DAIL SKETCH: WIPE THEM out, said Catherine Byrne. Those “landmark buildings which were institutions of terror should all be wiped from the landscape forever”.
The Fine Gael TD who grew up in the shadow of one of those institutions said “people have suffered enough, and should not be constantly reminded of what has happened to them when they pass these monuments of cruelty”.
She did something unprecedented by using the last moments of her Dáil speaking time for a minute’s silence in tribute to the abused children.
Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan, who as a schoolboy knew many of those resident in St Joseph’s in Kilkenny, paid tribute to local gardaí Sgt John Tuohy, Eddie Geraghty and John Dirrane, who “to their eternal credit” believed the victims and carried out a painstaking investigation leading to the imprisonment of three people involved in abuse between 1972 and 1990. “There had been few, if any, similar investigations prior to this, and not many since that time.”
Referring to physical abuse, he said “many people have tried to compare the corporal punishment they endured in their school days with the hardship and abuse meted out to children in residential care. It is like comparing the waves which hit the Cliffs of Moher with the tsunami which hit Indonesia and killed up to 170,000 people.”
Labour’s Pat Rabbitte once again excoriated the indemnity deal with the religious orders, and portrayed then minister for education Dr Michael Woods, as being like the “Japanese soldier who emerged from the forest 40 years after the war was over” still defending the religious orders.
And when Dr Woods came in to defend himself and explain the negotiations, a sea of empty benches on the Government side greeted him.
Yet his fiercest critics in the House, the Labour Party TDs, were well represented and sat silently through most of his speech. But Róisín Shortall could not contain herself when he referred to her thanking him in the Dáil at the time for the completion of the passage of the Institutional Redress Bill.
No one knew it was an indemnity deal, she said, accusing him of rewriting history on what she later called a “grubby” deal that was “done in secret” without going to committee.
“You’re on the bounce,” Woods shouted back, waving his speech. “You have your press release out, trying to tie Fianna Fáil in with the church. I know that’s what you’re at. That’s your preset agenda.”
Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe closed the debate. With the Taoiseach beside him, he apologised for the way his department had failed the children. Hands shaking as he read his speech, he said if they had done their job properly hundreds of people would not have suffered.
Minister for Health Mary Harney spoke earlier. She probably summed up the promises made to right the wrongs of the past when she said “if we could give to the born the level of care and concern rightly shown in some quarters to the unborn, we would serve this country better”.