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Survivors at Loggerheads Over Denial of Sex Abuse

Christine Buckleyquestions Michael O'Brien's Radio Interview from 10 years ago


Sunday Tribune, 16 May 2010 by John Downes, News Investigations Correspondent

Michael O'Brien and Christine Buckley
Michael O'Brien and Christine Buckley accept their People of the Year award from Gráinne Seoige last September

Survivors of sexual abuse in religious-run residential institutions are embroiled in an increasingly bitter row over how some €680m in compensation from religious orders identified in the Ryan report should be shared out, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The dispute took a dramatic twist this weekend when the Aislinn Centre's Christine Buckley criticised a decade-old radio interview with the former mayor of Clonmel, Michael O'Brien, where he claimed not to have been sexually abused while he was incarcerated in St Joseph's industrial school, Ferryhouse.

This directly contradicts a highly-charged intervention on RTE's Questions and Answers programme in May of last year, where O'Brien detailed the extent of abuse he suffered, prompting widespread public sympathy and anger.

During the 1999 interview on a local radio station, O'Brien expresses sympathy for victims of sexual abuse who suffered at the hands of the notorious Rosminian abuser at Ferryhouse, Brother Sean Barry. He goes on to say: "But I must say, and I have to say it here and now, because I had to meet my family when this came out. And say it never happened to me, I never seen it happening, I never heard of it happening in my seven years in Ferryhouse. I never seen or heard of it."

Although O'Brien acknowledges in the interview that he was subjected to physical abuse and deprivation at Ferryhouse, he also pays tribute to the Rosminians and says that this was the state's fault, not Ferryhouse.

"We were left there to those brothers and those priests to become our parents, and look after us. And as far as I'm concerned, 99.9% of them done a good job... out of every group, no matter what organisation you're in, you'll find bad eggs, Ferryhouse is my home. And I will defend it to the end as long as I live, because I was reared by them."

Goldenbridge survivor Buckley told the Sunday Tribune that she has "very deep reservations and concerns" about the interview.

"I couldn't doubt any victim of institutional abuse nor have I ever questioned anybody before. This is the first time I have done this," she said. "Being in denial is being in denial. But why be so vociferous in protecting the Rosminian order on the radio?"

Buckley pointed out that O'Brien gave the radio interview before the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's apology on behalf of the state to victims of institutional abuse on 11 May, 1999.

Buckley added that she was passed a copy of O'Brien's radio interview in October of last year anonymously. If she had known its contents a month earlier, when she accepted a People of the Year award with O'Brien, she said she did not think she could have gone onstage with him.

When contacted by the Sunday Tribune this weekend O'Brien strongly defended the interview, which he said he had given in recognition of the fact that Ferryhouse was the "only home I ever knew".

"The reason I didn't say anything about sexual abuse on local radio was that I didn't want my family or anybody to know about it. I didn't want to talk about it… I had been mayor of Clonmel and I didn't want anyone to know about it," he said. "I want nothing off anyone out of this. I said that to the Taoiseach, I said it everywhere I went. I want nothing off you. I said it to the Bishops, personally I want nothing off of anybody. But I'll fight on my back for former residents, I do want the former residents set up. I do not want money out of it. I never wanted money out of it. And that is a fact."

Both Buckley and O'Brien were among a group of representatives of survivors who met with Taoiseach Brian Cowen last April. But O'Brien and other groups such as the Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) Ireland stormed out after they were informed by Cowen that just €110m out of some €680m expected total compensation from religious orders was to go into a state-administered fund for former residents of the institutions.

They were told at the meeting that the congregations had offered additional compensation which they value at €348.51m, on top of the €128m already contributed under the controversial 2002 indemnity deal. The government also intends to seek over €200m more from the congregations to reach some €680m, or a 50% share, of the €1.36bn cost of the indemnity deal.

Buckley and others such as One in Four, who have extensive experience of providing counselling and support services to abuse survivors, have broadly wel­comed the allocation of €110m, although they say more will likely be needed. They argue that it would be impossible to provide individual financial compensation to survivors fairly.

"How can we have people stating that they're entitled to this money, when the same people do not see the importance of education and counselling, and the Barnardos tracing service for example?" Buckley said.

They believe it is far preferable for education, health, housing and other counselling services to be provided on an "as needed" basis to the tens of thousands of survivors both in Ireland and abroad, regardless of whether they went before the Redress board.

However, John Kelly of SOCA told the Sunday Tribune that his group and others, including O'Brien's Right to Peace group, want the entire €680m placed in a fund which would provide financial compensation to survivors, for them to spend as they see fit.