claims the State knew, or ought to have known, the complainant and the witness, as well as lying to gardaí, had connived together in making false statements.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Michael White ordered the Minister and State to provide certain documents  which record the reason or reasons the witness for the prosecution was not to be called at the trial.  
Credibility of complainant

He ordered the defendants should also disclose documents created before July 31st, 1999, dealing with any assessment of the credibility and/or reliability of the complainant.

Discovery of all documents recording the systems in place at the time of the trial to ensure compliance with the directions of the DPP concerning the calling of witnesses was also ordered. This includes documents recording the circulation of the DPP’s direction not to call the witness for the prosecution.

The DPP is not a defendant or a notice party to the case and the judge said the discovery order was not against the DPP.  For the purposes of this discovery application, he did not regard the DPP as an agent or servant of the Minister and the State.

The judge said he shared the concerns of the DPP that serious allegations were made against her office and against the complainant when neither were parties to the proceedings.

Mr Justice White also noted the appeal court when certifying Ms Wall’s case as a miscarriage of justice, said it had been established the prosecution witness gave “entirely fabricated evidence” which gave rise to a compelling inference of collusion between the witness and the complainant.

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Magdalene survivors seek compensation review



Sixteen survivors of the Magdalene Laundries have sought a review of the amount of compensation they have been offered by the State.

According to figures released by the Department of Justice, 722 survivors have applied for redress, with 321 letters of formal offer having been issued. 

To date, 238 survivors have accepted the offer, with 211 payments having been issued at a cost of in excess of €7.6m. 

However, 16 women have formally asked for an internal review of the offer they have received. Of that number, five have been decided by the review officer, with one survivor currently appealing her offer to the Office of the Ombudsman. 

Steven O’Riordan of the Magdalene Survivors Together has repeatedly expressed concern that survivors were being offered lesser amounts of compensation than they were entitled to due to the records of the Orders not matching the accounts of the women in terms of duration of stay. 

“Why is the word of the Orders taken when McAleese himself acknowledged there were gaps in the records? These women’s stories have been consistent for almost a decade we have been campaigning. The Taoiseach himself said he believed the women in his apology, yet it’s the Orders’ word that is taken,” he said. 

A number of the Magdalene survivor groups have expressed concern that less than one third of survivors have received compensation, more than a year after Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologised to victims in the Dáil. 

Justice For Magdalenes Research (JFMR) expressed concern that any women querying the offers they have been made by the State, by going to review or to the Ombudsman, may not be able to afford this step as the maximum the State provides for legal advice to survivors is €500. 

The group also repeated its insistence that all Magdalene survivors be entitled to adequate medical and health services as recommended in the Quirke Report and that the recommendations be implemented “in full”. 

Justice Quirke recommended to the Government that survivors should have access to “the full range of services” currently enjoyed by holders of the HAA medical card. 

“We look forward to Minister Reilly implementing Judge Quirke’s healthcare recommendation in full. Judge Quirke recommended that a wide range of private community health services and therapies be available to survivors, in addition to public services and hospital care,” said a spokesperson.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Court rules man may seek redress for institutional abuse


Man sent to industrial school as a child due to family disruption

Goldenbridge industrial school: The man and a sibling were sent there for a year, where he says he  was physically abused and lived

Goldenbridge industrial school: The man and a sibling were sent there for a year, where he says he was physically abused and lived “in constant fear”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/Irish Times

A man who says he was physically abused and lived “in constant fear” after he was sent to an industrial school as a child, is entitled to claim redress, the High Court has ruled.

The man and a sibling were sent to St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, for a year due to family disruption when their father attacked a man who was having an affair with their mother. He only became aware of those details many years later after his mother died, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley noted.

Now in his 50s, he left school early and drank heavily for many years, she noted. He had not worked since 2006. His marriage and a second significant relationship both broke up due to his drinking and behaviour.

When he applied for redress in December 2011, he explained his delay on grounds including he was unaware he was entitled to seek redress and was having difficulty with depression and dealing with various matters in his life.

The Residential Institutions Redress Board was established in 2002 with applications to be made by December 15th, 2005, but the board ruled there were no exceptional circumstances to allow it to accept his application.

Overturning that refusal yesterday, Ms Justice O’Malley said a psychiatrist had found him a “credible” informant who seemed “wracked by shame and guilt regarding his early past and the more shameful aspects of his adult life, relating to his behaviour and drinking”.


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How the State Betrayed its Innocent Children


About The Irish Gulag
About the Author
Media Coverage
Buy The Book





The five-volume Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is a vast document. It attempts to cover six of the 10 years since Bertie Ahern made his public apology to those who had suffered abuse in the industrial schools and, together with Ms Justice Mary Lafoy’s Third Interim Report, published in December 2003, it completes the record of the Commission’s work.


Its main achievement is the painstaking and imperfect knitting together of various strands of testimony about a selection of industrial schools where abuse was central. Their names are well-known to us. Much of the testimony coming from their former inmates contained in this report is also well-known. It was exposed, debated and argued over at public hearings of the Investigation Committee of the Commission. These began under Ms Justice Mary Lafoy and went on under Mr Justice Seán Ryan after he took over the chairmanship.


This testimony is now presented in extensive and sickening detail about Artane, Letterfrack, Tralee, Carriglea, Glin, Salthill, Cabra, Daingean, Marlborough House, Upton, Ferryhouse, Greenmount, Lota, Goldenbridge, Cappoquin, Clifden, Newtownforbes, Dundalk, Kilkenny and Beechpark. From the earlier Third Interim Report there is the further testimony of what happened in another bleak, grim place: Baltimore Fisheries School.


