Irish abuse survivor says child homes were 'Gulags'
Ireland’s network of reformatories, orphanages and children's homes is now closed, but this Wednesday's watershed report was expected to lift the lid on how the system operated for decades dating back to the 1930s.Dublin -- A survivor of one of Ireland's former state-funded, Roman Catholic Church-run children's institutions said Wednesday some of them were like Gulags, where vulnerable minors worked as slave labourers.
"These places weren't care homes, they were Gulags," John Kelly, now coordinator of the Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) group told AFP, adding that inmates had to make "the instruments of our own torture."
Speaking hours before publication of a major report into alleged abuse, he said children were "rented out to farmers as slave labourers," faced regular floggings and were known by numbers, not names.
The network of reformatories, orphanages and children's homes is now closed, but Wednesday's watershed report was expected to lift the lid on how the system operated for decades dating back to the 1930s.
For 10 years, a government-appointed commission has probed allegations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse suffered by thousands of the estimated 30,000-40,000 children who passed through the system.
Kelly described how he lived in an institution run by a Catholic religious order in a former British military barracks in central Ireland.
"There were 30 foot (10 metre) walls. It was a military garrison. It was maintained that way with the holding cells being used for children. They didn't use your name. We were each given a number.
"I wasn't John Kelly, I was number 253, I will always remember that.
"We were known as residents but residents don't get dragged out of their bed and flogged naked in the middle of the night.
"They don't have to get out of bed in all weathers and work for farmers for money for the religious orders and the state."
The children often had to fend for themselves, he said. "We made our own clothes, we made our own boots. We didn't get much of the food from the farms where we worked. The brothers and the priests got it.
"We made the straps they beat us with to their particular design. Some of them (the religious staff) were so evil that old English three-penny bits had to be sown into the straps.
"Some used bits of copper or lead. We had to make them to their instructions. We were making the instruments of our own torture," he said.
Kelly fears thousands of victims will be "bitterly disappointed" and feel "cheated and deceived" by the report.
He expects that all the judicial Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse will do "is simply acknowledge abuse happened, say it was systemic and brutal and that the state could have done more to protect the kids.
"I suppose that is some comfort but the wounds will remain open for the simple reason that issues were not addressed adequately and there is still a lack of accountability. No one is likely to be named and shamed," Kelly added.