It was torture

Amnesty International Ireland commissioned a new report on the abuse of children in Irish institutions run by the state and the church, and it was released on Monday. I shall now read that report.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “The abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children is perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the state. Much of the abuse described in the Ryan Report meets the legal definition of torture under international human rights law.

“Children were tortured. They were brutalised; beaten, starved and abused. There has been little justice for these victims. Those who failed as guardians, civil servants, clergy, gardaí and members of religious orders have avoided accountability.”

We know this. I’ve been following it for years, and one of the survivors of all that brutalization – Marie-Therese O’Loughlin – has been describing it to us for years. We only know a little of what there is to know, however.

The Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports tell us what happened to these children, but not why it happened. We commissioned this report to explore that question because only by doing so can we ensure this never happens again.

This abuse happened, not because we didn’t know about it, but because many people across society turned a blind eye to it. It is not true that everyone knew, but deep veins of knowledge existed across Irish society and people in positions of power ignored their responsibility to act.

The blind eye turning – as always – is blood-chilling.

Now for that report…


  1. Rrr says

    Not sure how relevant this is, but it is a mental connexion I made:

    These last few days, the Government of Sweden made a U-turn in a similar matter. An organization of circa 900 former foster home and care home children has demanded retribution and compensation for maltreatment of between 1920 and 1960. This resulted in a public inquiry, which finally recommended that the victims should be compensated. The Minister in charge, Maria Larsson, Christian Democrats, decided that this was impossible due to problems with equality before the Law. But, lo & behold, it has now been deemed to be in fact compatible with those principles of Law and Equality to promise, after all, payment of monetary compensation as well as an apology to those who have a documented claim to victimhood. IIRC, the proposed amount is 250.000 SEK per head (roughly 26.000 EUR or 35.000 USD, off the top of my foggy head). And since we Swedes have, for as far back as records exist, been keeping records, most of those victims still alive probably do qualify.

    It is important to note that the scope and scale of abuse in my country will be considerably less than those unfortunates exposed in Ireland in the current example, but it seems to me there may yet be a possible comparison to make.

    Sweden is (recently) officially secular, the Protestant State Church pegged down to commensurability with sundry free churches a decade or two ago, while Ireland appears to be still pretty well entrenched with the Wholly Sea and all that jazz, and also within the Euro zone with all the economic troubles connected to that, as well as a few domestic ones. However, both countries are members of the EU, and there might be a lesson or two to draw from the parable presented herein.

    Caveat: Most of the information in this Comment has been gleaned from intermittent TV exposure.

    Also, deep sympathy and thanks to the courageous M-T O’L’s commenting here!

  2. says

    Thanks Rrr! Foster-children sadly never got a look in with the Irish system that delved into institutional child abuse in the past.

    I was only reading yesterday a 2007 article in the now defunct Sunday Tribune (that Andrew Brennan, a survivor of child institutional abuse, linked to at his twitter account) which mentioned Dr. Carole Holohan. There is insight into the threat of closure of industrial schools by the religious, due to lack of proper funding by the government. The files were released in 2007, after a 30 years lapse.

  3. says

    I’ve been reading it since yesterday. I like that it implicates a much larger circle of people and talks about what those of us who don’t work for these organizations could have done and still can do.

  4. Aliasalpha says

    Catholicism: Check
    Child Abuse: Check
    Institutional Coverup: Check

    I’m in constant amazement that people keep claiming a few bad apples are spoiling the bunch when it seems more evident that the few good apples are being spoiled BY the bunch

  5. Sarah says

    More groups involved than just Catholicism: Check
    People from a time when Child welfare was not considered as important: Check
    Someone still trying to pin it on Catholicism: Check

    I’m in constant amazement that people think that this was a problem exclusive to Catholics when more and more evidence is coming out that interdicts most of the large care organisations of the last century, State, private and religious.

  6. says

    “People from a time when Child welfare was not considered as important: Check”

    I did check – and you are perfectly right, the bishops and the medical profession, which the latter was dominated by the former, did not consider child-welfare important. However else would the church manage without the massive funding which it received for keeping children locked up in industrial schools? However else would the church manage to control the souls of children? Wasn’t getting them young and keeping them for life a kind of motto of rheirs afterall?

    In 1950, Noel Browne the then Irish health minister had hopefully planned on bringing in a scheme, which would provide free maternity care for all mothers and free health-care for all children up to the age of sixteen, irrespective of income. It met with damning opposition from conservative elements in the Catholic hierarchy and the medical profession.

