The Shame of Ireland

The Shame of Ireland

The First Whistleblower of Letterfrack Industrial School - who sadly gave his life...because no one cared...

A MAJOR rift has emerged in the Catholic Church over the handling of the child abuse scandal after 18 religious orders rejected urgings from the country’s two most senior clerics to reconsider their stance on the indemnity deal.

Both Cardinal Seán Brady and Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, head of the country’s largest diocese, called for the congregations to rethink their contribution towards compensating abuse victims which was capped at €128 million – about one-tenth of the overall estimated cost – in a controversial deal agreed with the Government in 2002.

But the 18 congregations that were party to the deal, some of which have yet to fully honour its terms, said last night they would not renegotiate it, offering instead only a vague assurance to “find the best and most appropriate ways of directly assisting [abuse survivors]”.

In their first statement on the renewed controversy sparked by the publication of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report, the 18 groups of religious brothers, priests and sisters said jointly: “We again recognise and accept the gravity of the findings and conclusions contained in the Ryan Report.”

But they continued: “Rather than re-opening the terms of the agreement reached with Government in 2002, we reiterate our commitment to working with those who suffered enormously in our care.”

They said they would meet in the coming days to “explore the detail” of what that meant.

Their firm rejection of the growing calls for a revised deal came despite strong words from Archbishop Martin, who said the failure to fully honour the deal seven years on was “stunning” and called for a “new gesture of recognition” from the congregations of the hurt their past members caused.

Cardinal Brady echoed that call, saying the congregations needed to respond publicly to clarify the reasons behind the 2002 deal and what steps could be taken to revisit it.

“This response should be centred on the needs of those who have survived and if that entails revisiting the agreement with the Government, then so be it,” said Cardinal Brady.

Both men were speaking at a private meeting of bishops in Maynooth to plan the agenda for their annual summer meeting scheduled to take place next month.

Afterwards, they did not respond directly to the rejection of the 18 congregations, but issued a statement on behalf of all the bishops saying: “We will work closely with religious congregations and institutes in addressing the needs of survivors of abuse.”

The Church split came as the cabinet prepared to meet today to discuss the fallout from the abuse report and receive advice from the Attorney General on the possibility of forcing the congregations to reopen the 2002 deal.

The cabinet has also displayed divisions over the deal with Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe, who administers it, ruling out renegotiation, while Taoiseach Brian Cowen said no decision could be made in advance of legal advice.

Labour’s justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said last night the cabinet needed to reject the stance of the 18 congregations which he described as a “calculated snub to public opinion” and a “further insult” to victims.

“The Taoiseach should today publicly invite them to meet him to discuss the deal and to consider the way in which the injustice done to victims of abuse and to the Irish taxpayers can be redressed,” he said.

Meanwhile, gardaí have begun examining the abuse report to see if any criminal proceedings should be commenced, but Commissioner Fachtna Murphy warned the length of time since the abuse was perpetrated would make prosecutions difficult.

Man gave his life to expose abusers

THIS is the face of the man who spent his life campaigning to highlight abuse at Letterfrack industrial school.

The original whistle-blower, he wrote to politicians, priests and presidents as far back as the 1950s in his quest to have the school investigated.

The brick walls he faced proved too much, however, and in 1967, he burnt himself to death, the only identification a half-torn letter beside his corpse.

His name is Peter Tyrrell and more than 40 years on from his death, he remains airbrushed from public record, just another pseudonym in the recently published report into child abuse.

According to Dr Diarmuid Whelan, the man who finally published Tyrrell’s story in 2006, by not using his real name in the final report, the commission has “unjustly censored” his memory.

“It seems an incredible pity that the need to protect two perverts should deny the most elementary right of the first brave recorded voice against these abuses.”

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Comment by Teri on September 11, 2014 at 23:32

Brothers should be contrite

Mary Raftery

Primo Levi, the Italian writer who gave us probably the most compelling account of life and death in a German concentration camp, told of a recurring nightmare common among inmates.

