We’re not fond of whistle-blowers in Ireland. Ask Jonathan Sugarman, Gda Maurice McCabe or Dr Tom Clonan. We don’t make it easy on people to tell the truth, and the truth we hate the most is the truth around sex abuse. Look at the Grace case, where a child was abused, in foster care, for years before the HSE – who knew about the abuse – did anything.
Part of the reason for this, I believe, is what Ferguson refers to as the notion of ‘abused and looked after children’ being viewed as ‘moral dirt’. I believe that part of the difficulty around welcoming whistle-blowers in the arena of child sexual abuse is tied up with our societal propensity for victim-blaming. Victims are viewed as ‘dirty’ and ‘shameful’. They are treated with less respect than they deserve, and they are blamed for their own abuse. Because we find the topic of CSA distasteful, we view the victims as shameful, too. By extension, then, we view those who highlight their plight as equally shameful, and attempt to silence them. It’s not a guilt around our collective failing of the vulnerable, but a disgust around discussion of anything to do with sex and the distasteful issue of child sexual abuse, which we still don’t know how to properly address.
Until there are better protections for whistle-blowers, until we shirk off the yoke of mis-placed omerta that exists in Irish society, until we make it easier to whistle-blow, until we actually reward whistle-blowers, we will continue to fail our most vulnerable.