"THE MEMORY OF JESUS IS BOTH SACRED AND SUBVERSIVE"
Sunday, 28 May 2017
'I'm a former child resident of a mother and baby
home. We want truth and justice'
“Institutional Ireland” is still failing survivors of residential
institutions, writes Conrad Bryan.
FORMER child resident of a mother and baby home in the 1960s, I am very
concerned at how “Institutional Ireland” is still failing survivors of
The announcement by the Minister for
Health, Simon Harris, that he is planning to give ownership of the new National
Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity order is deeply disappointing.
This Order was named in the 2009 Ryan Report on child abuse which stated that
they “never issued a general public apology in respect of child abuse” and it
still has not fully paid its 5 million debt to the redress scheme.
The Minister for Children, Katherine
Zappone, also said recently that she would not consider redress for survivors
under the 2002 redress scheme. This is despite there being unaccompanied
children who spent their whole childhood lives in these and other institutions,
after exiting mother and baby homes, who were not in the previous redress
Others were in institutions that are
being excluded from the list for investigation. Mothers of forced/illegal
adoptions also have genuine grievances.
The Minister for Children also said
that she is considering “Transitional Justice” as a means of giving voice to
former residents of the mother and baby homes and to raise public awareness and
understanding of this sad period in our history. While I welcome this
initiative, I am not aware of anyone who simply wants to give “voice” to their
stories in public. They just want truth and justice.
Presently, there seems to be a deep
frustration with institutional Ireland who simply do not know how to deal with
survivors and the trauma and legacy of institutional abuse and neglect. There
seems to be a “them and us” mentality between State and survivor, leading to a
real sense of hopelessness as to what to do and how to move forward.
The reason I welcomed the transitional
justice idea is that I know it means much more than just giving victims a
“voice”. Historically, it has always been about seeking truth and justice for
past wrongs and human rights abuses. More importantly, it has also been about
accountability, healing and reconciliation. We can learn a lot from the
transitional justice model of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) in
Canada and South Africa.
This proposal reminded me of my black
grandparents in South Africa. During the Apartheid regime they were forcefully
removed from their home in Sofiatown, Johannesburg, as their township was
regarded by the State as a “black spot in a white area”.
The TRC raised many questions for me
about the long-term value of it to black people in South Africa. Some of my
relatives feel too many people got away with impunity as the TRC granted
amnesties and some people are still looking for the remains of their loved ones
even to this day. However, the TRC has been credited with bringing stability
and enhanced understanding of the human rights abuses in South Africa.
In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation
commission made significant recommendations about how to deal with national
reconciliation with their aboriginal people. Many were placed in residential
institutions where they were abused or neglected. Their cultural identities
were erased as a way of assimilating them into a European Christian culture.
Stories of our own Irish children of African/mixed-race and Traveller heritage
who were put into institutions resonate.
I believe we too could benefit from
some form of national reconciliation process. One that would include all
parties: the State, the Church, and family relatives and the public. Many knew
what was happening back then.
What would this reconciliation process
If we look to the Canadian experience,
we would set up the Irish Museum for Human Rights to reflect stories and
histories of mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, industrial schools
etc. The design and management of it would take full account of the views and
sensitivities of survivors. It would also include a separate space for
histories of other human rights struggles like Traveller, LGBT, and women’s
rights. The Church and State would also be reflected, for example I would like to
know stories from nuns about pressure to enter convents, and stories about the
role of politicians.
This museum would act as a space for
public learning and reflection so these abuses do not happen again. It would
also hold death registers and information on cemeteries at the institutions
around Ireland and provide genealogy service for relatives and descendants. The
design of the museum would take full account of the wishes and views of
There would also be a National Research
Centre or Truth and Reconciliation centre where people and former residents can
do research on residential institutions. It would hold archives from all
investigations. It would also act as a learning centre. There would be a
commitment from State and Church authorities that this past would be written
into the history books at schools, colleges and seminaries.
Finally to show it is serious about
this issue, the government could take ownership of the last Magdalene Laundry
site on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin for the above Museum, T&C Centre
and memorial. This would go some way towards healing and mutual understanding
as well as putting human rights at the centre of Irish life.
is a board member and treasurer of the charity Irish in Britain which
represents and supports the Irish community across the UK, particularly
vulnerable groups. He is also on the board of AMRI , the Association of Mixed
Race Irish, which works to raise awareness of this small community of people
with mixed parentage. Outside his charitable activities Conrad is
employed in the travel technology sector and is currently living in London. He
was born in Ireland of Irish South African heritage. PAT SAYS: All victims of abuse deserve truth and justice. They also deserve generous compensation and the counselling that helps them to recover, as much as possible, from their past sufferings and horrors. One of the most worrying aspects of the abuse that took place in Church owned and operated institutions is that after agreeing with the Irish State to pay for part of the compensation some Catholic religious orders have not paid up. The still owe the state hundreds of millions. And its not because these religious orders do not have the money. Most of them have millions and millions in cash and property. I think that the Irish Government should give these religious a date by which they have to pay up - and then if they do not pay up the government should start seizing their assets until the compensation bill is paid. Ireland has a criminal assets bureau to take the proceeds of crime off criminals who made money from their crimes. Many crimes and horrors were committed in religious institutions and the people who ran these institutions made a lot of money out of running them. Maybe it is time a criminal assets bureau included defaulting religious orders in their activities?