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Opinion: Without meaningful action, apologies to child abuse survivors are just words

Ten months on from the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement in favour of Louise O’Keeffe, nothing had been forthcoming from the State for survivors.

Mark Vincent Healy

THERE IS SOMETHING disconcertingly familiar about what follows an ‘apology’ to survivors of child sexual abuse in Ireland.

On 30 January 2014 the Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologised in a ‘timely manner’ to Louise O’Keeffe two days after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a judgement in her favour and that of all school going children amongst the 47 member States of the Council of Europe. The Taoiseach’s ‘apology’ was ‘appreciated’ by Louise O’Keeffe.

This compares with Louise’s comment reported last Thursday where she said, “It was a disgrace that nothing had been forthcoming from the State for survivors ten months on from that European judgement.”

Apology versus action

The difference between ‘apology’ and ‘action’ is enormous. Indeed the former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern on the 11 May 1999 and Brian Cowen on 11 June 2009 apologised on behalf of the Irish people to “the victims of childhood abuse for the failure to intervene, to detect their pain and come to their rescue.” Not only does the Irish State repeatedly apologise but it repeatedly fails to act on the very words contained in any apology; failure to intervene implying a delay to act, or as I wish to point out to ‘fail to act’ despite their clear knowledge of a desperate need to act.

Promised research in suicide prevention to alleviate the 13 times higher rates amongst survivors of child sexual abuse; delivery of rescue services and safe space provisioning; and a repeal of the ‘gagging’ of RIRB survivors would go a long way in intervening in meaningful action and give substance to any apology.

Will survivors have their voices heard?

The point raised in this recent announcement is whether an apology given to survivors of the Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB) ought to be offered to day school survivors. On foot of a petition by Louise O’Keeffe, the State will consider setting up an Oireachtas committee to seek the appointment of a statutory officer to deal with day school allegations. I am speculating as to whether it may give rise to an RIRB-style system replete with non-disclosure agreements and statutory ‘gagging’.

The survivors in question appear to involve some 134 other cases taken against the State. When they say ‘day schools’ are they disqualifying all boarding schools in the State? Does ‘day schools’ cover national and private schools? Will it encompass all ‘regulated activities’ in extra-curricular activities? Will there follow an unseemly division of survivors between those covered and those not covered by any devised terms of reference as had been the experience of those in residential care of the State?

Will ‘gagging’ orders apply and any new legislation be introduced in a repeat of the scandalous ‘gagging’ in Section 28 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002? In 2009, despite many cross-party calls for its repeal by deputies Ruairí Quinn, Jan O’Sullivan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, James Reilly, Liz McManus, Kathleen Lynch and Joan Burton in the defeated Institutional Child Abuse Bill 2009, it has not made a blind bit of difference in restoring justice, a right to one’s freedom of expression, an aid to one’s recovery or a fulfilment of a promise to deliver on all that is transparent, accountable and fair.

The opportunity in 2009 was squandered and still the repugnant and offensive prohibitions and penalties stand against RIRB survivors. Shame in forgetting such abuse still stands because the 2009 Bill was defeated. The State seems incapable of addressing its “failure to intervene, to detect their pain and come to their rescue.”

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Silencing survivors is repugnant to all that is decent

Twelve years on, survivors of the redress board are effectively gagged from telling their story despite clear knowledge and acceptance there were victims of the most outrageous crimes committed against children in the Irish State, for which the State was most certainly responsible.

Silencing survivors is repugnant to all that is decent. It is damaging to healing and wellbeing, effectively incarcerating survivors in a mental health prison with extremely punitive prohibitions. On summary conviction they can be fined €3,000 and/or six months in prison or on conviction by indictment they can be fined €25,000 and/or two years imprisonment, as enumerated in Section 34 of the abysmal 2002 Act. What a hell heaped upon survivors. It’s a litany of indignities upon indignities – in childhood, in redress re-abuse, and in silencing them in contravention of their human rights. Shall our State be weighed and found wanting again at the European Court of Human Rights?

Surprisingly, not one other survivor campaigner like myself was asked for comment on this most recent issue of government response to day school child abuse, which is of great importance to so many survivors. It is a tacit ‘gagging’ of people like myself who campaigns for survivors of child sexual abuse. It is a fundamental human right, the right to freedom of expression. Our own constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, ensures such personal rights in Article 40 but these rights are neither upheld or vindicated as is the responsibility of our State but rather they have enshrined the ‘gagging’ of the oppressed and heinously abused in the Residential Institutional Redress Act 2002 and RIRB non-disclosure agreements. Will they try to do the same to day school survivors?

Current talks with the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Education and Children, ought to involve far more survivors whose interests are being decided. As Paddy Doyle, author of the God Squad and long-time campaigner for those survivors of the RIRB has succinctly and pointedly said: “Nothing about us, without us”.

Mark Vincent Healy is a campaigning abuse survivor. Read his full report and response to the NSBCCCI audit into the Holy Ghost Fathers here.

Taoiseach (and two Ministers) will meet with Louise O’Keeffe in ‘the coming weeks’

The State isn’t talking to abuse victims – Louise O’Keeffe

About the author:

Mark Vincent Healy

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