Residential Institutions (Redress) Bill 2011 – Second Stage

19th July 2011

I thank the Minister for his presentation. I also thank Senator Jim D’Arcy for his early support of our motion tomorrow evening. This debate is extremely timely given that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is, as we speak, launching the second progress report on the recommendations arising from the Ryan report.

In considering the legislation before us, I take the opportunity to acknowledge the substantial work carried out by the redress board since its inception in 2002. However, behind all the facts and figures lies the suffering of thousands of children who were entitled to be cared for, cherished and loved at a time when they could not have been more vulnerable. Instead, as we learned from the Ryan report, physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions in which these children were detained. Sexual abuse occurred in many, particularly boys institutions. A climate of fear created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment permeated most of the institutions. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating would come from. Seeing or hearing other children being beaten was a frightening experience that stayed with many survivors for all of their lives. Children who ran away were severely beaten, often publicly, and were often humiliated in public and had their heads shaven. Prolonged, excessive beatings with implements intended to cause maximum pain occurred with the knowledge of staff and management.

In a week where the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, reminded us of her concern that a hierarchy of abuse was being drawn up by social workers today, with neglect often placed at the bottom, let us not forget what the Ryan report said about the neglect of children. Children were frequently hungry and food was inadequate, inedible and badly prepared in many schools. Survivors spoke of scavenging for food in waste bins and animal feed. Inspectors found that malnourishment was a serious problem in schools run by the nuns in the late 1940s and, although improvements were made, food was meagre and basic. Sanitary provision was primitive, hygiene facilities were poor and sanitary protection for girls in menstruation was generally inadequate. Emotional abuse was suffered and the redress board heard cases of witnesses being belittled and ridiculed. Humiliating practices of underwear inspections and displaying soiled or wet sheets were conducted throughout the industrial schools system. Private matters such as bodily functions and personal hygiene were used as opportunities for degradation and humiliation. There was constant criticism and verbal abuse and children were told they were worthless.

It is important we remember this because when we consider the work of the redress board and review the legislation, we should be mindful of the experiences of so many young children that prompted the need for it in the first place. It is unfortunate to learn from many of the organisations supporting survivors that, in some cases, their experience of the redress board caused additional distress. Many were upset when told that they could not discuss their financial awards publicly. They took this to mean they could not talk publicly about the redress and that there was blanket secrecy, which added to the whole feeling of secrecy and humiliation. Once they accepted a settlement, they believed they could not speak about their childhood experiences, which reinforced the feeling of secrecy and the point about their reputation. This hurt them badly.

As Senator Norris said, it is regrettable that the Government has repeatedly refused to allow Bethany Home – a combined detention centre, children’s home and maternity home in Dublin – to be included on the list of qualifying institutions for the residential institutions redress scheme. This deprived survivors of the opportunity to present their cases to the redress board and seek some semblance of justice and compensation for abuse suffered as children there. The passing of this legislation is a timely reminder that survivors of Bethany Home have not had justice and redress. At this late stage, I urge the Government to find a way to address the needs of Bethany Home survivors, for an inquiry into the activities there and for the survivors to be allowed to access some form of reasonable redress.

As this legislation is before the House at a time when there is public debate about the overall cost of redress and specifically by whom the cost should be met, I fully support the Minister in his efforts to ensure the taxpayer is not left to pay a disproportionate amount of the cost of redress. There are clearly others who should pay their fair share, giving the role they played in causing so much harm to so many.

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