Point-scoring put aside for sombre reflection on report


DÁIL SKETCH:YESTERDAY WAS a very different kind of day in the Dáil. Political point-scoring was put aside for an extended debate on the sordid and shocking contents of the Ryan report.

The mood was sombre. Speaker after speaker emphasised the shame of church and State.

Harrowing stories of the ill-treatment of children, almost incomprehensible in their brutality, were heard.

Fine Gael’s Jim O’Keeffe remarked that it was the saddest debate he had witnessed in over 30 years in the Dáil.

TDs listened, silent and ashen-faced, as the grotesque hidden Ireland of decades ago, presided over by their predecessors, was debated in all its wretched detail.

Some of the victims and their relatives watched from the public gallery. “Ireland cries silently with those survivors,” said Enda Kenny. He spoke of how the State was haunted by the Great Famine. “We should all be haunted by what Mr Justice Ryan has disclosed, that is, a great famine of compassion, a plague of deliberate, relentless cruelty.”

Brian Cowen repeated the Government’s apology, adding that the catalogue of horror and terror, visited over many years on children in the care of religious congregations, placed there by the State, was appalling beyond belief.

It was worsened, too, by the repeated failure of the State to inspect or regulate the conditions in which they were held or the treatment to which they were subjected, he added.

Cowen noted how, pathetically, small gestures of kindness were vividly recalled by those abused.

Eamon Gilmore said that the deference to authority, and the silence it engendered, cost tens of thousands of children their childhoods, and, for many, their chance to live a full and healthy life as adults.

Labour’s Ruairí Quinn rounded on Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe, who sat next to the Taoiseach. Quinn claimed there was a continuing culture of deference to the Catholic church and its religious orders in the department, which was frustrating his attempts to get simple answers to questions about the ownership of schools.

“I do not believe Deputy O’Keeffe is a bad man,” he said. “I do not believe he is a Catholic right-wing secret obscurantist, but many of the people working for him on a permanent salary . . . most certainly are or else they are incompetent, lazy and destructive.”

The Minister is scheduled to speak in the debate today.

Ciarán Cuffe, of the Green Party, spoke of the Christian Brothers’ ethos at the time of the industrial schools. Brothers were not allowed to read newspapers, listen to the radio, visit friends or attend outside functions or sporting events without express permission, he said.

Conversation with mothers or female friends of the children was to be kept to a minimum.

“One consequence of this was that the Christian Brothers’ institutions became all-male worlds and this is a very dangerous place to retreat into,” he said. A lack of interaction with females was central and at the heart of the problem, he said.