Friday, September 01, 2023

Councillors to vote on rescinding Freedom of Drogheda from Christian Brother

A vote on whether to rescind the Freedom of Drogheda from the former leader of the Christian Brothers is expected to take place next week.

The honour was given to Drogheda native Edmund Garvey in 1997.

Edmund Garvey was the head of the religious order in Ireland, when it adopted a legal strategy to defend civil cases taken by victims seeking compensation for historical child sexual abuse.

The strategy means the Christian Brothers has not put forward a nominee to represent it as a defendant in civil cases, which means there is no organisation for victims to sue.

Instead, plaintiffs have to sue all individual Christian Brothers who were members of the order at the time of the alleged abuse.

The approach, while legal, can make it difficult for plaintiffs to pursue their cases.

It is for this reason that some victims have called on Councillors to rescind the honour from Edmund Garvey, 26 years after he received it.

The issue is expected to be voted on by ten Drogheda Councillors next Monday, after initially being put before all Louth Councillors.

Damian O'Farrell, an abuse victim and spokesperson for a group of 14 men who are currently pursuing legal claims, said that rescinding the honour would be symbolic for them.

"It's not about him at all. It's about solidarity. We are looking for, it's a symbol, it's a reparation symbol, we want the country to stand with us and say this is wrong. Drogheda continues to honour this man, it's a great symbol for us", he said.

He said the strategy was prolonging the process for victims and "putting a block in our pathway for justice".

Mr O'Farrell said if the honour were to be rescinded from Edmund Garvey, it would be a "message from society" that people in Ireland stand with victims.

He said if that were to happen, "we would hope the order then would consider their position" and that "victims then could get on with their lives".

The Christian Brothers has not responded to a request for comment.

In a statement to RTÉ's Prime Time earlier this year, the Christian Brothers said it was not in a position to comment on matters that are subject of current and ongoing legal proceedings, but that it provides the names of relevant Brothers "where there is a lawful basis to do so".

It also said it continues to view mediation and non adversarial voluntary agreements as optimum means for victims to pursue.

Earlier this year, the President of the Law Reform Commission and retired Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, told RTÉ’s Prime Time, that it will recommend the law be changed to stop the use of a legal technicality by religious orders to deter and delay victims taking civil cases for compensation in the courts for historical child sexual abuse.

Survivors facing 'multiple lawyers'

Dr Clíona Sadlier of the RCNI has said that it is in full agreement with the Law Reform Commission regarding changing the technicalities of the law, which, she said, "the Christian Brothers are using to frustrate survivors’ access to their rights and justice".

She said that the legal strategy adopted by the Christian Brothers has "effectively put an insurmountable barrier in place for survivors to access their rights in terms of the formal civil process".

Dr Sadlier said that instead of survivors facing one team in the court room, they are now facing multiple lawyers.

She said that the conversation has now moved outside the "formal structures" of the courts and into the public realm.

"The place it has moved is to focus on Brother Garvey, and to focus on the Freedom of the City he was given in Drogheda, and to begin to question the Christian Brothers in terms of their decision making and strategy here".

Dr Sadlier said that she did not believe this campaign was about one individual.

"I don’t think this campaign is really about Brother Garvey at all. I think this campaign is about the choice the Christian Brothers are making today about their legal strategy in facing off survivors", she said.

"The point for us is that the Christian Brothers can make a choice and they can make a choice today, so this is not actually about the past, this is very much about today. It's about survivors access to justice today, so it's appropriate that there should be a public conversation about that".

Brother Edmund Garvey retired from his role as provincial leader of the Christian Brothers last year.

Support group Dignity4Patients has stated support for the campaign to rescind the Freedom of Drogheda honour.

The group's former chair, Paul Murphy, who has been a member of the board of Dignity4Patients since 2008, stepped down from his role and from the Board in recent days over a letter he sent to Louth Councillors in July urging them not to remove the honour.

Mr Murphy confirmed he has stepped down.

He said he did not mean to cause distress to any victims and has apologised.

In a statement, Chief Executive of Dignity4Patients Adrienne Reilly said the letter "in no way represents the views of our victims, Board or our staff".

She said that Dignity4Patients "unreservedly supports all victims of sexual violence in their endeavours to seek justice".

Amended motion

At a meeting of Louth County Council in July, councillors passed an amended motion supporting all victims of child sexual abuse and condemning the "current litigation strategy chosen by the Christian Brother Order". It also agreed to write to Christian Brothers about this issue.

The issue of rescinding the Freedom of Drogheda was given back to ten councillors from the Borough District of Drogheda to address in September.

Labour party councillors Michelle Hall and Emma Cutlip have said they will support a motion to rescind the Freedom of Drogheda from Edmund Garvey, describing this as an "unprecedented situation" and that the decision "has not been taken lightly".

There are two Sinn Féin councillors in the Borough District of Drogheda, Joanna Byrne and Tom Cunningham.

Ms Byrne said that the party would be "supporting the victims and backing the rescindment vote next Monday".

Fine Gael’s Eileen Tully and Fianna Fáil’s James Byrne said they had no comment.

Labour's Pio Smith described this as a very stressful time for victims of sexual abuse "committed by some Christian Brothers", a "stressful time for Br Garvey", and also a "difficult time" for Drogheda councillors.

Mr Smith also said that it is his understanding "there is nothing in legislation that guides councillors as to how to rescind a freedom award hence the need to adhere to principles of fair procedure and natural justice".

At the July meeting, Independent Cllr Paddy McQuillan said he supported the motion.

He said that "to rescind a Freedom of Drogheda award to a recipient is unprecedented in the history of our great town".

Mr McQuillan said he felt it was the right thing to do and that the decision was not taken lightly.

He did not make any further comment ahead of the upcoming vote.

Independent councillors Kevin Callan and Declan Power did not respond to a request for comment.

The vote is expected to take place on Monday.