The Report

The two volumes covering these institutions run to 1,400 pages and they deal with only a selection of testimony by inmates of the 60 industrial schools and reformatories listed and mapped at the beginning of The Irish Gulag and spread across the whole country. There is a disproportionate emphasis on the institutions for boys, where much of the abuse was pervasively gross; but violence in the girls’ industrial schools was also terrible and merited far greater attention than it has been given. Confronted by the massive amount of material, it is easy to overlook the central contribution brought to the Commission’s work by Mr Justice Seán Ryan, and this was to short circuit the process of examination, bringing it to an earlier conclusion. This was not something sought by the abused themselves. They spent the first four years of the nine-year period of investigation watching the State, through the Department of Education, delaying the Commission’s work under Ms Justice Mary Lafoy and had already lost patience when Seán Ryan took over.


A further 400 pages in the third volume, detailing the work of the Commission’s Confidential Committee, gives harrowing personal data, not specifically related to places but presented on a thematic basis. Chapters define the family backgrounds of those incarcerated. The forms of abuse used on male victims are separated into one chapter. What happened to females is contained in another. There is some detail given of positive experiences. The Commission’s remit covered a range of institutions beyond the industrial school system itself, recounting abuse experiences in special needs schools, children’s homes, foster care, hospitals, primary and secondary schools, and residential laundries.


It is in this volume that the thorny issue of committal is addressed, though only in a technical sense, under the heading ’Pathways to Industrial and Reformatory Schools’. It was a massive process masquerading as ’care’ but in fact it was what Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, described to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid-both men were opponents of the industrial school system-as the ’shovelling in’ of children to these iniquitous places. The committal issue-seen in the eyes of many victims of the system as by far the most violent abuse of their liberty and rights-is not analysed from this point of view. It is treated as a factual matter, one of the contributory ’pathways’ into the system.


Public attention, since the publication of the report, has understandably focused on this harrowing testimony which has shocked the country all over again and probably more comprehensively than ever before, notwithstanding the fact that the story, or stories, of industrial school abuse have been matters of public concern for well over ten years.


The Government and the Commission

What has been more difficult to grapple with are the issues of blame and the fundamental question facing the Irish public: in whose interest has this commission been working? Mr Justice Seán Ryan set out to work on behalf of the Government. He was requested to do so in ’the interests of the abused’.


To this entirely acceptable objective the Government added a second. This was to complete the Commission’s work ’within a reasonable period and not incur exorbitant costs’.


The conditions were contradictory. The position of the Government, in setting them, was dishonest. For the previous four years, through the actions of the Department of Education, the Government had consistently delayed the workings of the Commission, limiting it to the completion of just one industrial school survey, that of the Baltimore Fisheries School. There were no demands from the organisations acting on behalf of the victims for ’a reasonable timeframe’, or for consistency between a ’proper investigation’, however that is defined, and the avoidance of ’exorbitant costs’. The victims had been frustrated on the issue of a speeding up of the procedure, not because of timeframes or methodology but simply because the Government had failed to think through its operation of the Commission, fund it properly and answer simple queries coming from Ms Justice Mary Lafoy.


Four years had been largely wasted as a result of Government inaction and Department of Education frustration of the processes established by law to further the aims of the Commission. Ms Justice Mary Lafoy confronted this inexcusable blocking of due process and resigned. Mr Justice Seán Ryan set the process on a new path, claiming that the amended legislation would ’focus the Investigation on its core function’. This was to inquire into abuse of children in institutions. But this is what had been going on all along, only delayed by the refusal of the Department of Education to co-operate with the first chairperson of the Commission.


The abused are not, and were not, fools. They had reacted strongly to the delays under Ms Justice Mary Lafoy. Not knowing the background until she published the full details of the Department of Education’s frustration of her work, which she did in her Third Interim Report in December 2003, the victims blamed her for prevarication and worse. When the truth came out, they lost confidence in the Commission. The avoidance of ’exorbitant costs’ in the light of other tribunals was a piece of nonsense. The idea that this new Seán Ryan Commission was dedicated to ’the interests of the abused’ seem to them perverse. The introduction of ’Modules’, described as ’logical units for hearings’, was also scoffed at by the victims. Mr Justice Ryan promised the ’publication of interim reports as the work proceeded’. This did not happen. He also promised to establish ’"trust" between the parties as to the fairness of the hearings’. In all my dealings with the victims of abuse since 2003, I can honestly say that I have never heard the word ’trust’ applied to the relationship-such as it is-between the victims and the Commission.


The Flawed Report

The Ryan Report is flawed because of this. Mr Justice Seán Ryan started out on his revised operation of the Commission on the basis that he was responding to the Government’s attempts to paper over the collapse of integrity and trust between the State and the previous chairperson of the Commission, Ms Justice Mary Lafoy. In her long letter of resignation, dealt with in detail in two chapters of The Irish Gulag, Mary Lafoy raises the spectre of this possibility. It is not something that can be definitively argued or resolved, but the evidence of a built-in malfunction of the Commission can be adduced from other more tangible shortcomings.


These include the defective historical analysis by the Commission of how the appalling circumstances in the industrial schools were allowed to develop. They also include the seriously flawed examination of the evidence of the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and several of his ministers and public servants over how the process of reconciliation and recompense started. Full Cabinet and Cabinet subcommittee papers were neither sought nor analysed. Testimony that was faulty or questionable was not subjected to forensic examination. Much of the evidence published on this in the early pages of volume I of the report appears to be selective, based on recollections of different key figures unsupported by the necessary memoranda and agendas of meetings. Some of this has been in the public domain-since I put it there-for the last six years. Yet a very imperfect account is given in the Ryan Report.


