The Shame of Ireland
In 1999, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, issued an apology on behalf of the State for abuse many people had suffered while resident in mostly religious-run children’s institutions in the past. The apology led to the setting up in 2002 of the Residential Institutions Redress Board which is still in operation.
Last weekend, RTÉ drew attention once more to the cost of the board, including legal costs. To date, around a billion has been paid out in compensation to former residents, and around €200 million to almost 1,000 legal firms. The board itself has cost millions more to run. It has not yet finished its work, but nonetheless it has finished the great bulk of it and therefore a review of its works seems in order.
Prior to the setting up of the board, the Government, led by then Education Minister Michael Woods, entered negotiations with representatives of the 18 orders responsible for running most of the institutions. What would they pay towards compensation?
To this day, what happened in the negotiations is controversial even if much of the controversy has died down with so much else to occupy the attention of the nation from the crash of 2008, to water charges, to Brexit, to the instability of the present Government.
The orders agreed to pay compensation, some of it cash, most of it in the form of property, towards the redress scheme, in return for an indemnity, that is a guarantee from the State that the orders could not then be sued in turn in the courts by those who had suffered abuse. The orders believed that the redress scheme had to be in lieu of court-ordered compensation, not in addition to it or they would be paying out on the double.
At the time it was calculated that the redress scheme would cost around €250 million and the orders would contribute a little over half of this, or €128 million in cash and property. They had been told by their legal advisers that this was almost certainly more than they would have to pay out if they fought every compensation claim in court because the standard of proof required in court would be so much higher than the standard of proof required by the redress board.
The redress board was intended as a less adversarial, less emotionally-demanding alternative to the courts for abuse victims. Many former residents were nonetheless distressed that they were not allowed to talk in detail about their dealings with the board afterwards.
Still, whatever they had to endure surely had to be better than going into court in most cases. Also, the average pay-out of €62,000 per claimant was generous compared with some other countries, such as Germany.
Germany, like many other countries, had its own residential institutions. After World War II and until the 1980s, about 800,000 children in what was West Germany passed through that country’s residential institutions and many were abused, as in the Irish institutions.
The Government of Angela Merkel in 2008 established something called the ‘Residential Care Committee’ to investigate how redress could be made to abuse victims. It reported back in December 2010 and recommended that €120 million be set aside for abuse victims.
This was a pitiful amount, much smaller than even than the original estimated cost of the redress scheme here and smaller again when you consider the much larger numbers that passed through German institutions (many of which were run by the various Churches).
It is interesting, incidentally, to discover that in some of those German institutions as well, children were subjected to involuntary drug trials.
The 67-page final report of the Residential Care Committee stated: “In the case of one home, it could be proven that several weeks of trials involving sedative drugs (Truxal) were carried out in 1966, without the consent of the children or their personal guardians, and despite the initial concerns of the youth welfare office”.
The report catalogued the type of abuses suffered by many in those institutions, again with strong echoes of the Irish institutions: “There were reports of sexual assault and sexual violence of different kinds and varying duration, including brutal, repeated rapes extending over several years. The perpetrators (mainly men) were said to be primarily educators, institution directors and clergy, but also persons from outside the home, such as doctors, farmers or people in private households, to whom the young people were ‘lent out’ as workers.”
Despite this finding, none of the €120 million the committee recommended be set aside was to be paid as compensation for abuse as such. €20 million was to go towards pensions for former residents and the rest for consequential disadvantages suffered by former residents in their later lives.
The committee refused to call the system of institutions “unjust” and it refused to say those who worked in the homes were forced labourers.
If Germany was to pay compensation proportionate to what the redress scheme in Ireland has paid out, it would run to tens of billions of euro, so the German State and the German Churches (Catholic and Protestant) have got off very lightly compared with here.
The redress board here has to date paid compensation to more than 15,000 former residents. The vast majority of those who have made a claim have been paid, meaning that if you were a resident you almost certainly received compensation. The size of the payment is based on the amount of physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered, plus the later effects of the abuse.
Out of the 15,000 odd who have received compensation, as at the end of 2014 a total of 48 were judged to have suffered extreme abuse combined with severe long-term effects which is rated a five on the board’s sliding scale. More than 80pc have been judged to have suffered abuse at the lower end of the scale, which the board rates a one or a two out of five.
Of course, a question to be asked is what happens today to the sort of the children who once ended up in the institutions, that is to children from very troubled families, or who have fallen foul of the law, or who are deemed to be otherwise ‘anti-social’?
Today, they are most likely to end up in foster care because the State has the money to support this. But some end up in prison because there is nowhere else to put them, and about 20 die annually from various causes, some of them avoidable, even though the State is supposed to be caring for them.
Sounds All Very Familiar.