The abused of Ireland.

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from,” a report form Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, published yesterday, concluded.

The five-volume, 2,600-page report, the outcome of a nine-year investigation by the Ryan Commission, painted detailed and damning portrait of church-administered abuse. The decades of rapes, humiliation and beatings in Catholic Church-run reform schools and other institutions is said to have shocked the Irish.

John Cooney of The Irish Independent comes close to what I believe lay at heart of the problem when he says:

Society handed over responsibility for its children to an immensely powerful and authoritarian Catholic Church. The great grey walls of these institutions were surrounded by even higher walls of secrecy.

What he does not say is that this was a conservative society – with as big a C as one can find – which held almost Dickensian views on child-rearing.  What he also refrains from saying is that while rapes may not have been the order of the day in other learning institutions, the humiliation and beating of children or teenagers who, very often through no fault of their own, were thought to be failures was. His avoidance of this is understandable, since the Ryan Commission was not set up to look into what was happening outside a specified group of institutions.

 Had the Commission a broader remit, I,  and others,  could have told it there was a secondary school in one of the larger towns in west of Ireland that employed a number of teachers, lay and clerical, who can now –with the benefit of hindsight – only be described as sociopaths. One, I recall, brought into the classroom a strip of car tire with which he would flail anyone he considered delinquent. Another – a priest who was held in high regard – would, as a routine part of every lesson, cane severely a handful of people, and often went so far as giving someone a severe beating with his fists.  

 How did these people get away with this? John Cooney’s explanation of how they got away with it in the institutions the Ryan Commission investigated got away with it applies.

 Institutional state and Church silence has meant that these bastions of brutality have been slow to yield their horror stories. It is finally becoming apparent that the State, Church and society as a whole turned its back on these forgotten children.

 John Naughton, who is a contemporary of mine,  notes in his online diary:

I’ve been reading the report. In one way, it takes one’s breath away — especially when one realises the extensiveness and scale of the brutality. But in another way, to anyone who grew up in 1950s Ireland, it’s eerily unsurprising. And, in a way, the worst thing of all is the tacit connivance of the Irish state in allowing it all to happen while its authorities were perfectly aware of what was going on.

That about sums it up.


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