The full details of the Indemnity Agreement and of the emergence of a compensation scheme for victims is also flawed. There is evidence in the Ryan Report of how this came about. It is in conflict with evidence that Ms Justice Mary Lafoy refers to in her letter of resignation in 2003. We do not know where the idea came from or from whom and this bears heavily on another issue, that of the so-called Secret Deal, the indemnifying of the religious orders by the State and the creation of a huge imbalance between the State and the religious orders in terms of who would pay the cost of recompense. The final set of circumstances was that the State, in a ratio of 10:1, would bear the cost of claims by victims.


The full details of this seriously misguided deal were published by the Irish Independent in 2003. The newspaper estimated at the time a cost of €1 billion which has proved reasonably accurate. It was also crystal clear at the time that the religious were not going to budge on their indemnity provisions. The State covered up embarrassment at its foolishness as best it could. While the report attempts a rather loose and uncertain survey of this lamentable exposure of the taxpayer to enormous costs, it does not make clear and appropriate judgments about what was done.


Errors and Omissions

There is cursory and inaccurate attention in the Ryan Report to matters that have a historic importance. Much of this will come to light as the extensive document is more fully analysed. At this stage, it worth identifying the inexcusable examples.


One of these concerns the Kennedy Report. This report, published in 1970 and chaired by District Justice Eileen Kennedy, president of the District Court, failed to tackle any of the key problems in the industrial school system and excluded from consideration the most serious problem faced by the children: corporal punishment. Though members of the Kennedy Commission knew a good deal about this and are on record discussing the punishment circumstances in Daingean reformatory, their recollections are not recorded in the report. The closure of Daingean is recommended, but mainly because of antiquated plumbing and other physical defects. The fact that the children were flogged mercilessly is not recorded.


Furthermore, the Kennedy Report published the Rules and Regulations for the Certified Industrial Schools in Ireland but excised-and it can only have been deliberate-the key rule covering corporal punishment. This was a disgraceful abuse of public power and a suppression of the true facts. The unthinkable happened: a State regulation was included as an appendix in the Kennedy Report without the most important paragraph, on corporal punishment, in it. Corporal punishment was not discussed in the report either.


None of this is corrected, rectified or challenged. The Commission seems not to have noticed. Its members’ comments refer mainly to future prognostications rather than the non-findings of criminality, abuse and deprivation that existed in the industrial schools the Kennedy Commission members visited.


The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse sees the Kennedy Commission quite differently, admiring it and using words like ’pivotal’ when in fact it achieved nothing significant beyond proposing an enhancement of the deception about the nature of the institutions by renaming them! ’Industrial Schools’ were to be called ’National Boarding Schools’ and the ’Detention Order’ was to be called an ’Admission Order’. This was not done by the Cussen Report of 1936 and 30 years later the Kennedy Commission followed the same course. It did recommend closures, but they were slow to be implemented.


The Commission is categorically wrong in saying that the Rules and Regulations were ’unambiguous in the restrictions placed on corporal punishment’. From first to last theywere ambiguous; they did allow extremes of punishment within the rules quite apart from the fact that the rules were widely ignored. At one level this was a departmental failure to inspect and change punishment regulations, as happened in the UK system, ironically under Winston Churchill when he was at the British Home Office!


Living History

So much for history, one might say. But in fact living history is what the Commission was engaged in throughout its nine years and its record will no more satisfy the abused than it will the general public.


All the known conclusions to be found or drawn from testimony given to the Commission are listed in the report, as are the same dismal points that have been made over the past decade, and earlier, in the pioneering documentaries on life in the industrial school system. Yes, there was abuse. Seán Ryan, at the outset of his chairmanship, said we had to ascertain this and it was done. Yes, the Department of Education behaved badly, was deferential and submissive toward the religious congregations and failed to regulate or protect the children’s lives.


The Irish industrial school system flourished because the religious orders wanted it to flourish and the State ignored the alternative approaches which had been steadily developed in the United Kingdom but were notably ignored by Tomás Derrig, Fianna Fáil Minister for Education, who presided over many of the most terrible events in the system. This divergence between an old-fashioned and pernicious religious control in the Irish system and a more secular and but caring approach in the United Kingdom is not properly examined in the report.


The Commission confronts the issue of sexual abuse and gives a comprehensive account of the extent and depravity of what remains-for most of those who suffered-the worst aspect of their lives, resulting in lifelong psychological damage and inhibiting permanently their capacity to adjust and lead a fully normal life. But this confrontation is far from complete in its analysis and in its facing of difficult general areas of judgment and conclusive findings.


I have engaged with many tribunal findings at the highest level in Irish society and there is variation of competence and courage. Mr Justice Brian McCracken, for example, did more in a single page of his report on Haughey and money than Mr Justice Ryan has done in 2,500 pages.


Failing to confront the State

Despite this high level of findings, Mr Justice Seán Ryan fails to confront the State on its most blatant lack of transparency and where it has been most vulnerable because of misleading and dishonest presentation of its purposes and intents. The examples are in respect of the questionable sequence of State initiatives, including departmental and Cabinet procedures leading up to the 1999 Apology, the pieces of legislation setting up and then amending the Commission and the Residential Institutions Redress Board, and the contemptible Secret Deal, negotiated and signed outside of Cabinet control and without Cabinet approval.


Mr Justice Ryan has also failed to confront the Roman Catholic Church at the highest level, where it not only allowed this truly inhuman situation to exist in the industrial schools, but actively protected the abusers. It did so through a papal policy of secrecy, whose very existence was a secret. Only by knowing a good deal about this are the enormities committed in the industrial schools to be understood.


