Abusers plunged State into terrible darkness - McAleese


President Mary McAleese met survivors of institutional abuse at Áras an Uachtaráin today.

Almost 300 victims visited Áras An Uachtaráin where Ms McAleese said their experiences had highlighted the State’s failure to cherish all its children.

Those who abused children in church-run institutions diminished our society and plunged the country into a terrible darkness, Mrs McAleese said.

The President said: “For so long your suffering seemed to make strangers of you in your own land.

“Today, we simply seek to be family to each other, to assert our common care for one another and to acknowledge that what was done to those of you who are survivors of abuse in institutional care, not only damaged your precious lives but diminished our society.

“Those who switched off the light of love and hope in your lives, plunged our country into a terrible darkness.”

Ms McAleese said the Áras invitation was an expression of the massive public desire to let the survivors know how deeply their stories had struck a chord with the nation.

Around 280 guests attended the event, representing survivor groups including Aislinn, Alliance Victim Support Group, Irish Soca, Irish Women Survivors Support Group, Justice and Healing for Institutional Abuse, Right of Peace Group, Right of Place and Soca UK.

Last month the devastating Ryan report documented evidence of abuse from more than 1,000 pupils of orphanages, industrial and reformatory schools.

It catalogued decades of sexual, physical and emotional torture of youngsters in church and state care over a 70-year period.

When it was published Ms McAleese said those behind the acts of criminal neglect or violence and who were still alive must be brought to justice.

Today she told survivors the people of Ireland were desperately sorry for what had happened to them, and for the failure of the state to act, listen or believe their stories.

“Your experiences are monuments to our failure to cherish our children,” the President said.

“Our most precious monument to you has to be our determination to be that Republic where children are cherished equally not just in lofty words but in everyday deeds.”

She also praised the courage of her guests for taking a stand against abuse. “From that suffering however you have created a force that will in time bring much good to Ireland’s children for you challenge our society to hold to account all those who engrave on their innocent and dependant little lives,” she said.

High-profile acts including Phil Coulter, Mary Black and a Riverdance troupe performed during the function, hosted to recognise the suffering and bravery of the survivors.

After the event, Christine Buckley, of the survivors’ group the Aislinn Centre, said the day was emotional and unreal.

“For the first time ever we were centre stage today, the victims of institutional abuse,” Ms Buckley said. “I’m filled with a huge admiration for the people who did our level best to tell this story.

“I’m filled with remorse to see what might have been, I have a huge well of emotions going around. Having said that, the reception at the Aras from the moment of entry until our departure was one of sympathy, empathy and one of camaraderie.”

Bette Browne, of the Survivors of Institutional Abuse Ireland group, said it

had been a significant and symbolic day. “It was a very moving and gratifying event and I think all the people that were there were very moved by it."

Ms Browne said the focus should now be on ensuring a proper trust fund for the survivors is introduced, and the Church congregations be financially held to account.

Yesterday at an ordination ceremony in the Pro-Cathedral Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the legacy of scandals had seriously damaged the image and the credibility of the Church

Earlier this week, Mrs McAleese said the abusive conduct of priests, nuns and brothers in residential institutions “is a matter which demands forensic probing and explanation.”

Speaking at an event to mark the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in TCD last week, she said the Ryan report demanded “a fresh focus from all of us as a civic society on what we need to do to truly cherish the children of this nation equally”.

Additional reporting PA