A RICHHILL man fighting the cause of thousands of children from his generation abused in institutions all over Ireland has welcomed the Pope's apology to victims of Catholic abuse.
However, Tom Hayes (64) who was abused when in the care of the Sisters of Mercy in Killarney and in the notorious Limerick Industrial School, claimed the Pontiff did not go far enough with his apology on his state visit to the UK last week.
He said, “I agree that the Pope’s apology, during his UK visit, to the victims of clerical abuse was acceptable, fulsome and heartfelt.
“But the abuse in Ireland’s 154 Catholic institutions was far more widespread. It was physical, sexual and emotional, and - with the Pope reported to be coming to Ireland in 2012 - I believe he should apologise to all those victims far in advance of such a visit.”
Mr Hayes added that 60,000-plus had been abused in institutions run by groups like the Sisters of Mercy, the Christian Brothers, the De La Salle orphanages, the Good Shepherd group and the notorious Magdalene Laundries.
He has set up the Alliance Support Group of behalf of the survivors of the abuse years and has 14,500 members, who are seeking just such an apology from the Catholic Church and compensation from the Irish Government, which was ultimately responsible for the institutions.
Tom Hayes’ story is heart-rending. He was committed to the care of the Sisters of Mercy and then to the Limerick Industrial School, as “an orphan”.
He left the Limerick institution in 1962 at the age of 16 - still in the belief that both parents were dead - but was told in 2003 that his mother had just died.
“I wasn’t told anything about her life,” he recalled. “She may have been forced to work in one of the notorious Magdalene Laundries for all I know.”
He learned later that his mother had, in fact, married a man from County Mayo, they had settled in Liverpool and she had two daughters and two sons - and there was a large extended family in places like Limerick, Cork, London and the US.
“I’ve met them all since 2003, and it’s hard to get your head round the fact that you have such a big family,” he said.
He also married a Presbyterian from Londonderry, they have two sons and live in Richhill, where Mr Hayes remains a Christian but doesn’t attend any church.
He recalled that he was sexually abused in Limerick, not by the Christian Brothers but by fellow inmates, and when he complained to the Christian Brothers he was badly beaten by them.
“It was hell on earth,” he recalled. “But I was one of an estimated 60,000 abused in these so-called Christians places, with the state turning a blind eye.”
He was cut loose when he was 16, lived rough for a time in Cork and then moved to London, “where the people accepted you for what you are.”
After working for a hotel in Marble Arch, his saviour was joining the Army - and an officer called Major Sidney Magowan took the young Tom under his wing, firstly in the Territorial Army and then the Royal Irish where he served for 42 years and then worked for the Ministry of Defence.
“Major Magowan was such an influence in my life,” he recalled. “I was so sad when I heard recently that he had died. He and the Army were the makings of me and turned my life around.
“I was so lucky. My life in the Army and my family life rescued me. The lives of countless thousands were ruined - so many ended up in the gutter, in drugs, in drink.
“I’m still haunted with the memories and am prone to deep depression, but I have to thank my lucky stars.”
His Alliance Support Group has helped force the recent Ryan Report into the institutionalised abuse - its work starts next month and should be completed in time for the projected Pope’s visit to Ireland in 2012 for the Eucharist Congress.
“It is imperative that we receive a Pope’s apology before then,” said Mr Hayes.
He recently met with fellow abused in London and the Home Counties and the memories persist. And he has had contacts from emigrants who have sought a new life in countries like Australia, New Zealand, the Far East, Bahrain, Aden and in England and Ireland.
“The effects never leave us no matter where we go,” said Mr Hayes. “It would have been bad enough in any circumstances, but we were left in charge of so-called Christian institutions who not only wrecked our lives, but committed the equally unforgivable sin of denying us our parents.
“I don’t know the circumstances under which I was taken from my mother and placed in cruel institutions. We were classed as young delinquents in those places, regardless of the reasons we were there - and that stays with you for life.”