After 50 years, I'm Finally Vindicated;
The Mail on Sunday (London, England) 24 May 2009 by Ann Mooney
John Prior was the first in the State to go public about his abuse by the Christian Brothers. Here, in an EXCLUSIVE interview, he tells the MoS of his relief - and his anger that we must all pay for the vile, sadistic abuse for which the Brothers were never even punished.
HE WAS the youngest child sent to an industrial school, at the age of two. By the time he got out 14 years later, he had spent longer there than anyone else in the State. And, before States Of Fear, before Mary Laffoy, before anyone, in fact, John Prior was the first person to go public about the sadistic and relentless abuse of children in institutions run by the Christian Brothers. There is every chance he will be the last man speaking out, too.
This week's Ryan report - 50 years overdue - is a vindication of sorts, but for John it's not enough.
In this exclusive interview with the Irish Mail on Sunday, he renews his vow to continue his court battle against the Catholic Diocese of Kerry and Bishop William Murphy for the damage done to him as a youngster at St Joseph's Industrial School in Tralee - and, if the Church is true to form, it will continue to resist to the bitter end.
For one thing, John does not see why the taxpayer should have to pay for his tormentors' sins while they get off scot-free. But above all, John must continue the fight because he made a promise.
He made it to his friend, Joe Pyke, whom he hasn't seen for four decades but whom he talks to every week.
It was Joe who gave him the courage to speak out in the first place.
Joe was in St Joseph's with John. They were best friends. John saw his mate beaten and kicked by Brother Leen because he could not eat the disgusting bread and congealed dripping given to him and the other boys for their supper.
He was carried out of the dining hall and, two days later, he was in a coffin and buried in Tralee's Rath Cemetery. John visits his grave every week - and always tells him the same thing: that he will get him justice.
He said: 'I firmly believe it was Joseph who gave me the courage to confront the Brothers and to tell my story publicly.
'I returned home from England and went to the cemetery. I was walking along the rows of unmarked graves and I stopped at one. I found a small piece of black wood on the grave - and I knew it was from the cross I had put there when Joseph was buried all those decades ago.
'I was so angry that there was not even a headstone bearing his name that I went straight down to the Christian Brothers school and asked to meet the superior.
'For the first time, I met a brother, Brother O'Neill, who listened, and he promised he would get a stone erected. He was transferred out of the school less than a month later and I never heard from him afterwards - but I believe he was a very brave and compassionate man who tried to do something and was silenced.'
But at least Brother O'Neill had managed to order a headstone and John got it inscribed and erected.
Now, the names of many St Joseph's boys are commemorated in the graveyard - boys who died of illness or malnourishment or neglect or who, like Joe Pyke, were savagely beaten.
John Prior reckons at least as many names are still missing.
Heaving with emotion, he calls on the Irish public to refuse to allow the abusers to live out comfortable retirements in homes still run by the organisations responsible for his abuse - and for the deaths of all those nameless children.
'It's time that we, the victims, stood up against the Church and its leaders and had our say in the courts,' he said.
'I am not going to do this for the money but as a memorial to those who were brutalised and ruined for the rest of their lives and those who died as a result of that brutality in the industrial schools.
'The one thing that is deeply offending me at the moment is that there are still clergy, including the Brothers, being looked after and cared for within their communities. Why are they not being dragged before the courts and charged with their crimes against so many chil-dren?
I believe if there is a sufficient public outcry against this scandal, we will live to see them in court.' In the week of the publication - after a decade of evidence, more than 35,000 statements and an expenditure of E70m - of the Commission on Child Abuse, John is experiencing a riot of mixed emotions.
Certainly, relief is high among them - relief that his lone stand, taken in the heat of his anger after that visit to Joe Pyke's forsaken and forgotten grave in 1995, has at last been vindicated. After airing the truth in a newspaper interview, he went on to appear in the groundbreaking States Of Fear documentary series that led to the establishment of what was then the Laffoy Commission.
'The report this week has vindicated all of us,' he said. 'There's pride, too - I am proud that I was the first one to reveal the extent of the abuse we suffered in St Joseph's. I thought at the time our school was the only one - but, after my story hit the media, the floodgates opened.
'We do not have to hide any more.' And he adds: 'I would love now to be able to go to the Dail and speak to the TDs and ministers to tell them they should get the religious orders and the clergy to pay up.
'Why should the people of Ireland be asked to pay compensation to the victims of those perverted paedophiles when they have so much money...