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The Shameful Hounding of Ivan Payne

Irish Times November 21, 2002 by by Kathy Sheridan

In terms of child abuse, convicted priests may be the least of ourworries, writes Kathy Sheridan 

Where do sex abusers go when they've done their time? We know where a few of them went, thanks to the campaigning tabloids. Or we thought we did, until Marie Keenan told Monday's Questions and Answers that two addresses given for Father Ivan Payne were plain wrong and that far from refusing treatment, he had done the "honours course" by undergoing 500 hours of it before entering prison.

So between them, on an issue as serious as it gets (child abusers are more reviled than murderers now), these papers had got their facts monumentally wrong. Yet, Ger Colleran, editor of the name-and-shame-them Star, who was also on the panel, barely blinked, hoping no doubt, that his readers in Dublin's Sherriff Street were not Q&A fans. These were the people who, revved up by the tabloids, marched in protest against Father Payne's brief presence in the neighbourhood, some with their young children in tow - children who were so fearful of what they were reading and hearing about Father Payne that they couldn't go to the shops or sleep at night, in the words of a marching mother.

In what was doubtless a most reassuring four-hour exercise for them, their elders massed below the priest's window, hands permanently on the buzzer, baying "Paedo Out! Paedo Out!", culminating in the bizarre spectacle of a garda being sent in to protect a sex offender.

The puzzle is, if name-and-shame campaigns are the way to go, why Ivan Payne? So far this year, 83 convicted sex offenders have been released, of whom less than a handful were priests.

Why has the Garda not been obliged to post officers outside 83 homes and bedsits around the country, protecting the abusers inside, and another 100 for the 100 released last year and so on? Could it be that hunting down a convicted priest nowadays is a turkey shoot?

Ivan Payne has already undergone 500 hours of private therapy. He remains in therapy and has volunteered for post-release supervision, under which he is encircled by a collaborative network of family and friends, acutely alert to his history and to whom he is accountable. A plan for him to reside with relatives outside Dublin had already been scuppered by previous publicity. It was because of this that he ended up, briefly, in Clarion Quay, before being hounded out of there.

So what precisely has been achieved by this campaign? Will it cease only when he and his ilk are driven underground, anonymous, isolated and with nothing to lose? Will the tabloid editors accept responsibility for the consequences if some revert to old habits?

The irony is that in terms of child abuse, convicted priests may be the least of our worries. The prisons hold 390 sex offenders - many for heinous sexual crimes - for whom there are just 20 therapy places. That's it.

Any sex offender motivated to get post-release treatment must firstly track down a specialist therapist (expertise such as Marie Keenan's is rare), then find the funds - around €60 an hour - to pay for it.

Meanwhile, as the entire State apparatus shapes up to teach the church a long overdue lesson in accountability, the mote in its own eye is ignored. Compared to Ivan Payne's dogged efforts at rehabilitation, underwritten by the church, what price the outcome for a once high-flying businessman, who has done time for similar crimes, who cannot get a job because of his record and is living on €118 a week?

The 2001 Sex Offenders Act offers hope for society, with its promise of post-release supervision and community-based treatment programmes under the aegis of the Probation and Welfare Service.

But are the funding and staff in place or even remotely available? Imagine if tabloid editors were to devote the same resources to pursuing these issues as to hounding Ivan Payne? If instead of raising terror over Payne's proximity to creches, they raised awareness of the distinction between regressed paedophiles (heterosexuals or homosexuals who abuse children in certain circumstances, are morally aware and may be responsive to tough therapy) and fixated paedophiles (whose primary sexual orientation is to children, are extremely dangerous but are in the minority)?

Supposing if instead of terrorising children about stranger danger, the tabloid editors constantly reminded readers that the bulk of child sex abuse occurs within the home? That more than a third of such abuse is perpetrated by adolescents under 18? That in the SAVI report, a heart-stopping 24 per cent of the Irishmen surveyed said they had been sexually abused as children (compared to a European average of 5 per cent), although only I per cent had notified the Garda? Anyone attempting to fathom the rage and despair of many Irishmen has only to join the dots.

The question is, why has Ireland taken the laurels for child sexual abuse and what is it about our social and legal systems that stops victims reporting it? As a society, we have a monstrous problem, the bulk of it lurking behind our own front doors.

Branding one priest a monster and running him out of town is easy. It is also deeply irresponsible and counter-productive. Last week, any journalist worth the name felt only shame.



The Irish Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

Madam, -

Kathy Sheridan asks (November 21st) "Where do sex abusers go when they have done their time?" She objects to the shameful hounding of Ivan Payne by tabloid editors and suggests that because he remains in therapy and has a network of family and friends who are willing to support him and to whom he would be accountable, he ought therefore to be left in peace.

But can we speak of "doing time" or "paying one's debt to society" when we are dealing with someone who has committed multiple paedophile or ephebophile sexual assaults?

As if release from custody were such a person's right after having done this time. We talk of such people receiving "treatment", as if treatment changed their sexual orientation. Could we change a heterosexual person into a homosexual person, or vice versa, with treatment? Would anyone even want to change thus?

It's comfortable for us to think that a paedophile or ephebophile orientation can be "cured". It allows us to do the Christian thing and to set the person free and so feel good about ourselves. Kathy Sheridan tells us that Ivan Payne has undergone 500 hours of private therapy.

That's like telling us that a vampire has received 500 hours of private therapy on how to be human. A clever vampire will keep his mouth shut and play along.

It's not only a matter of doing time, it's a matter of some people not being suitable for habitation where there are children or young people - which is just about everywhere.

There should be safe, comfortable places for such people to live in peace .. but with high security... AFTER they have "done their time". - Yours, etc.,

Whitechurch Road, 
Dublin 14.