Michael Connolly is a survivor of sex abuse by four of the notorious McDermott brothers from Donagh in Fermanagh who has chosen to give up his right to anonymity so that it might encourage other survivors to shake off feelings of shame so they can step forward in pursuit of justice.
Mr Connelly (51) gave The Detail an exclusive interview before heading to Stormont for the inaugural ‘Justice in the Community’ awards hosted by Department of Justice Minister David Ford. The Donagh survivors picked up an award for their courage in bringing to justice the McDermott brothers who’d terrorised children for five decades.
Michael Connolly chose this occasion to waive his right to anonymity in order to send a powerful message to other survivors of abuse who are still trying to come to terms with the impact the abuse has had on their lives. He sees it as making it clear that he and others like him have nothing to be ashamed about.
Abused from the age of eight or nine; he says he doesn’t remember exactly when it started. But it went on for seven years and he carried the burden of his abuse silently for nearly 40 years.
And he’s using his first interview to raise questions about two government commissioned reports into the complex Donagh case that focussed on a family of sex abusers in the tiny village outside Lisnaskea.
“I am beginning to feel those reports were done to appease us,” he said, “but we put ourselves through hell to get those reports done and I am damned if we are going to sit and let them gather dust.”
GOVERNMENT REPORTS MADE RECOMMENDATIONS
One of the reports was prepared by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority [RQIA] and was commissioned by the Department of Health and the other was commissioned by the Department of Justice and was carried out by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate [CJI].
The reports followed a police investigation and a trial after which John McDermott was convicted and jailed for nine years for 35 offences, including rape, between 1969 and 2001. He has recently been sentenced to a further six months for offences against another schoolboy in 2002.
Peter Paul McDermott hanged himself in May last year, the day after his trial had begun.
But most controversy has been focussed on the two other brothers – James McDermott and Owen Roe McDermott. They were deemed mentally unfit for trial so the jury heard the evidence and determined that they had abused children.
WE WENT THROUGH HELL
They remained at home in Donagh whilst on bail. The judge placed them under a Supervision and Treatment Order [STO] for two years and Michael Connolly said it was unacceptable that James McDermott and Owen Roe McDermott were ever allowed back into the community where they had caused so much suffering.
“We had put ourselves through hell,” he said, “to get those people into court and then they were let home. I don’t know if it is possible to imagine that these people have just completely and utterly destroyed lives.”
The fact that the McDermott brothers ended up back in the village where they caused so much pain was ‘unacceptable’ according to Mr Connolly.
“To get these people investigated and up to court and then they were let home. I don’t know if it is possible to imagine that these people just completely and utterly destroyed people’s lives.
“The State does not understand. And putting these two men back in the community where they had offended for so long was an indication of how little they understand.”
There was a concerted effort by survivors to get the sex offenders moved away. Presently, the two brothers are out of their home in Donagh on a voluntary basis but Michael Connolly says everyone knows that they will soon want to return home.
HOPING FOR COMMUNITY IMPACT ASSESSMENTS
Mr Connolly is hoping that a recommendation in the CJI report concerning community impact assessments has been adopted.
“The fact they are going to introduce community impact statements before these people are released back into the community again is important,” he said.
But he was unclear if this recommendation has yet been implemented. “We don’t know because we have not heard any more from the Government since those two reports were done,” he said.
“I have written seeking meeting with the joint committee for justice and health departments but so far I have not had a response.”
The Detail asked the Department of Justice about the status of the community impact assessments. A spokesperson for the Department responded with a statement: “Following a recommendation from The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, Michael Maguire, we have been looking at the feasibility of introducing community impact assessments to Northern Ireland.
“As part of his recommendation, Dr Maguire asked us to look at best practice in other jurisdictions. The only other jurisdiction that has looked at this is England & Wales.
“We understand the Ministry of Justice will be considering the future policy direction for England & Wales shortly. We will complete our report and publish it as soon as we are able to draw on their conclusions and experiences.”
