A look at the social welfare system in Ireland, from the eyes of Roos Demol, a Belgian writer/blogger resident in the country for eighteen years, as posted in Migrants in Ireland, her blog dedicated to stories of the Irish immigration experience.
The last thing I ever wanted to do was to become dependent on social welfare. But things happen. I had to quit my job a few months ago because I needed to be with my daughter who had several health problems, so money was already scarce, then my estranged husband decided to cut the maintenance in half and I was left penniless.
As any mother would do, I got into protection mode and did everything possible to get some kind of income. While looking for jobs, I also signed on for social welfare in the hope it would keep me going.
Ireland has an extremely outdated signing-on system., the endless paperwork, the old fashioned standing in line, the grumpy people in the social welfare office, it was all very unpleasant to experience, but I took it on and went through it, because I had no choice.
Nothing, however had prepared me for the meeting with the social welfare inspector.
Of course, I do understand why an inspection could be necessary, especially since I noticed that in the social welfare office and the community office every document you produce is considered to be fake, and everything you say is considered a lie, even my birth certificate was looked at with suspicion. ( I had to point out to the lady in the SWO that ‘September’ in Dutch means ‘September’ in English. I keep forgetting that Anglophones find understanding other languages very difficult).
I went to the appointment with the inspector as instructed on a Monday at 12. I was a bit taken aback by the office doors that each had a lock and an entry code. What was going on?
The man, blond with little piercing blue eyes, let me into his office, as always I smiled and said hello. He didn’t smile back.
He took my file and looked through it, then he said ‘So are you going back home?’ I looked puzzled. He repeated ‘why don’t you go back home to your family?’. I then realised that by ‘home’ he meant Belgium.
I looked at him in disbelief. I said ‘I’ve been living here for 18 years, my children are Irish, why on earth would I go back to Belgium?’
Then he said ‘So I guess you’re not then’. ‘Because you are going to get money off the state here’ he shouted out loud with a menacing look on his face.
I was bewildered, from then on I knew this was not just a talk about what happened and about the steps I should take, etc. this was an interrogation. I had to keep telling myself I was in Ireland, land of the thousand welcomes. I have borne children here, I have paid taxes, I pay taxes every time I buy something, I pay road tax, I delivered very intelligent and talented children to this country, I organised charity events for Action Breast Cancer , I am a cultural ambassador for the Irish In Europe Association, promoting Irish businesses in Brussels, I did workshops with teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds, I fundraised money for the local school, brought choirs to small churches in the country side and many more things. but here was a guy telling me I am taking money off the state and telling me I should go ‘home’.
That meeting lasted around an hour. I was treated like a criminal all the way through, everything I said was either ridiculed or sneered at.
I could only think of one thing. What if I was black? What has this guy been saying to other people?
I did not sleep that night, I was completely traumatised. I made a complaint, we’ll see what happens.
I thought about the movies I saw, the books I read about the Magdalen sisters and the industrial schools, Angela’s Ashes and the way poor people were treated in the old days. It was always just fiction, but now I had experienced it myself, it is still happening.
I used to work in the employment office in Brussels, I met people like me, I also worked in prison for six years as a nurse. Never in my entire life have I treated anyone with such disrespect. I am totally disgusted.
I am in bad luck and working hard to get out of it. I am not taking social welfare because in the end I am not yet reaching the (very low) threshold for job seekers allowance, and the thought of ever having to see this man again, makes me sick. I think I’d rather go ‘home’ indeed.
On RTÉ’s Six One, anchor Brian Dobson introduced a news item, by RTÉ’s political correspondent, saying the following:
“The Ceann Comhairle has said additional measures may have to considered by the Oireachtas for deputies who abuse Dáil privilege and name individuals unfairly in the chamber. “
The news item included footage of Ms Fitzgerald interviewing the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl and, while it didn’t broadcast the full interview, the report presented Mr Ó Fearghaíl’s responses.
Martina Fitzgerald (voiceover): “While he says it’s important that deputies raise issues of public importance under Dáil privilege, he says they may also have to have a look at new regulations for those who abuse the privilege.”
