Witness reports (trigger-warning)
The forms of physical abuse reported by witnesses ranged from being smacked on the hand to being beaten naked in front of others. They described being hit, slapped, beaten, kicked, pushed, pinched, burned, bitten, shaken violently, physically restrained, and force fed. The Committee also heard reports of witnesses having their heads knocked against walls, desks and window ledges, being beaten on the soles of their feet, the backs of their hands, around their heads and ears, having their hair pulled, being swung off the ground by their hair, and made to perform tasks that they stated put them at risk of harm and danger. The locations where physical abuse was most frequently reported to have occurred included dormitories, refectories, landings, corridors, classrooms, churches, offices, kitchens, work areas and recreation halls.
(We were)... beaten everywhere, bang your head off the wall, pinch your cheeks, beat you with a cane.... She ...(Sr X)... would grab you and hit you.
I remember once I got a big yellow blister on my hand, it was really painful.... Normally when you got a beating from someone you had to hold your hand out for a slap like that ... (demonstrated outstretched palm)... not always of course, some of them would hit you anywhere on the legs or anywhere. ... She ... (Sr X)... said “Why are you holding your hand out like that? Give me the other hand”....You have to have 10 on that hand and 10 on the other. I couldn’t part with this hand, it was yellow and throbbing it was, and she forced it open and slapped it. The blister burst, I’ll never forget the pain.
Further forms of physical abuse described by witnesses involved being made to kneel for hours on hard surfaces, both indoors and in outside yards, being locked in confined and dark areas such as coal houses, furnace rooms, animal sheds, broom cupboards and fridges, made to stand for lengthy periods and being doused and immersed in cold water.
Having objects such as a wooden statue, metal tray and knives thrown at them was reported as a physical abuse by a small number of witnesses.
In addition to being hit, witnesses reported that, at times they were burned, had water thrown over them or were held under water, as described:
- Nineteen (19) witnesses reported being put into cold or scalding baths or showers.
- Twelve (12) witnesses reported having water thrown over them, five of whom were scalded with hot tea or water.
- Eight (8) witnesses reported having their heads held under water, including two whose heads were held under a cold running tap.
- Five (5) witnesses reported being burned with hot pokers or by having their hands held to a fire or on a hot stove.
- Two (2) witnesses reported having their fingers held to electric sockets.
One of the girls she was very sick. I let her come into my bed one morning, she was very, very ill. They brought me down to the shoe room, they stripped me off, they threw cold water over me ... (prior to severe beating).... It was the shoe room you know where all the shoes were, even now if I get the smell of shoe polish, the feeling of enclosement, it was awful.
Six (6) witnesses gave accounts of nettles being used by nuns when punishing residents. They described being pushed into patches of nettles, hit on the legs with them, and, in one instance, their bed being full of nettles. ‘Sr ...X... put nettles in the bed of the girls who wet the bed.’ Other witnesses described being pinched with pliers, jabbed with a knitting needle, hit with shoes, a shovel, wet dishcloths, bunches of keys, serving spoons, scissors, electric cord and the treadle belt from a sewing machine.
Witnesses described a daily existence that involved the possibility of being hit by a staff member at any time, for any reason or for no reason. Witnesses also reported being physically abused by co-residents. It is notable that witnesses at times described daily, casual and random physical abuse as normal and wished to report only the times when the frequency and severity of the abuse was such that they were injured or in fear for their lives. Three hundred and forty six (346) of the 403 witnesses reported that they were subjected to frequent physical violence; they described a climate of pervasive fear in the Schools and provided consistent reports of generally not knowing why they were being beaten.
The forms of physical abuse reported by witnesses to the Committee included punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods, made to sleep outside overnight, being forced into cold or excessively hot baths and showers, hosed down with cold water before being beaten, beaten while hanging from hooks on the wall, being set upon by dogs, being restrained in order to be beaten, physical assaults by more than one person, and having objects thrown at them.
The locations where physical abuse was reported to have taken place included: classrooms, offices, cloakrooms, dormitories, showers, infirmaries, refectories, the bedrooms of staff members, churches, work areas and trade shops, fields, farmyards, play/sports areas and outdoor sheds.
I had a hiding in the boot room, you had to take your shirt off, you were completely naked and he ...(Br X)... beat me with a strap and a hurley stick on the behind and the legs and that.
I was beaten up quite a few times for not making the bed right, I had to go to the boot room. We used have long night shirts then you know, he ...(Br X)... dragged it off me, naked and whop, he knocked hell out of me, he knocked the shit out of me ... he hit with a leather strap with coins in it. One Brother ... he used a tyre he did, a bicycle tyre, it used to wrap around your arm. That was for wiping my nose in my sleeve, he didn’t like that, it “wasn’t a nice thing” he said.
A small number of witnesses stated that Brothers were trained to beat residents and reports were heard of religious Brothers demonstrating the exercise of discipline to trainee Brothers.
