Saturday, May 27, 2006

Brothers' baloney

Eddie Holt

Connect: The care provided at Letterfrack industrial school in Co Galway was "the best that was available" at the time, said Brother David Gibson this week. That's how he described it: "the best available". Br Gibson, provincial leader of the Christian Brothers' St Mary's (northern) Province, made the claim to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. He added that there had been "gross underfunding by the State". That's certainly true. But, even allowing for the ethos and poverty of the period, did "the best" care have to include sexual abuse, savage beatings, brutal floggings (of, for instance, returned runaways), communal punishment, routine degradation, paltry education, gross overwork, inedible food, consistent hunger, exposure to the elements on the school's farm without adequate nourishment or clothing, silence from without and an overall climate of cruelty and dread within? Did it?

If that list constitutes aspects of "the best" - the Rolls Royce of care available then - what might an inferior version entail? No doubt, Br Gibson would dispute that such depravity typified Letterfrack. But many men, detained there as boys, have repeatedly reported that that's the way it was. Either they are exaggerating wildly or Br Gibson is, at best, seriously deluded.

Who do you believe? Do you believe those who were locked up there as boys or do you believe Br Gibson? We know, for instance, that Brother Maurice Tobin, who was in Letterfrack from 1959 until its closure in 1974, pleaded guilty in 2003 to 25 sample counts of sexually abusing boys. He was jailed for 12 years, with the final four suspended.

More than 100 complaints of sexual abuse were made to gardaí against Tobin. During the hearing in Galway, at which he was sentenced, the court was told how he systematically molested, abused and buggered boys aged 11-14. Some victims recounted the devastating impact of the abuse on their lives. They're unlikely to believe Br Tobin dispensed the "best care".

Br Gibson also implied that, in making complaints, abuse victims were motivated by the prospect of money. He said claims against Letterfrack grew from 12 to 449 after Bertie Ahern's 1999 apology to former residents of industrial schools.

The Taoiseach promised redress at the time and Br Gibson inferred that, because of this, former Letterfrack inmates have sought compensation.

He added it was "probably not politically correct to say" as much. Well, not only is it "not politically correct" to suggest that abused people leapt on what they saw as a lucrative bandwagon, it's not morally correct either. The suggestion adds insult to injury. Forget "politically correct" - it's simply not correct at all to risk compounding often-criminal abuse.

It may well be that Br Gibson has been heeding PR advice. If so, then PR

has surely disgraced itself. Consider how you might feel if a provincial of the Christian Brothers maintained your "care" was, in its time, "the best available" if you had been beaten and buggered by Maurice Tobin. How

angry would you be? Ron McCartan, who was in Artane industrial school (another Christian Brothers institution) from 1956-1962, prompted the commission to adjourn its public hearing with an outburst on Tuesday.

He said the average Brother in Artane was allowed to "administer punishment of a brutality you cannot imagine". Furthermore, he questioned why Brother Michael Reynolds, deputy provincial of St Mary's (northern) province, "who was never a day in Artane", had the opportunity to give evidence.

John Kelly of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) said that in suggesting that, in order to create business for themselves, solicitors convened meetings in Irish and British pubs, where they handed out videos of RTÉ programmes along with lists of

Brothers who had worked in various industrial schools, Br Gibson had "made allegations of conspiracy against our legal representatives and the gardaí".

Br Reynolds admitted it "showed a serious lack of judgment" on the part of the Christian Brothers that known sexual abusers were transferred to other schools. Not only that, but sometimes the abusers did not suffer any impediment to their careers. At least one progressed to become a superior. Br Reynolds described this case as evidence of "extraordinary naivety".

It appears extraordinarily naive - even given the ethos of the times - that the public should be expected to believe this. Of course, there were decent and fine Christian Brothers - but inmates of Letterfrack and Artane claim to have met few such people. Even then, those who could be so described invariably acquiesced to the agenda of the brutes.

In the name of the man-deity from whom the Christian Brothers take their title, Br Gibson and Br Reynolds should reconsider.

They really should. Sure, they are on the proverbial sticky wicket but their performances this week - perhaps PR-inspired - were quite disgraceful. As one decent Brother, sometimes understandably exasperated by our classroom of teenagers, used to say: "Okay, that's enough nonsense, lads. It's time to face the music."

It is too. © The Irish Times


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