Abuse memorial – A slap in the face for survivors

An Bord Pleanála’s decision to turn down a memorial to victims of institutional abuse, planned for the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square in Dublin, represents a slap in the face for those who were treated outrageously by nuns and brothers of religious orders under the unseeing eyes of state agencies.

While victims were split on the issue, many will see this as another form of maltreatment at the hands of officialdom. Rightly or wrongly, they will regard it as a sign that modern Ireland has failed to come to grips with the appalling treatment of thousands of children by those supposed to be caring for them. The latest twist in this long running saga will further convince them in that view.

Expectations had naturally been raised that a monument would be erected there because it was recommended by the Ryan Commission and approved by the Dáil. It is worth recalling that the commission’s report found children were treated in the system more like prison inmates and slaves than people with legal rights and human potential. It depicted a shocking scenario of some religious encouraging ritual beatings and shielding the congregations against scrutiny while government inspectors failed to stop the litany of abuse.

But since it was first mooted two years ago, the proposal to build the monument in the Garden of Remembrance has engendered hope and been dogged by controversy. Even the victims of abuse were divided among themselves. Divisions became clear after Dublin city councillors backed a proposal to halt the project amid claims it should be stalled until abuse claims by former residents of the Magdalene Laundries and the Protestant Bethany homes had been dealt with fully.

A line of argument rejected by Christine Buckley, a former Goldenbridge industrial school resident and founder of the Aislinn Centre, which helps abuse victims, who described the monument as “terribly important to those of us who were in an institution”. In contrast, the Survivors of Clerical Child Abuse group were in favour of halting the project because, as its director, John Kelly, put it, views among survivor groups were “intensely different” as to whether it should go ahead or not.

Despite the council’s stance on Bethany Homes, the Government announced earlier this year that the 18 survivors of what happened there would receive neither compensation nor an apology from the State. Unsurprisingly, there has been sharp criticism, and rightly so; of 18 religious congregations that failed to pay their 50:50 share of the €1.5bn compensation bill for abuse. Against this backdrop, the outright rejection of Dublin City Council’s plan for a memorial to the victims of abuse will come as a grave disappointment to many. By turning down the Journey of Light memorial, An Bord Pleanála stands accused of consigning Ireland to the darkness of another era. By supporting the objections of those who claimed it was inappropriate to put a memorial to abuse on the site of a memorial to the struggle for Irish freedom, the board has left itself open to a charge of supporting the NIMBY — Not In My Backyard — element.

Ironically, the proposed monument, wherever it ends up, is to include the wording of the unreserved 1999 apology given to abuse victims by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Sadly, though it touched many hearts, it remains the only monument to the suffering of children abused while in the care of the State.

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