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Child abuse victims seek justice


BBC NI's Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison speaks to three people abused at institutions run by the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland.

May 20, 2009 / BBC News

The report, by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, looks at how children were physically, sexually and emotionally abused in industrial schools or reform schools run by religious orders.

An estimated 35,000 children went through the schools that only closed in the late 1980s.

Two men in their 60s and a woman in her 70s sit around a long table in a wood panelled room discussing their experiences.

They are an unlikely-looking group of victims of the Catholic religious orders.

Thomas Wall, an orphan from Limerick, was sent by the criminal courts to a Christian Brothers run reform school when he was just three.

"From eight years of age I was sexually abused by a Christian brother at Glin," he said.

"If they took a liking to a person then you became a danger, then you became a target. And there was no way of avoiding it... I mean they had access to you 24 hours a day."

Tom Hayes, another Limerick orphan but now living in Richhill in County Armagh, was also sent to the same County Limerick school.

He said he too was sexually abused, not by the Christian Brothers but by the older boys who supervised or monitored the dormitories at night.

"It was common during the night to be woken by individuals interfering with you sexually," said Mr Hayes.

"When you informed the Christian Brothers yourself you were beaten up as a result of it and threatened by the very people, such as the monitors and such people, who perpetrated these acts."

Sadie O'Meara, a 15-year-old Tipperary girl working in Dublin, was brought to one of the Magdalene Laundries by the Legion of Mary.

There she worked long hours washing and ironing customers laundry.

The daughter of an unmarried mother she says she never found out why she ended up there and for four years suffered physical and emotional abuse in an institution run by the Sisters of Charity.

"You'd be up at 6am and you had to go to two Masses," she said.

"Your cell door was locked every night when you went in and you had a bucket and an iron bed and you couldn't look out the window. It was all bars.

"The food was absolutely brutal. And my mam died but they never told me she died. She died on Christmas Day but they never told me.

"I didn't know that until they let me out four years later. That's something that really upsets me."

Thomas Wall said he only has to look at the mirror to see evidence of the physical abuse he received at the hands of the Christian Brothers.

"I will carry a scar on my forehead which I got from a Brother in the classroom. Got my head banged off the desk," he said.

"It spouted blood and I went to the infirmary block, met the Superior, who was also a brother who was over the institution.

"I was questioned about what had happened to upset the Brother to this standard and I told him that I had done absolutely nothing and he did absolutely nothing about it."

Those at the industrial schools have said the abuse they suffered stays with them all their lives.

All three agree they have lost their belief in the Catholic Church.

"I have absolutely no faith in the Catholic Church. I am a Christian but I am not a Catholic. I left my Catholic religion at the industrial school gates," said Mr Hayes

Thomas Wall, a single man, said he is not just physically scarred by the reform schools, he is also emotionally scarred.

"I found it impossible to mix with people, to trust people, to form any type of relationship with the opposite sex," he said.

"It damaged me totally, I think, for life. I'm convinced of that."

As for the report being published on Wednesday, all three, members of the Alliance Victims Support Group, say they want something simple - the truth.

And that means the religious orders admitting there was physical, sexual and emotional abuse at their institutions.

They also want the state to acknowledge that they were not criminals and to admit that it should have fulfilled its legal obligations and protected the most innocent of those it was tasked to care for.

2009 May 20