Rights referendum would be 'monument' to victims


A REFERENDUM to enshrine children’s rights in the Constitution is “possibly the greatest monument” to the victims of child abuse, according to Minister for the Environment John Gormley.

It has been discussed for more than four years and “the time for debate is now over”.

Speaking during the Dáil debate on the Ryan report, Mr Gormley also said there were many people to blame for the unspeakable horrors children in care endured.

“This system could not have grown, could not have flourished, could not have survived without the acquiescence of the general public . . . we managed to not just institutionalise but to industrialise child abuse and neglect,” he said. Children’s homes “became factories that produced broken children”.

Mr Gormley read a letter from Christopher Heaphy, an abuse survivor, who described the Redress Bill as “another cruel pretence of token atonement”. Survivors had to “relive vividly the horrors suffered in the industrial schools to total strangers”, the letter said: judges, barrister, solicitors, psychiatrists, medical doctors and counsellors.

That list showed “the privilege of an education is a prerequisite in obtaining a profession. Thousands of us are paid unemployment assistance by the State. Many of us survivors have very little hope of building careers or of living . . . stable family lives.”

Minister for Health Mary Harney said: “If we could give to the born the level of care and concern rightly shown in some quarters to the unborn, we would serve this country better.” She said that “as a pupil of the convent in Goldenbridge, I was treated very well and had a good experience. However, I went home to my parents every evening. Many of my teachers were the same people who inflicted such awful pain and suffering on those held in their care.” She said “it is a lesson for all organisations and institutions that catastrophic reputational damage is caused by allowing injustice to persist and by failing to act. That damage is only exacerbated by legal or financial moves to deny or evade full responsibility.

“Reputations are much, much more difficult to repair than balance sheets. And lest there be any doubt, damaged lives are the hardest thing of all to repair.”

Minister of State Martin Mansergh said sexual abuse by the clergy “is incomprehensible in the terms of vocation and religious rules. One cannot but contrast the severity of punishment for things like bed-wetting with the mild reproof and sidelining of people who were caught or known to be involved in very serious acts of sexual abuse, even crimes. The tragedy for the church has been compounded through the mishandling of these cases until relatively recently though we should acknowledge that the spirit and ethos today is almost wholly different.”