Since launching An Sionnach Fionn I’ve written relatively little on the scandalous record of the Roman Catholic Church and the state in Ireland in relation to the abuse and exploitation of children and the vulnerable in the care of both from the 1920s to the 1990s (and later). The horrific stories have been covered adequately by the major media outlets in the country and there is little one can say beyond repeated expressions of outrage and disgust. If one sought a reason for one’s revolutionary republican beliefs the incestuous abuse of authority and influence, the negation of legal and civil rights for ordinary citizens that arose from the axis of power between Church and State would be enough to sustain any amount of radicalism. The winners of Ireland’s Civil War were the ones who laid the groundwork for what befell the Irish people in the decades that followed. We lived under the dark shadow of Cosgrave and McQuaid rather than in the bright light of Mac Piarais and Ó Conghaile; the theocratic Irish Free State of 1921 instead of the pluralist Irish Republic of 1916.
Did someone say an unfinished revolution?
In any case like much else the north-east of Ireland and the tattered remnant of the British colony that formerly exercised rule over all of our island home was in some ways simply a mirror image of the greater Irish nation, albeit retaining the extremes of colonial-era racism and sectarianism that the rest of the country slowly divested itself of (almost…). Under the one-party authoritarian regime at Stormont over a third of the population lived as second-class citizens with second-class rights, rights defined by nationality and religion. As with the Dublin government, regardless of party or background, the princes of the Church made allies where they could, supping from long spoons with devils of whatever hue or creed. That is illustrated by this searing report from Al Jazeera on the still hidden scandal of institutional abuse involving the Roman Catholic Church and the Unionist regime in Belfast that blighted the lives of Irish citizens of both communities in the north-east of our country for decades.
“Sitting opposite me in a hotel room in the town where she was brought up, Katie Walmsley quietly described her childhood. Her parents were splitting up, a priest suggested to her dad that the best place for her would be a children’s home for girls. The nuns would keep her safe and well.
“I held on to my daddy’s trousers,” at the door of the big, imposing building, she said. The nuns pulled her in, and within ten minutes she was sitting with her sister in a bath mixed with jeyes fluid (a toxic industrial detergent people normally use nowadays to get congealed fat out of drains).
Katie will give evidence to Britain’s biggest ever inquiry into systematic abuse next week. She will tell the inquiry what she told us here; that the congealed pig fat – slops, she called it – was scooped up in a tablespoon by the nun when she vomited it up and she was forced to eat it again.
That the nuns made her clean the excrement from toilet bowls with her bare hands, and pick bits off the walls with her fingernails.
That the priest told her she didn’t need to pray because she had been good in God’s eyes. Instead he “took me round the back”, made her go down on her knees between his legs and by the time she was 12 he had done worse still to her.
Our conversation took place in Derry, to use the name Katie and other Catholics have for it.
How could nobody know?
Jon McCourt, now a peace campaigner but who was himself a ‘home boy’, abused in the town’s boys’ home, is adamant the authorities knew and didn’t want to act.
At the time, he explained, housing policy in Derry/Londonderry was linked to having a vote.
The more Catholics who got state housing, the more votes they would have, and that could have upset the political balance of power in the town. The more boys and girls in homes for years and years, the fewer houses needed for Catholic families.
Well-known journalist Eamon McCann goes further. He believes the Catholic Church was only too keen to work with the Protestant political leadership to take poor kids off the streets and put them in homes.
Why? Because it kept them off the streets, away from the hands of Republican dissidents, and out of sight.
…here in divided Derry/Londonderry, what’s emerging isn’t only a story of shocking abuse. It’s the allegation of the Catholic Church taking children in a way which suited perfectly the interests of the pro-British, Protestant political elite which is so outrageous and tragic.”
The failure of the post-partition states north and south is the failure to implement the ideals of the Irish Revolution. An Ireland divided will always be, economically, socially and culturally, an Ireland broken.