British-based abuse survivors seek answers
Former residents of Irish institutions want to know what the €110m statutory fund will offer them, writes MARK HENNESSYin Birmingham
SURVIVORS OF abuse suffered in religious institutions in Ireland who are now based in Britain live in fear that they will end their days in care homes, it was claimed yesterday.
Eight former residents of the homes who are now living in London, and who are in touch with the Irish Survivors’ Advise and Support Network, have had strokes in the past year, according to its founder, Phyllis Morgan.
Researcher Mary Higgins, who interviewed survivors for a report for the St Stephen’s Green Trust, said many of those who were incarcerated in religious-run institutions were ageing.
Care homes are “different institutions, but they are often housed in renovated religious institutions, such as convents. They will resonate for people who have had bad experiences,” she said.
Dozens of survivors gathered in Birmingham yesterday for an update on the services to be supplied by a statutory fund paid for by €110 million in compensation offered by the institutions. A new website, irishsurvivorsinbritain.org– supported by the Federation of Irish Societies and the St Stephen’s Green Trust – offers information on services available to British-based abuse survivors.
Morgan said the Government should work with British-based organisations representing survivors to ensure that help from the fund was best directed. “Many of the people are now in their 80s,” she said.
Every effort must be made to keep elderly former inmates in their homes, but cutbacks in local authority spending in Britain were making that job more difficult by the day, she added.
Efforts were being made to form a British-based community group to vet care homes for former residential inmates “and to ensure that they are not forgotten once they are there”.
Department of Education and Skills official Mary McGarry gave a briefing on the operation of the statutory fund to be run by a nine-strong independent board.
Once up and running, survivors will be able to apply for funds to pay for medical, psychiatric and hospital treatment, along with, for example, assistance to keep them in their homes.
The Government was criticised by survivors at the gathering, who complained about the lack of information on offer and expressed doubts about British-based survivors’ ability to qualify for assistance.
McGarry said Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn was anxious to get the body – which was established by legislation approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas in July – into action “as soon as possible”.
However, she said it would not be able to write directly to the 15,000 people who dealt with the Residential Institutions Redress Board because their files were confidential.
Victims would have to apply for help, she said, but they would not have to submit evidence because the redress board would be able to confirm their names once they come forward.
Survivors, meeting at the Irish Centre in Birmingham, expressed anger that the nine-strong board would have four survivors’ representatives, rather than a majority: “They’ll be out-voted every time,” said one.
However, McGarry replied: “We don’t envisage a situation where they will be a ‘them and us’. The whole point is to provide services. There should be common cause.”
Some British-based survivors believe they will not qualify for help if they own their own home, several told the meeting. But McGarry said there would not be a general means test.
Survivor Jim Kelly, now living in Leicester, said he had never told his family that he had been abused: “I was too ashamed.”
Mary Abbott, who was held in homes in Sligo and Athlone, said: “Every night it is in my head, I can’t get rid of it. It never leaves my mind.”