By Pierce O’Reilly
Hundreds of Irish-born American citizens are in line to benefit from a decision by the Irish government to compensate victims of abuse while they were residents, as children, of state-funded care homes and institutions.
Each claimant will have to present his or her case to two separate investigating boards — the Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse and the Tribunal of Compensation — before the end of July. An Irish lawyer, Cork-based Margaret Campbell, said there are hundreds of victims in the U.S. who need to come forward.
"I’m hopeful the deadline will be extended", Campbell said. "Irish-American victims didn’t hear about the compensation until now and we’re fighting to get the date extended for another six months."
It’s still unsure how and what amount of compensation will be paid to the victims of child sex abuse. The abuse, which has been highlighted in several TV documentaries in Ireland, included rape, beatings, starvation, emotional neglect and physical abuse.
For the last several months, Campbell has been expanding her practice into the U.S. She now visits New York once a month, where she meets new clients one-on-one.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
"I’m particularly interested in representing victims of scandalous abuse and mistreatment of innocent and young people," she said. "Many of them ended up in care because of the death of a mother or father and the inability of the remaining parent to properly look after them."
For many, the only way out was to get as far away from Ireland as possible. Campbell is adamant that there are numerous victims who are not aware of the rights that have been afford them recently by the Irish government.
"Compensation will be paid — that has been written in stone," she said.
The scandal of what went on behind the closed doors of care institutions over the last half-century has rocked the Irish education system. Now the government has admitted responsibility for what happened as far back as the 1940s and the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has apologized and pledged compensation to victims.
"The abuse of so many children and young people has scarred victims and left many hundreds of people to suffer a lifetime of torment and frustration, knowing with certainty that they were hurt and abused as children," Campbell said. "I just hope that I can help some people. Today there is a incredible sense of relief that now, finally, the truth is out and people can start to share and confront the dark secret and shed the quite unjustified guilt that has caused so much trauma all during their lives.
"I’ve met men and woman who have been scarred for life. They can’t sleep at night without hearing the crying of children, they can’t form meaningful relationships, they can’t forgive or ever forget what happened, and you can’t blame them."
Campbell believes there are hundreds of victims throughout the United States who have suffered abuse and the aftermath. All the victims will have to process their claims through an Irish lawyer, making direct representations to the two state-funded investigating bodies and compensation bodies.
Br. Johnny Ceaser, assistant secretary general of the Conference of Religious in Ireland, told The Irish Catholic last week that the government’s action is equivalent of labeling all religious orders that worked in Catholic Church-run institutions as guilty of abusing the children in their care.
The vast majority of former residents who claim they were abused are expected to receive compensation, Ceaser acknowledged. This will "label all religious [who worked there] as guilty," he said.
The organization Right of Place, which supports victims of abuse around the world, believes that the guilty verdict is a fair one. Spokesman Paul Moloney, himself an abuse victim, insisted that all members of religious orders who worked in residential institutions where abuse was happening are "guilty to some degree."
"Those who stayed silent are as guilty as those who committed the crimes," he said. "If somebody stood up and shouted, I probably would not have been raped and abused by those people."
Moloney was institutionalized when he was 18 months old and spent 16 1/2 years in different industrial schools in Munster.
While escape was an obvious choice for many of the abuse victims, Moloney said the perpetrators also left Ireland to avoid the law.
"A lot of the pedophile priests that abused in Ireland over the years are now retired and living in New York and the Boston region," Moloney said. "I want people to know who they are."
Moloney spent much of his youth at St. Joseph’s Ferry House in Clonmel. There were once 59 industrial schools in Ireland and more than 69,000 people attended them. Figures suggest that as many as 6,000 are still living and that 2,000 of them are looking for compensation.
"The victims ran to America, England and other places," Moloney said. "It’s important that they know that there is compensation and help available now if they want it."
Moloney said he believes that all claimants will receive some compensation. The legislation regarding the amount of compensation will be debated in the Dail this fall. It’s expected that the abuse victims will look for £250,000 per victim. The government has refused to comment on the compensation. One source said it will more than likely decide on a figure of £10,000 for each year the victim was in state care.