Seán Ó Fhearghaíl: “The new Committee of Procedures, I would hope, will draw up a set of measures to deal with such eventualities.”
Fitzgerald (voiceover): “And what about fining them?”
Ó Fhearghaíl: “I don’t know, I don’t know. It would seem to me, to be a pretty crude instrument but it might be an effective instrument. I’m willing to consider that. If that’s proposed and agreed by the CP, I’ve no difficulty with that approach.”
From top: Bill Kenneally, Former Superintendant in Waterford Sean Cashman
In February Bill Kenneally was jailed for 14 years, after he pleaded guilty to 10 sample counts of indecent assault on 10 boys between October 31, 1984 and December 31, 1987, in Waterford.
Kenneally, whose grandfather and uncle were Fianna Fáil TDs, used his position as a sports coach – basketball, soccer and tennis – to lure and abuse boys.
He was eventually charged – 25 years after Kenneally himself admitted to gardaí that he abused a boy in 1987.
Yesterday, it was reported that Kenneally lodged an appeal with the Court of Criminal Appeal against his sentence.
Further to this, several men who were abused by Kenneally spoke to Damien Tiernan on RTÉ’s Prime Time – with several of them saying some adults in Waterford at the time were aware of the abuse but did nothing about it.
In addition Mr Tiernan spoke to former superintendent Sean Cashman about when Kenneally admitted the abuse in 1987 – after a father reported that his son had been abused.
Mr Cashman recalled:
“He [the father] told me that his son, who was a student at De La Salle, aged about 15, that he was one of a number of students who were being lured to the house of a man named Billy Kenneally and that this man was coming in to the schoolyard and that he was giving them basketball lessons. In a short time, he had started to interfere with them and that there was a sexual contact, content to it and he just wanted to report it to me.”
The father told Cashman his son could not be interviewed so Mr Cashman contacted Kenneally’s uncle, the former Fianna Fáil TD, Billy Keneally, who died in 2009.
The TD arranged for Kenneally to go to the garda station when he met the then Supt Cashman and Inspector PJ Hayes.
Mr Cashman recalled:
“He was a broken man, he was absolutely emotional, he was shaking like a leaf, he was in terrible shape, I thought. He said, ‘I know why I’m here lads and I’m glad to be here because I want to be looked after’ – or words to that effect now. He might have said, ‘I want to be looked after’ or ‘I want to be treated’.”
Mr Hayes recalled:
“And he went on then to tell me that he had placed handcuffs on this young boy and I asked him, ‘where did it take place?’ and he said it was in his own home.”
Mr Cashman added:
“We did not have evidence to charge him now if I… ah, he admitted it, I’ve known a case where a man came through the station at one time and admitted murder that he hadn’t done. So you know the fact, he did admit it and I’ll have to say, I knew he was the culprit, it wasn’t a question of his imagination, I knew he was the culprit but I didn’t have a statement from an injured party.”
“And I know, I know people were talking about it, you know, it was a political family and it was a cover-up, well there was no cover-up at all. And the irony of the whole situation really is that the best help I got to try and put him where he should have been, before the court, was from his uncle.”
“I got absolutely no help from any injured party. None.“
After this, Kenneally was no longer allowed to coach at De La Salle and he was told to get counselling. He wasn’t questioned by the gardai again. He continued to live in Waterford.
Twenty five years later, one of boys who had been abused by Kenneally discovered that Kenneally was still involved in coaching basketball but not in a school capacity.
Jason Clancy went to the gardaí in 2012 to tell them about the abuse he suffered as a boy. After waiving his right to anonymity, other victims came forward.
There were originally 74 charges against Kenneally.
Images (featuring weapons assembled from the characters of Chinese words) from the opening animation of Words Can Be Weapons – a video series on verbal bullying and abuse by the Centre For Psychological Research, Shenyang.
