Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 11:36 UK

UK Irish abuse victims 'losing out'

By Helen Grady
Producer, Law in Action, BBC Radio 4

Ron McCartan, aged 7
Ron McCartan endured years of physical and sexual abuse as a child

Ron McCartan is 63 years old but still bears the scars of his childhood in Ireland.

Although he weighs 18 stone, his ankles are tiny - the result of malnutrition in his youth - and a string of beatings as a boy have left him deaf in one ear.

Mr McCartan is one of an estimated 10,000 people living in Britain who were brought up in Ireland's 'Residential Institutions', schools and orphanages run for the state by Catholic religious orders.

He was brought up first in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. Then at the age of ten he moved to Artane Industrial School, which was run by the Christian Brothers.

"Artane was run on a prison system," he told BBC Radio 4's Law in Action programme.

"For the slightest misdemeanour every Christian Brother had the right to beat a child and that beating was given with boot, fist, open hand, dowel, leather strap, leg of a chair.

"You were stripped and on numerous occasions there could be one, two, three Christian brothers with straps or sticks and they beat the living daylights out of you. They just beat you until they got tired or wanted to go onto their next victim."


Mr McCartan was also sexually abused during his time at Artane.

"I was twelve going on thirteen. One night a Christian Brother said 'follow me, just follow me', and I went into his room, where I was duly raped.

"It was the first time I ever heard the words 'I love you. I'll protect you.' And from that day onwards I associate those words with what happened to me. I see it and feel it every day of my life.

"I have never held my children. I can't tell my kids 'I love you', because when I hear those words, I associate them with evil."

Law in Action was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 7 July 2009 at 1600 BST
Catch up later on the BBC iPlayer
Or download the programme podcast

In 2002, the Irish Government created the Residential Institutions Redress Board so that people like Mr McCartan could receive compensation for their experiences.

So far, it has processed 13,395 applications.

Mr McCartan received 40,000 euros from the Redress Board for the abuse he suffered at the orphanage. He also won an additional 350,000 euros compensation through the High Court for the abuse he suffered at Artane.

He is one of only a handful of people to successfully seek compensation through the Irish courts.


The redress scheme officially closed in 2005, but is still processing a backlog of more than a thousand applications.

Late applicants can still apply if they can prove "exceptional circumstances", which usually means that physical or mental illness prevented them from applying.

Campaigner Sally Mulready
The scheme was not properly advertised in the UK - it needs to be reopened
Campaigner Sally Mulready

However, the Irish government is under pressure to reopen the scheme following the publication in May of the Ryan Report.

Written by Judge Sean Ryan, the report catalogued decades of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at residential institutions run by 18 religious orders.

It was the result of a ten-year investigation which drew on the testimony of 3,000 witnesses.

Since the publication of the Ryan Report, Irish centres in the UK say they have been "inundated" with enquiries from people wanting to apply for redress.

Sally Mulready, founder of the Women's Survivors Group in the UK, said: "At the London Irish Centre alone, we have had 150 people contact us since May.

"The kind of people we're getting coming through are people who had lost all contact with Ireland, had no connection with the Irish community, knew nothing about the redress board, nothing about the Ryan Commission."

Solicitor Eileen McMahon represents a 73 year-old man who was recently turned down for a late application to the Redress Board.

She said: "You can't expect somebody to see an advert on a Tuesday and apply on the Friday. You can't just rush somebody.

"I've got some clients that I started six years ago that are still going through because we have to go at the pace that they can go at."


Sally Mulready will meet Irish Minister Barry Andrews this week to urge the Irish government to reopen the scheme.

She said: "It took ten years to produce the Ryan Report. The survivors were given three years in which to make an application to the redress board.

"The scheme was not properly advertised in the UK - it needs to be reopened for five years from 2009 onwards."

Another controversial aspect of the compensation scheme is a so-called "gagging clause", which bans those who receive redress from talking about their experience of the scheme or from divulging how much compensation they were awarded.

Theoretically anyone who breaches this confidentiality agreement could face a fine of up to 25,000 euros and a two-year jail sentence.

Matthias Kelly QC - a London-based barrister who has represented more than 200 redress claimants - believes the confidentiality clause should be amended so that records of hearings are published with only the claimant's details removed to protect their privacy.

He told the BBC: "This is a public scheme after all. It is taxpayers' money, and I have not the slightest doubt that the overwhelming majority of the population of Ireland want to see the right thing done by these people."

In 1999, the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern issued an apology on behalf of the state to the victims of child abuse.

On Wednesday members of the Irish parliament - the Dail - will vote on proposals to reopen the redress scheme.

Law in Action was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 7 July at 1600 BST. Or download the programme podcast.

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