'Horrifying if done to prisoners of war'
MINISTER FOR CHILDREN:THE IN Plain Sightreport reminds us that Irish children were subjected to “treatment that would be horrifying if it were done to prisoners of war, never mind little boys and girls”, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday.
“Rape, burning, beating, biting. Horrendous, awful torture.”
Launching the In Plain Sightreport, she said it “says boldly what we now must accept; people knew about children being abused long before it was put in print in the Ferns, Cloyne, Murphy and Dublin reports”.
This “strikes at our very national identity. Whatever happens to us, we Irish like to believe we are fundamentally a good people – kind, generous, brave, open-minded.
“So how could we have allowed this systemic abuse of children to have gone on for so long? How could a decent society have let this happen?
“One causative factor, one national attribute is becoming ever clearer to me as I read more of what happened in our schools, clubs, churches, homes and communities. Deference,” she said.
“At every turn, Irish people kept their mouths shut out of deference to State, system, church and community; when they should have been unified in fury and outrage they were instead silenced, afraid to even whisper a criticism against the powerful.
“Much of the blame for that lies in a past where the chasm between the powerful and powerless was too vast to close, but let’s not fool ourselves into believing that abuse occurred in a sepia-toned Ireland that is dead and gone.
“Abuse – awful, shocking abuse – happened long after we knew of the atrocities of the distant past. And again it was covered by deference,” she said.
“A critical error was the unquestioning deference to an organisation making itself out to be the paragon of virtue it obviously was not.
“We have to move Irish society to a position where we are not afraid of debate, where there are no sacred systems that take precedence over our people.
“We must make sure that no system and no people are ever allowed to become so important that lives are destroyed to protect their reputation.”
The “very awfulness of what happened may go some way to explaining why, as the report says, so many people find the topic too overwhelming to deal with”, she said in reference to a Red C poll finding published to coincide with the report.
“But the problem with that reaction, that urge to deny, to shut our ears and eyes, is that it can allow the past to recur.”
The poll took place on July 25th and 27th last. The Cloyne report was published on July 13th, with the Taoiseach’s controversial Dáil response on July 20th.
It found that 52 per cent of people found the content of the Ryan report on child abuse issues “overwhelming”, with 35 per cent saying it was “too upsetting to engage with”, while 58 per cent felt “helpless” as a result. On the other hand, it made 89 per cent angry at those who abused the children and 84 per cent “angry that wider society didn’t do more”.
Seventy-one per cent of those surveyed believed that “wider Irish society bears some responsibility for what has been revealed in the Ryan, Ferns, Murphy and Cloyne reports”.
And 88 per cent believed that “individual members of society should have demanded that the State act to prevent child abuse”, while 85 per cent felt that “individual members of Irish society should have done more to protect these children”.
Half believed “wider society is prejudiced against children in care in the State today”.