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Protestant abuse immunity from redress payments (and reportage)

Catholic congregations are paying for Protestant abuse, though media are uninterested

Joe Duffy’s ‘Liveline’ knows a good story when it sees one and came across a
doozy in the Irish Times on 20 March. Kitty Holland had interviewed Mary Higgins, CEO of Caranua (meaning ‘good friend’), the state organisation set up to provide continuing support for victims of institutional abuse. Higgins said that some abused people she was employed to assist would never be satisfied, while some others had engaged in fraud.

That was ‘Liveline’ sorted. Higgins’ uncomfortable presence on the RTÉ radio programme provided a target for survivors. ‘Liveline’ phones hopped for days afterwards.

The encounter also provided a promotional tagline, broadcast on other RTÉ programmes for a week. Repeatedly, Duffy was heard insisting that Higgins should state: “The amount of money we have been given by the religious orders is not enough”.

Caranua has since 2014 administered a Residential Institutions Statutory Fund, designed to provide ongoing non-cash support to abuse victims. It is limited to €110m, the sum promised by 18 Roman Catholic religious congregations in a 2002 deal, in return for indemnity against prosecution.

Since 2002 the separate Residential Institutions Redress Board has spent €1.5bn compensating over 16,000 former residents of Industrial Schools, Children’s Homes and other institutions. For effect, the state has set an unrealisable goal of retrieving 50% of the cost from the 18 orders.

All of the confusion surrounding responsibility for abuse and attempts to assuage society’s guilt, by assigning blame, is reflected in this story.

Caranua realised last year that the rate at which it was spending would erode the fund before all were helped. A €15,000 per applicant limit was applied.

The cap and the perceived disdain with which they were viewed by the head of an organisation supposed to assist them, revived some victim’s feelings of rejection. Caranua was no longer a friend, but became a new oppressor of those who had been abused. The spending cap turned the organisation into an abuse means-tester.

Joe Duffy repeatedly asked Higgins to demand that the Roman Catholic Church pay more. Callers suggested approaching the Vatican. This refrain came from government too. The Catholic Church is to blame so the church should pay for its sins. The government narrative presents the Catholic Church and its 18 congregations as responsible for 100% of the abuse. The state paying half is presented as a more than reasonable compromise.

Roman Catholic clergy perpetrated horrendous abuse. The institutional church covered it up and protected abusers. That is a fact whose political and social consequences should have monetary ones too: so says the public mood.

There are a couple of complications.

The children abused in residential institutions were usually put there and paid for by the state. The state had a duty of care. Inadequate inspection and regulation, and substandard payments per head of institutional population ensured that it failed in its duty. It was privatised social control of the poor and marginalised on the cheap, wrapped up in a harsh regime of sanction that was supposedly moral, though mostly it was immoral.

Redress was and is a public liability.

The call for a religious contribution to its cost incorporated an element of public relations, that could focus public anger on the Roman Catholic Church, an institution with which most Irish people had an intense emotional relationship. After all, the relationship has moved pretty rapidly since the late Bishop Eamon Casey was found to have shared his bed with Annie Murphy, especially when other clergy were found to have entirely unacceptable sexual tastes. An organisation that thrived on the basis that it was morally superior was on a descent to ridicule and revulsion.

But that is not the only complication.

On ‘Liveline’ on 22 March, three days into the story, Joe Duffy devoted 18 uninterrupted minutes to Eileen Macken, who is nearly 80. Eileen stated that her experience of Caranua, which paid for new windows and doors, was positive. Eileen was upset at hearing others’ negative experiences. Being a good and thoughtful person, she worried whether she might have been unconsciously selfish in accepting the help Caranua literature encouraged her to apply for.

Eileen related how she had been to the hospital that morning and that she required painful injections to her hands. In his folksy way Joe Duffy made a reference to Padre Pio, which passed Eileen by.

Eileen is a member of the Church of Ireland, where Padre Pio’s stigmata are not a regular topic of conversation. Eileen was brought up in two Protestant residential institutions. In 1937 she came into this world in a doctor’s surgery on Dublin’s fashionable Leeson Street. From there she was consigned on her own to the Protestant evangelical Bethany Home. From five months until the age of 17, Eileen resided in the Church of Ireland Orphan House on the North Circular Road, later Kirwan House.

