There is a story that during the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest it became obvious that Israel was going to win and the state television network in neighbouring Jordan could not could not contemplate screening an Israeli victory. The truth could not be contemplated, so the programme was stopped and the announcer told Jordanian viewers that the contest had been won by Belgium, who finished as runners up. Of course, the truth always emerges and thirty years later the story of the piece of silliness is still being told.
Attempts to suppress truth are rarely as benign as trying to hide the result of a song contest, the institutional child abuse report to be published in Dublin this afternoon will catalogue persistent attempts at the concealment of evil. Amidst the hand wringing, how many will have nagging thoughts at the back of their minds that they knew things and never said?
A friend was an altar boy in Artane in the final years of the industrial school.
“You didn’t have anything to do with the school?”
“Oh God, no”.
“Did you know that the place was bad?”
“Of course, everyone knew”.
“Why didn’t anyone say anything?”
“Who were we going to say anything to? The priests ran the country”.
There must have been people who knew what was going on as surely as the people of Jordan knew who had won that song contest. Families committing girls to the Magdalene laundries; politicians sanctioning state funds for the appalling industrial schools; teachers who said nothing about colleagues’ abuse of children; former pupils who would have known that the abuse they suffered was continuing, but were cowed into quietness: how many people were engaged in a fearful conspiracy of silence?
The Ireland in which detective novels were banned because of the fear of corrupting the pure morals of the Irish people was an Ireland where children could be raped and not a voice be raised.
The one tiny group that might have provided a platform for voices of dissent, that might have given a hearing to people who were frightened to speak elsewhere, seems frightened to have speak on anything. When Archbishop McQuaid, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and the Dublin Corporation ganged up against the staging of plays by Joyce and O’Casey, the Church of Ireland maintained its customary silence. John Cooney quotes Sean O’Casey writing to the Irish Times in frustration:
There we go; the streets of Dublin echo with the drumbeats of footsteps running away. The Archbishop in his Palace and the Customs Officer on the quay viva watch to guard virtue and Eire; the other Archbishop (Barton) draws the curtains and sits close to his study fire, saying nothing; and so the Hidden Ireland becomes the Bidden Ireland, and all is swell.
As truth always seeps out, so within the Church of Ireland there must have been people who knew of horrible truths but said nothing. Before we point at others’ sins, we need to acknowledge our own failure to oppose the growth of a society where such things could happen. Did we not know that one day the truth would come out?