Survivors say apology for institutional abuse is too little too late

Organisations which ran the institutions in the North of Ireland where children were abused have been urged to atone by contributing to the redress fund. Representatives of six – including religious orders, Barnardos and the Irish Church Missions – offered an apology to abuse survivors.

However, survivors rejected the apology as too little, too late coming five years after it was recommended following the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry and decades after the former homes closed.

Historical institutional abuse apology
Cait O’Leary speaking on behalf of the Good Shepherd Sisters order in the Northern Ireland Assembly chamber at Stormont during the delivery of the long-awaited public apology to the victims of historical institutional abuse (Brian Lawless/PA)

The institutions “failed miserably”

Jon McCourt, of Survivors North West, said he felt representatives of the institutions “failed miserably”. He urged them to demonstrate their atonement by contributing to the redress fund for survivors.

McCourt said:

If this was the best the church could offer by way of an apology, they failed miserably,

Read on...

There was no emotion, there was no ownership, there was qualification.

Forget about having conversations and just start contributing to the redress fund.

One of the things that we were all raised with was this thing about atonement and a firm purpose of amendment. I don’t believe that the church and the institutions atoned today and I don’t believe that there was a firm purpose of trying to put this right.

The way they can put it right is to do what the religious orders have just done in Scotland and make a significant contribution immediately to the redress fund.

Historical institutional abuse apology
Margaret McGuckin (front right), of victims’ group Savia, speaks to the media in the Great Hall at Stormont after proceedings where the long-awaited public apology to the victims of historical institutional abuse was given (Brian Lawless/PA)

They delayed and were insincere

Margaret McGuckin, of victims’ group Savia, said the Executive Office “made a fool out of us” with regard to long delays in acting on the recommendations of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, adding that many victims are now “dead and gone” after the long wait for an apology. McGuckin said:

The Executive Office took their eye off the wheel and we had to hamper them and hamper them and come up here for meetings after meetings which were useless,

This into the 15th year of campaigning. You just couldn’t believe this, that we’d have to do this, beg and plead for someone to listen. We did that as young children.

They said here that these things happened back in the day, in the 1950s and 60s, things have changed but the way we have been treated all these years has hurt and damaged us so much.

And I can say that for myself, underneath the make-up and the lipstick I am a broken wreck… this has caused much more pain and trauma upon ourselves and life will never be the same.

The apology today was more than welcomed but we had to demand, lobby and threaten with more legal action to get to this stage. It’s unbelievable so I will not slap them on the back and say well done.

McGuckin said she believes the Stormont ministers were sincere in their apology, but not the institutions. She added:

It’s easy to read off a script, the words were easily made up, do I believe them, certainly not,

They were made and forced to come to this stage today, with the greatest respect, they are not sincere at all.

I believe the ministers were (sincere) and they felt it, but as far as the religious orders and the others, they were forced into that situation and I would take that with a pinch of salt.

This apology has come too late

Peter Murdoch, a former resident of Nazareth Lodge Orphanage, said the apology came 30 years too late for him, and he could not accept it. He described being abused over five years, and said as a child he regarded the institution “like an SS camp”.

He said his older brother, Charles, was also in the institution and suffered throughout his life with alcohol because of the experience. He died on December 1 2021. Murdoch said he has PTSD because of his experiences over the past 30 years. He said:

I have been in and out twice of prison because of snapping because of what happened to me,

Why did they not apologise 30 years ago? Thirty years ago, they hopefully would have meant it. In my personal opinion I can’t accept the apology but for anybody else it is completely up to them. My brother, if he was alive today, he would have cried.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Jesus must be spinning in heaven knowing what atrocities have been connected to Christ-ianity. In the horrendous case of Canada’s Roman Catholic residential schools, preciously/innocently young Indigenous children were treated as though disposable, including after many perished in the institutions’ often-horrible conditions. When the children take note of this, tragically, they’re vulnerable to begin perceiving themselves as beings without value. I’ve observed this especially with indigenous-nation people living with substance abuse/addiction related to residential school trauma, including the indigenous children’s unmarked graves in Canada. It all was a serious attempt at annihilating native culture.

      If physically survived, emotional and/or psychological trauma from unhindered toxic abuse, sexual or otherwise, usually results in a helpless child’s brain improperly developing. If allowed to continue for a prolonged period, it can act as a starting point into a life in which the brain uncontrollably releases potentially damaging levels of inflammation-promoting stress hormones and chemicals, even in non-stressful daily routines. I consider it a form of non-physical-impact brain damage.

      The lasting mental pain is very formidable yet invisibly confined to inside one’s head. It is solitarily suffered, unlike an openly visible physical disability or condition, which tends to elicit sympathy/empathy from others. It can make every day a mental ordeal, unless the turmoil is treated with some form of medicating, either prescribed or illicit.

      The health of all children — and not just what other parents’ children might or will cost us as future criminals or costly cases of government care, etcetera — needs to be of real importance to us all, regardless of how well our own developing children are doing. A physically and mentally sound future should be every child’s fundamental right — along with air, water, food and shelter — especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter. Mindlessly minding our own business on such matters has too often proven humanly devastating.

      “It has been said that if child abuse and neglect were to disappear today, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual would shrink to the size of a pamphlet in two generations, and the prisons would empty. Or, as Bernie Siegel, MD, puts it, quite simply, after half a century of practicing medicine, ‘I have become convinced that our number-one public health problem is our childhood’.” (Childhood Disrupted, pg.228)

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