MARK HENNESSEY, London Editor Irish Times.
FOR MONTHS Basil Geoghegan has trained for an attempt in early May on Mount Everest to raise funds for hundreds of British-based victims of institutional abuse, many of whom are now elderly and frail.
The investment banker, who is co-chair of the Ireland Fund of Great Britain, is bidding to raise £100,000 for the fund’s Forgotten Irish campaign, which helps to fund the work of a clutch of Irish voluntary organisations in London and elsewhere.
The former inmates of industrial schools “were not forced out just by economic reasons, they were survivors of institutional abuse”, he says. “They have got their own Everest to climb every day and that was one that was thrust upon them, not one for which they opted.”
However, the voluntary organisations dealing with them, many of which do receive funding from the Irish Government, are now struggling with cuts of 20 per cent and more in aid from British local authorities and health bodies.
The Catholic Church’s compensation to victims – some of it in cash, but most in properties – is not “filtering” through “as fast as it should”, he complains. “For these people, every day is one day closer to the end of their lives so we have got to address this faster.
“Irish taxpayers are hard pushed. My message is to the church, show me the money. That money has to get to the point of need now. When money goes into government, by the time it comes out the far end there is an awful lot less. The money from the church is the bit that seems to have disappeared into thin air when you look on the ground.”
Geoghegan believes that many abuse victims still remain hidden in the shadows, unknown even to the Residential Institutions Redress Board. “We disbelieve that people could not have heard about compensation by now, but Ireland to us means the Wicklow Mountains, or U2. For them, they left de Valera’s Ireland where they had their heads shoved down toilets.
“Fifty per cent of survivors emigrated, but it is difficult to be precise. Of course, they weren’t going to go to the Irish Centre. Anything Irish reminded them of a terrible past. I am not surprised that these people are only coming out over time.”
Geoghegan leaves for Nepal at the end of this month, where he hope to make an assault on Everest in early May.
In its most recent awards, the Ireland Fund of Great Britain gave out £260,000 in grants, but the voluntary body, which benefited in the past from donations from Anglo Irish Bank, among others, is struggling to keep up its figures.
Sheila Bailey, the fund’s executive director, says: “We have donors with not so much cash. Along with services that are being cut, the demands on our resources are greater than they have ever been. It is an unenviable situation but one that many charities find themselves in.”
Illustrating the scale of need among abuse victims alone, Bailey says one of the voluntary groups it supports, the London-Irish Survivors Outreach Service, deals with 400 cases every month.
Tuesday March 14th.