Mannix Flynn said he walked around the city for an hour after Dublin City Council’s monthly meeting on Monday night. “I just didn’t think it was going to be like that,” he said.
“Our lives don’t matter,” said the independent councillor. “They’ve disconnected the Artane Band, the uniform, to the institution. As if it never was connected.”
At City Hall on Monday, councillors had finally debated and voted on Flynn’s motion for the council to call on the Artane School of Music to disband.
The school’s band has the same name and uniform as it did when serious abuse took place. It is still associated with the Christian Brothers, some of whose past members perpetrated and covered up horrific child sexual abuse there.
“There’s no reason under the sun why the Artane Band can’t lose its name, lose its uniform and reconstitute itself,” Flynn said, later. “There’s no reason why it wouldn’t do that.”
But at their meeting, most councillors rejected Flynn’s idea. In the end, 31 of them voted against the motion, 11 voted in favour, and 6 abstained.
Flynn says he isn’t finished with the issue. “But I tell you this much. I will see the Artane Band disbanded. I will see it out of its uniform and I will see it reconstituted,” he said.
He said that he would put in another motion shortly, to say that the lord mayor should no longer be the patron of the Artane Band.
“This is going to go on. This is going to be in your faces,” he told councillors.
A Fraught Debate
“It’s not comfortable for me to be dealing with this particular issue,” Flynn had said, as the meeting moved on to his motion.
The motion, he said, was meant “not to undermine the people in that band, but it is to undermine the band that those people are actually in. Because it is about that band.”
The Artane Industrial School in north Dublin was closed in 1969. The extent of the abuse, torture, rape and cover-up at the school is detailed in the Ryan Report.
The report notes that the band, which didn’t close, was the public face of the industrial school, and “members of the public would have been reassured when seeing the boys performing that they were receiving good care and education, but in fact the band did not represent the reality for most boys in Artane”.
Said Flynn at the meeting: “Is it appropriate to have the Nazi Band with no Nazis in it? Would it be appropriate to have the Jimmy Saville Band? No.”
“So it is no longer appropriate to have children march in and around Croke Park at a national event, wearing the uniform of the institution and also carrying that name,” he said.
There are many like him, who are 60 years of age like him, or older, who are on suicide watch, he said, “who every time that band is mentioned, or is brought out into the field, actually go into deep deep trauma, for the suffering that happened in Artane, and for also those that suffered in other institutions like Letterfrack and so on, so forth.”
He asked that there be a “cordial, disciplined and mindful approach” to the motion.
Once the floor was open, the first few councillors to speak didn’t address how survivors relive trauma each time the Artane Boys Band plays at Croke Park. Instead, they focused on the popularity and the good work of the band today.
The motion is an “insult” to children and people in the community and the band, said Fianna Fáil Councillor Sean Paul Mahon, who pointed to the work that they do.
Said Sinn Féin Councillor Ciaran O’Moore, “The Artane Band now is a totally different thing altogether.” It works with 400 members and volunteers, he said, highlighting its mission to provide great music education.
Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole said that some organisations are integral parts of their communities, and do invaluable work. “I count the Artane School of Music as one of those organisations,” he said.
Like others, such as Fianna Fáil Councillor Tom Brabazon, O’Toole said he had great empathy for those who suffered in institutions. But that didn’t mean they would support the motion, which they saw as penalising children today.
Said Brabazon: “Even if we could change the name of the band, what’s the next stage? We’ll be looking to change the name of Artane as a parish as it might have the same effect as the name of the Artane school band.”
Perhaps the most vociferous opposition came from Labour Councillor Brendan Carr. He said he would support “any measure whatsoever which would assist anyone and help them to the wrongs of the past”.
He continued: “However I do think it’s despicable that Councillor Flynn is asking the children of today and the families of today to pay for the sins of the past.”
“This motion does nothing, absolutely nothing, to assist any victim, or help any victim in any way. But nor was it designed to,” he said. The motion, he said, was “a publicity stunt from day one, and that’s all it ever will be”.
Carr said he had spoken to some people who were in Artane school in the past, and they’d said that children there had been proud of the band.
“Despite what was going on, the band was the one thing that gave them a bit of life, and a bit of hope,” he said. “To disband them now is just utterly, totally senseless.”
