RISN Review by Mark Vincent Healy
I think episode one was interesting in granting voice to the experience of so many survivors who left these shores for the UK at the first opportunity they had of leaving the hell of residential institutions and their nightmare experiences of those places behind them.
The diversity of RIRB (Residential Institutions Redress Board) survivors is missing in this episode, which is a pity if not unfortunate, as they might feel neglected even for a mention in yet another program about RIRB survivors. They are the Deaf, the DeafBlind, the Blind, the Disabled, the Traveller Community and the families of survivors of Residential Institutional abuse. It is as a mirror within a mirror, a scandal within a scandal.
The first episode reads as nothing new in the main story line which could have come directly from ‘The Irish Gulag: How the State Betrayed its Innocent Children’ and Bruce Arnold’s accounts so brilliantly recounted by him.
It was in the few personal comments from RIRB survivors that the inhumanity is exposed and the deep and lasting suffering caused revealed.
The angry boy in Michael O’Brien for example gives way to what all boys do after they get a chance to vent their anger, they cry, and never stop crying. Emotions are not a single image of a person but a moving picture of their emotional transience which in such victim’s lives rises and falls like a tide, except some days it returns as a tsunami and drowns you.
Only last December did the tide turn on one such victim, only 20 at the time of the State Apology, from the School for the Deaf in Cabra. He had just turned forty and suicided for reasons no one will ever fathom on a shore line that has claimed too many already. I am heartbroken for him and his family. I attended his funeral and such occasions are not like other funerals, not like them at all.
If a round and perfect mirror represented all the children so horrendously abused in Ireland, and it were thrown upon the ground, the Irish State has only picked up on one shard of it, called ‘Residential Institutions Child Abuse’, whilst leaving so many more pieces upon the ground as yet to be cherished as our constitution claims.
The State Apology in May 1999 was to all those campaigners in the Sycamore Room addressed by the Taoiseach of Ireland, Mr Bertie Ahern, which included the day school survivors of abuse in Irish educational institutions. They were a ‘shard’ largely left upon the ground, where less than 20 received any compensation from the State Claims Agency only last year. The follow up success for day school child abuse in the ECHR judgment of January 2014 has not delivered what was needed to grant them justice and any ‘relief and remedy’. Like the Redress process was fraught, so too is any attempt by day school survivors of child abuse in general and child sexual abuse specifically.
The worst cases are not confined to the harshest of institutions. I have been representing a man just shy of 80 years of age who was gang sexually assaulted at a private school where a can was inserted into his rectum which required surgical intervention to remove, leaving him with a daily reminder of his most violent sexual abuse every day of his life.
When we miss the individual case, we miss the point. It is for the one in ninety-nine whose suffering is so intense that we ought to feel duty bound to assist. It is in places well off the radar.
Thanks to the RTÉ program makers for standing in such space as can only traumatise them, may they find strength to carry on their work on behalf of RIRB survivors.
See also: Press Release – 2nd March 2020