For months, independent Dublin City Councillor Mannix Flynn has been pushing for the Artane Boys Band to dissolve and then regroup under a different name, with a different uniform.
The band has the same name and uniform as it did when serious abuse took place there, and it is still associated with the Christian Brothers, some of whose past members perpetrated and covered up horrific child sexual abuse there, he said.
“For a band like the Artane band to exist is bad enough, but for the band to be rolled out as a national icon every single year is totally unacceptable,” says Flynn.
He says this sends the wrong message to both the perpetrators and victims of child sex abuse and institutional abuse.
“We are sending out a signal that our suffering and the crimes committed against us didn’t matter. That we are nobody children, that didn’t have a voice,” he says.
Flynn says the band was used as a front to hide abuse. The harrowing memories of the institutions are brought back to abuse victims every time they see an event in Croke Park at which the band is present, he said.
“A disbandment of the trust would sever all ties with the former industrial school and its brutal history and in doing so, would acknowledge the ongoing collective suffering of so many,” he says.
Survivors of sexual abuse can be retraumatised by all kinds of different triggers, say survivors and people who help them.
People need to listen to survivors when they say that something is causing them pain, says Eileen Finnegan, a clinical director of psychotherapy programmes at One in Four, which supports victims of abuse and works with sex offenders to reduce re-offending
If we don’t, it discourages others from coming forward, she said.
Councillors from Labour and Sinn Fein say Flynn is just “attention seeking”, that he is pushing the issue for publicity.
“I’m not going to insult current members of the band and the community. I think it’s the sort of stunt and gimmickry that sadly in my view has been the hallmark of Mannix Flynn’s involvement in the council,” said Labour Party Councillor Dermot Lacey on Monday.
“I’ve been talking to the kids in the band and they are very proud of their band, they want to keep the name,” Lacey said.
Ciaran O’Moore of Sinn Fein has a similar view. Everyone knows what happened in the industrial schools was wrong, O’Moore says.
“Because something happened a long time ago, and it was all sorted out with the Ryan Report, why should they change the name now? Mannix is off the wall on this,” he says.
Flynn says it is not about publicity. “I didn’t climb onto the window ledge of City Hall for publicity, for councillors to say that, and let them hear this: what they do is they aid and abet and facilitate child abusers,” he said. “Because they minimise those that have been abused.”
At a recent area committee meeting, Fianna Fáil, Fianna Gael and Labour all tabled a motion in support of the band.
Flynn’s motions were “deeply unfair” to the present generation of musicians in the Artane Band, Naoise Ó Muirí of Fine Gael told the Irish Times.
Ó Muirí was supported by Sean Paul McMahon of Fianna Fáil, and Labour’s Alison Gilliland. He said Flynn was seeking to visit the sins of the past on the present generation who have no connection with the industrial school which closed its doors in 1969.
The Artane Boys Band does still have links to the organisation that used to run it, though.
According to the Charities Regulatory Authority, the Christian Brothers, who ran the Artane Industrial School and the Artane Boys Band, are still involved.
Br John Burke, a Christian Brother, is one of the trustees, alongside Director General of the GAA Padraig Duffy, President of the GAA Aogán Ó Fearghaíl, and a Michael O’Grady.
Both the band and the GAA have said they celebrate its proud 130 year history. This includes the period when the abuse took place.
It’s unclear whether the GAA funds the band. It declined to comment on that, or any other questions about the band. Br John Burke did not respond to a media query before deadline.
Keith Kelly, manager of the Artane School of Music, also failed to respond to several attempts to meet and discuss the band.
He told the Irish Times that Flynn has “no idea who the Artane Band are in 2016 and the hurt he is causing with his words and insults.”
The Artane Boys Band
Mannix Flynn says he was first incarcerated in an industrial school at the age of seven, in Golden Bridge in 1964.
He says that, in 1968, he was sent to one of the most notorious of all the Irish institutions, the industrial school in Letterfrack. He says he was in the Artane Industrial School in 1968 and 1969, in Dangan Industrial School in 1970 and in St Patrick’s in 1973.
The Artane Industrial School was closed in 1969, but Br Joseph O’Connor – who was in charge of the Artane Boys Band – continued to run the band after the industrial school closed down. The extent of the abuse, and cover-up, is detailed in the Ryan Report.
In Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools by journalists Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan, one inmate and member of the Artane Boy’s Band recounts being sexually assaulted by Br O’Connor in front of the entire class, in the 1950s:
I was in his class once – he taught school as well as the band – and I had said or done something, and he put me out on the line at the edge of the classroom. Then he told me to take off my clothes. And right there in front of the whole class he sat down on his desk with his foot on the bench where the boys would sit and write, and his other foot on the ground. He opened his cassock and put me across it and put his left hand under my private parts.
