There has been a wave of outrage after an official report for the Dublin government admitted that thousands of children suffered physical and sexual abuse over several decades in residential institutions run by religious congregations.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its report amid chaotic scenes in Dublin as angry abuse victims attempted to gain admittance to a press briefing on the launch of the report.

In stomach-churning detail, it described how children lived in “a climate of fear” in the institutions and “endemic” sexual abuse in boys’ institutions.

Abusers were effectively protected by the congregations that ran the institutions and offenders were simply transferred to other locations where they were free to abuse again, the report says.

The report strongly criticised the Department of Education for failing to carry out proper inspections but does not confirm allegations that it effectively conspired to conceal the abuse.

“The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection,” the report says.

The commission, which was set up in 1999, investigated industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages, institutions for children with disabilities and ordinary day schools. The bulk of its work addressed the period from the early 1930s to the early 1970s.

More than 1,700 men and women gave evidence of the abuse they suffered as children in institutions, with over half reporting sexual abuse. Accounts of abuse given in relation to 216 institutions are detailed in the report, which runs to nearly 3,000 pages.

More than 800 priests, brothers, nuns and lay people were implicated.

At a separate press conference in the Conrad Hotel in Dublin, representatives from support groups expressed their outrage over the exclusion of victims from the commission’s briefing.

“I can’t imagine what the commission was thinking by barring people. I suspect they were fearful of the response of those who spent time in the institutions, but the effect of their actions was to further humiliate those who experienced abuse,” said chief executive Maeve Lewis of support group ‘One in Four’

John Kelly, co-ordinator of Soca (Survivors of Child Abuse), who was among those barred from the briefing, said he felt cheated by the report. “We were encouraged by this commission and by the former taoiseach to open our wounds. We did this and they’ve been left gaping open.”

Responding to the report, the Catholic primate Cardinal Sean Brady said he was “profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways”. He added: “Children deserved better and especially from those caring for them in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe said “the wrongs of the past” could not be undone. “However, as a responsible and caring society, we must fully face up to the fact that wrong was done and we must learn from the mistakes of the past.”

Speaking in the Dublin parliament, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said his government would “carefully study the findings and recommendations”. He acknowledged the report would show the “great failings of the State and many others in the care of children. . .”

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin O Caolain said the report amounted to “a sickening litany of abuse and exploitation”. Calling for a full debate in the Dail on the report, he said child abuse was not confined to decades past and continued to this day.

There was also strong criticism of a “sweetheart deal” agreed by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2002 to ensure that taxpayers, and not the religious orders, pay alnost all of the compensation due to be paid to the victims of the abuse.

The current government has insisted that the agreement, which capped the orders’ liability for institutional child abuse at 127 million Euro, is legally binding and irreversable. The full cost of the copenbsation is expected to reach over a billion Euros.

Speaking this [Friday] morning, former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said everything about the deal made by former Fianna Fail minister for education Michael Woods was “unorthodox”.

“Michael Woods was sent out the day before he left government by the-then taoiseach Bertie Ahern to make the deal. There was no cabinet memorandum. Cabinet procedures were not observed . . . and the deal was capped at a figure that was ridiculous,” Mr Rabbitte said.

There were also questions over why the deal was concluded in the absence of the Attorney General, the state’s legal representative.

“How can anybody justify [the deal] given the liability those brutes had for what they did to little children, that those animals ought to be let get away with making a 10 per cent contribution to the liability.

“The taxpayer had ultimate exposure, and if those guys were hauled before the courts in individual cases, they would have paid countless amounts of money, and it would have bankrupted them,” he said.

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© 2009 Irish Republican News