5 Jan 2011

Irish head of Amnesty International says addressing past human rights violations prevents future abuse

Irish Times - October 20, 2010

'Legal failings' allowed child abuse

Legal failings which allowed institutional child abuse must be addressed, the head of Amnesty International in Ireland said today.

The impact of the abuse continues to be borne by those who experienced it and their families across Ireland, Colm O’Gorman said.

He is in Belfast to deliver the Amnesty International annual lecture tomorrow.

The executive director said: “Tackling past human rights violations has enormous value, not only because it allows us to respond to the ongoing plight of those who have been victimised but because it also exposes the failures in law, social policy and attitude that made them possible.

“As such addressing past abuse is also about preventing abuse in the present and into the future.” Thousands of people have petitioned the Assembly to take action on the abuse.

The damning Ryan Report uncovered decades of endemic abuse in some institutions.

Officials in the Irish Catholic Church shielded paedophile staff from arrest to protect their own reputations despite knowing they were serial attackers, according to the 2,600-page report from Judge Sean Ryan’s commission, which took nine years to complete.

Government inspectors also failed to stop the chronic beatings, rape and humiliation, it found.

About 35,000 children and teenagers who were orphans, petty thieves, truants, unmarried mothers or from dysfunctional families were sent to Ireland’s network of 250 Church-run industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and hostels from the 1930s up until the early 1990s.

A total of 1,090 men and women who reported having been abused as children in those institutions gave evidence to the Ryan commission. Abuse was reported in 216 schools and residential settings, including industrial and reformatory schools, children’s homes, hospitals, national and secondary schools, day and residential special needs schools, foster care and a small number of other residential institutions, including laundries and hostels.

Mr O’Gorman added: “It now seems clear that many, many children across the North were beaten, raped and abused. That past shapes our today.

“It impacts on the lives of those who were abused and their families. In dealing with the past, and confronting the failures that enabled the abuse, we can respond to it and learn from it.”

The Stormont Health Committee has agreed the only way forward in pursuing the full extent of child sex abuse in Northern Ireland was a public inquiry.

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