Nobody talks openly about it. Now and then you hear something that sounds familiar, that you heard before. Nobody wants to commit to confirming it but nobody denies it. What’s most alarming, is that nobody is doing anything about it. But déja vu is unfair on victims.
The Ryan, Ferns, Murphy, Cloyne and recent Magdalene Commission and Quirke reports into the Magdalene laundries all report that people knew what was happening to the people in the residential institutions. ‘In Plain Sight’ the report by Amnesty International pointed to general awareness of abuse in our residential institutions in our society and asked why nobody lifted a finger.
Asking around over the past couple of months, having observed over the past decade or more, and having had first-hand experience of it, it is now time to make public that exploitation, bullying and intimidation are alive and well in the many so-called victim survivor groups and ad hoc committees that purport to speak on behalf of those abused and mistreated in the Magdalene laundries and the many residential institutions of this country.
It is important to note that a substantial number of people who were in these institutions are not associated with any group. Some perhaps are wary of those who are self serving rather than at their service.
Way back when the former Government set up NOVA – the National Organisation for Victims of Abuse at a HSE premises on Ormond Quay I was asked to attend there to lodge a complaint of breach of confidentiality on behalf of an individual. I was not on the premises five minutes when I was set upon and threatened by an individual who was then a leader of a well-known organisation that promotes itself as speaking and representing victims of the former institutions. I reported this matter to the supervisor in the building saying that this was wholly unacceptable and that the premises was unsafe. I immediately left the premises stating that I hoped something would be done about the individual and the manner in which the premises was being run. I believe since then little has happened to ensure that vulnerable individuals are afforded the protection and safety that was not afforded to them in the residential institutions.
Most recently I’ve been contacted by individuals and I believe what they have to say, that they are being bullied, isolated and blacklisted from their own process, from their own inclusion and their own demand for justice over the Magdalene laundries. Many claim that they have not been informed or kept up to date and a lot tell me they did not give their consent to any individual to speak on their behalf. One person went so far as to tell me that money had been demanded from her as some form of payment to an individual who is basically claiming in the media to be negotiating financial redress for the women. Former residents are afraid to speak out for fear of isolation.
We are all well aware of the kind of exorbitant legal fees that were extracted by legal firms throughout the Ryan Redress Board process. The vast sums that they got and the minor sums that the victims received. There is a great failure still to protect the vulnerable and their assets and also to protect them from a kind of agency-capture where individuals are setting themselves up as bona fide groups, committees, organisations etc. This is unscrupulous exploitation of the most exploited. It is now necessary for this Government to put an inspectorate in place to ensure that those groups in receipt of public money or money given to them by a charitable organisation to represent individual former residents of institutions are held accountable – that these are safe groups to belong to. If the government won’t do it I believe Irish Amnesty International should carry out an analysis of just what is happening. What kind of professionalism, therapies, recovery processes are available. Who is being paid and how much.
Justice for Magdalenes recently announced that they were ending their political campaign. I would ask them to reconsider this in light of what I am writing about now. It would appear that they are aware of the issue I am addressing, which is both an advocacy issue and a political issue. Simply put, for many who are in this position they have nowhere to turn.
Some form of complaints procedure needs to be put in place straightaway to allow those who wish to use their voice to report this kind of abuse. For the longer term, perhaps a proper charitable trust should now be put in place to ensure protection and continuing welfare for victims. There is a desperation here to put it all behind us, to sentimentalise the issue, and to have it all played out in the front of Leinster House with blaring cameras, grandiose announcements and strategic tears, an apology there, a bit of remorse there – amounting to little. Meantime the state seems to have moved on, to primarily be concerned with the preposterous notion of a national memorial at the Garden of Remembrance to the victims of residential institutional abuse -while ignoring entirely that an abuse may be being perpetrated on the same individuals, to this day.
It is all well and good for the Mr Quirke’s report and its insistence that everybody sign up to a healing and reconciliation process. Upon reading the report its like an obsession within the document and looks as if its a fate accompli. Whats important to register here is the vast majority of people that this report is written about and seeks to address, cannot read. The report itself states that. The report fails to get the consent of every single individual is more of an outreach document than a proclamation of just what happened to peoples rights. Whats more astonishing is that the perpetrators of the abuse admit no wrong, but wish to be part of a healing and reconciliation process. There is a huge sense of anterior motive here. We know that the issues of the Bethany homes are still being denied. The mother and baby homes are still being denied. The voice from this whole sector and community seems to be fractured and at the mercy of certain individuals who are more driven by their own personality and self-serving than they are by a commitment to fully honoring those who continue to suffer as a result of the indifference of a cruel State and an even crueler religious congregation.
The truth is that nobody really wants to deal with the complex issues of this community of individuals and just what happened to them. Bullying, intimidation and wholesale abuse dominated the institutions. The residue of that activity is still alive today only because as stated at the outset of this article, there is a level of tolerance and a blind eye being turned rather than a robust challenge to stop this.
Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written on this subject. Decades of reports. Newspaper articles and documentaries. One thing is always present and at the core of this issue – the issue of abuse. Abuse in all its horrendous forms. Executed by and large by individuals and organizations that felt they were entitled to behave like this because nobody objected to them. The latter of the law seemed not to extend itself in this area neither did human rights. In a most recent article in the Sunday times (July 28th) by Justine Mc Carthy she writes about people falling through the cracks and the absolute power of the Church and the way they could shame people into submission. The article relates to the refusal by the Irish Government to acknowledge and include the Bethany homes in the now well established culture of abuses perpetrated on individuals who were locked away in institutions within this State. Included in this is the Mother and Baby homes and the banished children of Ireland. Again this is all about regimes of terror and abuse en par with a Nazism or the most vehement zealots. The article also describes that these regimes were on par with the Taliban – well we know that the Taliban have been confronted and we know that extremists are being confronted and we know that the Nazi’s and the despot dictators were confronted – when are we now going to confront the bullies that are still in existence today. Its grand to use lofty quotes ie ‘our poets are silent’ ‘then they came for me and there was nobody left to speak for me’ we’re good at that here. We don’t really do uncomfortable. We don’t really do responsibility. We’re masters at mock-shock and fake outrage. We need to take a look in our own mirror and just see how complicit we are in the continuation of abuse and indifference to abuse in Ireland today.