x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ireland's survivors become campaigners for justice

The report - The Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin - details yet another shocking judicial investigation into the bleaker areas of Ireland's past.

Dublin // A few steps away from the entrance to the Irish parliament is Buswells Hotel, a gilded enclave where politicians go to meet old friends, make new connections and avoid their enemies.   It was this proximity to power that led Andrew Madden and Marie Collins to a small conference room on the ground floor, where, before a packed-out audience of journalists, they framed their responses to the publication of a report detailing the systematic cover-up of child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.

Before the hushed media assembly, Ms Collins opened with a sigh. "This is the end of a very long road," she said. For the next half hour, she and Mr Madden - both victims of abuse at the hands of priests - articulated with an impressive balance of emotion and detachment what the report signified for them and other victims and what it contained of relevance for the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Published on Thursday by the ministry of justice, the report - The Commission of Investigation Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin - details yet another shocking judicial investigation into the bleaker areas of Ireland's past. It delves, like its predecessors the Ferns Report (2005) and the Ryan Report (May 2009), into a world where the clerics who showed abusive tendencies towards children were for decades shielded from criminal prosecution and their crimes ignored or covered up by the hierarchy. In a pattern widespread, not just in Ireland but in Catholic countries across the globe, known offenders were moved around inside the system, allowing them to continue their acts and nurturing what some refer to as a "culture of abuse". 

Mr Madden and Ms Collins are survivors of that culture. Ms Collins had the bitter experience, in the 1960s, of seeing her complaint against a priest get dropped by police, despite what she insists was ample evidence. This came about after the intervention of the late Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, one of the shapers of the Irish constitution and a moral force within the state during his lifetime. 

Mr Madden, who suffered his abuse a generation later, had to endure seeing his abuser retained as an active priest with, he said, "access to children in other parishes". After years of alcohol addiction and depression, Mr Madden sought and was given compensation from the Church. He then went public with his story, but saw his pleas for justice go unheeded by the then prime minister, Bertie Ahern. 

Thanks to people such as Mr Madden and Ms Collins, a powerful new role has been created in Irish society - that of the survivor-turned-campaigner. They appeared with Maeve Lewis, the current director of One-in-Four, a support group for abuse victims founded by the senator Colm O'Gorman, who was abused by a notorious priest in the Wexford diocese of Ferns in the 1970s. When Mr O'Gorman first began seeking justice for himself and others, there were many in Ireland who still believed that the stories of abuse were either untrue or exaggerated. 

After the publication of the Ferns Report four years ago, and with a constant flux of investigations involving priests moving through the criminal justice system, few people doubted that something had been seriously wrong for a long time.  Ms Lewis said Thursday's report, certain sections of which have been omitted in order not to prejudice ongoing trials and investigations, demonstrates conclusively that the executive branch of the Church - bishops, archbishops and cardinals - colluded in the covering up of behaviour that ruined the lives of thousands of people. "What this proves is that the Church is incapable of self-monitoring." 

One-in-Four called for the prosecution of those who knowingly engaged in such collusion. Ms Collins said: "Those who turned a blind eye to abuse are as guilty as the abusers themselves."  Mr Madden, however, described the report as "the only justice some victims may ever receive". If recent history is anything to go by, the then-judge Murphy's document - which may in time come to be known as the Murphy report - is bound to transmit a measure of Ms Collins's anger to the Irish people. After the Ryan report's publication in May, a silent march of thousands convened on the parliament to show sympathy with the victims. 

Mannix Flynn, a Dublin-based artist and writer with a considerable criminal record, is now a member of Dublin City Council, elected in part thanks to his public role as survivor of the church-run schools that came under scrutiny in the Ryan report. Mr O'Gorman, who heads Amnesty International in Ireland, was appointed to the Irish Senate for one term by Mr Ahern in 2007.   Asked about the report's relevance to his own journey to recovery, Mr Madden insisted that his breakthroughs have already come and gone - in order to create a life for himself, he has had to learn to face the past, and to live with it. Persuading the rest of Irish society to do the same is proving a long and difficult battle.

* The National