Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Local TD supports removing Freedom of Drogheda from former head of the Christian Brothers

Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd has said he believes the Freedom of Drogheda should be removed from the former head of the Christian Brothers, Edmund Garvey, because of the legal strategy the order has adopted in the High Court when being sued in historical sex abuse cases.

Mr O’Dowd, a former three-time mayor of Drogheda, said the councillors who are to vote on the issue next month must make their own decision, but he believed it was legitimate to remove the honour from Br Garvey given the “exceptional circumstances” that existed.

The strategy adopted by the order in the High Court, which began when Br Garvey was the organisation’s leader, is “not at all respectful” of the victims, prevents them getting closure, and affects not just the men but also those close to them, the Fine Gael TD said.

Br Garvey, who was born in Drogheda in 1945, joined the Christian Brothers as a 14-year-old juniorate in Baldoyle, north Dublin. He studied at UCD and Queen’s University Belfast and spent time working for the congregation in Rome, including in 1996 – the year of the beatification of the founder of the congregation Edmund Rice.

Awarded the Freedom of Drogheda in 1997, Br Garvey (78) was leader of the Christian Brothers in Ireland up to last year.

For the past number of years the order has adopted a strategy in the courts in relation to people seeking damages in historical sex abuse cases that has made it hugely difficult to bring the cases to hearing.

One victim of historical sex abuse has written to members of the board of the Co Louth-based Rape Crisis Centre North East complaining about the position taken by a former Drogheda mayor Michelle Hall, who is interim chair of the centre.

Ms Hall was contacted last year when she was mayor of Drogheda, by Dublin councillor Damian O’Farrell, who is acting as a representative of approximately 30 men currently taking cases against the Christian Brothers, and who has led the calls for the rescinding of the honour from Br Garvey.

In her response Ms Hall said the issue would have to be voted on by the 10 members of the Drogheda borough. “Nine of the members indicated that they did not wish to bring forward a motion, including myself. Cllr Eileen Tully hasn’t responded to date. That means that the Freedom of Drogheda award will not be rescinded.”

The victim, who is not being named, asked the board members if they believed there was a “conflict of interest” between the position taken by Ms Hall as councillor, and the “ethos” of the Rape Crisis Centre North East, which is to stand in solidarity with victims.

A motion on the issue has now been raised at county level and referred to the Drogheda district for a vote. Ms Hall has offered to meet with victims to discuss the motion prior to the vote, and a number of the victims are considering whether to take up her offer.

She told The Irish Times she did not wish to comment on the issue of Rape Crisis Centre but said she had worked “long and hard” in support of victims of sex abuse over the years.

Ms Tully, who took over as Mayor of Drogheda in June, told The Irish Times she believes the vote on the issue should be held in secret because of the level of “dissension” it has created.

Deirdre Kenny, the director of advocacy with the One in Four group, which provides support to victims of sex abuse and their families, said it supported the rescindment. “For survivors, once they have taken the step of coming forward they often feel the need to have the support of the community,” she said.

A request for a comment from Br Garvey met with no response. At the time he was granted the Freedom of Drogheda in 1997 the Drogheda native was head of the order internationally. When accepting the award, he apologised for the actions of members who had hurt those attending its schools. “For those who did have hurtful experiences, I apologise and ask forgiveness,” he said.