A year after the Ryan Report was published, we must not forget the decades of crimes it uncovered by Irish religious orders against children in their care. A new coalition of children’s groups is now calling for faster government action on the report.
And two men are on hunger strike outside the palace of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin seeking arrests and an international criminal investigation.
Between 1936 and 1970, about 170,000 children were sent to about fifty industrial schools, and were kept there for an average of seven years. The religious orders systematically abused the children in their care. They hit, beat, flogged and kicked children. They scalded and burned children and held them under water. They sexually molested and raped children. They told children they were worthless, and lied to them that their parents were dead. They left sick and injured children untreated. They neglected to provide children with basic standards of care, food and clothes. They shaved, beat and humiliated children who ran away and were caught.
The religious orders did all of this as a matter of policy, treating and beating children in similar ways in different schools. They wanted to create a climate of daily terror, with children not knowing where the next beating was coming from. They knew their behaviour was illegal: they reported abusive lay workers to the police, but protected priests, brothers and nuns. The Department of Education failed in its duty to inspect and monitor these schools. Despite knowing that violence was endemic, it saw its role as facilitating the religious orders.
The two men on hunger strike outside the Catholic Archbishop’s palace are John Ayres and Kevin Flanagan. John was physically abused and seriously beaten as a child, both by his parents and in institutions. Kevin’s brother Mickey was assaulted with a brush in Artane industrial school, suffering concussion and a broken arm, and was then locked in a shed for sixty hours and denied medical assistance.
The new coalition of eight groups who have come together to lobby the Government to carry out the Ryan Implementation plan are Barnardos, CARI, Children’s Rights Alliance, Irish Association of Young People in Care, ISPCC, One in Four, Rape Crisis Network of Ireland and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Here’s what they want the Irish Government to do:
- Ensure that a referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution is held;
- Speed up the legislation to place Children First on a statutory basis and widen its remit to include all organisations and individuals, including faith organisations, sports bodies and volunteer groups;
- Ensure children’s voices are heard in all matters affecting them. Develop the necessary legislative and policy framework to make statutory provision for the right of children’s voices to be heard in judicial proceedings affecting them;
- Introduce and progress the National Vetting Bureau Bill, ensuring that the Bill provides adequately for the sharing of information between relevant agencies;
- Ensure all children in care have an allocated social worker and care plan;
- Evaluate the National Children’s Strategy 2000-2010 and begin the consultation process in preparation for the development of the next Strategy;
- Provide the necessary funding to those providing support services to survivors of institutional child abuse;
- Amend the Child Care Act 1991 via the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 to place a statutory obligation on the State to provide aftercare for all children who need it and develop a comprehensive national aftercare policy;
- Ensure that separated children moving into care placements are provided with adequate supports to meet their specific needs. Ensure these children have access to aftercare services;
- Publish the promised national review of current practice in relation to Section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991 to establish current practices and gaps in the system for children experiencing homelessness;
- Commence the Health Act 2007 to allow independent inspection of foster carers and all children’s residential centres as a matter of urgency;
- Grant the Health Information and Quality Authority more independence and robust powers to enforce compliance with child care regulations, through a range of mechanisms, including penalties, sanctions and fines.
They have a website called Saving Childhood Ryan, which has a form that allows you to email your local TDs and Senators with a request for immediate action.