Monday, February 6, 2012

Monument or State instrument of closure?

The Ryan Commission to inquire into residential institutional child abuse made a recommendation that a memorial be erected.  It didn't state when and it didn't state where; it was merely a recommendation - a non-thought out process. Through the auspices of the OPW a committee was formed in recent years, which examined and took submissions and observations on the issue of the monument.  No public debate took place as to the appropriateness of such an enterprise and, given the fact that the Magdalene women are still fighting for justice, given that children who were abused in day schools are still demanding a hearing and the enormity of the issue of residential institutional abuse and given that the general issue of child abuse in Ireland has not been thoroughly investigated or examined, erecting a monument to those of us who were cruelly treated while in State residential institutions would be 'othering' us and separating us from other children who were abused in similar fashion in other settings. 


To add insult to injury, they wish to inscribe on this artistic monument the words of the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the hollow acknowledgment of an apology.  This apology came well before the facts of the Commission to inquire were published by the then Judge Ryan. What we know now is that the State knew and all the political parties knew what was happening to those children in those places where there was no inspectorate and no regulation, no accountability and no responsibility.


It is my view, that a monument at this point, would be wholly inappropriate and would be a milestone that would close the issue down rather than opening the entire issue up to all society.  The issue of child abuse by religious congregations and with particular reference to Catholic ones is a global issue.  In America alone, there are 6,000 clerics under indictment. That's tens of thousands of children who have experienced horrendous cruelty.  It is more appropriate that acts of 'Truth' be spoken, that those who were wronged be supported and that society in general be made aware of the fact that society itself was essentially indifferent to what happened to its children, that it turned a blind eye and turned away and let these horrendous acts of inhumanity continue for decades.


In my view this memorial, if proceeded with, would constitute an act of 'othering' and indifference. In addition it would bring about a premature closure on events which still need to come under much greater scrutiny.  The issue of Clerical sexual abuse and institutionalised abuse is far from dead or over and it does not need at this time a headstone memorial for the cost of 500,000 euros. Time to get it right. Let's begin the process to get this right.


Throughout the length and breath of Ireland there are many structures on the landscape that recall our memory and our trauma, they are the remains of many of the industrial schools, reform schools and Magdalene laundries.  For instance at Letterfrack we have the National Park which is where thousands of children were enslaved to hard labour.  St Josephs' industrial school is now the Connemara furniture college.  In Limerick the School of Art and Design now on Clare Street is housed in the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry, Industrial School etc and Waterford DIT was formerly a Magdalene laundry workhouse.  These are just a few of the examples of what took place in Irish society in its towns villages and cities.  Their histories at local levels are far more important a legacy to the traumatic events that befell peoples lives than some societal sentimentalised expression through a meaningless monument.  With all due respects to the artists involved, I would appeal to them to reconsider the implications of such an endeavour and pull back until such time as we have thoroughly investigated all these matters and brought out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the honest truth and collectively taken ownership and responsibility of that and for what happened.


It is far better to do something actual and meaningful that can be valued in the present than some unnecessary public monument to a still, by and large uninterrogated, uninvestigated event. This process needs outsiders and independent thinkers to examine without fear or favour these crimes.  We cannot be charged with investigating ourselves or deeming what is an appropriate or inappropriate way of acknowledging our history.  Remember the old saying 'history is always written by the victors' it's time now to challenge this and not let it be so, that in itself could be a step in the right direction towards a fitting tribute to the tens of thousands of children's lives that were trampled upon by the State its agents and servants and the Church, its agents and servants and an indifferent society.


In an effort to keep this debate open I have submitted the following motion which will hopefully be debated tonight at 6.45pm  you can watch live from here

   “That Dublin City Council calls on President Michael D. Higgins to begin the process to expunge the criminal records of all individuals convicted and detained as minors within residential institutions as defined by the commission to inquire into child abuse in residential institutions. 

And further, that it calls on the present government to fast-track the legislative framework and advice necessary for the president to carry out same .


Thousands of children were criminalised by courts through-out the Republic of Ireland. In many cases these children had no legal representation and never received due process and were subsequently incarcerated for many years in what are now known as Ireland's Residential Institutions.  In keeping with righting these grave injustices, I believe it is now time to begin the process of removing these children's criminal records. This act would be a far more fitting tribute of acknowledgment of the wrongs and damage done to tens of thousands of Irish citizens than the proposed monument to ‘victims’ of residential institutional abuse as proposed by the present Government.


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