This letter appeared in The Irish News on Thursday September 4th 2014 on the opinion page
Reliving such horrendous experiences has taken its toll on victims of Church abuse but if bringing the crimes of the past out into the open protects future generations then we owe those brave souls a debt of gratitude
HEARTBREAKING testimonoy has heard once again this week from witnesses at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, this time from people who were sent frightened and alone to Australia as small children.
Sir Anthony Hart, a retired senior judge who has presided over trails into henious crimes, couldn’t hide his emotion as he detailed the next phase of the inquiry that will examine cases of vulnerable children shipped off to Australia, a practice that continued until 1956. One man, Des McDaid, who bravely waived his right to anoymity in order to highlight his ordeal, gave details of a childhood unimaginable in our worse nightmares. He was abused at the Termonbacca home in Derry before being placed on a boat for an arduous month-long journey to the other side of the world as a frightened eight-year-old. Other witnesses gave accounts of children vomiting from the decks with seasickness and crying as they were sent to a strange land, one nun told them she hoped the boat sank as punishment for their behaviour. While young people from the north head to Australia every week looking for adventure, opportunity and a new life filled with hope, no such life awaied Des. Instead he was placed in the care of the Christian Brothers at a home in Perth and was again abused and neglected by cruel men hiding behind a cloak of religious respectability. Even more shocking and callous was that the mothers of these exiled children were in many cases told their babies had died and went through life not knowing the child they gave birth to was alive on the other side of the earth. One child had his name changed by a mother superior and was ordered not to change it back in a bid to stop him being traced. Des told the inquiry via video link this week that in later life he finally found his mother and her first words to him were, “Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.” Those responsible for inflicting such cruel injustices on generations of vulnerable children and their families should live the rest of their lives in shame at the pain they inflicted. In trying to atone for the sins of the past the Catholic Church, under the more progressive leadership of Pope Francis, has vowed to root out those who try and use the institution as a cover for criminal deviance. Reliving such horrendous experiences has taken its toll on victims of Church abuse but if bringing the crimes of the past out into the open protects future generations then we owe those brave souls a debt of gratitude. What we have also seen in recent years is that the Catholic Church was just one of many institutions in which predators found cover.
The scandal of Kincora Boys’ Home in east Belfast has been simmering for decades, in recent months some of those former residents have finally been able to speak publicly about their experiences. More recently this paper revealed how the then Eastern Health Board made paltry out-of-court settlements with victims that came attached to a confidentiality clause. The Irish News also revealed the case of Stephen Waring, an abused 16-year-old who ran away from the home only to be arrested in England and placed on a boat back to the North of Ireland, so terrified of being returned to his hellish life he jumped into the icy depths of the Irish sea, his body never recovered, no inquest held. A forgotten victim. There have been calls for Kincora to be included in the Westminister abuse inquiry into cover-up of child rape and exploitation by those in the highest echelons of power. Such an inquiry should strike fear into those political figures from the North of Ireland who were linked to the vile abuse at Kincora, crimes that were covered up by the intelligence agencies to protect informants. The sexual abuse of children knows no religious, political or class divide. That’s why it was all the more shocking to hear footage from loyalist protesters in north Belfast on Sunday 31st August demonstrating against the annual march by republicans to Henry Joy McCracken’s grave in Clifton cemetery shouting abuse in relation to child abuse, video shown below.
The recording was filmed and uploaded to the internet by the protesters themselves who obviously see nothing wrong with using the plight of abused children to score cheap points off republican rivals. Some of the abuse was shouted at Ardoyne man Martin Og Meehan about his sister Mary Meehan, who waived her anonymity to make public the abuse by her former stepmother Breige (McLaughlin) Meehan. Her story was one of the most disturbing cases of child neglect and abuse I’ve covered in my career and the politics of her brother have nothing to do with her as a victim and to use them to mock her a hellish experience is morally repugnant. Sectarianism seems to permeate every aspect of life here in the north but surely even in its most vitriolic form the abuse of children should be a subject never to be mocked or used against those we oppose politically. It was heartening that so many loyalists on Twitter condemned this explotation of child abuse by the protesters at Clifton Street. As a society if we can’t be united in the condemnation of the abuse of children we really are without hope.
With many thanks to: Allison Morris, The Irish News, for the origional story.