RISN Review by Mark Vincent Healy
The programme was billed to be groundbreaking and certainly was in a number of ways where our understanding of Residential Institution Survivors who left Ireland for a chance of having a life, a better life in the UK, was concerned.
One third of the 15,500 who applied to the Redress Board lived in the UK. When it came to additional funding available from the Residential Institutions Redress Fund (RISF) administrated by CARANUA, nearly 21% of all applications were from UK survivors. The average payout in redress was €62,500.
Listening to the personal stories of those who left for the UK, one came to understand why it was so important where opportunities were possible. However, when it came to access to the RISF funds, the process demanded levels of literacy which proved daunting to many applicants in Ireland and the UK, as pointed out by Simon McCarthy, an Outreach Worker, interviewed from the Coventry Irish Society.
The experience of survivors of Redress was distressing as outlined by the brave men and women who gave witness to their experiences of it. The familiarity with the distress of it has been noted in the numerous column inches of news print and hours of media coverage to date.
An extreme example was given by survivor Tom Sweeney who contested his offer in a desire to have his story told. Initially, he was to receive €113,333 which was reduced by €40,000. The story had been highlighted in the media in 2004 and was a scandal then, as it was to hear again last night.
The revelations of talking about one’s award and how much it was in breach of any NDA (non-disclosure agreement) or in publishing such comments contrary to Section 28(6) are not likely to lead to a prosecution where sentiment and social opinion would be horrified.
Instead of sealing any records perhaps it is time to seek a move in the opposite direction to the proposed Retention of Records Bill in a call for a full and frank disclosure of the whole matter so we might learn from the past.
The programme broke new ground in telling stories which named institutions of abuse and the paltry amounts paid in recompense for lifelong injuries that never rest in their victims. However, it did not highlight the ‘holy grail’ of all RIRB survivors which is to be able to name their abusers.
The case of Tom Sweeney served to highlight the extraordinary effort he took to have his story told in a court of law. Instead, the case was settled out of court for €150,000 and his abusers never mentioned, even to this day.
We heard how it was the intention of Justice Mary Laffoy to hold those responsible for such abuse to account which never came to pass. We heard how Justice Sean Ryan had to concede to the Christian Brother’s application that no names could be published of those against whom allegations of abuse were made. All the atrocious acts in sexual offences, physical, emotional and psychological abuse, were to remain told in the passive voice. The passive voice tells what was done to children and not by whom.
There were so many ‘sweet’ deals which were made which had profound impact on the lives of RIRB survivors whose rights were in no way vindicated as required by law, by the Irish Constitution, where the worst were in limiting the liability of the religious, and the denial of naming one’s abuser, let alone convicting one of them.
If RIRB survivors feel more empowered to tell their story, it is always in the absence of the greatest matter to which they are ‘gagged’, WHO did these things to you? WHO was held to account? If ever a social justice process sabotaged and undermined itself, it has to be the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Redress Board.
See also: Press Release – 2nd March 2020