The Shame of Ireland
Judge Ryan. Appointed to a thankless task where the civil and religious authorities both seemed determined upon blocking the work of the Commission into Child Abuse, Judge Sean Ryan produced a 2,500-page report into institutional abuse, every measured word a howling indictment of Ireland's care for its children. His finger pointed unwaveringly at the might of Church and State, becoming a towering allegory for justice denied and delayed, proven horribly and irrefutably by the commission. Mr Justice Ryan would not allow the living or the dead to be brushed into the filth of a terrible history. Slowly, patiently, he carried out his investigations, using testimony before his own commission and testimony which had gone before. And he shone the relentless light of compassion and humanity into the sewers and corners of Irish life where the men and women whose lives were supposedly dedicated to god claimed that the torture chambers and slave labour institutions they ran were "committed and progressive".
Eleven years ago, in May 1999, the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern stood before Dail Eireann and apologised on behalf of the State for the treatment meted out to more than 170,000 helpless children who had been committed to State institutions between the years of 1936 and 1970. It was too late for many of them: dead before their time after blighted lives lived in a torment of memory and fear, many by suicide. Those still alive knew in their instinctive wisdom that it was not enough, that the words had little meaning as the State continued to allow the Church to defend its vilely indefensible position. The words "committed and progressive" came from the mouth of a nun called Helena O'Donoghue, the head of the Sisters of Mercy in the year 2005, when she defended her predecessors in God who were in charge of Goldenbridge industrial school where little girls were whipped with the huge rosaries with their heavy crucifixes that the nuns wore at their waists, where they were punished by being put into scalding baths, had their hair hacked off to humiliate them, where they laboured for hours after the miserable "schooling" to produce rosary beads to be made up in an outside factory (a nice little earner for the sisters), and beaten if they failed to meet their daily quota, their hands bleeding from manipulating the wires; bleeding too from the vicious cracks of the heavy weapons brought down on them for failing to work faster.
A senior Christian Brother, Michael Reynolds, told the commission in a public hearing in 2006 that accusations of what had happened on a continuous basis at Artane Industrial School were "a seriously unbalanced representation. On the whole, it was a very positive place". The children were half-starved, put to adult labouring jobs for which the brothers received payment to the detriment of the children's basic education. They were beaten, sometimes with a cat o'nine tails, if they lost a team game to an outside group. They were regularly and consistently raped and otherwise sexually assaulted. Stammering was a whipping offence, so was being left-handed. The odd rapist received what was sickeningly called "a Canonical warning" when uncovered to the religious authorities, before being moved to another torturing institution where he could continue to prey on the children. In Letterfrack, a small boy was made to eat his own excrement. Another boy was stripped naked by a brother who also stripped naked, and masturbated while he whipped the child, calling him a little bastard, and howling at him what the child knew: there was nobody to hear or care. The man had many more victims, some even "unluckier". Most of this was known to state officials, who ignored or hid the files, but took no other action. They, after all, were good Catholics, brainwashed over the years into unquestioning by the "excellent education" they themselves had received at the hands of the brothers, priests, and nuns. They were, in the words of Judge Sean Ryan, "deferential and submissive in their attitude to the congregations".
This was not charity. The children in the orphanages, industrial schools and reformatories were being adequately financed by the taxpayer, but the funding was going into the religious coffers.Were the children who were whipped, raped, enslaved, tormented and starved, psychopathic criminals? That they didn't become so was, in those mocking religious words, "a miracle". But their crimes, as catalogued by the State were being "needy". (They were poor, their parents unable to support them.) They frequently "absconded". (They mitched from school.) They were "unruly". (The spirit had not yet been beaten out of them.) Sometimes they were orphans. And for these crimes, frequently against the will of their parents, they were hauled before the courts, and committed by the State to the "care" of the religious orders. Sometimes they were scarcely more than babies. The average stay in all of these hell-holes was seven years, from which they emerged scarred in mind and body, and usually illiterate and unemployable. All the facts as I have written them are on the stage, and they are taken from real people's words, and from the huge, painstaking, accusing report compiled by that heroic man, against all the odds of obfuscation and obstruction, Mr Justice Sean Ryan. Because we must never forget and move on; not until the last broken survivor of those terrible places says a line can now be drawn. They are far from saying it, and we must stand with them, against a system of Church and State that combined to spit upon dignity and brutalise the humanity of children.
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