Monday, September 11, 2023

Former head of Christian Brothers stripped of freedom of Drogheda

Councillors in Co Louth have voted to no longer acknowledge a previous award granting the freedom of Drogheda to the former head of the Christian Brothers, Br Edmund Garvey.

The vote follows a campaign by a group of survivors, who were sexually abused as children by members of the Christian Brothers, opposing a legal strategy adopted when Br Garvey was head of the congregation which makes it more difficult for claimants to advance civil cases.

The vote was passed at a meeting of Louth County Council’s Drogheda borough district on Monday by five votes to four.

Labour Party councillor Emma Cutlip, who proposed the motion, said it was a “ceremonial” gesture in support of survivors of child sexual abuse.

While she said it was “well-accepted” that Br Garvey had “not done any legal wrong”, the legal strategy adopted by the religious order to civil cases was “abhorrent”.

“While we cannot undo the past, we can make new symbolic gestures,” she said.

Joan Martin, chief executive of the local authority, said Br Garvey’s previous entry in the roll of those awarded the freedom of Drogheda would be updated to reflect the vote of the council.

Ms Martin said she was “concerned” that the council did not have “a specific power” to remove the freedom of Drogheda from an individual, but would implement the decision.

Independent councillor Kevin Callan said he did not support the proposal as it would be a “judgment and sanction” against Br Garvey.

He told the meeting he also believed the vote was a “breach of fair procedure and natural justice”.

He said councillors had “come under pressure” to rescind the honour, originally awarded in 1997, which he said would “damage” Br Garvey.

Cllr Callan said he had been contacted by many people in Drogheda who felt removing the honour was “not warranted”.

The campaign to rescind the honour has been led by Damian O’Farrell, a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of a Christian Brother who was later convicted.

The legal strategy of refusing to provide a nominee to act on behalf of the congregation has been strongly criticised by survivors and their legal representatives as obstructive.

In refusing to provide a nominee in civil cases, survivors of historical child sexual abuse seeking compensation from the order must sue all brothers from the time who are still alive.

Labour Party councillor Michelle Hall and Cllr Cutlip, Independent councillor Paddy McQuillian and Sinn Féin councillors Joanna Byrne and Tom Cunningham all voted in favour of the motion.

Fine Gael councillor Eileen Tully, Fianna Fáil’s James Byrne and Independent councillor Declan Power and Cllr Callan voted against removing the honour from Br Garvey.

Cllr Power said he did not support the motion as he believed taking the action would “punish” Br Garvey. He said passing the proposal would not “guarantee the Christian Brothers’ order will change their legal strategy”.

Cllr Tully said she was not supporting the motion as she believed in doing so the council was taking “the law into its own hands”.

She said she would support the Oireachtas legislating to remove the loophole where religious congregations could refuse to provide nominees in civil cases.

Cllr Byrne said he could not support the proposal as he believed the councillors would be “acting outside of our authority” in passing the vote.

Br Garvey did not respond to requests for comment immediately after the vote.

Reacting to the decision, Mr O’Farrell said the vote had sent a “strong” message to the Christian Brothers about their current legal strategy, which he said he hoped they now reconsidered.