Irish Republican News · July 5, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Ahern comments on abuse apology

The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern admitted to the Child Abuse Commission in Dublin today that the 26-County state had “let down” victims of child abuse in the past.

He was appearing before the Commission to explain the reasons behind his government’s apology to abuse victims on behalf of Irish people in May 1999.

Mr Ahern said he had been “struck by the genuine hurt and suffering” relayed to him by former pupils of Irish industrial schools and religious institutions and that the formal political apology was a way of acknowledging that the state had left them vulnerable and exposed.

He added: “The hurt was not going to be removed unless we said sorry. We felt we had to do it publicly and wholeheartedly.”

The Taoiseach said both he and Micheal Martin, the then Minister for Education, had decided to make the apology after meeting with abuse victims.

“They felt we owed them something,” he told the Commission.

“We felt the apology was a way of saying the state had let you down, the state should have done better.”

He told the committee that he first became aware of the abuse in the mid- to late-1990s through meeting individuals who had been abused and through a number of media reports.

He described one meeting with victims’ groups in Government buildings in which a number of people were crying, saying “this was not a pretty sight”.

Mr Ahern said these were “decent, honest people who deserved the best the State could give”.

He claimed it was unusual for the State to make such a “public and wholehearted” apology.

He said he believed the true test of a democracy was how it treated its weakest members and the abuse of any child was a source of “deep personal sorrow” to him.

Mr Colm O’Gorman, spokesman for the One in Four abuse group, said the Taoiseach’s acknowledgement that victims were being honest and genuine was significant.

“The Government failed people when in 1999 they promised things they could never deliver,” he said. “What is important is that the Commission now works to establish the scale of the abuse, how and why it happened.”

He said the discovery of files held in the Vatican which contained evidence of Irish child abuse between the 1930s and the 1960s was the real “smoking gun”.

“The state should now be demanding that all evidence relating to cases of child abuse be handed over,” he claimed.

However, Mr John Kelly, spokesman for the Survivors of Child Abuse group, branded Mr Ahern’s apology “empty and shallow” and said that to say the state had let victims down was an understatement.

“It’s clear that the Government chose to focus solely on the counselling and healing of abuse victims rather than trying to bring those who were to blame to justice,” he said.

“This is just the easy option. For all of his apologies hardly anyone has been sent to prison for these horrific crimes, there has been no accountability.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News