Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Guinea Pigs Wanted

Sometimes it seems our academics learn nothing. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has spread the tentacles of its curiosity into the academic world, "inviting" University College Dublin to carry out a study of the long-term effects on those who were in the industrial school system. The research, if it happens, will involve around 400 men and women. It is being undertaken without any consultation with the abused. Contact is indirect, through their solicitors.

In a letter sent out by the commission through lawyers to the abused on November 16, consent is sought for them to be included on a panel to be questioned in the research. Closing date for this was yesterday. This gave virtually no time at all for consultation, though the more responsible solicitors were offering to answer questions, according to copies of letters I have seen. As far as the Commission is concerned, the information about the study is extremely limited.

The Commission says that participation "will be subject to the usual confidentiality requirements". There is no "usual confidentiality". This is new territory. The UCD research represents a new departure. With a "research team" engaged, the ability of the Commission to control confidentiality, or indeed any other aspect of procedure or content, is tenuous. Those who have contacted me about the letter have rejected participation out of hand. One of them wrote the following: "Do you realise how many people have our files? They are held by the Department of Education, the Redress Board, The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Barnardo's, the archives of the religious institutions, the solicitors who have acted for us, or are acting for us, the psychiatrists and psychotherapists and the courts.

Now they want UCD to analyse us. It makes me so angry. And we cannot get our medical files from the religious institutions nor can we get the names of our families." The Commission quotes Professor Carr, who is leading the research team, as assuring Judge Sean Ryan and his team that the interview material "will be securely stored at UCD", that details will remain confidential, and that the Human Research Ethics Committee has approved. The heart of the matter lies in what is to be achieved. "The research will say how the overall group of participants were affected by having lived in an institution, how it affected their psychological adjustment, their quality of life and how individuals coped with the challenges that they faced during their time in the institutions and afterwards." From the trust that I have built up over a number of years with men and women who went through the industrial school system, and from their testimony, I can answer most of those questions.

Furthermore, having covered and read much of the material before the Commission, I can also say of that body that it is not getting very close to the truth. I fear the research project will do even less well. Leading spokespersons of the abused are disdainful and dismissive of the process altogether. There is a further compelling reason for doubt about what is being done. Though it is a long time ago, UCD similar research and then lost all the research documentation. This arose at the time of the Kennedy Committee's work, in the late 1960s. It was done because Ireland faced international disgrace as a result of OECD investigations into our education system.

These showed serious defects in the education levels of people in industrial schools. Inmates were, of course, not being educated. They were doing manual work for the Orders, their education - like everything else - being seriously neglected. Some regard this as the worst of all the abuses. The UCD researchers at the time knew none of this. One who was there has told me: "I personally recall the arrival of the earnest young men in horn-rimmed glasses at Artane with their bundles of forms. "Like all intruders, they were bitterly resented by the Christian Brothers who handed out the forms designed to measure our mental maturity. We were never interviewed. Not even a 'good morning' ever passed between either side.

That probably explains why they appear not to have detected any abusive indicators in the children." The same person says of the Commission's new project "we are guinea pigs again". Perhaps Professor Carr will give some thought to his predecessor in the research field, who was Professor of Logic and Psychology at UCD, a Father Eamonn Feichin O'Doherty. His research is referred to in Appendix F of the Kennedy Report. His testimony hinged on the concept that the educational backwardness of industrial school inmates resulted from innate inability, bad blood, family circumstances.

It was not related to the conditions in the institutions. Such was the Professor of Logic's logic. Moreover, he blamed early experience in life, not realising that the early life, from the age of two, had been in the industrial schools. He ignored the prison environment, the constant fear, the brutality and violence, the starvation, the meagre and inadequate clothing. Instead, it was all bad genes. This was a piece of National Socialist research. Current researchers can neither criticise nor defend these assertions because UCD lost all the research material. I do not think Professor Carr should proceed any further until questions have been asked about the project. Apart from anything else it is appropriate to ask what psychiatric or therapeutic skills are possessed by the members of his team. I don't know the timescale of the research but I think that the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse should bring its work to an end since that work is going nowhere at all. It is not satisfying the abused. It is costing a great deal of public money.

Furthermore, it is not getting to the heart of truth. One of the Artane boys constantly in touch with me whose experiences have marked him for life, tells me that there was no library in Artane. This was a so-called "school" for upwards of 800 boys. Even National Schools had little libraries. He goes on: "Of all the horrors Ireland inflicted on me, the one that probably did the most long-term damage was the loss of education. I had a childhood ambition to be a physicist or medical doctor - my father was in St John's Ambulance and taught me first aid. "I have no doubt whatever that I could have realised my ambition had I not been imprisoned. I entered Artane a bright and able child; I escaped from the prison two years later a mental and physical wreck and with my educational prospects in ruins." His future life was whipped out of him, like the offending Adam. He was enslaved and tormented like so many others.

Are they to be subjected to further and increasingly idiotic "research"?

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