BBC Spotlight reporter Jennifer O’Leary meets Paudie McGahon (top), now 40, who says he was abused as a teenager by an IRA member and subjected to a kangaroo court and cover-up similar to the experience faced by Mairia Cahill.
Above: Sunday Times journalist Justine McCarthy (above) on Tonight With Vincent Browne last night and (centre) former Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan
You may recall a post from last September regarding a report by the Children’s Ombudsman into allegations of physical and sexual at an unidentified primary school in Co. Kilkenny.
The school’s child-abuse prevention policy which applied at the time of the alleged abuse states:
“The Stay Safe programme has been approved by the board of management as a teacher’s aid to be used in accordance with the Catholic ethos which demands that the law of God and of the church, and not the child’s feelings, be the guiding principle.”.”
Further to this, Ms McCarthy spoke about the case on Tonight With Vincent Browne last night.
Her appearance followed Fianna Fáil leader Mícheal Martin raising the matter with Taoiseach Enda Kenny during Leaders’ Questions yesterday in which he claimed the Education Minister and the Department of Education have refused to meet with the parents of the children concerned.
Ms McCarthy told viewers:
“In 2006, a child came home from her rural school in Co. Kilkenny and she had a bruise on her arm and when her parents asked, ‘what had happened?’, she said that, ‘a teacher had done it’.
This was the start of what turned out to be a series of disclosures by children, 10 children, aged mostly 5 and 6, who were in a national school, against 3 female teachers in their school.
They alleged that all three had been physically abusive and that two of the teachers had been sexually abusive. The parents contacted the school and, to this day, they really have got no proper response.”
The allegations were investigated by the guards and the HSE and the Board of Management in the school also investigated them. The Children’s Ombudsman, Emily Logan, the first Children’s Ombudsman, she never actually published this report.
She released it to the relevant parties on the day that she left the job as Children’s Ombudsman. The reason it took five years to complete that report is that it was blighted by legal considerations. First of all, the need to keep the identities of children private. But, secondly, because there are serious issues about people’s reputations. And I have to make it clear that these are just allegations.
But the Children’s Ombudsman found very serious, made very serious findings in relation to the HSE and the school found that these allegations were never, in effect, investigated because they were never properly investigated.
Now the report was released to the school, to the Department of Education and to [child and family agency] Tusla and they were all given time to respond to it. That time is up. I believe that the Tusla and the department have responded.
I wrote a story myself some time ago that the chairman of the board of management, who is a priest, held a meeting with the parents of the children who are currently in the school and told them that the report [Children’s Ombudsman’s report] is riddled with errors, he wants it withdrawn and an apology made.
Since this all happened, new complainants and new allegations emerged. These are now being investigated by the guards on Harcourt Square in Dublin. There’s a more serious attitude being taken this time.
That means you have guards investigating this at the moment, Tusla has also appointed a child law solicitor to do a review of how the original allegations were handled.
And that’s probably a good sign that the solicitor I believe is Catherine Ghent, who has a very good reputation. I don’t think she would have taken this on if she felt she wasn’t going to be able to do a proper review.
The teachers against whom the complaints were made are still teaching in the school, even as these two investigations are going on and I think, most significantly, one of the teachers against whom allegations were made, is the principal of the school.
She’s the designated recipient of complaints of child abuse for the school and she continued to sit on the board of management when the board of management was handling these complaints. So there are a lot of questions to be asked about the whole process and about the fairness of the procedures”
“When Louise O’Keeffe met the Taoiseach, and I think it was the Minister for Children and the Minister for Education, before Christmas…you remember she came to meet them to discuss how the Government was going to respond to the European Court judgement.
She actually brought a letter with her that was written by that first child, who came home with the bruise on her arm and that child wrote that letter to Enda Kenny, asking him to do something about this.
And I think it’s very interesting that, in fact, the Government’s response to the judgement in the Louise O’Keeffe case is to exclude anybody who was abused in school where no previous complaint had been made.
Now, if you were to apply that to this current case, and to think these are still children, they would not qualify because there had been no, that I know of, no complaint made before that child came home in 2006 with the bruise on her arm.