Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Statements


4:00 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)

I grateful to the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, for staying in the House, because I know he is under considerable pressure. I wanted him to be here because I want to ask him, directly and personally, to take particular action today. I know there is support within his own party, on this side of the House and from many professionals for a motion I raised this morning, and will continue to raise, to re-examine the exemptions granted to all the churches from the operation of equality legislation.

I tabled the motion before this report and in light of the Ferns and Cloyne reports. We had the Laffoy report and now have the Ryan report, and it is getting worse all the time. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who is a decent man and a man of integrity, has said there is more to come in the report on what happened in the Dublin archdiocese. In light of what has happened, it is not appropriate to put the very people who have perpetrated criminal acts above the operation of the law. If that is what we are prepared to continue to tolerate in this House, every syllable said here today is nothing other than meaningless, sentimental waffle that patronises and condemns more people to the same kind of thing.

I will put a very immediate and practical example on the record. Last Saturday I attended, with the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Barry Andrews, a man for whom I have the highest respect and is a decent man and a man of integrity, a meeting of a group called BeLonG To who were opening a new office. It is a group of young gay people who campaigned and succeeded in getting a Fianna Fáil Government to authorise the issuing of posters about homophobic bullying in schools. In school, 80% of bullying contains some homophobic element and 80% is never dealt with because the teachers are afraid as a result of this exemption. At that meeting in the centre of Dublin, a 16 year old who is a pupil in a Christian Brothers school told how, during the previous week, the authorities in his school had forced him to take down the posters which would have defended young people against the operation of prejudice and bullying.

We have heard in the House about the ethos that needs to be defended. What is the ethos that needs to be defended? This was not a couple of rotten apples. It was endemic, systematic and took place over a long period, so one can ask what the ethos was. It consisted of the exploitation of children for financial reward, sexual pleasure and sadistic purposes. There is case after case. It has brought Ireland into contempt and that is why we need to do something about it.

What is the ethos? We all read the report. We heard people on the radio. Members of the religious fixed a small boy between the two halves of a window, pinioned him down in the sashes and then anally raped him. A brave, courageous, elected Fianna Fáil politician and former mayor of Clonmel said he was beaten and raped, and the next day had the sacred host placed in his mouth by the people who had done this to him.

We spoke a little in the House about blasphemy. I would like to know, is that not blasphemy? How can such people describe themselves as Christian Brothers? Do not talk to me about our culpability, our shame or our responsibility. I have none of it. I did none of those things. I do not see why I should be required to support these orders financially, when they are trying to weasel out of the situation. I do not see why an old age pensioner should have tax money taken from them. I most certainly do not see why the victims of abuse, because they pay tax, should be forced to finance their own rehabilitation.

It is obscene for the religious orders to dare to suggest they are in a position to offer counselling. How many of the victims have said one of the worst things that happened to them was to have to sit in court, sometimes right beside the people who had abused them? Does the Minister of State really think that someone who has been abused and violated needs to be counselled by agents of the very forces that inflicted this upon them?

When we have a balanced debate, these are the things we need to consider. I ask the Minister of State to go back to his colleagues and ask for the business of the Equality Authority to be re-examined. It is very clear the exemption should be removed. Taxpayers pay the wages in the schools concerned. We must also consider the fact that in some circumstances the largest hospitals in the State are directed and controlled by members of religious orders whose ethos is questionable. For example, I raised a case previously in the House about where life-preserving cancer treatment with experimental drugs was denied by an ethics committee. There was interference by secret groups such as the Order of the Knights of St. Columbanus and Opus Dei. We all know that.

I seem to have been accused this morning of being anti-Catholic. I do not believe I am because I spoke out about abuse, not just in Catholic schools but in Protestant schools. I painfully placed on the record that I had the experience not of being sexually abused but of being physically abused for a while. I hardly like to say this but a very close family member was violently abused in an upper class Protestant boarding school. While I was in that school the boy next to me, who also had a dysfunctional background and wet the bed, had his nose rubbed in it every single day. He was exposed to the contempt and ridicule of other students until he ran away and was killed by a motor car. There was no inquiry in that case. I have said those things. I do not think I am anti-Catholic. I have been very fair in what I have said but I cannot see how what occurs could be covered by Christianity.

I am a gay man.


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