The day after the meeting, Flynn said he remembers being in Letterfrack where some children were sent after they burnt down the Artane band room. They were held in the old court room on the land beside a mountain, he said.
“The reason they were held in that room for three weeks is that they were beaten so badly […] They were that black and blue,” he said.
At the meeting, Carr jabbed his finger towards the desk in front of him. “It’s wrong. It’s immoral. It’s unjust,” he said, of the motion to call for the band to disband. “I would ask the city council here this evening to put this motion in the gutter where it belongs.”
Social Democrat Councillor Gary Gannon was first among the speakers, after Flynn, to address the issue of how survivors are re-traumatised by seeing the band.
“If he tells me that people are being re-traumatised by this band marching around Croke Park,” he said, of Flynn. “I absolutely believe you.”
Gannon said that if Flynn “personally wants to dance on top of the ceiling of City Hall and scream about this, well then I believe he has earned the right to do that. And for it to be called a publicity stunt in any regard, I think, is reprehensible”.
Independent Councillor Ruairi McGinley also spoke in favour of Flynn’s motion. The Artane Industrial School caused all sorts of damage to people all across Dublin, across generations, he said. “It’s led to all sorts of social problems. […] We need to recognise that.”
He said there are people in Artane now who don’t know that, but that is the reality. “The Christian Brothers were behind that and have never taken full responsibility, I would suggest,” he said.
McGinley said he was surprised that in 2018, the brothers were still involved in the Artane School of Music Trust, under which the music school and band is run. “The Christian Brothers do need to withdraw. The damage that was done, I’m afraid, cannot be undone. They’ve lost the credibility to continue with that tie,” he said.
(Br John Burke, a Christian Brother who is one of the trustees of the Artane School of Music, didn’t respond to a phone call on Tuesday.)
McGinley said that the trust needs to be dissolved, immediately, within a month.
Others, who opposed Flynn’s motion, said they would like to see some mediation between survivors and those who now run the band, as a way forward.
“If we could convince the Christian Brothers to voluntarily remove themselves as trustees of the band, I would be very happy,” said independent Councillor Paddy Bourke.
The Artane School of Music is a community-based organisation, whose members have gone on to prominence both nationally and internationally, said Mark Bagnell, head of communications for the school.
“We are very proud of our organisation, where we come from and where we are going to. We are also proud of each member that has, and is, marching with the crest and uniform. We would see it as unfair to ask our existing members and volunteers to consider this proposal,” he said, by email.
The school is run by a board of management, staff and voluntary committees, he said. While it does operate under a trust set up by the GAA and the Christian Brothers, “neither have any involvement in the running of the school”, he said. “The school is an organisation that has come a long way since the industrial school closed.”
People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh said that, as a fellow survivor of childhood sexualised trauma, she wanted to support Flynn. “I understand what it is have to process difficult memories and emotions every day,” she said, at the meeting.
She said it was regrettable that there had been no effort by the band to engage in a dialogue, to acknowledge and try to help heal that harm.
“While I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of disbanding the band […] I do, as I said, understand the importance of symbols,” she said.
For those who have suffered, they are important. “They speak to us on levels that none of you can even begin to imagine,” she said.
She said that the tone of the debate and the sentiments expressed had been hurtful. “I’m sure it is hurtful to others, all the thousands, unfortunately, of people, who also in this city have suffered what we have suffered.”
So she would vote in favour of the motion “in the interest of sending a message of solidarity to everybody in this city who has had their childhood stolen”.
While she doesn’t want to see the band disbanded completely, she wants to acknowledge the harm, she said.
“I started this journey when I was 10 years of age. And I will be continuing it, I suppose, until my death,” said Flynn.
“It’s very easy for people to speak the way they have spoken. It’s very difficult for us who have experienced rape and torture at the hands of the Christian Brothers,” he said.
“I have no doubt that in the future, that the Artane Band will reconstitute itself, will disband and reform itself,” he said. “I don’t believe that it has a future in the uniform and with the name.”
Flynn said that he deals with his trauma on a daily basis. “And it ain’t easy,” he said, his voice cracking. “It’s not easy. But I deal with it. I deal with it. And I deal with my friends. Sometimes, my friends go out and they commit suicide because no one hears them […]”
Flynn said he was not looking for sympathy or for pity, but simply trying to tackle the issue as a politician, as a survivor, as somebody with direct experience of this. “I will continue on.”