He was squeezing me and beating the living hell out of my bare backside. He was foaming at the mouth, jumping and hopping. He was having a sexual orgasm in front of the whole class of boys. And I wasn’t the only boy to be done. It just hurts you to be degraded in such a manner. He didn’t even have the goodness to bugger you in private. He was a bastard. And yet he would march around there on parade with the band like he was King Tut.
He was evil. He did things to me I couldn’t even tell my wife about, they were so shameful. One of the things he’d do when he’d be sexually molesting you was that he’d be trying to choke you as well. He’d be foaming at the mouth during it. Some of the things he did I can’t even talk about now. It’s too painful. And yet many others suffered the same fate as me, or even worse.
Especially the young boys from the convents in the country who had absolutely nobody. If something happened to them, even if they had disappeared, nobody would have missed them.
Councillor Mannix Flynn says that the band room was used to isolate the boys so that sexual abuse could take place.
Flynn says he was approached by other survivors of the industrial school system and asked to table the motion to the council in favour of the band being renamed.
At first, that was at the South East Area Committee – to call on the band to consider renaming itself and changing its uniform. (The uniform is the same as it was in the 1960s, when the band was part of the Artane Industrial School, he said.)
Other councillors objected to the motion.
On 12 September, Flynn tabled a new motion calling for the full disbandment of the Artane Boys Band.
A couple of days later, Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr issued a statement in the run-up to the all-Ireland football final calling for Dublin fans to cheer for the Artane Boys Band.
He told the Herald that Flynn was: “Raising the issue over the way kids were treated years ago, but the impact he’s having on that band at the moment is something that any city councillor should be ashamed of.”
On 14 November, Flynn put in an emergency motion to the City Council meeting, to call on Carr to withdraw his comments, in which he said Flynn was upsetting the kids currently in the band.
Flynn says: “I’ve never hurt a child in my life.”
In September and October, Flynn had tabled motions at the North Central Area Committee calling on that committee to acknowledge the full history of the band, in relation to the abuse suffered by its members.
Only two councillors in the North Central Area supported Flynn: Michael O’Brien of the Anti-Austerity Alliance and John Lyons of the People Before Profit Alliance.
O’Brien said on Tuesday that he thought some other councillors have displayed a lack of empathy for Flynn as a survivor of the institutions.
Councillor Ciaran O’Moore, on the other hand, says that the campaign to disband the band is “a pet project” of Flynn’s, and that Flynn was never in the Artane Industrial School.
He didn’t think that it might retraumatise survivors if they were to see the band playing. “How’s it going to traumatise you to see a uniform?” he said.
The band are doing a fantastic job for 400 kids in the Artane, Raheny, and Coolock area, and many want to see the name retained, said O’Moore.
Despite opposition from many of his fellow councillors, Flynn is still pursuing his goal.
Last week, he put up a website, and to date 485 people have signed his petition for the band to be broken up and reformed.
His campaign has been backed by two groups representing victims of child abuse, including Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an international organisation.
Survivors of child sex abuse – and those who work with them – say it is possible to retraumatise people. And that it happens.
“For the survivors of St Joseph’s Institution present when the Artane Boys Band performs, such as at Croke Park and other public events [this] can cause anxiety, anger and flashbacks of torture and degrading treatment,” said a survivor of clerical sex abuse from Fermanagh, Michael Connolly. (He is not associated with Flynn or his campaign.)
“To understand the pain survivors endure, one would need to walk in their shoes,” he said.
For Connolly, who wants to raise awareness about child sex abuse, it is significant that the band performs at major GAA matches, which are representative of the best of Irish traditions.
The name should be changed to something that celebrates what is positive about young Irish people and their contributions around the world, he said. “I also believe that any change in name should be introduced at a major public event, giving recognition to survivors and those who did not survive the torturous experience in … institutions.”
Victims of childhood sexual abuse can be retraumatised by things they see, hear, or smell, said Finnegan, of One in Four, the organisation that supports victims of abuse and works with sex offenders to reduce re-offending.
“Victims of clerical sex abuse have said that the smell of incense can bring back the feelings,” said Finnegan, who noted she wasn’t taking sides in the debate around the Artane Boys Band. “There is a lot of evidence about trauma and how someone can be re-traumatised.”
As Finnegan sees it, people don’t like talking about child abuse. “We brush it away and pretend it didn’t happen as opposed to … learn[ing] from what did happen,” she said.
“If we block these conversations what does this mean for a victim of abuse? If they see others in a leadership capacity are responded to like this it won’t encourage them to come forward,” said Finnegan.
But society as a whole is traumatised by these events and those who want to retain the band need understanding also, she said. “They do not intend to turn their back on victims.”
Instead, they want to try to bring out the positive things that exist in the institutions and organisations that are central to the community.
We need as a society to learn how to protect children and to talk openly about sex and sexual abuse so that we can build community organisations that are safe for children, she said.