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'We Can't Get On With Our Lives. It's Just Not That Easy. . .'

Irish Times Thu, May 21, 2009


 THE CHILD abuse commission has done a “fantastic piece of work”, according to Mick Waters, a former pupil at Artane industrial school and the founder of Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca) UK, which works with victims of child abuse living in Britain.

“I’m very happy with the way things have gone. Personally, I’ve received all the answers I was seeking, about how we ended up in an industrial school, how no one was speaking for us when we were there, and how people were allowed into the schools to brutalise and sexually abuse children.”

His experience of the commission, and his views on the Government’s response, are entirely positive. “We were always treated with respect and dignity before the commission. We were asked searching questions, which is as it should be.”

While critical of the co-operation given by the Christian Brothers at times, he says the Department of Education addressed the issues at the end of the day.

Mr Waters was sent to Artane in the early 1950s for “mitching” from school. Aged 10, his family had moved to Ballyfermot while he had remained with his grandmother in the Liberties.

In the school, the largest of its type in the country, he was subjected to physical and sexual abuse: “The place was run on fear and you had to conform.”

Mr Waters, who works with victims of abuse in residential homes in Jersey, also has high praise for former taoiseach Bertie Ahern for his apology to victims in 1999. “It was profound, it meant so much to so many people.”


Mannix Flynn: "Society at large remained completely indifferent to the violence, the slave labour, the starvation, so you were left to the mercy of the Brothers and the various gangs that roamed the yard . . . I want to see the United Nations called in to investigate how 150,000 people ended up in this system"

EVEN BEFORE the commission report had been published, Mannix Flynn was dismissing it as a “total joke”.

The playwright, artist and now election candidate was speaking yesterday from Letterfrack, Co Galway, while standing in front of the reformatory building where he spent two years in the late 1960s. Furniture-making is now taught at the college.

“The State has failed to investigate itself. You can’t look at what happened in isolation. It was part of a system that was perpetuated on a class in society.”

Mr Flynn refuses to join in what he calls the “sentimentalising” of the stories of abuse as contained in the report. The retelling of individual stories, and the use of terms such as “survivor” or “victim” are, he claims, ways of further pitying the working class and assuaging middle-class guilt, rather than tackling the problem.

Not a word in the report can be used in evidence against abusers, he points out.

On being sent to Letterfrack in 1968, he says, he was subjected to extreme violence and witnessed horrendous abuse and torture carried out by Christian Brothers and lay workers. “Society at large remained completely indifferent to the violence, the slave labour, the starvation, so you were left to the mercy of the Brothers and the various gangs that roamed the yard.

“I want to see the United Nations called in to investigate how 150,000 people ended up in this system.”


Paddy Doyle: "You were beaten with a bamboo cane until you screamed"

CLOSURE IS the last word Paddy Doyle, author of The God Squad , wants to hear in any discussion of the commission report.

“I hate that word. I don’t want to be told I have ‘closure’ now that a report has been published,” says the former resident of St Michael’s industrial school in Cappoquin, Co Waterford. “We can’t get on with our lives. It’s not that easy.”

It’s 20 years since his autobiography appeared, detailing the abuse and humiliation a small boy suffered at the hands of the Sisters of Mercy in the school.

Mr Doyle was sent to Cappoquin at age four. His mother had died and six weeks later, his father hanged himself in front of his young son. In the school, he endured a brutal and cruel regime and suffered frequent beatings. “You were beaten with a bamboo cane until you screamed, and then they believed the devil was out of you.” When he was nine, he was sent to hospital and diagnosed with “post-polio”. He was subjected to leg and brain surgery though there was no evidence that anyone was authorised to carry out these procedures.

The commission, while worthy, could have had a more confrontational investigations committee, he believes.

“There will be no prosecutions arising from any of these hearings and that cannot be.”


“I’M SO angry. I should be filled with hope but I’m not,” says Christine Buckley, former resident of Goldenbridge industrial school, of the process culminating in the publication of the commission’s report.

Ms Buckley, who featured in the Dear Daughter television documentary and was the first to call on the State to apologise for the abuse carried out under its watch, says the report’s publication has brought to the surface once again the anger she feels at the mistreatment she and thousands of others suffered in religious-run institutions.

Twenty-five years since she first spoke out about the abuse she suffered in Goldenbridge, a Sisters of Mercy orphanage in Inchicore, she still finds herself dealing with its lasting impact on her life.

Having twice suffered bouts of cancer, she is convinced her long search for the truth about what happened has played a huge part in provoking the illness. In her work with the Aislinn centre, which provides counselling services for abuse victims, she sees the ongoing toll endured by victims of child abuse in later life – including their inability to cope with having children, alcoholism, prostitution and suicide.

It took years for her to trust the commission’s first chairwoman, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, who then resigned after complaining of a lack of resources and inadequate co-operation from the Department of Education. “After that, the modules changed and the commission started cherry-picking cases. What we were given was slowly taken back.”