Book Destroys Self-Serving Myths of Children's Homes, says Keating
The Irish Times - Saturday, January 15, 2000 by Patsy McGarry
The former government minister, Mr Justin Keating, has said the book, Suffer the Little Children, "details and then demolishes self-serving myths that have so far been offered by apologists for the system" of institutional childcare in this country.
Reviewing the "terrible and splendid" book in the current issue of the Irish Humanist magazine, he writes: "The first of these is what I call the Nazi defence. `I didn't know. None of us did'. Not true."
Department of Education files proved "starvation, ferocious physical deprivation and child sexual abuse were all documented, and were all known to those in religious authority and in the relevant government departments for many decades."
Last year Mr Keating said members of the 1973-77 government of which he was a minister had such knowledge. He apologised to victims for doing nothing and called on other members of that government to do likewise. None has to date.
Mr Keating said it had demolished another myth, "that the church was doing, at very low cost and great sacrifice, what the State refused to do in caring for disadvantaged children."
He points out that in the mid-1940s the capitation grant to the schools "was about one-third of the weekly wage in those sectors of the workforce from whose families the majority of children came." The children also provided free labour to the schools, and there was other State support, he writes.
The religious orders "have been hard at work over the decades in the business of self-praise. They were sacrificing themselves for the children and were uniquely morally equipped to care for them. Another fairy tale of Ireland," he writes.
There was enough evidence, "even in gutted files", to demonise the orders, "but they must be forgiven, while what they did must never be forgotten."
It should be remembered "how desperately inadequate, morally and educationally, these nuns and brothers were. They themselves were victims of a system . . . They were and are, in a true sense of the word, pathetic."
But if the religious orders were ever "to recover their self-respect and our respect, and to learn to contribute to society, they must end their denial. The little half-hearted begrudging apologies, the closed or destroyed files, these things will not heal them," he writes.