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In Memory of Richard Webster

This is a copy of an Email that I sent to the Christian Brothers and De La Salle Brothers and cced to the Sisters of Mercy regarding the recent death of UK historian Richard Webster. To quote myself: "He was a British atheist whose parents were Methodist but he did a lot more for the Catholic Church in Ireland than most of its (mainly) decadent leaders today!"

Rory Connor
14 August 2011

Sent: Wed, 10 August, 2011 0:29:59
Subject: Richard Webster R.I.P.

Richard Webster died on 23 June 2011. He was the only historian who wrote in some detail about the very obvious lies that have been told by leading members of the child abuse industry in Ireland - including politicians like Pat Rabbitte. I suspect he would have had something to say about Enda Kenny's proposal to demand that priests break the seal of the confessional. He was a British atheist whose parents were Methodist but he did a lot more for the Catholic Church in Ireland than most of its (mainly) decadent leaders today.

I believe he had a major heart operation 10 years ago and died of heart failure aged only 61 (same age as myself). His book The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt published in 2005 took him a decade to write, and I believe he was trying to withdraw from the fray over the past couple of years but kept being drawn back into it - first by the ludicrous child-killing witch-hunt on the island of Jersey in 2008 and then by the guilty verdicts in the long-running Casa Pia scandal in Portugal in September 2010. His book on Casa Pia was due out on 30 June i.e. the week after he died.

I (again) wrote to Richard in February 2008 immediately after the outbreak of the Haut de la Garenne (Jersey) lunacy and told him that it had to be based on Irish precedents (e.g. there were no other child-killing crazes in the UK or the continent; Ireland was the nearest and only precedent. I did not realise until later that Lenny Harper, the police officer responsible, was actually born in Derry!)

The following are some of his comments about Ireland - specifically

(1) The Fall of the Reynolds Government in 1994 following allegations by Pat Rabbitte of a conspiracy between Cardinal Daly and Harry Whelehan to protect Brendan Smyth. (extract from the essay "States of Fear, The Redress Board and Ireland's Folly" itself part of his book "The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch-hunt).

(2) Louis Lentin, Christine Buckley and "Dear Daughter" (extract from the same essay)

(3) from his essay "The Christmas Spirit in Ireland" - re the Redress Board (December 2005)

(4) Ireland and Jersey
extract from his essay "Flat Earth News and The Jersey Child Abuse Scandal - Part 1 (19 April 2008)

(5) "A Redress Board for Jersey" (9 June 2008) extract in which he strongly recommends that no such system be set up in view of the disastrous Irish precedent

When the history of our child abuse witch-hunts is written, Richard Webster will be seen as someone who lit a candle in a very great darkness. People like Archbishop Martin, Bishop Willie Walsh (and their female equivalents) will figure strongly in the story also - not so much as villains but as clowns!


Rory Connor


(1) The Fall of the Reynolds Government in 1994
Another country which has developed a particularly intense and dangerous crusade against child abuse is the Republic of Ireland. Here, as in almost every modern instance, the collective fantasy which has been progressively developed has a core of reality. The beginnings of the story go back to 1994 when the authorities in Northern Ireland sought the extradition from the Republic of Father Brendan Smyth, a Catholic priest who was facing a number of counts of child sexual abuse to which he would eventually plead guilty. It would appear that he had previously been protected against allegations by his own Norbertine order, which had moved him from parish to parish as complaints arose, and failed to alert the police. Perhaps because of the age of the allegations, which went back twenty years, there was a delay of several months during which the Irish attorney general took no action in relation to the extradition request. Unfounded reports began to circulate in Dublin that the process was being deliberately delayed in response to a request made at the highest level by the Catholic Church. An Irish opposition deputy, Pat Rabbitte, then referred in parliament to the possible existence of a document that would ‘rock the foundations of this society to its very roots’. He apparently had in mind the rumoured existence of a letter written by the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Cathal Daly, to the attorney general in Dublin. In this letter the Cardinal had supposedly interceded on behalf of Father Brendan Smyth and requested the delay in his extradition which had in fact taken place.

No evidence has been produced that any such letter ever existed. Yet, as a direct result of the rumours which now swept the country, confidence in the ruling establishment was undermined and the Fianna Fail government of Albert Reynolds fell, amidst talk of a dark conspiracy involving politicians, members of Opus Dei, the Knights of Columbus and others. This conspiracy was allegedly seeking to cover up the activities of paedophile priests.

