Remarks by President McAleese at a reception for Survivors of Institutional Abuse, Áras an Uachtaráin, 28th June 2009
Dia dhíbh go léir, agus céad míle fáilte romhaibh chuig Áras an Uachtaráin. Good afternoon everyone, and on behalf of Martin and myself, let me offer each one of you a warm, heartfelt welcome to Áras an Uachtaráin.
There are moments in a life when words simply fail as a means of expression. No amount of them, no matter how heartfelt, can seem adequate to the moment. The publication of the Ryan Report was one such moment in the life of this nation.
The horrible lives endured by thousands of our children, over so many years, as a result of abuse inflicted by those who cared for them in the name of the State and often in the name of the Christian gospel, were laid out graphically in that Report. It calls for responses at many levels official and unofficial and I know that many of you are actively involved in discussions on those responses.
There is an important human response to overwhelming grief and that is to gather as community, to rally around one another and simply be together in solidarity.
The invitation to Aras an Uachtaráin today is an expression of the massive public wish to let you know how deeply your stories have struck a chord. For so long your suffering seemed to make strangers of you in your own land.
Today, we simply seek to be family to each other, to assert our common care for one another and to acknowledge that what was done to those of you who are survivors of abuse in institutional care, not only damaged your precious lives but diminished our society.
Those who switched off the light of love and hope in your lives, plunged our country into a terrible darkness. I know that one day in the Phoenix Park cannot hope to restore to your lives all the things that were taken from you. There is no magic potion to put right the things that were made so deliberately to go wrong. Nor is it possible in one event to reach out to everyone affected.
Cherish our children
I hope this day, though, does send a message that your lives and the lives of all those damaged by such abuse are our care and that most important of all we stand together in our determination to ensure that our country will honour the ambition set out in the Proclamation in 1916 to be a Republic which cherishes its children equally.
Your experiences are monuments to our failure to cherish our children. Our most precious monument to you has to be our determination to be that Republic where children are cherished equally not just in lofty words but in everyday deeds.
The people of Ireland are desperately sorry for the many ways in which you were not cherished, in the abuse itself, in the silence, in the failure to act, in the failure to listen, hear and believe in time. In their name I offer every one here and all those whose little lives were robbed of the joys of childhood our heartfelt sorrow.
I want to read you a short extract from a book called Crime and Punishment edited by Sean McBride and published following an unofficial report into the Irish Penal System in 1982.
From Crime and Punishment edited by Sean McBride
"Our low minimum age of criminal responsibility, seven, the lowest incidentally in Europe, ensures that the trivial activities of little children come under the censorious scrutiny of the criminal justice system…. precipitated by truancy from school or home or family break-down…. There was an incredible pathos about the submission which began, When I was seven I was sent to Clonmel……. I was in it for nine years.""
I wrote that particular section of the report and as a member of the Commission had sat through the hearings at which many people spoke of leaving those institutions with little education or skill, often graduating straight into the adult penal system.
It was less than 30 years ago but even then there was a silence and a fear, a huge taboo that stopped those men and women from telling the worst, the deepest secrets of their stories, even to a sympathetic audience.
Today thanks to the courage of the children who were abused and grew into an adulthood from which they took a stand against abuse, the veils of silence, authority, deference, pretence, power, powerlessness, and impunity are pulled aside and we see what so many tried to ensure we would never see.
It has all been at such a dreadful cost to the abused, their childhoods lost, their families scattered, their adult lives and relationships so often deeply affected by their early suffering.
From that suffering however you have created a force that will in time bring much good to Ireland's children for you challenge our society to hold to account all those who engrave on their innocent and dependant little lives.
What's learnt in childhood is engraved on stone. You met bad engravers, the children of today and tomorrow rely on us to engrave well.
I hope you know how anxious so many people are to share your journey today. You have seen the turnout of Ireland's best entertainers, each of whom immediately volunteered their services when they knew this day was for you, and through you, for all those whom you represent.
I wish we could have had those many thousands here but I thank the survivor organisations who nominated their guests for today for their help in making this day possible.
So, for all the birthday parties that that seven-year-old did not get in Clonmel, let us enjoy this day of solidarity and community. There is an old Irish phrase giorrian beirt bothar – two shorten the road. As you leave here this afternoon, I hope you will feel that the road ahead, while still daunting, has been shortened for each of you in a special way and that where once you were on your own, you now have company that cares.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.