In making these points, which are critical of the Commission, it is necessary to bear in mind the scale of the cruelty, the physical and sexual abuse, the neglect and the poverty of education offered in what were euphemistically known as ’schools’. As the Ferns Report showed, the clerical abusers in Wexford were equal in number to 1 in 4 of the total clergy strength there. The mention of about 800 abusers in orphanages suggests an even higher ratio, since we have to bear in mind that the number of nuns and brothers staffing the industrial schools was quite small. In Ferryhouse, for example, there was an average intake of children that fluctuated between a maximum of 200 but was mostly around 150. With a total staff number of around 12, and given the scale and frequency of abuse allegations, it would be difficult for the religious staff to have fulfilled their work as well as carrying out the widespread abuse. The burden of abusing was a non-stop operation.


If we extrapolate from this that the national staffing complement for the industrial schools might have been about 1,800 at its lowest, possibly rising to as many as 2,400, that would mean that the ratio of abusers-perhaps as many as 800-was worse even than in Ferns. We are possibly looking at a 1 in 3 ratio. A hospital where 1 in 3 of the staff tortured patients would be decommissioned at once. This never happened with the religious orders.


Prisoner Children

One of the more significant undertakings the chairperson, Mr Justice Seán Ryan, gave about his investigation involved the committal of the children by the courts. He said that it was important ’not to ignore the methods by which children came to be placed in institutions’. This issue of committal was never meant to be part of the process. It came far too close to the derelictions of the State-its betrayal of the innocent children-than was comfortable.


Ms Justice Mary Lafoy covered it, but only in a detailed listing of the various legislative provisions by which children were committed and how they operated. Since this was already in the public domain, what Seán Ryan said was seen at the time, and now appears, in the words ’not to ignore the methods’, to be an extension of what she had done.


It has not proved to be so in the Final Report. Setting aside everything done to the children during their incarceration, nothing was as terrible or alarming as the events which led so many of them to lose their liberty by being placed in the hands of the guards and taken away to what were child prisons, there to serve terms of up to 14 years.


The children were not represented in the courts. Their circumstances were not properly investigated. They were, as the founder of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff, asserted in a letter to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, ’shovelled into the industrial schools’.


This matter remains obscure and inadequately dealt with. Answers as to how it happened, and why, remain in the future. Mr Justice Ryan himself said that the importance of the issue was hard to exaggerate and that it would be unsatisfactory to ignore it. He was to seek an amendment to the Act. It was not made.


It is so central and so significant to those who have survived the abuse that it merits further consideration. It is a far more important question than the one that gained considerable public attention after the publication of the report, namely the Secret Deal.


We have to focus on the fact that, among all the terrible things that happened to thousands of boys and girls on their way into the juvenile prisons in Ireland-those places that masqueraded as industrial ’schools’-probably the worst of all was the committal of those children in the District Courts. Not all went that way but a substantial number of those recorded in the Ryan Report did. In the august atmosphere of a courtroom, with guards, priests, supposed social workers and guardians of good Catholic family life looking on, the child, alone or with siblings but without proper legal defence, was removed from the limited life they had led up to that point, and sent for years to a prison in all but name, inadequate and cruel in almost every aspect. Many of them simply became slave labour.


It was not open to the Commission to examine this terrible court event, despite the fact that it overshadowed the lives of the victims. The court process was never satisfactorily sorted out in terms of its criminal implications and whether or not the long incarceration stained the children with a criminal record.



Michael Woods, in the drafting of the Commission legislation, said in the Dáil that a legal or constitutional review of these court findings was ’unacceptable’. This was obvious to everyone. The court judgments may have been wrong, but they were final. What Woods did was to use a tenuous constitutional doubt quite improperly to frustrate the entirely legitimate role of the Commission, which would have been to examine whether or not the process had been wrong. But on the basis of a spurious representation of some kind of constitutional ’doubt’, the issue of committals was excised from the legislation and placed outside the remit of the two judges, Mary Lafoy and Seán Ryan.


Mary Lafoy tried to put it back in again, and did publish some detail about how the committals worked in her Third Interim Report. Seán Ryan said the issue needed to be examined in greater depth, but did not do so in any comprehensive or meaningful way.


Thus Michael Woods was able, on a false representation of the facts, to block off perhaps the most significant area of State impropriety and possibly human rights abuse, together with misuse of the existing laws on child imprisonment.


On every other issue covered by the vast Final Report, there exists a scale of balances between the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish State, with the two hugely powerful institutions flipping and flopping this way and that in terms of who was most to blame. Inevitably, from any reading of the account that is published, the Church carries the greater share of blame. In fact, this is wrong and misguided.


Failed in its duty

It was the duty of the Commission to investigate and make public the inescapable reservations about the political dimension of what happened. It has failed to do so. The political analysis in the report is flaccid and ambivalent. There is no reliable examination of Bertie Ahern and the ministers in his first administration, from 1997 to 2002, undertaken by the report. Instead, it relies on opinion and speculation, with one witness giving his view, another witness giving a slightly different point of view. And we are talking about the highest officers in the State: the Taoiseach, his ministers and senior civil servants.


The Commission does not challenge such testimony. The section headed ’State Evidence’ is unreliable, selective and flawed. Evidence critical of Government and published by myself in the Irish Independent during the nine-year period covered by the Commission in its work is reflected, when reflected at all, by imprecise and flabby presentation of data and selective use of statements given to the Commission by the key political people responsible for what was being done. The truth is not tested, the factual justification not examined.


The inexcusable line adopted by Michael Woods is neither investigated as it should be nor challenged or confronted. Within the wider terms of reference thought out by Mr Justice Seán Ryan and put into the amending legislation, which changed the remit and direction of the Commission, he created greater freedom to act than had been available to Mary Lafoy. He did not use it properly or effectively.