Eileen suffered severe physical and emotional abuse in primary school, where a teacher punished her relentlessly because she was born out of wedlock. Eileen, who wanted to be a nurse, was destined for life as a servant in homes of richer members of the Church of Ireland community. She eventually escaped that fate. Eileen outlined her good fortune in making a loving family with husband George, but also her inability to find out where she came from. She recently suffered a severe setback in that quest, which she explained.

Eileen’s orphanage was listed officially with the Residential Institutions Redress Board in 2002 as a place where abuse occurred. Eileen told the Board her story and reportedly received €70,000 by way of compensation. Then along came Caranua in 2013, promising more help from its €110m fund.
But, here is the rub: why are 18 Roman Catholic congregations expected to fund victims of Protestant-ethos institutions? How are they responsible for abuse that occurred in Protestant institutions?

Why are the Church of Ireland and other Protestant congregations paying nothing, is the question no one is asking.

There is a song that goes ‘That’s the way God planned it’. In this case it is the way the government planned it and the way the media are reporting it. The skewed indignation of ‘Liveline’ callers was fed too by an earlier, 9 March Comptroller and Auditor General report on the cost of redress. The C&AG stated how much or, rather, little was paid by the 18 Roman Catholic institutions. He never mentioned Protestant-ethos institutions that contributed nothing to the €1.5bn bill. Abuse allegedly occurred in – Church of Ireland-ethos – Smyly’s homes in the Dun Laoghaire/Monkstown area of south County Dublin. Smyly’s offered the state a derisory £100,000 in 2005, in return for indemnity from prosecution. The sum was rejected. Smyly’s residents were still entitled to redress. It was a state responsibility.

The C&AG ignored this.

A lemming-like media reported the C&AG report uncritically. As Redress Board testimony and payments were confidential, newspapers lazily delved into the (separate) 2009 report of the Ryan Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse in residential institutions, for re-hashed horror stories of crimes against children.

Since Ryan reported only on Roman Catholic abuse, no Protestant stories made their way into newspaper columns. Few if any Protestants spoke to the Ryan Commission. Two former residents of Protestant institutions told me they thought it was “for Catholics” or “a Catholic thing”. They followed the dominant media and official narrative.

All the stories were of Catholic abuse.

I informed the Irish Times of the problem with the C&AG report on 9 March. For two days they ignored it. That may not be a surprise to readers of my critique of Times’ coverage of St Patrick’s Cathedral paedophile Patrick O’Brien (Village, Feb 2017).

However on 11 March, the paper published a story by Hugh Linehan with a subhead about how the C&AG’s report had not mentioned Protestant institutions. That seemed a good start but the detail that followed was off-target.

The newspaper concentrated on the Protestant evangelical Bethany Mother and Baby Home. It was never part of the redress process.

There was no cost of Bethany Home redress because Bethany residents were excluded from applying for it in the first place, alongside all Mother and Baby homes (both Catholic and Protestant).
Officially, the state disclaims all liability for what happened there. The government is attempting to limit its liability, by granting redress compensation to older residents of orphanages and industrial schools, and denying it to younger residents of mother & baby homes.

Some months ago, the currently sitting Mother and Baby Home Commission of Inquiry sent an interim report to children’s minister Catherine Zappone. It is rumoured to recommend a redress scheme for such homes. For that reason the report has not yet been published.

Bethany Home is therefore a whole other, if related, story.

Linehan’s story failed to mention any relevant Protestant-ethos institution, within the existing 2002 redress scheme. If the Times had mentioned Smyly’s, for example, it would have exposed a government exercise in deflecting public attention from its own responsibility. It would also have given us a better understanding of the nature of abuse, associated with power and patriarchy, a broader problem than the related one of patriarchal religion. The Protestant abuse narrative would have made its, characteristically rare, appearance.

Had Hugh Linehan asked me, I could have set him straight on an issue I had brought to the paper’s attention. Perhaps there is a problem talking to critics.

The newspaper published a letter from me making some of these points on 23 March. It would be better if those points appeared in the news and features columns.

I also contacted Joe Duffy’s ‘Liveline’ programme, before and after Eileen Macken’s interview. It paid no attention and doggedly pursued the government-sanctioned Roman-Catholic-Church-Must-Pay refrain. If they must then, logically, so must others.

It is about time the story was adequately reported.

Niall Meehan is head of the Griffith College Journalism and Media Faculty.