Breaking free of a vicious, narrow Theocracy

“Life for us children was to become one long hard struggle, trying to overcome the enormous disadvantage bestowed on us by being institutionalised. Our education was totally deficient – so much so thousands left the institutions illiterate.

“We left the institutions with little or no conversation skills whatsoever, having had it beaten out of us, and therefore had to spend a large proportion of our lives in solitude and loneliness being shunned by ‘normal people because we could not converse’.

“We had to overcome our ignorance in every aspect of a normal life. Being very naïve we were cripples, emotionally and educationally. Many of us have lost sons, daughters and families through our inability to give and accept love. We were unable to respond to any form of affection or compassion because of the callous indifference bred and beaten into us in the industrial schools.

“We have inflicted suffering and pain on other human beings through our inability to show little or no emotion or love. Because of our ignorance we have been used, abused and manipulated by people in privileged positions. Externally we look and behave normally but internally every day is a constant struggle.

“How does one measure the cost of a lost childhood? Those formative years when family values, moral values, bonding with siblings, education, and all the social skills and graces are learnt as the basic building blocks for life. Where a child learns through fun and play how to get the most out of life.

“We on the other hand had to perform tasks like emptying animal cesspools and we were being sexually abused as children. One of the greatest crimes committed against us – apart from the many forms of abuse inflicted upon us – was the total ignorance we had which deprived us of even a fighting chance of making our own way in the world.

“We were put to work as babies and we were beaten and flogged if we didn’t perform the tasks assigned to us.“How could the Government and the people of our country ever repay the debt they owe us through their indifference to our cries for help? How can you repair the mental damage caused or stop the nightmares when they occur?

“We were the lifeblood of this country, precious, and we were totally neglected. We were thrown to wolves to be savaged, abused and treated like animals. When we cried no one could hear us because we were locked up behind great walls and doors, our tears eventually stopped and we became like them animals in thought and act.

“There are no second chances to re-live a life. Therefore the memories of our childhood in the Industrial School system will always be ones of terror and anxiety, loneliness and fear. We believe that the Redress Bill is another cruel pretence of token atonement. We have had to relive vividly the horrors suffered in the industrial schools to total strangers. We have had to confront our most hideous nightmares. We feel totally defiled again.

“To date we have had to recount to the following list of people the horrors of our childhood – all of these people have to be paid substantially for their time and none of them come cheaply; Judges, barristers, solicitors, psychiatrists, medical doctors, counsellors. From the above list the privilege of an education is a prerequisite inobtaining a profession.

“Thousands of us are paid unemployment assistance by the State. Many many of us survivors have very little hope of building careers or of living happy homes and stable family lives. There is no restitution that can give us back our childhood. There is no restitution that can take away the nightmares when they occur or relieve the fear and anxiety attacks as they frequently happen. There is no restitution that can undo the harm done to us.”

The above testimony is from Christy Heaphy, who spent seven and a half brutal years in Greenmount Industrial school in Cork. The scale of the criminality that operated within the belly of Irish society since Independence simply beggars belief. Like many other people, I was aware yet unaware, almost at the same time. Films like ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ and ‘Song for a Raggy Boy’ gave a flavour of the hellholes into which ‘decent’ Irish society cast its helpless, unwanted and forgotten generations.

I attended the March of Solidarity on Wednesday which went from the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square to opposite the Dáil just off Kildare Street. Considering it was held bang in the middle of a working day, the turnout was pretty good, but I still can’t help feeling it should have been hundreds of thousands, not just thousands of people out on the streets, telling the Church and the politicans (like Bertie Ahern and Michael Woods) who persist in being apologists for these butchers that we the people of Ireland are taking our Republic that they so cruelly hijacked back from them.

The organisation Survivors of Institutional Abuse Ireland (SOIAI) were led by Christine Buckley, John Kelly, Noel Barry and Michael O’Brien (O’Brien’s electrifying testimony during RTE’s ‘Questions & Answers programme evoked a huge public reaction, making the horrors of the Ryan report real and personal for thousands of horrified viewers). Their petition of solidarity read as follows:

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

We must neither forgive nor forget. Nothing short of the complete dismantling of the 18 so-called religious orders involved will suffice. The religious still have their tentacles wrapped around education and healthcare in this country, despite the Irish taxpayer paying all the actual bills. Their behaviour in itself renders them utterly unsuitable to hold any positions of power over children or defenceless ill people in society. But more than any other fact, the complete and total lack of remorse or compassion, even to this day, on the part of these orders remains chilling.

The Ryan report was published on May 21 last. Yet just six days earlier, the Christian Brothers were flatly denying that any abuse whatever had taken place in their institutions. Patsy McGarry in the Irish Times published details of letters between Br Kevin Mullan, province leader of the Brothers and the Redress Board.

Punishment, wrote Mullan in May, was ““moderate slapping on the palms of the hands with the approved leather strap . . .” and he flatly denied “unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse there of pupils by staff members …”

Mullan is of course a grade one liar, and if this were truly a Republic he would be behind bars by now. On the other hand, he did the State some service by illustrating how utterly perverse, corrupt and unreformable these institutions truly are. With no PR people around to smooth over the lies and the criminality, Br Mullan laid it bare.

The same Br Mullan appeared at the march on Wednesday, to receive a petition on behalf of the victims – not just of the industrial schools but also, decades later, of the Redress Board, in which they were victimised all over again by lawyers in the pay of the wealthy religious orders. There were isolated calls to “string them up, like they did to the Nazis”, but for the most part, the people attending the protest behaved with a dignity that Mullan and his well-heeled ilk would know nothing about.

The reactionary, bigoted priest-ridden rump of Irish society may have ducked out of sight, but rest assured, they’re just re-grouping. Propaganda sheets like the Irish Catholic will soon be busily spinning the Church out of its latest little embarrassment.

Just last February, the John Paul II Society conference in Co. Roscommon had all the Holy Joes and Josies out in force, including Senator Ronan Mullen, who said “an assumption in some quarters of society today that politics and religion should be kept rigidly separate. But separation is not the same as segregation. Religious belief can never be, theoretically or practically, a solely private affair.”

Fr Brian McKevitt, editor of the Catholic hate-rag, ‘Alive’ (which claims a monthly circulation of 359,000, left in churches or delivered door to door) was thanked by Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh “for bringing such truths to the Irish people”. Instead of being pelted, the same Fr McKevitt received a standing ovation. Rest assured he (and David Quinn, among others) will be busily brushing this whole unpleasantness under the carpet so we can get back as fast as possible to being a narrow theocracy once again.

That’s certainly the plan. This time, I’m not so sure they’ll pull it off. But just you wait as they come slithering back out from the long grass as soon as they think the public’s outrage has started to wane. The price of freedom has always been eternal vigilance, especially when the enemy of the State and the Irish people is the enemy within.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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