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'We wanted to be loved': Institutional abuse survivors take their fight for justice to the UN

A report launched today criticises the State’s treatment of victims, which it says has caused further trauma.
I feel like crying here now because I can see the child within the whole lot of us here. I can see it. We didn’t want to be punished, we wanted to be loved and wanted and needed.

WITH TEARS IN his eyes John Feighery told a room full of other institutional abuse survivors now it is time for them to stand up for themselves, like they could never do as children.

Rhona McCord Rhona McCord

For 11 years John attended industrial schools in Letterfrack, Co Galway, run by Christian Brothers. Earlier today, he spoke at the launch of a highly critical report highlighting issues with how the State has dealt with victims like him.

The report, ‘Reclaiming Self’, authored by Anne Marie Crean and Fionna Fox, will be presented to the United National Committee Against Torture (Uncat).

It addresses three specific questions raised by Uncat in relation to the 2009 Ryan report on child abuse:

  • The state’s proposals to implement the recommendations of the Commission into Child Abuse.
  • Independent investigations of abuse cases and prosecution of perpetrators.
  • Ensuring that all victims obtain redress.

The report criticises the lack of action in prosecuting abusers and the State’s failure to put in place a sensitive and appropriate redress scheme for victims.

“We’re all angry here – that’s only natural. That hatred was kicked into us. We didn’t volunteer to go into these schools, none of us did,” John told the packed room in Buswells Hotel in Dublin this morning.

“We have our own families, some of us here have lovely family. We love, but the only love some of us can give is hard love,” he said.

I won’t lie. I find it hard – I have four children – to say to them face-to-face ‘I love you’. I just can’t do it.

He said he has a habit sometimes of shouting when he wants his children to do something right – a quality he said was “ground into us all”.

“When I do that I go down to the front room and I’m crying because I know I’m after hurting one of my children.”

Rhona McCord Rhona McCord

He told the room full of abuse survivors that it is important they help and support one another now.

“We were crying out for help years ago. No one listened to us.”

Now it’s time we say: ‘To hell with ye, we’re getting back what you took from us’.

‘Horrifically abused’

Anne Marie Crean, who co-authored the report, said it is the collective voice of the victims that is the most powerful aspect of this submission to the UN.

So many victims or survivors have left these shores without knowing justice and reparation, so many, many, many more have passed away without seeing the pathway to justice, truth, reconciliation.

Crean added that many individuals who “horrifically abused children” have gone to their graves without ever being held accountable for their actions.

She said the report highlights the “quick fix culture that has been adopted by the State” in dealing with abuse victims.

‘It was never about money’

Carmel McDonnell Byrne, herself a victim of institutional abuse, works at the Aislinn education and support centre for abuse survivors and their families.

She criticised the State’s attempts at redress as “adversarial”. This new report focuses in on Caranua, the body set up to provide services and support to survivors of institutional abuse.

One psychologist quoted in the report describes old feelings being triggered because of victims’ treatment by Caranua, like “not having a voice, not being worthy, not deserving of help and respect, feeling fearful and feeling intimidated”.

“It is shocking to think that the fund, established to support individuals, has in many cases resulted in further trauma to an already vulnerable group of individuals.”

Some abuse survivors spoke of feeling stress, anxiety and depression due to their engagement with Caranua.

top table 1 Carmel McDonnell Byrne, far left, at the report launch this morning.

“It was never about money, it was about being believed,” McDonnell Byrne said today.

She is “hugely  concerned about the regression of people’s health and wellbeing” and spoke of receiving calls from survivors who are having suicidal thoughts.

“Someone has to be held accountable,” she said.

Supporting the launch of this report were TDs Clare Daly and Catherine Connolly, and Senator Lynn Ruane.

Daly said there had been little success in the past in getting answers to the questions posed in the report.

“What we’re here today to do is to launch an initiative that’s going outside of Ireland to get answers and to get justice, which in and of itself is an almighty condemnation of the Irish State.”

The report will be submitted to Uncat later this month.

Read: ‘I really hope we don’t run out of time’: Desperate parents share stories of children’s suicide attempts>

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