No decision on memorial to abused, ten years on

Niall Murray

A decision about how to permanently memorialise victims of institutional child abuse has still not been made by the Department of Education five years after a planning setback — and nearly a decade since it was recommended in the landmark Ryan Report.

The department has not convened a meeting of the memorial committee of abuse survivors and others for nearly five years, since the memorial design they backed next to Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance was refused planning permission by An Bord Pleanála.

A €500,000 capital allocation has been set aside for the project each year since the Government approved the construction of a permanent memorial, which was the first recommendation in the May 2009 Ryan Report.

The Journey of Light concept for the west side of Parnell Place was given planning permission by Dublin City Council in 2013.

But An Bord Pleanála turned down the application on foot of significant objections about its impact on the Garden of Remembrance, to which it was proposed to be joined through a walkway beneath the large Children of Lir sculpture.

In subsequent contact with the Department of Education, Dublin City Council identified a number of other suitable sites for a public memorial.

But the Journey of Light design was specific to the Parnell Place location and no other designs submitted to the international competition in 2010 had been deemed suitable by the memorial committee, chaired by former Office of Public Works chairman Seán Benton.

The Irish Examiner revealed in March 2017 that due to the difficulties, the department was instead considering a permanent exhibition.

But over 18 months later, no decision has been made, with the 10th anniversary of the Ryan Report’s publication looming in just over six months’ time.

“The department is deliberating on a range of possibilities as to memorialisation. Those deliberations are ongoing,” a spokesperson said.

However, it appears there has still been no formal discussion with committee members. Although department officials wrote to its chairman Mr Benton in September 2017 to seek views on whether a permanent exhibition in a national museum would constitute a suitable memorial, no specific views were received back other than an oral acknowledgement by Mr Benton of the department’s letter.

The committee has not met since January 2014, shortly after planning was refused for the Journey of Light, and indicated at the time that it may not be able to progress the matter further.

However, abuse survivor representatives on the committee had not been notified of the consideration being given to an exhibition to replace the memorial before it was reported in the Irish Examiner last year.

“The commitment of the memorial committee, who had dedicated their time and energy to the project, is acknowledged,” a department spokesperson said.

“Active consideration is currently being given to how best to mark this phase of Ireland’s history, particularly in light of the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Ryan Report,” she said.

The department said that the provision of €500,000 remains ring-fenced for the memorialisation project.

Memorial Timeline

May 1999 -

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announces establishment of institutional child abuse inquiry as he makes apology in the Dáil: “On behalf of the State and of all citizens of the State, the Government wishes to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse, for our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue.”

May 20, 2009 -

First recommendation of Ryan Report of Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is to have the words above inscribed on a memorial to victims of abuse in institutions, saying it is important that “the State’s formal recognition of the abuse that occurred and the suffering of the victims should be preserved in a permanent place”.

October 2009 -

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe names committee, including survivor representatives, to take survivor views, recommend nature and location, and oversee work by Office of Public Works (OPW) to have memorial designed and built.

July 2011 -

Design competition launched and six of 32 expressions of interest invited in late 2011 to provide more details.

July 2012 -

Journey of Light, the entry of Studio Negri and Hennessy & Associates, announced by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and OPW Minister Brian Hayes as winning design.

It is to be located at the west side of Parnell Place, creating “a fluid progression between The Garden of Remembrance, which commemorates those who died for the cause of Irish freedom, with a memorial dedicated to the young victims of abuse”.

May 2013

- Dublin City Council grants planning permission to Journey of Light memorial.

November 2013

- An Bord Pleanála adopts recommendation of its inspector, following an oral hearing, to turn down planning permission, stating: “...notwithstanding the importance of the creation of a memorial to commemorate the victims of institutional abuse, the proposed development would have an adverse impact on the setting, character and function of the Garden of Remembrance”.

January 2014

- Memorial Committee last meeting held, and indicates they may not be able to progress the matter further.

January 2015

- Department of Education says it is consulting with OPW and Dublin City Council to identify suitable central Dublin location.

May 2016

- New Education Minister Richard Bruton told by his officials that “the department is considering how best to progress the project”. While the council identified several potential sites, the department said winning design cannot be created on a different site.

March 2017

- Irish Examiner reveals Department of Education considering if permanent exhibition in a public institution would appropriately memorialise abuse suffered in institutions.

Survivor representatives on committee express anger at not being consulted on possible revision to form of memorial.

September 2017

- Department officials write to committee chairman Seán Benton to ask if permanent exhibition in a national museum would constitute a suitable memorial.

October 2018

- Department of Education still “deliberating on a range of possibilities” in relation to memorialisation.

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