The report contains nothing about the steady flow of reform in the British system of child care, begun by Winston Churchill when he was Home Secretary-and this was before Ireland’s independence-and continued throughout the grim period in which Tomás Derrig was Minister for Education. From 1932 Derrig placed an iron fist on top of the smouldering dustbin of industrial school illegality and did nothing at all. Irregularly, cases came up in the courts, the press and the Dáil that cried out for investigation. It was always refused by him. It was generally refused by other ministers. Nothing is said of this in the report.


Once again, we are rerunning clerical abuse and letting the State off the hook-and not just the State in the period covered by the Commission, beginning in 1936, but also the iniquities of the State during the last nine years, allowing the Department of Education to control and monitor the investigation of its own shortcomings, delaying the workings of the Commission for three years, changing direction with amending legislation and without the approval of the victims, and now, since publication of the report, demonstrating that no one in the Government knows which set of responses they should be using. The report is lame and ambivalent on this area of criticism.


No matter what we have lived through, in terms of revelation about what the victims suffered in this territory of abuse and cruelty, neglect and indifference, over many years now, it still comes back to haunt and worry us. But in asking: how did Ireland permit this regime and why did no one stop it? we need to confront the glaring fact that the story has not been properly told and the evidence not analysed adequately.


In the face of this, the present public outrage-greater than it was before we set out on this path of supposed reconciliation and healing-is entirely legitimate and justified. Unhappily, it is also largely futile.


The Real Culprit

The real culprit was and is the State, which is still floundering over child protection. The State approved, backed and used, intemperately and without consideration of the lives of victims, our legal system to incarcerate vast numbers of children. It was done for largely trivial, superficial and unresearched reasons and on the entirely meretricious excuse that it was for the good of the children. It was not; and the people responsible, from the Department of Education, from within successive governments, also within the judiciary and the police and the Christian aid societies and organisations, knew this. How well they knew it. Everyone in the country had a whiff in their nostrils of the fear emanating from behind the high walls of the industrial schools.


The report will bring no closure for the victims. They have read it all before. They distrust almost everyone involved. They will go to their graves carrying the sentences passed on them as children, part of a burden of guilt and inadequacy that has been deeply embedded in their lives and has run like tainted blood through their veins. It will do so until their hearts stop beating.


I was with John Kelly in Daingean to hear him describe the awful beatings he suffered there on the fake marble staircases from which his screams of fear and pain echoed up into the dormitories so that every inmate knew what they might expect for trivial misdemeanours.


For many people, John Kelly has become the living and outspoken embodiment of the ghostly screams and unending tears that are now part of the Ryan Report. The bulk of its achievement is this record.


On that occasion, which I will never forget, there was a third person present, Tommy O’Reilly, from Enniscorthy. After the visit, he wrote to tell me of his acute distress on his way home when he stopped at the roadside to shed tears over what had happened to him. He has since died of cancer. He was a gentle person, puzzled to the end by the levels of cruelty that so damaged his life. His main feeling was one of incomprehension at the failure of the Oblates of Mary to give him any kind of respect or help towards his future life. The final challenge to his human rights was when a brother brought in to him, at the time of his departure from Daingean, an Irish Army uniform and told him to put it on. He was to be drafted, against his will, into the Defence Forces. This conscription into one of the State’s arms of law and order was a last, ironic humiliation not envisaged or covered by the Ryan Report. It was an abuse, as had been the court appearance that started his Daingean sentence. He remembered until his death the shame he felt at this ultimate arbitrary act.




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Child abuse revelations illustrate North's troubled soul


Litany of horrific evidence points to multiple failures throughout society

Nelson Mandela's words were quoted on the opening day of the North's Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

Nelson Mandela’s words were quoted on the opening day of the North’s Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Nelson Mandela’s words were quoted to good effect by senior counsel Christine Smithon the opening day of the North’s Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry which completed its first five-week block of public hearings yesterday. It will resume hearing from witnesses in about four weeks’ time after working in private session in the interim.

Society as a whole in the North is not emerging from this awful saga with much credit.

There have been disturbing and lurid accounts of beatings, sex abuse incidents, public humiliation of bed-wetters and children forced to eat their own vomit. Witnesses have told of fainting from persistent hunger and of drinking water from drains such was the alleged level of failure to provide for them by the Sisters of Nazareth.

The accounts have been disturbing and shocking as much for the apparent denial of basic human kindness and love for clearly vulnerable children as for the alleged treatment handed out by those charged with their care.

The witness evidence, especially in the early public sessions of the inquiry which dealt with those placed in homes in the 1950s and 1960s, points to children being treated as somehow less than human. They told of arriving at either St Joseph’s home,Termonbacca, in Derry or Nazareth House in the city, confused, often frightened and clueless as to why they were there. Some were taken there by people they barely knew.

Accounts of their treatment, their meagre accommodation, discipline and regime now sound Dickensian in the present-day context. Many witnesses have broken down in distress. One was unable to complete his evidence and had to leave. It is not surprising that the Sisters of Nazareth have already apologised for their failings which have been laid bare for all to see.

The tone of witness hearings has changed in recent days. They began with a litany of horrors which have been likened to concentration camps. But more recently, there have contradictory accounts of what went on. Allegations have been levelled, some of them particularly serious, and flatly denied. Not all accounts appear to add up. The inquiry will have its work cut out making sense of it all.

