Letters to the Editor: Sectarian investigation into religious abusers in a secular state

A reader says the Education Minister should allow victims of abuse in Protestant-ethos schools to contact the scoping inquiry 
Letters to the Editor: Sectarian investigation into religious abusers in a secular state

Education Minister Norma Foley speaking to media following the announcement in March that a scoping inquiry would shape the Government’s response to revelations of historical sexual abuse in schools run by religious orders. File picture: Damien Storan

The scoping inquiry into abuse in schools run by religious orders wants to delay its report because of the extensive volume and nature of responses. A reason given for the inquiry’s sectarian basis, which excludes Protestant participation, was the need to complete investigations within a tight time frame. That excuse is unreasonable.

The Minister for Education should now allow victims of abuse from Protestant-ethos schools to contact the inquiry. The media should provide a supportive environment within which Protestants can narrate their experience.

The last point is important. Victims of abuse from a Roman Catholic setting are received positively by media and state. Concerns about reputational damage to the church that once loomed so large in theirs and most Irish people’s lives are ignored. Telling stories of past dark days is facilitated, as it should be.

That is not the case with the smaller Church of Ireland, where a lack of critical engagement from wider society encourages sweeping matters under the carpet. For example, in 2022 the Church of Ireland Historical Society (COIHS) was confronted with evidence that its founder, Rev WG Neely, abused children. 

He was silently transferred by the Church of Ireland from Antrim to Tipperary in 1976. The society said nothing. Instead, Neely’s name was deleted from COIHS web pages. Historic announcements of winners of the society’s once prestigious WG Neely Prize were rewritten to refer to a then-non-existent “COIHS Prize”. A historical society falsified history.

The Neely-COIHS story has not been reported down South, despite the Tipperary connection. Had the society Roman Catholic (or simply Catholic) in its name there can be little doubt that, today, the COIHS approach would be deemed inappropriate, or rejected publicly by some society officers. The media would regard it as a news story. The society would be made accountable. The Roman Catholic Church in such circumstances, unlike the Church of Ireland, would be unable to keep its head down.

In the absence of the media and civic society treating victims and reporting their abusers equally, our rhetorically secular state will pursue sectarian investigations, while claiming to act in a secular manner.

Niall Meehan, Journalism and Media Faculty, Griffith College, Dublin

Absence of strict gender binary in sexes

It was refreshing to read Jennifer Horgan’s excellent column on the absence of a strict gender binary in biology or sex, especially in these days when the rights of trans and intersex people seem constantly under attack from some quarters — ‘Reiterated thesis that people must be either man or woman is false’ (Irish Examiner, October 6).

Science and medicine continue to make new discoveries every day, adding to the wealth of human knowledge and understanding. History, however, teaches us that there have always been those who would weaponise religion to obstruct the progress such knowledge can bring. The treatment of Galileo at the hands of the Inquisition is but one example. Sadly, there are still some among us who long for the days of the flat earth. Luckily, ours is largely a kind, tolerant and progressive society, in which the majority take a more rounded approach.

Bernie Linnane, Dromahair, Co Leitrim

Budget for affordable mental health services

The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) sees Budget 2024 as a pivotal time for the Government to respond to the mental health needs of the people of Ireland. The need for mental health supports has been exacerbated and amplified by lingering effects of the covid-19 pandemic.

Firstly, we urge the expansion of the pilot Primary School Counselling Programme to include all schools at both primary and second level. This will enable children and young people to have timely access to mental health supports. This step is essential, given the increasing concerns about children’s mental health post-pandemic.

Secondly, we stress the importance of introducing tax relief for counselling and psychotherapy expenses. This would not only make mental health services more affordable and accessible, but it would reinforce the message that taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.

Lastly, the application of a Vat exemption for the profession would bring counsellors and psychotherapists into line with the exemption currently available to psychologists. This would ensure equitable treatment of mental health professionals as well as removing the burden of taxation on clients when paying for essential therapeutic services.

These proposals would do more than just improve access to essential therapeutic supports; they would alleviate the burden on our already strained public mental health system.

The IACP is calling on the Government to increase investment in counselling and psychotherapy with the aim of establishing universal access to counselling and psychotherapy for all that need it.

Lisa Molloy, IACP CEO, Dún Laoghaire

Levelling the playing field in tournaments

Tommy Martin’s column got me thinking about the similarities that rugby and hurling both face in growing their sport — ‘Rugby’s small fry bring a flavour to the World Cup’ (Irish Examiner, Sport, October 5).

Like international rugby union, inter-county hurling arguably has a “top nine”, a level difficult to elevate without sacrificing competition quality for quantity.

In prior tournaments, the Rugby League World Cup tried to overcome the lack of competitive depth, by placing the three best nations together in one “super group”. While I’m not sure that is a viable solution, it does provide a tournament structure in which participating teams in each group, including weaker ones, are more competitive.

Perhaps, if the Rugby Union World Cup goes to 24 teams, the top 12 could exclusively be drawn to three ‘super’ groups of four, with the lower 12 in three other groups? The top three in each super group could join the other three group winners in a 12-team KO, with two of the six winners (with the best group records) earning byes in the second round (QFs).

A O’Mahony (originally from Douglas, Cork),Pennsylvania, USA

Ambulance crisis

The National Ambulance Service is critically understrength and will have to recruit hundreds of frontline staff. Managers and officers will need to be in place and trained before new frontline staff are recruited. A blanket hold on the recruitment of managers is a bad idea.

Jason Stewart, Tralee, Co Kerry

Self-determination instead of colonialism

Some of your readers dislike my comparison between Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine with Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Maybe they should take up their case with the United Nations, who agree with me.

If they dislike that, they will really clutch their pearls when they hear the similarities I see between Northern Ireland and Donbas/Crimea. In both cases, settlers from a different country uphold their settlement and separation through force.

Is it too much to ask for the concept of self-determination and democracy, instead of colonialism?

Fachtna O’Raftery, Clonaklity, Co Cork

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