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18 June 2009 Edition

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RYAN REPORT: Sinn Féin in the Dáil debate on the clerical child abuse scandal and cover-up

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

‘Act to protect children today’ – Ó Caoláin


ONE of the most emotional demonstrations ever seen on the streets of Dublin was witnessed in Ireland and beyond these shores last week. Thousands of people who had been abused as children in institutions run by Catholic religious orders and by the state walked from Parnell Square to Leinster House on the eve of the Dáil debate on the Ryan Report.
The Ryan Report has documented a catalogue of horrific abuse of children stretching over decades and cover-up of that abuse by church and state. It has reopened the debate on the flawed 2002 deal between the Fianna Fáil/PD Government and the religious orders and it has led to calls for more support for the victims and action to aid children at risk today. Further revelations are expected in the forthcoming report on clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin diocese.
Speaking in the Dáil debate on the Ryan Report, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin called for the establishment of an independent international audit of the assets of the religious orders responsible for systematic child abuse.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
“The Government should now initiate an independent international audit of all the assets of the culpable religious orders. This must include assets held abroad as well as their assets in Ireland. The bottom line is that whatever it takes to make recompense to the victims should be provided out of the assets of the culpable organisations.
“The Government has to accept that the previous agreement was flawed and that it too has a moral obligation to ensure justice for the victims. The documents released yesterday to RTÉ demonstrate once more the disgraceful nature of that agreement and why it must be scrapped and replaced.
“The whole issue of prosecutions of offenders must be addressed. Where prosecutions can still be taken they must be taken and justice must be done.”

The Sinn Féin TD said that the Government must act urgently to protect vulnerable children today.
“The woefully inadequate state of our child protection services has been repeatedly exposed. There are insufficient social workers and other frontline workers and support systems in place. The HSE knows of cases where children are in grave danger but the services are not in place to make the interventions required.
“The nightmare of child abuse is not a thing of the past. It is happening every day. Most of this abuse takes place in the family home. If the services are not in place then the state today will be just as culpable as it was in the past when it conspired with the Church to cover up the abuse of children.
“I can only describe as grossly irresponsible the refusal of the Government to implement the first recommendation of the Monageer Inquiry which was to establish an out-of-hours social work care service. That report and its recommendations should be published in full, under Dáil privilege if necessary.
“The Ryan Report documents a system of cover-up and secrecy. That should not be replicated in any way, especially in the Government’s handling of a report such as Monageer which has grave implications for the safety and welfare of children today.
“Finally, the separation of church and state must be completed. In the 26 Counties today, the state pays for education through capitation grants, teachers’ salaries and a range of other funding. But the vast majority of primary and secondary schools are not under democratic control. They are predominantly under the patronage of Catholic bishops and in the ownership of the Catholic Church. It is a legacy of the old era of ecclesiastical power and control.
“This must change and we must move to a democratically-controlled education system, truly representative of the community, respecting the rights of people of all religions and none and totally child-centred.”


Thousands march in solidarity with the abused


THOUSANDS took to the streets of Dublin on Wednesday, 10 June, to march in solidarity with the survivors of institutional child abuse.
Although the organisers of the march had requested it take place in silence, it was easy to see how people found it hard to keep quiet as memories came flooding back to those who had been abused at the hands of the religious orders and the state. It was an emotional day for them, their family members and friends who had accompanied and supported them and the people who had just attended out of a sense of solidarity with the survivors.
As the march made its way across town from the Garden of Remembrance to the gates of Leinster House, more people joined in. Many of the marchers were wearing white ribbons to remember those who were imprisoned in the care of religious orders and suffered horrific ordeals. Others carried children’s shoes as a symbol of the childhoods that had been destroyed by the abusers, most of whom have been sheltered by their orders and the state for years afterwards.
It was hard not to be affected by such a public and collective display of emotion. One woman carried a sign with the words, “We’re here for you, Mammy.” Other people carried placards naming the institution which they themselves or a family member suffered abuse in. Letterfrack, Daingean, Artane, the Magadelene Laundries – their victims were all represented.
Christine Buckley, Marie-Therese O’Loughlin, John Kelly and other survivors spoke with dignity on the podium of what had been inflicted upon them before a petition was handed to representatives from the religious orders. It was a moment that many thought they would never see – thousands of people chanting in unison at religious representatives to “Tell the truth!”
Marie-Therese O’Loughlin said, “The Government and religious tried to pretend we were not hurt in these institutions. We were not criminals.” Her statement was met with rapturous applause. Notably absent from the applauding crowd were the Government politicians who conveniently stayed in Leinster House on account of a no-confidence motion being debated in the Dáil. One Fianna Fáil senator hurried past at one stage, going in the direction of Dawson Street, and looked like she was terrified she would be recognised as the names of the 216 institutions where the unimaginable abuse occurred were read out.
One woman made her way to the podium to tell her story. She had been a young mother and when she gave birth she was told her child had died. She discovered many years later that this had been a lie. It was a story that many in the crowd could identify with. The anger was palpable. Stories of abuse, rapes, beatings, forced labour, rosary-bead making and scrubbing floors were just some of the memories so many people had in common.
Two hundred and sixteen black and white balloons – the colours representing the living and the dead, the number of balloons representing the number of institutions – were released in the air while the white ribbons and children’s shoes were tied to the gates of Leinster House.
Christine Buckley, one of the first abuse survivors to come forward and share her story, said:
“We have tried and tried to say what happened to the 165,000 children in those hell-holes and now, finally, we have been vindicated.”

SOLIDARITY: Collective display of emotion 



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