Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse - Seize the Criminals’ Assets


Since the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse last week, we have heard a litany of so-called apologies and calls for the religious orders responsible for the running of what should rightly be described as child labour camps to ‘face up to their responsibilities’.

Politicians and church leaders have rightly criticised the inadequacy of the deal done by Bertie Ahern and Michael Woods with the religious orders in 2002. This deal capped the compensation payable by the orders at €127million.

However what the report makes clear for all those who denied it up to now is that what went on was a criminal conspiracy which went on for 70 years and which involved several thousand victims and hundreds and hundreds of perpetrators. That’s hundreds of abusers and hundreds of people who facilitated and allowed the abuse. By any definition that’s a criminal conspiracy and the groups who carried it out should be called what they are – criminal gangs - and should have their assets seized.

So it’s not about whether or not it’s legally possible to ‘re-open negotiations’ or make these gangs face up to their ‘moral responsibility’. It’s about saying that the schools, hospitals and vast swathes of property owned by them should be taken from them and the gangs should be broken up and their influence over Irish social policy ended forever.

Efforts by senior church leaders to distance themselves from this conspiracy are not credible and should not be accepted. Responsibility lies with the entire institution right up to the Vatican.

These people got away with this because of the power imbalances in society. Young children were taken from their families usually because of poverty or neglect (for example the charge of ‘having a guardian who does not exercise proper guardianship’ was common).

They were handed over to viciously abusive institutions, and used as slave labour by their new guardians, digging farms with their bare hands, knitting rugs, making rosary beads. They were subject to the level of organised terror necessary to discipline a slave population and victim to the unrestricted sadism of those who were entrusted with absolute power over them.

Even the capitation grant paid by the state for their upkeep was as often as not siphoned off with the children left hungry and poorly dressed.

The abusers got away with this because the lack of proper democratic structures and accountability in society allowed it. But when any group of people are given such absolute power over others, the results are inevitable and inescapable, from Artane to Abu Ghraib.

If we want to learn from this tragedy, we should all be asking ourselves how society can be re-organised so that the institutions and power relationship which foster such abuse can be abolished, so that the widespread moral cowardice and unquestioning deference which permitted such conspiracy can be seen as no more than a bad memory.