Seanad debates

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Adjournment Matters

Residential Institutions Issues

2:50 pm

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have spoken before about the importance of providing some kind of memorial or monument to the victims and survivors of abuse in industrial schools. Many of these schools opened in the late 1800s at a time when Ireland was coming out of the traumatic event of the Famine. They operated for almost one hundred years until the 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s in some cases.

I raised this matter previously with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. At that time I referred to the report of the commission of inquiry into child abuse and in particular chapter eight which dealt with Letterfrack. It stated that corporal punishment was severe, excessive, pervasive and created a climate of fear. That situation existed in many of these industrial schools where young children were frightened out of their wits. Revelations are still coming out in the inquiry currently being held in the North. I paid a visit to Letterfrack - a bleak place - in order to pay my respects to the many thousands of people who had passed through the gates. There was not so much as a signpost or a memorial plaque in the place to tell the visitor what had happened in this place. The home that housed the brothers who were the perpetrators of the abuse was being used as a hostel and it took a great deal of digging and looking around to find the little graveyard which is hidden by a grove of trees up at the back and which held many children who died in care.

I was amazed that these horrors and memories seemed to have been brushed under the carpet. It seems to me that not much has happened since my visit. These places were located throughout the length and breadth of the country, from Glin in County Limerick to Grangegorman, from Cashel to Ballaghadereen. There were approximately 130 of these places.

We cannot even begin to understand the psychological scars left by clerical abuse on families and many members of the community. When I was working in London I met Irish men and lads who were homeless and the common thread between them was that they had come from these institutions. For example, a man who was abused as a child wanders around in my own village and he is still trying to come to terms with what happened to him.

I refer to the reports about clerical abuse, the Ryan report and the report into abuse in Cloyne. The psychological scars take a lot of healing. The last time I raised this matter in the Chamber the late Christine Buckley was in the Visitors Gallery. I salute her bravery in speaking about the abuse she suffered as a child in Goldenbridge. That took tremendous courage on her part. It took Christine Buckley 15 years of therapy and counselling to be in a position to speak. There are many individuals and families who are still going through that trauma and suffering. I am aware that planning permission for a proposed memorial in Parnell Square has been refused. I suggested to the Minister that places under the control of the VEC such as the former industrial school in Letterfrack should be opened up to allow for a lasting memorial to be created where people can go and see what went on. I am sure the Minister of State will welcome the €10 million provided by the Catholic Church for the Nano Nagle centre. While celebrating a fantastic woman who is to become a saint, the church should really be looking into commemorating the darker side of what happened rather than shying away from it. Memorials will be a means of helping the healing process and allow people to move on.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I thank the Senator for raising the matter. I take the point he makes about Letterfrack. The building is currently being used as a furniture and craftwork school. I have visited the village of Letterfrack. Sometimes out of misery and turmoil comes something that is creative. The folk memory of people who live in the area of Letterfrack will ensure what happened there will never be forgotten. I note his point about the creation of a physical memorial in that region.

The provision of a memorial to victims of institutional abuse was one of the recommendations of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The Ryan report noted the importance of the State's formal recognition of the abuse that occurred and the suffering of victims being preserved in a permanent place. A committee was appointed in October 2009 to oversee the design and commissioning of the memorial and a budget of €500,000 was set aside. The committee was chaired by Sean Benton, a former chairman of the OPW. The committee consulted widely during 2010 and it then pursued a two-stage international competition in conjunction with the OPW. The competition was launched in July 2011 and the design brief noted that there were no preconceived ideas regarding the design of the memorial. The OPW agreed to make the site adjacent to the Garden of Remembrance available as a permanent location for the memorial in the event of it taking the form of a physical artefact. However, entrants were not limited to this site and could make a submission for other State-owned sites. Six of the 32 submissions received in the first stage of the competition were short listed; four of these short-listed entries were proposals for the site in Parnell Square. Having met with the short listed entrants and assessed their detailed, specific proposal, the competition jury unanimously decided to award the commission to Studio Negri and Hennessy & Associates, for the Journey of Light memorial. The jury felt that the manner in which the proposed memorial integrated with the Garden of Remembrance would provide an enduring symbol of lost innocence to inspire future generations to ensure the protection of all children.

Following the announcement of the competition winner in July 2012, the OPW sought and received planning permission from Dublin City Council, subject to a range of conditions, in May 2013. The grant of permission was appealed by a third party and An Bord Pleanála refused planning permission for the proposal in November, as the Senator outlined in his submission. The board believed that the proposed memorial would have had an adverse impact on the setting, character and function of the Garden of Remembrance.

We sought the views of the memorial committee on the decision's implications. The committee has advised that the journey of light proposal is not transferable to another site, as it is inextricably linked with the Garden of Remembrance. Neither does it consider that the board's decision should be appealed, as it would be divisive and not in the best interests of the project. It believes that any new competition should be open to conceptual and site-specific proposals and that a central Dublin location should be identified as a cost neutral basis with appropriate zoning. The officials in my Department are consulting the OPW on the identification of a suitable central Dublin location.

3:00 pm

Photo of James HeffernanJames Heffernan (Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. It is good that the proposal is still being pursued. The city centre location should be prominent. I urge the Minister of State to consider using other buildings under the control of the Department of Education and Skills, for example, that at Letterfrack. I am sure there are others across the country. A former school in my neck of the woods was sold for big money to Limerick FC. As Mr. Mannix Flynn stated, what happened was like our Holocaust. Let us not underestimate what occurred in the institutions. I visited Germany and saw stark memorials that were very much in keeping with what happened there. Buildings and various methods were used. If there is not to be a city centre memorial, one of the living, breathing buildings in question should be used to commemorate what happened in them. This suggestion should be considered by the Department.