MANNIX FLYNN reviews The Irish Gulag:
How the State Betrayed its Innocent Children: by Bruce Arnold Gill and Macmillan, 351pp, €16.99
BRUCE ARNOLD is no stranger to the heavy hand of the Irish State. In the 1980s his phone was illegally tapped by a Fianna Fáil government. Many of us have read his articles about the residential institutional scandals, the church/State culpability, and the subsequent cover-up of crimes against helpless children. In his new book, The Irish Gulag: How the State Betrayed its Innocent Children, the journalist catalogues overwhelming and damning evidence that the Irish State was engaged in unlawful acts of such momentous proportions as to send shockwaves not only throughout Irish society but throughout the world.
Arnold reveals the history of residential institutions and the involvement of the Catholic Church. He chronicles how the State encouraged this process and incarcerated generations of children, condemning them to inhumane torture and slavery – and how they were stripped of any rights whatsoever. What emerges is the State’s deliberate neglect and abandonment of its child citizens, while purporting to be concerned about their welfare and needs. It demonised the natural parents of the children while, in fact, it was the demon.
This is a political work that will give people everywhere an understanding of what was happening in Ireland under a regime of brutality and fear. Chapter after chapter deals with how this terrible legacy began to emerge into the public domain. From the early rumours of abuses through to the States of Fear and Dear Daughter documentaries, the State’s apology and the setting up of commissions to inquire into residential institutions, it is all here.
One would imagine, given the sheer volume of the evidence now brought forward, that the Irish State might step up to the mark and deliver us natural justice, but this book gives the opposite view.
Indeed it reveals how the State and the church were working hand in glove; how their pact was designed to involve the State in the protection of the church. For example, when discussing the broad remit of the Ryan commission, Arnold notes that the key issue, “of Government responsibility for allowing the system to run and for allowing a non-stop supply line of children to troop into their places of misery and damage, was not to be investigated. Nor was it.”
The State here stands accused of astonishing incompetence and mendacity. As Arnold documents, it “made no provision for controlling church assets and freezing them in respect of legal obligations over crimes of the most serious kind. It did the least it possibly could do in preventing the destruction of documents, or the transfer of money, belonging to the religious orders, out of Ireland. There were no penalties against individuals or organisations cited in the Redress Act for possible abuse. All they get are indemnities. The religious are indemnified for their very existence, for all but a small proportion of their expenses, and against any calumny whatever.”
The Irish Gulag will further alarm the public. And with good reason. For rest assured that romantic Ireland is truly dead and gone. This volume will place the Irish State up there with the most oppressive in history. Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany will now have the company of the Irish Church State, a brutal regime that perpetrated acts of unimaginable horror on its most vulnerable children.
But the final chapters of this story have yet to be written. While Nazi Germany and its henchmen were dragged before the Nuremberg trials, and while the legacy of Joseph Stalin has been exposed, the Irish State and church is still largely intact and protected. Let us not forget that none of the evidence gathered by the State in the Ryan report can be used as evidence in any court of law.
Reader, your elected Government – your democratic State – defended itself and the church against the consequences of their hands in barbarous acts. And in realising how members of an elected government conspired to elude justice at the expense of democracy and accountability, we can understand just how controlled a people we are. The truth, they say, will set you free. Unfortunately, the truth of Arnold’s work will send you into shock and anger at just how devious the apparatus of a democratic State and government can be. The shock of this book will come when the public learns how far this State, its agents and servants, tried to pervert the course of justice. In conclusion: there is no conclusion, there is no closure, there is no healing. Not yet. The State has now insulated itself and the church against any wrongdoing; in doing so it victimises further not only those it incarcerated but the nation. Indeed, it will take generations to heal and understand this trauma. The Irish people will suffer for a long time to come.
It is important to know that in the coming time everything will be offered by the church and the State that money can buy. Heads will roll, and sacrifices will be asked for from all. They will beg for forgiveness in the hope that they will get away with the crimes committed.
At this very moment more money is being offered; it’s important to know that this money is being offered as a charitable gift and carries no liability of guilt. If the State accepts this money, it is an attempt to bribe yet again the people out of lawful justice. This in any democracy is a gross debauchery reprehensible to the spirit of the human being and should be condemned immediately. The Irish peoples’ reputation will be eternally damaged by this.
As victims, each of us must own our own hurt – our own personal history. As Arnold writes: “The abused remain on the legal fringes of our society, their legal status often in limbo, still looking, still waiting for the modest recompense that most of them would settle for if it were to be given in the right spirit.”
As Irish citizens we must all take ownership of the hideous public history now being written so honestly and courageously by one of Ireland’s finest journalists. Go raibh míle maith agat, Mr Arnold, your work brings us forward to a truth that will set us free.
Mannix Flynn is a writer and artist. He is artistic director of Farcry Productions, an elected member of Aosdána and a former board member of Imma [Irish Museum of Modern Art]