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Nuns and the Magdalene laundries

Thu, Mar 6, 2014, 01:08

Sir, – I read with sadness Catherine McCann’s article (“Sisters who ran Magdalene laundries are being treated unjustly”, Opinion & Analysis, March 3rd) and her misplaced sympathy for her erstwhile colleagues. Does she believe, in her heart of hearts, that the Magdalene laundries were operated in a fair, benevolent fashion? Does she sincerely think that the women who were incarcerated there were treated with kindness, were allowed to develop their self-respect, were properly educated by the nuns, were well fed, received appropriate medical treatment when required, and were paid a decent wage for the long, hard hours which they endured in the laundry?

I would point out to her that there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Over 100 survivors of Magdalene laundries, who live in this country, are telling a very different story.

They speak of brutality, of hard work for which they were never paid, of massive unkindness and lack of respect for them as human beings, of deprivation, of having their own children forcibly removed from their care, of abuse which was psychological, physical and sexual in nature.

They speak of being described as “penitents” for committing an act which was far less evil than the acts perpetrated against them by the Roman Catholic Church.

In the case of my great-aunt Esther Harrington (70 years in the Good Shepherd, Cork), who had family who wanted to claim her but were threatened out of it by a local Catholic priest, what would Ms McCann say to that? My grandmother thought she was well respected in the Roman Catholic Church but apparently she was not, because when she wanted to help her sister-in-law she was told she would be condemned from the pulpit and that she would lose her sweetshop, that my grandfather would lose his coal round and the family would be left destitute should she persist in trying to remove Esther from the laundry. Esther was a talented seamstress so obviously she was worth a lot of money to the nuns, which is why they wanted to keep her.

It’s worth noting that Esther passed away in 1987 in the convent, at the age of 83. The good nuns conveniently forgot to put her name on the headstone of the mass grave where she is buried. This was done only last year. What a way to treat someone who had been forced to give her life to an order of nuns.

These orders are not being treated unfairly by the media, but they are being put under scrutiny, their deeds and attitudes are being made public and the public does not like what it sees.

The nuns are being subjected to having to face the truth about their behaviour for the first time and they can’t handle it. – Yours, etc,



Eaton Heights


Co Cork.

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Abuse inquiry hears series of allegations of rape, beatings and verbal abuse


Statements from those implicated strenuously deny claims by former care home residents

One witness, who alleged she was repeatedly physically abused at St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, in Derry (above), said she was also raped while in care outside the institution. Photograph: Trevor McBride

One witness, who alleged she was repeatedly physically abused at St Joseph’s Home, Termonbacca, in Derry (above), said she was also raped while in care outside the institution. Photograph: Trevor McBride

Allegations of rapes, beatings and other abuses made by former residents of Derry care homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth have been heard by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. Statements submitted to the inquiry from those implicated strongly deny all claims.

The allegations and subsequent denials dominated evidence on the 15th day of the inquiry into alleged abuses in residential institutions.

One witness, who alleged she was repeatedly physically abused at St Joseph’s Home,Termonbacca, in Derry, said she was also raped while in care outside the institution.

The woman, who is now herself a foster parent, told the inquiry panel she and her husband provided homes for children in care because she “didn’t want them to go through what I went through”.

The witness, who cannot be identified, cited regular beatings from a named nun who also showed alleged bias against children who “did not tell her things”. The inquiry heard this nun also force-fed children.

This was one “evil nun”, she said, “who would have knuckled you when she seen you”. Other nuns and most lay members of staff were good, “but this one sticks out the most”.

Another witness alleged that she suffered sexual abuse by boys who were residents at Termonbacca. She claimed that the older boys regularly came into the bedroom at night and abused her. This happened about 10 times and possibly every two or three weeks, she said.

She told the inquiry she was terrified but could not tell the nun what had happened to her as it was “dirty”.

Another witness also told the inquiry she was repeatedly sexually abused by another resident. This happened nearly every other night for weeks, she said. This was reported to a nun in the presence of a lay staff member, but she said her complaints were not taken seriously.

A statement made by the boy against whom allegations were made denied all the claims. He suggested that compensation may be behind the allegations.

The witness said this was not true and said she had not spoken to a solicitor about any abuse.


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Louise O'Keeffe disappointed at delay in response to European ruling


State should have same urgency in reviewing claims by victims as it did in warning them after Supreme Court decision, says abuse victim

Louise O'Keeffe: disappointed at  time it is taking for  Department of Education to address  claims by other victims following her victory in the European Court of Human Rights. Picture: Courtpix

Louise O’Keeffe: disappointed at time it is taking for Department of Education to address claims by other victims following her victory in the European Court of Human Rights. Picture: Courtpix

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 01:01

Sex abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe has expressed disappointment at the time it is taking for the Department of Education to address the claims by other victims following her victory in the European Court of Human Rights.

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn yesterday updated his Cabinet colleagues on the follow up to the ECHR judgment case where the court found that the State was negligent in failing to protect Ms O’Keeffe from abuse while a primary school pupil.

“The State Claims Agency is reviewing its day-school abuse cases to identify those that come within the parameters of the judgment. This review is ongoing and the Minister will be reporting back to Government when this review is complete,” the department said in a statement.

‘Reasonable outcome’
“The Minister reiterated his intention to seek a fair and reasonable outcome to those cases that come within the parameters of the ECHR judgment,” said the department, adding that it had paid Ms O’Keeffe damages and costs in line with the ECHR judgement.

Ms O’Keeffe said she would reserve judgment on the State’s handling of other cases until she saw what Mr Quinn did in relation to outstanding claims by people who were sexually abused by teachers when they were attending schools.

‘Victims bullied’
“I’d like to see what the State Claims Agency does with regarding to both the ongoing cases and those cases where victims dropped their actions after being bullied into doing so by the State after the Supreme Court ruled against me,” she said.

“I’m disappointed with the lack of urgency being shown by the State in this matter – it’s over a month since the European Court of Human Rights gave its judgement in my case and the matter is still being reviewed by the State Claims Agency.

