In Silence, They Marched to Remember Our Holocaust
Daily Mail, 11 June 2009 by Catherine Fegan
HOLDING hundreds of tiny shoes above their heads in memory of the thousands of stolen childhoods, the 7,000 protesters marched from the Garden of Remembrance to the Dail.
The simple gesture was a stark reminder of the innocence taken during the six decades of abuse at the hands of the Church during Ireland's 'mini-Holocaust'.
In a chilling comparison, thousands of shoes were confiscated from the victims of genocide during the .
Those protesters who didn't carry shoes pinned a solemn white ribbon next to their heavy hearts while the remainder held white lilies.
As the silent protest snaked its way through the Dublin streets, victims who had suffered in silence for years at the hands of their abusers joined hands, again in silence, with ordinary men, women and children.
Among the heaving crowds, a woman waved a handful of hand-written cheques, issued by the Redress Board, high above the heads of protesters. In the words of an angry bystander the cheques, which had been yellowed by the passage of time, represented 'dirty money.' Leading the demonstrators were the organisers Christine Buckley from Aislinn, John Kelly of Survivors of Child Abuse in Ireland, Noel Barry of Right of Place, and former Fianna Fail Mayor of Clonmel, Michael O'Brien.
As thousands of victims and supporters passed through the city's busy streets, shop workers stood in shop doorways as a mark of respect and businessmen paused in silence.
As emotional protesters gathered in the shadow of Leinster House, a banner with the words 'Cherishing all of the children of the nation equally' from the 1916 Proclamation was clear for all to see.
Christine Buckley summed up the feelings of most of the crowd when she took to the assembled stage.
'I think it's ironic that for once we are in front and the representatives of the people who abused us are behind,' she said.
'I am calling for a trust to be set up. This trust fund should be independent so that means the religious no longer control us.
'We ask that every single payment that was made at that sham of a Redress Board is revisited and that survivors get awards equal, if not more, to what is given to diocesan clerical victims of abuse at the High Court.
'We await the Taoiseach to meet the religious and we ask that every account is open and transparent and we ask that the Government put very, very heavy penalties down if there is any deception with the religious orders.'
Marie Therese O'Loughlin was lifted onto the stage to describe her harrowing childhood with the Sisters of Mercy She said: 'I went into Goldenbridge at four years of age and I have written articles about the secret Goldenbridge factory that existed.
'When I was 18 months old I was put into an institution and I toppled over in a chair and fell into a fire and I got my hands burned and my face and legs burned.
'I was outside Dail Eireann in a tent for two and a half years trying to tell the Government what had happened to me - and that was before I even went into Goldenbridge.' As she continued, crowds began to chant 'We Want Justice' and 'Name and Shame'.
She continued: 'I was forced into making rosary beads at Goldenbridge and I was forced at 11 years of age to clean children in the morning.
'The children were left, their bodies from head to toe covered in excrement every morning, and children like me at 11 years of age had to clean those children with cold water from the toilet.
'Every thing that Christine Buckley has said is exactly what happened in Goldenbridge and I am witness to that. I was there.' With those words the crowd erupted in applause and many bystanders began to weep openly. An elderly man clung to his granddaughter with one hand as he wiped tears from this cheek with the other.
'This was our mini-Holocaust and the Government and the religious tried to pretend that we were never hurt in these institutions,' said Miss O'Loughlin.
FOUR wreaths, two white and two black, were then laid at Leinster House by leaders of groups of former residents, in memory of all who were resident in the institutions, living and dead.
Protesters then repeated words on a petition with thousands of names which read: We, the people of Ireland, join in solidarity and call for justice, accountability, restitution, and repatriation for the unimaginable crimes committed against the children of our country by religious orders in 216 or more institutions.' As the petition was handed over to the head of the Congregation of the Religious of Ireland (Cori), Marianne O'Connor, and to Christian Brothers leader Kevin Mullan, angry cries rose up from the mobs below.
At the end of the protest John Kelly announced that the President Mary McAleese had invited hundreds of victims of institutional abuse to Aras an Uachtarain on June 28.
Then 108 white balloons and 108 black balloons, representing the living and the dead of the 216 institutions, were released.
Before they left, demonstrators hung the children's shoes at the Dail entrance and pinned a sea of white ribbons to the railings.
Last night the organisers had a brief meeting with Taoiseach Brian Cowen Brian Cowen during which they handed in a petition they had gathered in recent days.
In the absence of any official Government representatives, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny spoke to victims outside the Dail.
When approached by a survivor and asked would he take the perpetrators of abuse through the courts if he is the next taoiseach, Mr Kenny replied yes.
The march was organised to coincide with a debate on the findings of the Ryan Report. However, the debate was postponed until today following Fine Gael's motion of no confidence in the Government. Yesterday, Mr Kenny extended a personal invite to Michael O'Brien and representatives of the three other victims' group to sit in on today's debate.