Mrs McAleese said the public were desperately sorry for the suffering caused to the survivors as children, not just by the abuse itself but by the failure of society to listen to them, to believe them and to act to protect them.
“In their name I offer every one here, and all those whose little lives were robbed of the joys of childhood, our heartfelt sorrow,” she told a group of 280 survivors at a special reception at Áras an Uachtaráin.
Mrs McAleese organised the reception to show solidarity with abuse survivors in the wake of the Ryan Report.
She is the public figure who has spoken most strongly on the subject of abuse since the Ryan Report’s publication, calling for criminal prosecutions against those responsible.
At yesterday’s gathering, she told guests representing survivor groups including Aislinn, Alliance Victim Support Group, Irish SOCA, Irish Women Survivors’ Support Group, Justice and Healing for Institutional Abuse, Right of Peace Group, Right of Place and SOCA Britain, that their experiences were “monuments to our failure to cherish our children”.
She continued: “Our most precious monument to you has to be our determination to be that Republic where children are cherished equally not just in lofty words but in everyday deeds.”
Mrs McAleese spent several hours meeting each guest in turn at the private event, often hearing individual tales of abuse and survival. Michael O’Brien, a survivor of St Joseph’s Industrial School in Clonmel and founder of the Right to Peace group, said afterwards many guests had been moved to tears by her words of comfort and support.
But he said it was also a joyous occasion with survivors being entertained by performances from some of the country’s best known musicians, including Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, Mary Black, Phil Coulter, a Riverdance troupe and the Army’s 1 Southern Brigade band.
“It was absolutely brilliant because the feeling I got, and the other survivors got, is that when the President speaks, she speaks for everybody,” Mr O’Brien said.