    The Catholic Church leadership was divided between those like Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid, who believed that it was the exclusive right of all parents to provide health-care for their child, and younger moderates like William Philbin saw some merit in state assistance to families.

    Some bishops, like McQuaid, also feared that it could pave the way for abortion and birth control.

    Because of bad handling of the Church leaders by Browne, the moderates were forced into silence, thus allowing the anti-Mother and Child Scheme members of the hierarchy under McQuaid to set the agenda.

    McQuaid is not very popular, even to this day, with survivors of institutional child abuse.

  7. kev_s says

    When the Irish state washed it hands of these children and left them to the mercy of the religious organisations, didn’t it pay a sum to support each child? It was a kind of out-sourcing arrangement, right? So where did the money that the Irish state paid to all these ‘child-care’ organizations go? If children were starving, either the state was not paying enough per child or the organisations were syphoning off the majority of the money for some “greater purpose”. it does not cost that much to feed a child so it is not starving. Maybe the Catholic-run organisations passed most of the money to the Vatican for the greater glory of the Holy See?
    Clearly the abuse is the more serious thing to discuss and prevent from happening in the future, but has anyone followed the money in these cases? If there was evidence that money that was intended to support children ended up being sent to the Vatican it is about time someone started asking for it back.
    Normally when you outsource something you have people that keep a close eye on your supplier to check you are getting value for money on the contract. It appears that this kind of basic check did not happen because of the misplaced ‘respect’ given to religious organisations.

  8. says

    “When the Irish state washed it hands of these children and left them to the mercy of the religious organisations, didn’t it pay a sum to support each child.”

    Yes – kev_s.

    Re: Goldenbridge industrial school funding to the commission to inquire into child instutional abuse.

    7.21 Sr Helena O’Donoghue stated that at one time Goldenbridge paid an annual levy to Carysfort and, at another period in time, all income went to Carysfort and an agreed budget was returned.

    Carysfort was a Mercy order teaching college in one of the most prestigous parts of Dublin. The monies scarcely trickled down to the children in GB. It’s laughable really that young postulants came every year for short periods to GB to test out their freshly learned teaching skills on the children. It was such a memorable time, in that it was basically the only time we stayed in school. In other words we escaped the scullery-kitchen laundry work. I remember all the poems and Irish songs learned by them – to this day.

    At one time, the older girls had to make their own clothes. I remember during school hours making frilly laced knickers, laced handerchiefs and knitting woollen socks that were placed in fancy boxes and sent to shops, which, by all accounts, were frequented by rich people. I also recall making Irish bainin designed woollen rugs. ‘Special’ children from the higher rung of the ladder only got to do menial work in the convent. They were envied by those who were sent to the massive laundry.

    The nuns bought property in the Garden of Ireland with monies accrued from the wretched rosary-bead slave-making activity.

    We never got new clothes, except for religious occasions, like Communion and Confirmation. When these celebratory days passed by, the clothes were taken away from us. Only ‘specials’ were allowed to wear pretty clothes, which were taken from children who got clothes from their host families. We wore hand-me-downs, even down to our shoes and summer sandals.

    Money was paid to support the children and the nuns were so keen on getting more of it from the government, that they were prepared to overcrowd the industrial schools for the sake of it. In fact they were so concerned about the upkeep of their massive properties, that they complained to the government that they needed more children to be sent to them.

    The buildings (like the churches) as we all know, were/are worth millions during the Celtic Tiger and the religious made millions upon millions of euro.

  9. says

    Sarah – That’s fascinating. But isn’t the Catholic church supposed to know better? Isn’t it supposed to be about caring and compassion? Why was it just like other people who thought child welfare didn’t matter all that much?

  10. kev_s says

    Thanks for your reply Marie-Thérèse, although very painful to read.
    I wonder how much money has gone ‘missing’?
    Ophelia asked the “Why?” question’ which is a good one and I have a suggestion.
    In Christopher Hitchen’s ‘The Missionary Position’ he describes Mother Theresa’s mission in Calcutta for the poor and dying as a ‘cult of death’. Despite the huge sums of money given to MT to help poor people, most of it never found it way to the poor at all. Often it languished in bank accounts while people were dying without adequate painkillers and needles were being washed under taps. Or it was used to fund nunneries that perpetuated the cult. Hitchens thought that the situation originated in the religious conviction that it is virtuous to ‘suffer like Jesus’ and proper planning and organization is not necessary because ‘God will provide’.
    Perhaps, also in Ireland, the money was not simply ‘stolen’ as such … it was just not used because suffering was thought to be “good for the children”. Perhaps a-la Hitchens, the children were ‘simply’ victims of a religious ‘cult of suffering’ and not a deliberate extortion racket. The people running these organization probably thought they were doing the right thing in their twisted way of thinking; consider also the religious parents that allow their children to die rather than seek medical attention. Even though we now know the “What?”, When?” and “How?” of it in Ireland, which is bad enough, trying to understand the “Why?” of it and going where that seems to lead, makes me despair.

