Michael O’Brien, who spent eight years in St Joseph’s School, Ferryhouse, Clonmel, said the Rosminian Order which ran it, and the other religious congregations who were in charge of similar institutions, were not doing enough to make up for the suffering their members caused.
“There are an awful lot of down and outs – men and women whose lives were destroyed in those schools – and who are on the streets of Dublin, Cork, London, Manchester, Bristol. I want the religious orders to go out and find them. There are people suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. I want the orders to help them. I am just one person – there are thousands who never uttered a word about what they went through,” he said.
Mr O’Brien, 75, a former long-serving member of Clonmel Corporation who was elected lord mayor in the early 1990s, has been campaigning for the rights of fellow victims through his Right to Peace organisation since he went public with his own experiences in 1999.
He and his siblings were taken into care following the death of their mother. Mr O’Brien, who was just eight-years-old at the time, was raped within days of his arrival and endured sustained physical and sexual abuse throughout his time there.
“All that I did to deserve it was that my mother died. Where was the state that put me in there, that was supposed to cherish children?” he said. “I still hurt badly. I cry at times and I have bad dreams. But I have to live. I have a family to look after. I have four children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and I love every one of them. They are my sunshine. They keep me going.”
Mr O’Brien was critical of the 18 religious orders who are refusing to renegotiate the controversial indemnity deal they signed with the Government in 2002 which restricts their contribution towards redress for victims to €1.28 million.
“The religious orders are playing the poor mouth, saying we have nothing when they are worth millions. The state should have the right to take their lands.”
He also criticised church leaders for failing to back victims even after the Child Abuse Commission was set up 10 years ago. “Before then I was scared out of my living daylights to mention sexual abuse, scared what the people of Ireland would say to me. I was afraid of becoming a leper. And I did become a leper to some people. Not one priest came to my door in the last 10 years.”
Mr O’Brien is a member of the Education Finance Board which provides funding to victims and their families to pursue educational, training and personal development courses in recognition of the fact that most former residents received little education and their offspring often suffered as a result.
He urged more people to make use of the €12.7m fund available to the board and called on the religious orders to provide further finance to ensure its work is continued. He also said he hoped to join with other abuse survivors’ support groups in organising a day of remembrance and a national minute’s silence.
“I also want the schools to invite former residents to come in and talk to the transition-year students so they will be observant in their own classes in case anything like this ever happened to another child.”
Mr O’Brien said while he was still a Fianna Fáil supporter, his loyalty to the party was stretched by the Government’s failure to date to bring the religious orders to heel. “They need to lead by example. If they would even restore the Christmas bonus to the pensioners – many of whom are former residents – it would show some of the humanity we’re looking for from the religious orders.”
n Mr O’Brien can be contacted at Right to Peace, 42 Oliver Plunkett Terrace, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, phone 052-81614. The Education Finance Board can be contacted at Floor 3, Frederick Court, 24/27 North Frederick Street, Dublin 1, phone 1890-742742 or www.educationfinanceboard.com.