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One troubling feature of the public discussion surrounding Ireland’s Report of the Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse is a tendency to liken the Irish horror to the Holocaust. The word now properly refers to industrialised murder. The difference between Ireland and Nazi Germany is not just one of scale. They belong to different realms of evil and debate is trivialised by trying to make a connection.



  1. When people use the word ‘Holocaust’ (capital H) it’s generally taken that it refers to the disasters that happened to 6 million Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis.

    Using the word ‘holocaust’ (small case h) in reference to the calamity that befell a section of Irish children, mostly if not all poor children, at the hands of the State and Religious Orders seems to me to be in order.

    What happened to these children was industrialised abuse.

  2. Nonetheless, abuse and murder are on two different scales (although, granted, it’s possible to argue that sexual abuse is worse than murder in a sense in that the psychological effects are very difficult, if not impossible, to shake off).

    The term ‘holocaust’ literally refers to a burnt offering. In the Judaic religion of old, the animals/birds would be killed before burning – as was frequently the case in Nazi concentration camps. I’m not denying that children didn’t get psychologically burned by their abusers, or that kids didn’t die in institutions, but most did not die from their wounds.

    This abuse was inexcusable and ought to be condemned by all, while comfort is given to those who have suffered. However, I agree that the use of the term ‘Holocaust’ in this context (especially with a capital ‘H’) is unsuitable.

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