“It marks a huge contrast with the speed with which they started sending out letters to abuse victims after the Supreme Court ruling against me – they were much faster in sending out those letters where they warned people of the consequences if they pursued their claims.”

Ms O’Keeffe said she would also reserve her position regarding Mr Quinn’s declaration that he was intent on getting a fair and reasonable outcomes in those cases which fall within the parameters of the ECHR judgment.

‘He fought me all the way’
“It’s all very well to come out and say that you are intent on getting fair settlements but Ruairí Quinn fought me in Europe and he fought me all the way to the point that the State said that they didn’t believe the European Court of Human Rights should even be hearing the case,” Ms O’Keefe said.


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Residential Instittions Statutory Fund - Appeals Office


24 February, 2014 - Minister Quinn announces appointment of Pat Whelan as Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Appeals Officer

Minister Quinn announces appointment of Pat Whelan as Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Appeals Officer

The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., today announced the appointment of Mr Pat Whelan, former Director General of the Office of the Ombudsman, as the inaugural Appeals Officer of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund.

The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund, which uses the service name Caranua, was established under the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 to oversee the use of up to €110 million in cash contributions pledged by religious congregations to support the needs of survivors of residential institutional child abuse. The supports available include the provision of a range of approved services, including health and personal social services, education and housing services. Further details are available on the Board's website

Mr Whelan's appointment will allow those applicants who are unhappy with a decision of Caranua on their application, access to an independent appeals process.

Minister Quinn thanked Mr Whelan for accepting the position, saying, "his experience and expertise will ensure that the appeals system operates efficiently and effectively."


- See more at:

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Sisters of Charity fail to stop legal action concerning alleged rape and sexual assault by former employee




THE Sisters of Charity have failed to stop a legal action in which it is alleged they are liable for alleged rape and sexual assault of a schoolgirl by a groundsman allegedly employed in a Magdalene laundry.

Her life has been severely affected by her experience.It is claimed she was so traumatised by the assaults on her when aged 12 to 15 that, in a desperate effort to stop the groundsman accosting her on her way to and from school, she once hammered her knee with a paperweight to such an extent she was hospitalised and thus avoided going to school for a time.

She changed from being a happy normal child who liked school to one who became self-destructive, left school early and developed alcohol, medication and relationship problems, it is claimed.

Now in her 40s, the woman alleges the Sisters of Charity are vicariously liable for severe personal injuries and emotional suffering arising from the assaults of the groundsman alleged to have occurred in a hut and shed in the grounds of the laundry between the years 1977-1980.

The man is believed to be dead.

In a pre-trial application to stop the case, the Sisters of Charity argued they are prejudiced defending it on grounds including delay and having no records of the groundsman. 

They also said the woman's claims are subject to a garda investigation which has not yet concluded as it has not proven possible to establish if the groundsman had died.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Max Barrett said, while the 29-year delay bringing the case was inordinate, it was "far from inexcusable" as it seemed this woman had never escaped from the dominion of her alleged abuser.

Her statement of claim, which was not challenged by the Sisters for the purposes of the pre-trial application only, suggested "a sorry picture of a long-suffering woman" who has lived her life in the shadow of what she claimed was repeatedly done to her by the groundsman. 

There was much material before the court to excuse the delay, he said.

He also considered the balance of justice lay in allowing the case proceed. 

While the alleged abuser may be dead, his alleged employer remains extant and it would seem contrary to the principles of justice and fairness that the chance of his death should offer the Sisters the chance to escape liability, if such liability arises, he said.

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A Secret History of Confession by John Cornwell - review

dark box john cornwell
The confessional box: John Cornwell asserts that pope Pius X’s decree about children and confession led directly to priestly abuse. Photograph: Alamy

Some years ago I was in Lisbon with a group of Jewish people. It was the Day of Atonement and their very liberal rabbi organised a service in a hotel meeting room, so I went along. It began with people offering their thoughts. "I hate the Day of Atonement," said one. "I hate the focus on guilt, and admitting sin and having to atone for it. It's all so negative." "It could be worse," said another. "You could be a Catholic, then you feel guilty all the time."

  1. The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession – Confession in the Catholic Church
  2. by John Cornwell
  1. Tell us what you think:Star-rate and review this book

John Cornwell's account of confession reveals a Roman Catholic world suffused with guilt, as he recounts the way in which the ritual, with its roots in the Day of Atonement, developed as a means of enabling believers to seek God's forgiveness through telling their wrongdoings – their sins – to the intermediary of a priest. They gained absolution so long as they also made clear their desire to make amends and were given penance by the priest – usually a few prayers to say. As Cornwell traces the history of the sacrament – an outward sign of inward grace, as we recited as children – it's apparent that the Church, whose raison d'être was the saving of souls, developed an obsession with the body. And that meant it was obsessed with sexual sins.

The image of the confessional – the dark box of Cornwell's title – and the hazy view of the priest behind the grille came to symboliseCatholicism, particularly in movies. Yet it no longer has the hold it once did on Roman Catholics themselves: attendance has been in steep decline for many years, a decline caused at least in part by Catholics' rejection of teaching on sex, particularly on the sinfulness of contraception. It's an intriguing decline, given we live in a confessional age of therapy and Facebook.

But Cornwell's focus is not so much the present as the past and the scars it has left. He makes the case for the connection between confession and the scandal that has profoundly damaged the reputation of the Church – that of the abuse of children by Catholic priests. He links this to pope Pius X decreeing in 1910 that confession should begin at the age of seven, giving priests easy, intimate access to children without anyone else present.

