Irish Times, by Mary Minihan.

“Many drank to blot out the pain of living.”
Alice Leahy

LONG-TERM EFFECTS: THE SURVIVORS of institutional child abuse continue to be victimised in today’s society, according to the director of the homeless charity Trust, Alice Leahy.

She said the State was now off-loading its responsibility to cater for people who are homeless to the voluntary sector, rather than to religious orders as it had done in the past.

Ms Leahy said she had encountered many people who had spent time in institutions since she began working in the homeless sector in 1973.

She was therefore not surprised by the findings of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, which released its report on Wednesday.

“I couldn’t sleep that night because I was thinking about all those poor people. They were all pained-looking, you know that look you can’t describe, and I never saw them smile,” she said.

“To this day we are dealing with the consequences of that regime.”

Ms Leahy said survivors of institutional child abuse were often withdrawn and isolated.

“Many self-harmed and drank heavily. Most of them were drinking to blot out the pain of living.

“The fact that they had the courage to continue living was immense. Their childhood and their potential was taken from them,” she said.

Ms Leahy also said bed-wetting was a persistent problem for many, and could make it difficult for them to find accommodation.

“Bed-wetting is quite common and I know many people who’ve been put out of hostels because of it, and the shame of that too,” she said.

“It’s often blamed on heavy drinking but for many people it’s something that’s with them from the days they were in those institutions.”

Ms Leahy said some people who had spent time in institutions as children did not want to talk about their experiences, and that was something that had to be respected.

People who went looking for accommodation often felt uncomfortable being questioned about their past by people who were much younger than they were.

She said members of staff were instructed to “collect information, work out a care plan and move people on”.

She added: “That sounds fine on paper and we all need research but many people cannot even themselves look at what happened in their past.

“Their way of coping is to try to forget about it. People may say that’s not healthy.”

Ms Leahy said Irish society still needed to mature.

“People who try to highlight a problem are seen as the problem themselves. We need to grow up as a society.”

She said those working in the area of homelessness knew that the problem was about much more than housing.

“Labels stick. That’s why we in the area of homelessness have to look outside of bricks and mortar.”