  11. says

    Myth of under-funding exposed as a lie – National News –

    “CLAIMS that a lack of finances was partly to blame for cases of neglect in some of the most notorious industrial schools was exposed as a myth in the report of the Ryan Commission.”

    There were 30 nuns at Goldenbridge convent who breakfasted on two eggs per day. Teresita Durkan, an ex-Sister of Mercy, bragged about it in ‘A View from Valparaiso’. In all my childhood at GB industrial *school*, I only ever once SAW an egg. I made sure to tell this fact to the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse. I have a distinct memory of a teenager stealing an egg and placing it on a spoon over luke-warm water in the kitchen, thinking that this was how an egg was cooked.

    We robbed bread from the pantry, we robbed cups of raw cocoa, we robbed handful’s of sugar and butter. We bartered our stolen food in the rosary-bead factory. We simply robbed all around us, and when we weren’t busy robbing food, we were fighting with each other; pulling each others hair out, to get at the left-over scraps of ‘delicious’ food from St Ita’s staff table.

    The scraps were thrown out the yard window every afternoon and the minders got a kick out of children turning on each other over these scraps. Some children got locked into dog-fights that could last up to an hour. at a time. Holding tightly on to another child’s short head of hair for over one hour was a very painful exercise, but it was all worth it for the sumptuous taste of a toasted soldier, or a half Marietta biscuit, or big pieces of cake crumbs.

    Some younger children even chewed on cardboard boxes and ate muck, they were so hungry. They also arduously scraped/ate white substance from brown flat beads with the tip of the rosary bead wire.

    Drinking out of toilet bowls and cisterns was an every day occurrence at Goldenbridge. Even though, these were the same toilets we washed our underwear at night-time and dried between our blankets for fear of being punished.

    Children who wet the beds were disallowed water after 6pm every day.

    The nuns and staff ate like queens, while the children starved. Children were inconsequential in Goldenbridge, so why bother feeding them properly.

    The motto at the time, was — have nothing to do with the ‘orphans’ in Goldenbridge. Children from mainstream society, who attended the national school were continually warned not to look at us – even from afar.

  12. says

    The people running these organization probably thought they were doing the right thing in their twisted way of thinking;

    Yes, of course, they thought they were doing right by their God. Industrial school children in the sole care of the religious, were seen as the lowest of the lowest in the sight of their God and must therefore be punished/cleansed for the sins of the parents.

    Children in G’bridge, for example, who wet their beds were made to stand around St. Patrick’s *school* rostrum every single morning, holding up the soiled sheets on high, while simultaneously – in no uncertain terms, were reminded by the nun in charge, of the ‘dirty’ status of their respective parents. Some children also had to go around in their soiled night-dresses for days on end. Remember, these children by far, were much younger than Magdalen laundry survivors and nonetheless still underwent similar treatment. The religious were convinced that all this treatment meted out to ‘bad’ children helped to flush out the devil from their weak bodies and souls which they deemed were inherited from their sinful parents.

  13. Sarah says

    @Ophelia Benson “Sarah – That’s fascinating. But isn’t the Catholic church supposed to know better? Isn’t it supposed to be about caring and compassion? Why was it just like other people who thought child welfare didn’t matter all that much?”

    Human institution full of flawed human being. News At 10 Shocker!

    No one has ever advocated abusing kids. Everyone says they’re in favour of child welfare, good discipline and care. Isn’t Humanism meant to be about caring and compassion? Isn’t the school system meant to be about caring and compassion (and teaching)? And yet in these institutions and groups abuse, rape, even murder happen. Does that blow your mind? Because you’re acting like it’s a big shock that people often don’t live up to their stated ideals.

    Unfortunately the past was a more brutal, and less technological place. Children had a far lower status in society, particularly poor children, and were not believed as often. Abusers lied and got away with it. Evidence was harder to come by, and this happened across society, in all large institutions religious or otherwise

    Abuse happens when it can. Do you have any evidence that it happened disproportionately in religious institutions?


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