No one who came of age in Ireland before, say, 1980 could possibly be surprised by the contents of the Report and this may be the elusive reason – sought by so many commentators – why good people in Ireland did not defend their fellow citizens.
Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times 23rd May), in quoting a victim, gets closer to an explanation for the silence than possibly he realises, “ … regular beatings were just accepted. What you’re hearing about is the bad ones, but we accepted as normal, run of the mill … that some time in that day you would get beaten.” That describes the norm in ordinary Dublin schools and everyone knew – because children were told regularly – that much worse happened in Artane and “orphanages”. Bizarre as the words might appear at first sight, Ireland has experienced mass child abuse.
Unless encouraged, victims tend not to speak out, let alone speak up for others in a worse situation. Until very recently attempts to talk about what went on were routinely met by “time you moved on” or “got over it” and very strangely – perhaps perversely – many victims praise their attackers, and – in saying it didn’t do them any harm – express themselves content with their treatment.
Of course mass, routine child abuse was not of the same order as the crimes committed against the incarcerated children but it was sufficient to undermine solidarity and righteous anger, and to gain silence.