He and his fellow sufferers at Auschwitz dreamt of a time in the future when they were free and were trying to tell people of the horrors in the camps, of the depths of depravity to which human beings are capable of sinking. Despite their desperate efforts to be heard, no one would listen or believe. They cried out and people turned their backs.

And this is indeed what happened to Levi himself. For over 10 years, publisher after publisher rejected If This Is a Man, his memoir of Auschwitz. It is now of course an undisputed classic of 20th century literature.

Last Tuesday, a remarkable book was launched in this country. As a manuscript, it lay undiscovered for almost half a century. Its author, Peter Tyrrell, had tragically committed suicide almost 40 years ago by setting himself alight on London's Hampstead Heath. Like Primo Levi, he was determined that people hear his tale of horror, and, like Levi, he was ignored and dismissed.

Tyrrell is a rare phenomenon of post-Independence Ireland - he is a genuine hero. His memoir, Founded on Fear, was discovered recently by historian Diarmuid Whelan in the National Library among the papers of the late Senator Owen Sheehy-Skeffington. It tells of the grinding poverty of his childhood in County Galway, and his removal at the age of eight to the industrial school at Letterfrack in Connemara. It also covers his subsequent years in the British army during the second World War. He was wounded and captured in 1945, and memorably describes his German prisoner-of-war camp as "heaven on earth" compared to Letterfrack.

Tyrrell's account of the seven years of his childhood spent at the Christian Brothers' institution has a childlike directness, an absence of self-pity and a unique even-handedness which place his memoir among the most powerful of the genre. Written in 1958, it is also the very earliest such account that we know of, and consequently a document of enormous historical significance.

In a powerfully dispassionate manner, largely unburdened by any tone of moralising, he describes the appalling reality of life for a child at Letterfrack during the 1920s and 1930s. He tells of the savage and sadistic beatings administered by a number of Brothers - boys of all ages were usually attacked from behind, so they never knew when it was coming. They were hit repeatedly, often up to 20 times, on the head and back at full force with a variety of weapons, from hefty sticks and leathers to thick rubber strips reinforced with metal wire.

Tyrrell recounts the systematic destruction of little boys, his mates, as they are literally in some cases driven mad by the endless torture they experience. On one occasion, his own arm was broken during an attack and he was ordered to tell the doctor that he had fallen down the stairs. Founded on Fear is also a rich and detailed account of daily life in Letterfrack, with all its incomprehensible contradictions. Tyrrell talks about how the Brothers completely changed personality on Christmas Day, playing and joking with the boys in the friendliest fashion. He describes outings arranged by Brothers who went to great lengths to ensure that the children enjoyed themselves.

He also refers to Brothers who did not beat the children - by no means all were cruel and vicious. In short, he does not shy away from the oddly schizophrenic nature of these places.

It is this fair-mindedness which has been highlighted by the Christian Brothers in their statement about Tyrrell's book this week. In an unusual step, they have commented favourably on the memoir, and have taken the opportunity both to apologise unreservedly to victims of similar abuse and to acknowledge publicly their failings when during the 1950s Tyrrell himself came to confront them with their abuse of children.

It was an extraordinarily brave action on his part. He was concerned that children might be still suffering from such cruelty at their institutions and he wanted it stopped. The Brothers, however, refused to listen. Documents supplied to the Child Abuse Commission show that their primary concern was that he might try to blackmail them.

Today, many of those abused at Christian Brother institutions during the very years when Peter Tyrrell was seeking to expose it have been deeply hurt by what they perceive as the Brothers' continuing denial of their responsibility for such widespread crimes against children. In this context, it is important to acknowledge the honesty of the Christian Brothers' statement accepting the validity of Peter Tyrrell's memoir. It is their most generous public utterance to date. It is all that he asked for when he was alive.

Even now, so many years after his despairing suicide, it is still not too late to express such sincere contrition.

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