(2) Louis Lentin, Christine Buckley and "Dear Daughter"
It should not be necessary to labour the similarities between the imaginary conspiracy which led to the fall of an Irish government, and the imaginary conspiracies which were invoked in the early stages of the story of North Wales. The Irish story then developed in a manner which paralleled the development of the North Wales story. In 1996 the producer and director, Louis Lentin, made a television documentary about abuse in children’s homes which was shown by RTE, the main public service broadcasting station in Ireland. It focused on the brutal regime which was said to have been operating during the 1950s at St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, one of a network children’s homes or detention centres which were funded by the state and run by the Catholic Church. The documentary featured allegations made against Sister Xavieria, one of the nuns belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order which ran the home. The woman ‘survivor’ at the centre of the film claimed that, on one occasion, she had been caned by Sister Xavieria so severely that the entire side of her leg was split open from her hip to her knee. She says she was treated in the casualty department of the local hospital and believes that she received 80 to 120 stitches. No medical evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this bizarre claim. The surgeon who ran the casualty department at the hospital in question has given evidence which renders it highly unlikely that such an incident ever took place. Apart from anything else, the surgeon points out that caning would not have caused a wound of this kind, which would have required surgical treatment under a general anaesthetic and not stitches in a casualty department. Yet although the evidence suggests that the woman’s memory was a delusion, her testimony was widely believed at the time. In the wake of the broadcast, atrocity stories about Goldenbridge and other industrial schools began to proliferate.[3]

(3) from his essay "The Christmas Spirit in Ireland" - re the Redress Board
Earlier this month on 8 December [2005] the figure did not look quite so high. It was at this point that education minister Mary Hanafin, who was answering questions in the Dail, the Irish parliament, said that about 12,000 claims had been made. But the deadline for claims was approaching and by the time the Residential Institutions Redress Board stopped taking them at midnight on Thursday 15 December, the total had risen to 14,768. This prompted the Irish edition of the Sunday Times to run a story suggesting that almost 3000 new claims for compensation had been made in the space of a week.

Whether this was in fact the case, or whether Mary Hanafin had understated the number of claims when she made her parliamentary statement a week earlier, is not clear. What is clear – or should be clear to anyone who studies the events that led to the setting up of the Redress Board – is that that the Irish government has not acted wisely in this matter.

For if a government body publicly advertises its willingness to pay sums of up to €300,000 to those making claims of abuse, and simultaneously makes it clear that there is no requirement to produce evidence to prove that the events alleged did in fact take place, it should not be surprising if the response is a mixed one.

Unless Ireland proves to be a country whose citizens are entirely immune to the laws of human nature, it is almost certainly the case that a significant number of those now claiming money from the government are quite genuine victims of abuse who suffered in the manner they have claimed.

But it is also likely to be the case that a very large number of the claims received, perhaps as many as 90%, would prove, if it were possible to investigate them fully, entirely false.

If that is indeed the case then the Irish government has committed a protracted act of folly on a scale unprecedented in the entire history of sexual abuse compensation schemes.

(4) Ireland and Jersey
The idea that residents of children homes were being murdered played little or no part in the Kincora, North Wales and Casa Pia scandals. But such ideas were prominent in the moral panic which overtook the Irish Republic in 1999 after the broadcast on Irish TV of States of Fear, a three-part documentary series about the Irish industrial schools. Amidst the widespread allegations of abuse which were made in the wake of this programme, many children were said to have disappeared or been murdered in schools run by the Christian Brothers. As the tireless campaigner Rory Connor has pointed out, in a comment posted on the Community Care website, ‘these included accusations in a major Sunday newspaper of mass killing (“a Holocaust”) at Letterfrack in Co. Galway.’ However, as Connor notes, ‘Not a single claim has proved to be correct. This is not surprising as several relate to periods when no child died of any cause.’

In Ireland, as in North Wales and Kincora, there can be no doubt that some children were physically or sexually abused in children’s homes. But in all these cases what has happened is that a small nucleus of reality has had woven around it a vast tissue of fantasy and fabrication. Both in Ireland and in North Wales, as in similar scandals in Cheshire, Merseyside, Northumbria (and indeed in Nova Scotia), the evidence indicates that overwhelming majority of allegations associated with such scandals are false.

[NOTE: The Island of Jersey is as remote from London as Letterfrack is from Dublin. Fantasies tend to flourish in relation to distant climes. RC]

(5) "A Redress Board for Jersey"
There have also been a number of other developments. More than a week ago the Jersey Evening Post reported that calls had been made by victims' advocates for Jersey to set up a 'Redress Board'. In practice this would mean that compensation could be awarded to alleged victims without the the need for allegations to be tested in a criminal court. In support of this move Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors' Trust, actually cited the examples provided by compensation schemes set up both in the Republic of Ireland and in Nova Scotia:

"The redress boards set up in Nova Scotia and Ontario in the 1990s, and in Ireland in 2002, have been able to allow victims the opportunity to be heard and recompensed in some way and given communities the opportunity to challenge the silence and secrecy that concealed the abuse in the past."

Today almost exactly the same story appears in the Guardian. What neither the Jersey Evening Post nor the Guardian pointed out was that there is a significant amount of evidence that both in Ireland and Nova Scotia these schemes have in practice functioned almost as a compensation-on-demand scheme for anyone who has made allegations of abuse, whether or not there is any evidence to support these allegations.

In both cases there have been well-informed claims that the creation of such redress schemes has led to, or intensified, a veritable culture of false allegations. This is the argument put forward by Herman Kelly in the closing sections of his book Kathy's Real Story: A Culture of False Allegations Exposed. The same argument was also implicit in the conclusions of the Canadian judge Fred Kaufman when he was commissioned by the Nova Scotia government to conduct an inquiry into the compensation scheme there.

For my own comment on the workings of the Irish redress board, click here.

If the Jersey parliament were to act on the ill-judged recommendations reported today by the Guardian, they would be committing an act of the grossest kind of folly.