Recent developments across the jurisdictions have highlighted the difficulties faced by all those involved in dealing with abuse allegations. The number and expectations of the different people involved presents significant problems in handling these matters in a professional yet sensitive way.
Survivor and victims’ representatives from Northern Ireland met the Archbishop of Armagh in July and felt they had been “belittled” following that meeting. The meeting had been arranged by the Archbishop who genuinely wished to meet and talk with the representatives of survivors and victims of abuse. Despite a well-founded intention his approach apparently fell short of the expectations of the representatives who came away dis-satisfied. Archbishop Eamon Martin has been an outspoken and determined supporter of safeguarding in Ireland and has been involved in the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. This body is funded by the various church institutions in Ireland but is run independently by professional lay staff. They have created a single set of guidance and standards for safeguarding in Ireland across all Catholic institutions and have carried out reviews and audits of every congregation, order and diocese.
The dedication of Archbishop Eamon Martin to safeguarding has included a number of meetings with various survivors and victims for which he has previously received thanks and appreciation. Archbishop Martin was surprised at the comments and released his own statement expressing his surprise. This meeting and the feelings expressed by the representatives following it highlight the sensitive nature of this area and how perceptions of an incident can vary greatly and how one of the greatest difficulties that we face going forward is how to manage the many competing but legitimate expectations of such a diverse group of stakeholders.
The fact is that there is no “one size fits all” approach which can address the painful and saddening facts of the abuse children have suffered over many years. Some of those victims want to forget the past and have created new lives for themselves. Some want to have a chance to tell their story and to feel the release from their burden but do not want the glare of publicity nor do they want family or friends knowing their secret. Others want the full disclosure and acknowledgement of the offences against them. All of these views deserve equal respect and acknowledgement. Whatever the outcome of the recommendations of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland and the eventual direction and outcome of the inquiries in Scotland and England & Wales there will be many who will still feel genuinely aggrieved.
Written by Fintan Canavan, partner