One day it was ...visitor’s day... they used to pick about half a dozen lads. You would be called to the hall. I was picked once and they would actually show the ...visiting student Brothers... how to do the hiding. The Brother who was in charge of the playground, mostly Br ...X... or Br ...Y... would show them how it’s done, they would give you a hiding to show them and then they would have a go, with the black jack ...(leather)... with loops of lead in it or steel.
Witnesses reported being introduced to a strict regime from the moment of their arrival in the School.
We were met by Br ...X... he ruled the roost, he told us about the rules, said if we ran away there was severe punishment, the second time our head would be shaved and the third time we would be sent to ...named School.... He then stripped us off, told us to bend over the desk; he hit the desk with a leather strap and said, “Say the Our Father”. I could not say it. He hit me across the legs and warned me not to step out of line. He told us to get in the shower, cold water, “to scrub away your sins”, with carbolic soap. He then left and came back with clothes, comb ... he hit me with the strap when I had the clothes on because I should be in pyjamas. We went to the dormitory, the boys were asleep, he said, “This will always be your bed unless you wet the bed, then you will end up with the smellies with Mr ...Y...”. It was dark, there was no food. I was very upset and frightened. Then that night Mr ...Y... came walking down with his walking stick, he touched my penis with the stick and said, “Don’t ever let me catch you”. Later I could hear kids crying as he lashed kids with a stick, getting them up for the toilet. That was my first night in ...named School....
The day I arrived there, I was in the yard and there was all these boys, they all seemed like giants. I remember running up to this man and saying “hello Father” he laid into me, he was a very cruel man, I thought he was a priest, he said “don’t call me Father”. He laid me on the ground, he gave me a few terrible clatters and I was terrified from that moment. He was Br ...X... I was terrified of him, oh Lord! ...distressed... he was just cruel.
These accounts cover just one of the four aspects of abuse. See the reports for more detail.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has published its five volume report on 20 May and this report has examined in detail the accusations and evidence presented to it.
The Commission was established on 23 May, 2000, pursuant to the “Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000” and given three primary functions:
- to hear evidence of abuse from persons who allege they suffered abuse in childhood, in institutions, during the period from 1940 or earlier, to the present day;
- to conduct an inquiry into abuse of children in institutions during that period and, where satisfied that abuse occurred, to determine the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of such abuse; and
- to prepare and publish reports on the results of the inquiry and on its recommendations in relation to dealing with the effects of such abuse.
The reports are damning, and the acts uncovered are criminal.
The reports make for horrific reading. The vast majority of children were committed to industrial or reformatory schools from 1936 to 1970 because they were ‘needy’. Other reasons of commitment were involvement in a criminal offense or school nonattendance. Involvement in a criminal offense included girls who had been ‘morally corrupted’. In fact, girls as young as eight who had been raped or abused, or even those children in contact with such girls, were considered unsuitable for an ordinary industrial school and were sent to reformatories instead.
It took little to be committed. Orphans, poor children, abused children and children who skipped school were committed.
Once the child's time was served, their parents could get them out but parents' weren't informed nor educted and the procedure was complicated.
The children were tortured and enslaved by the Catholic Church in Ireland.
The state failed to supervise.
The state indemnified the Church.
The state is still fighting survivors in the courts.
The violence, torture, rape, abuse and slavery that happened is obscene. Those who directly enslaved, raped, tortured, abused and violated children have been indemnified against civil prosecution. Those who stood by and let it happen are just as guilty.
The words of President McAleese "it was an atrocious betrayal of love" are mealy-mouthed and underplay the obscene treatment of children.
The state and the various congregations have gone along with the "few bad apples" argument which as been disproved time after time. (Philip Zimbardo The Lucifer Effect: understanding how good people turn evil)
The Irish Times reported on 22 May
None of the 18 religious congregations that were party to the redress agreement with the Government seven years ago has any plans to look again at its terms, the Conference of Religious in Ireland (Cori) said last night.
The 18 congregations involved were those which managed residential institutions where children were physically, emotionally and sexually abused, as well as neglected, according to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report, published on Wednesday.
In a statement to The Irish Times , following a query on the matter, Cori said: “In 2002 the Conference of Religious in Ireland facilitated 18 of its members in entering into an agreement with the Government on a Redress Scheme for victims of institutional abuse. This agreement included an indemnity clause that lapsed after three years.
“An agreement was made between the congregations concerned and the Government that a contribution of € 128 million (cash and property) be made to the Redress Scheme, which was established by Government. As far as we are aware none of the congregations concerned plan to revisit the terms of the agreement made in good faith.”
It makes me sick to my stomach to know that such crimes were widespread. The mealy-mouthed "apologies" and shocked expressions is not enough. Firstly we have to name what happened. These acts by religious congregations were crimes against children and crimes against humanity.
The Catholic church has to own up to its criminal responsibilities and convictions must be sought. Then all assets should be frozen and confiscated. Then we remove any mention of the church from our constitution and public life. Once they have repaid financially and served time for their crimes, the named congregations forced to leave the country.