Today, I will be in the Garden of Remembrance, at a rally organised by Colm O’Gorman (Executive Director of Amnesty International, survivor of clerical abuse and rape, and the boy who sued the pope). We’ll be standing with thousands of other people in solidarity with those who were abused – physically, sexually, and emotionally – by the Roman Catholic Church.

This week’s visit by the pope has been hugely painful for many thousands of people on this island. People are finding themselves hurt, upset, and triggered all over again. Even as someone who was never sexually abused by a member of the Roman Catholic Church – although members of the church concealed that they knew my two elder brothers (Nigel Talbot and Cormac Talbot) were sexually abusing me – I have found details of the continued abuse of people by the Roman Catholic Church upsetting. I have heard from many survivors of clerical abuse how difficult and traumatic these weeks have been for them. I want them to know that I bear witness to their pain, I acknowledge it, I believe them.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s important to honour the truth of those who have suffered. It is important to honour the pain of those who have suffered – and to recognise the origins of that pain; the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish society that stood by in silence and allowed the rape and abuse of young children to take place.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today to honour the memories of those who can’t make it: Those who were murdered by the Roman Catholic Church; those who were sold by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their bones broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their spirits broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those for whom being there would be too emotionally difficult; those who died by suicide,  who are in addiction, who are homeless, who are in psychiatric units on account of the trauma visited on them by the Roman Catholic Church.


I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s the least I can do.

The Murphy Report

The Murphy Report was released the day before yesterday.  Since then, the government, clergy, gardaí and other concerned bodies and individuals have been howling in indignation.
People are being condemned left, right and centre for allowing Irish children to be sexually abused; for abusing the children, for hushing it up and for doing nothing when they were informed.

But here’s a newsflash – this report is not an indictment of the Irish Catholic Clergy – it is an indictment of the Irish as a people.  We stand by as our children are abused. We turn away from them and then, when faced with an incontrovertible truth, rend our garments and cry ‘Why didn’t they say something?’

The questions, instead, should be ‘Why didn’t we listen when they told us’ (even non-verbal communication is disclosure) and ‘Why didn’t we do something?’

As someone whose earliest memory – before I was even three years old – is of being sexually abused, I feel I know a thing or two about this subject.  I’m not afraid to speak out. The only thing that stops me naming those who abused me is that there has been no prosecution. The DPP – despite confessions – decided against prosecution because ‘there wasn’t enough evidence’.

But it’s not just now that I refuse to hold my tongue.  As a young teenager – when I finally found out that what was happening to me on a nearly daily basis was not ‘normal’ – I spoke out. I looked for help. I was desperate to be rescued from hell.

I told ‘responsible adults’ who told me that ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘men are like that’. I told a respected psychiatrist in Crumlin Childrens’ Hospital. Her response? She called – no, not the Gardaí, or social services don’t be silly! – but one of the people who was abusing me and told him, in very coded language that she knew what he was doing. Did he stop? Not on your nelly! He ‘taught me a lesson’ so I’d learn to keep my mouth shut and ‘stop spreading my filth’.  (As you can see, I’m a slow learner!)

My friends, out of concern, told their parents, who said ‘Shhh! That’s private family business. We can’t interfere.’

In the past year, I have learnt that, at one stage, a delegation of my teenaged friends went to the headmistress of our school (a nun) and told her of their very real concerns that I was going to kill myself. Her response?  ‘You’re all good girls – don’t worry about Hazel and her problems. Don’t let that distract you from your studies.’  I heard that and felt almost defiant for still being alive, 20 years later.

So my point is that ‘the church’ did not abuse these children – ‘the country’ did, because it permitted the abuse in so many ways and on so many levels. And what you permit, you promote.

Mythbuster#1: The Irish Don’t Love Children

There is  a rumour being promulgated that Irish people love children. It irks me because, like many myths, it simply isn’t true. So let me take this opportunity to set the record straight; as a nation, Irish people do not love children.

I think this myth springs from the fact that Irish people had so many children – due, primarily, to the lack of availability of reliable contraception. Until years after I was born (conveniently) the rhythm method was the only method legally available to generations of Irish mammies and daddies. Let’s face it, using ‘natural’ contraception is a bit like saying that playing Russian roulette with a machine gun is safe once you know what you’re doing.  So Irish mammies and daddies had loads of children that they never touched – except to hurt; and rarely spoke to – except to give them orders, give out to them and give them an idea that they were, generally, worthless.

Irish people don’t love children, they tolerate them. If Irish people truly loved children, then the abuses that were visited upon this nation’s babies by members of the Catholic Church would not have been tolerated and condoned the way they were.

If Irish people loved children, they would not have allowed the Catholic Church to have sold their ‘illegitimate’ babies – which they did until the 1970s.

If Irish people loved children, we would not have heard Michael Murphy on the Late Late Show telling Ryan Tubridy very matter-of-factly and with great dignity about the abuse he suffered as a child.

What made Michael’s story worse was his acceptance and understanding that there was nothing at all unusual in an Irish child being abused physically and sexually by an adult within the home or close by it. It happened. It still happens – and it will continue to happen until we learn to love our children.

Of course, most individual mothers and fathers love their individual children, but our national identity cannot include a love of children because it doesn’t exist. It will not exist until our government does more to uphold the rights of children instead of merely paying lip service to them. It will not exist until children who are being abused are removed from abusive situations and properly cared for – which doesn’t happen. That cannot happen while our social workers struggle under huge caseloads. It will not exist until every child receives a decent education, which cannot happen where there are more than 22 children in the class. It will not exist until we accept that, as a nation, we have been getting it very wrong for a very long time – and we learn how to do it better.

My friend Noelle Harrison, wrote in her new novel (The Adulteress) that to be loved is to be treasured. How many Irish children went to sleep last night feeling treasured? I’ll tell you – not enough. Not nearly enough.