Child abuse inquiries around the world and readers of my own publication, the Tablet, who responded to Cornwell's request for their stories, reveal that certain priests would use the confessional to solicit children, grooming them for sexual encounters elsewhere or during confession itself.

One of the debates among Catholics about abuse has been whether it was caused by repressions of the past or the more relaxed ways of the post-1960s Church. Cornwell blames both. Before the 60s, men trained for the priesthood with no understanding of human psychology and their own sexuality, turned to children as an outlet for their sexual frustrations, he argues. Then later, he says, priests used the era's more relaxed approach to sexuality to justify abusive encounters with children. And when confession moved out of the box and into one-to-one meetings with no grille between priest and penitent, there were more opportunities for abuse. Here I ought to issue a health warning: read this book and you learn more than you would ever want to know about priestly masturbation.

The Dark Box is a powerful, impassioned treatise about the dangers of confession. Cornwell brings to it personal experience; he himself was abused through being solicited in the confessional as an adolescent. One senses the anger and the violation he feels, but acting as witness and judge can lead to distortion.

Just one life ruined by confession is of course awful, but does this mean that every single priest ruined penitents' lives? The overarching impression left by The Dark Box is that the Church was riddled with confessional abuse, yet talk to Catholics and you find many people with good experiences too. If those views are not given enough credit, it makes it easier for the Church to dismiss this volume as a one-sided rant.

What confession at its best does offer is a communitarian focus. You are encouraged to think about the consequences of your actions, not only on your soul, but on others, as well as alienating yourself from God. Examining one's conscience means you're not sleepwalking through life, but are giving it meaning.

There were other drawbacks to confession. Too often it was a laundry list of sins rather than an exploration of the difficulties of living the Gospel. This was both unhelpful to the penitent and tedious for the priest. On one occasion I spotted my confessor reading the Sporting Life while I recited my list of misdemeanours; I didn't go back for years. What was the point? It's that sense of futility which has caused confession's decline, rather than sex crimes within the confessional's four walls.

Catherine Pepinster is the editor of the Tablet, the Catholic weekly

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Remembering Bethany



I would be grateful for the opportunity of informing and inviting people to a very special and poignant event which will take place next month.

On April 2 at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin, a service will take place in honour of 222 babies and young children who died in the Bethany Home, Orwell Road Dublin, between 1922 and 1949. 

The service will commence at 4 pm, and we are delighted that representatives from four of the main Christian denominations will be participating. In addition, we are pleased to be able to announce, that following the service, a memorial headstone will be unveiled at the cemetery. We wish to acknowledge that the cost of the headstone has been met by the Department of Justice. For too long, the short lives of these children have been unacknowledged, unnamed and their remains unmarked. It is highly appropriate that at last we can now rectify this situation, and that all of us have the opportunity to pay our respects, and to jointly remember a very sad occurrence in our history. 

Derek Linster 

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Brendan Smyth abuse victims cannot take new case against Church



Friday 28 February 2014 18.58

Interviews were carried out with two young victims of Brendan Smyth in 1975
Interviews were carried out with two young victims of Brendan Smyth in 1975

The High Court has ruled that three victims of abuse by paedophile priest Brendan Smyth who settled cases in 1998 may not proceed with fresh legal action against the Catholic Church.

The victims had alleged the Bishop of Kilmore and now Cardinal Seán Brady did not take steps to prevent Smyth from abusing children in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly was sued as successor to the previous bishop Francis McKiernan. Cardinal Seán Brady is being sued in a personal capacity. 

The victims allege negligence because complaints made about Smyth in interviews with two young boys in 1975 were not reported and the boys were sworn to secrecy.

One of the victims in the current case was identified during those interviews but no action was taken to prevent further abuse, the court was told.

Lawyers for Bishop O'Reilly had argued before the High Court that the case could not proceed because of earlier settlements reached with Smyth's Norbertine Order and the Church.

Under the settlements, one of the victims accepted £25,000 (€30,000).

Lawyers for the victims say the content of the 1975 interviews was "actively concealed" in their court proceedings in the 1990s.

They said if they had known, they would not have settled the case for that amount.

They also said the earlier settlement was a partial one.

In his ruling on whether or not a new case could proceed against the Bishop of Kilmore, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said counsel for the plaintiffs were mistaken in suggesting that some new cause of action arose from the revelation about the 1975 meeting.

He said: "If a hospital doctor bungled an operation in circumstances where he had medical issues and it later emerged following a settlement of a claim by the injured party that the hospital authorities knew in advance about the doctor's problem but allowed him to continue operating, that does not amount to a new cause of action but rather is an aggravating factor."

The judge said it was a "matter of the utmost importance that the integrity of settlements, once arrived at with the benefit of proper legal advice, be upheld.

"It goes without saying that no claim could ever be regarded as finalised and concluded if it could be set aside in circumstances where a newly discovered complication were to come to light in the aftermath of a settlement.

"Settlements must in the interests of the proper administration of justice achieve finality of disputes."

He was also of the view that the alleged new or additional facts were already in the public domain when the earlier proceedings were settled.

He said in the course of the hearing the defence had handed in a number of newspaper reports, which made it clear that the information relating to the meetings in 1975 had been in the public domain for some time.

The judge said he was satisfied that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate either that a different cause of action or different damage had arisen in the case.

In terms of the adequacy of the compensation obtained, it was not for the court to second guess quantification of damages made in a different jurisdiction some considerable time ago, particularly when the settlement was arrived at with the benefit of full legal advice.

After the decision, in a statement, Bishop O'Reilly said: "I acknowledge and I deeply regret the great suffering that all three plaintiffs endured at the hands of Father Smyth and I utterly condemn his actions and the betrayal of trust that they represent."

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