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'It was now or never': Abuse survivor on why he spoke out on RTÉ programme in 2009

Michael O’Brien created one of the most powerful moments in Irish television, when he passionately told his story on RTÉ in 2009.

ABUSE SURVIVOR MICHAEL O’Brien explained why he felt he had to speak about his experience on a 2009 RTÉ programme that discussed redress for victims of institutional abuse.

Michael O’Brien was a member of a live studio audience for RTÉ’s Questions and Answers programme in 2009. As a child he had spent eight years in St Joseph’s Industrial School, also known as Ferryhouse, in Co Tipperary where he was raped and severely beaten.

Among the panelists on the RTÉ programme were Leo Varadkar, who was in opposition at the time, and the then Minister for Transport, Fianna Fáil’s Noel Dempsey.

O’Brien asked Dempsey if the government would freeze the assets of religious institutions if they didn’t pay more into the Redress Board Fund, which had been a topical issue at the time.

Dempsey replied that “it’s not a power that the government has”.

“The constitution protects the right to private property,” he said, adding that it wasn’t an option for them.

In a passionate response to Dempsey, O’Brien told the panel that his account of being raped and beaten had been questioned at the commission of investigation into institutional child abuse by the barristers and judges, and the effect that had on him.

He said that he had attempted to take his own life after spending five days at the commission.

He added that he was a former Fianna Fáil mayor and councillor that worked “tooth and nail for the party”, and pointing to members of the audience, he said that the people would vote for that constitutional change, if given the option.

Ye didn’t do it right, ye got it wrong, admit it.

He told the panel: “They brought a man over from Rome, 90 odd years of age, to tell me I was telling lies, that I wasn’t beaten for an hour non-stop by two of them from head to toe without a shred of cloth on my body.”

Speaking on part 2 of RTÉ’s ‘Redress: Breaking The Silence’ programme, O’Brien said that he had “no idea” what he was going to say until he saw the minister.

But he knew that after Dempsey’s answer, that it was “now or never”.

The charity Christine Buckley Centre for Education and Support has called on all political parties to ensure that the next Programme for Government includes an agreement to amend The Retention of Records Bill so as to ensure all survivors have access to their records and there is no further cover up of abuse inflicted by members of religious orders.

The centre also called for an enhanced medical card for survivors of child abuse in industrial schools as well as survivors of Magdalene Laundries, and mother and child institutions.

Many survivors were forced into unpaid labour and their employers including the industrial schools and Magdalene laundries failed to submit social welfare contributions. Consequently they may not receive their full pension entitlements, the charity said.

The RTÉ programme, which you can watch on the RTÉ Player here, uses the testimonies of survivors to look back at how justice was sought for the children who were abused in institutions of the Irish State.

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