Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Report

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:00 pm on 23rd January 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Eamonn McCann Eamonn McCann People Before Profit Alliance 11:00 pm, 23rd January 2017

I want to say first that, having sat here and listened to the debate, there were one or two occasions when I felt a wee bit uneasy. Those were occasions when quite spirited attacks were made on the Sinn Féin party for its actions which contributed to the suspension of the Assembly or the crumpling of the institutions. The suggestion seems to be that, somehow, Sinn Féin was — or seemed to be — less than wholehearted in handling this issue, because it had left us with nowhere to go with it now the institutions are gone. The issue was used in relation to a debate that is going on in the Assembly and society that has nothing to do with child abuse or anything like that. It is simply inappropriate that Members from the DUP over there made those points. I think it is right that somebody other than a Sinn Féin Member should stand up and say that, and I am very pleased to say it.

The singer Christy Moore wrote a song called 'Middle of the Island' back in the 1980s. It had a refrain that he kept repeating: "Everybody knew, nobody said". It was about child abuse, but child abuse in a slightly different context. It was about a young woman, a girl called Ann Lovett, who, on a January day in 1984, came out of school and went to the grotto of Our Lady:

"O clement, o loving, o sweet Virgin Mary",

— in the outskirts of Granard in the county of Longford, lay down and gave birth. She was 15 years old. This was Christy's point: "Everybody knew, nobody said". She suffered in silence. She gave birth, lying there. The child was born dead. She died within a couple of hours. There is a direct connection between that and what we are talking about.

The destruction of truth and honesty in relation to sex in our society is a contributory factor to all this. In some ways, the understanding was absolutely right. Everybody has spoken compassionately about the victims of this — you cannot have an excess of compassion — but, sometimes, it leads you to speak in a way that does not ascribe blame or point the full blame at where it belongs.

I talked about Christy and "Everybody knew, nobody said". I can remember, when I was growing up on Rossville Street on the Bogside, my mother deciding at one point that we should be one of those family-rosary families and say it every night. So, we did. Every evening, she spoke the phrase — only Catholics will understand this entirely — "The fifth decade of the rosary. We'll say this decade for the home boys. God help them". Other people used it too. That was the phrase: "We'll say this decade for the home boys. God help them". The home boys were the boys from the Termonbacca home, just above the Letterkenny Road on the outskirts of Derry. You used to see them. People talked in whispers about the home boys and the terrible things that were done to the home boys. Everybody knew, and they were decent, kind people. Why did they not speak up? Here is the point I am getting to. It was reverence for the Catholic Church, combined with the oppressive power of the Catholic Church down upon them. The Catholic Church has an awful lot to answer for, and it is not just little, individual instances. It is because of that role and the way in which it was perceived in society that people were afraid to speak out. You did not speak out against the priest. That is one of the reasons why clerical sex abuse lasted for so long and they got away with it.

Peggy Gibson, a woman from Deanery Street in Derry, now living in Queensland, is an example of the result of all of that. She is living in Queensland because she was one of the kids who was exported from this country, North and South, but mainly the North. How did that happen? Why was a five-year-old child taken to Australia? One of the questions that came to me when I was writing about these things was, "What travel documents were involved?". Who gave permission? I finally got it. Jon McCourt, who is in the Gallery, finally came to me with a document that showed what had happened. A priest signed a document certifying that a named nun was in loco parentis and would have the authority to take the child away; the nun countersigned that; the Home Office in London approved it; and off they went. There you had the entire thing. This is a criminal conspiracy. The state colluded in all that. The Catholic Church wanted wee Catholics out in Australia to build them up. The Australian Government wanted English-speaking white kids as part of the "White Australia" policy, and, sadly, sir, nobody in authority in Northern Ireland — in those days, the unionist state —