That is not exactly reassuring news for Mr Connolly who fully expects the McDermott brothers, Owen Roe and James, to seek a return to Donagh for Christmas.
As far as the Department of Health is concerned, a spokesperson said Mr Connolly could be assured that all the recommendations made in the report by RQIA have been adopted.
RE-ASSURANCE FROM DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
A statement provided to The Detail reads: “RQIA reported its findings to the Minister on 11 November 2010. The Review made a total of 7 recommendations, all of which were accepted. An update on the position in relation to the seven recommendations was provided to RQIA on 18 April 2011. At that stage only Recommendations 5 and 6 were outstanding.
“In relation to Recommendation 5 (A review of the experience of trusts in relation to supervision and treatment orders should be carried out across Northern Ireland to identify learning points which can be shared across HSC organisations. This review should inform the development of guidance for issue to HSC organisations on the exercise of responsibilities in relation to supervision and treatment orders.) Guidance was provided to the HSC on 13 May 2011.
“In relation to Recommendation 6 (The legislation in relation to supervision and treatment orders should be reviewed at an appropriate time, by the relevant Departments, in light of changes made in other parts of the UK)
“Action will be taken forward as part of the development of mental capacity legislation in a criminal justice setting. The Department of Justice (DoJ) is in the lead on this aspect of the legislation. In the meantime the maximum duration of a Supervision and Treatment Order has been extended to 3 years, effective from 30 June 2011. This change will not affect existing Orders.”
Whilst that statement might offer some reassurance to Michael Connolly, he still believes there’s a distinct lack of empathy from officialdom in its dealings with survivors of sexual abuse.
LITTLE FAITH IN NEW GOVERNMENT INQUIRY
He’s convinced that the recently announced Government inquiry into institutional abuse in Northern Ireland illustrates the lack of understanding the authorities and the State have of the impact abuse has on those who suffer it.
He said the Northern Ireland inquiry pales significantly when compared to the inquiries already held in the Republic. “We look at all the other inquiries that have gone on in Ireland, “he said, “and then look at what the Northern Ireland Assembly is trying to put together and they do not even have the proper legislation in place to gather proper information.”
Amnesty International criticised the two-year delay in getting the legislation required to give the statutory inquiry powers to compel witnesses and evidence. And further criticised the time limit of two-and-a-half years – leaving just six months to use the power of the new legislation.
Amnesty director Patrick Corrigan was amazed when the response from Junior Ministers at Stormont Jonathan Bell and Martina Anderson who criticised lobby groups for putting survivors of abuse under stress. Amnesty said they worked with survivors of abuse and had supported their campaign for a public inquiry.
Michael Connolly, who supports the stance taken by Amnesty, said it looked as though the Junior Ministers were attempting to paper over the cracks in the proposed inquiry.
He also felt that the inquiry did not go far enough.
AN INQUIRY INTO CLERICAL ABUSE IS NEEDED
“The inquiry does not take into account clerical abuse,” he told the Detail. “There are as many people who have suffered clerical abuse as have suffered institutional abuse so it is time to pay attention to clerical abuse and the survivors.”
The issue of clerical abuse has yet to be addressed by the authorities in Northern Ireland but it is one that is attracting attention not only of Michael Connolly but Amnesty International as well. No doubt it will feature in the years ahead as the survivors of sexual abuse become stronger and more willing to fight for the rights they have been denied by paedophiles.
Michael Connolly wants to help them engage in this battle to regain control of their lives.
He is now studying law at Letterkenny Institute of Technology and he told The Detail this was another key factor in influencing him to go public with his identity.
“I felt disempowered all my life,” he said, “and the opportunity has come round to study law and I intend to put the law studies to very good use and perhaps in the future put what I learned into helping others who suffer fromthe impact of abuse.”
He said surrendering his anonymity was a key element in offering to help others.
“I can’t hide myself behind closed doors anymore,” he said, “I have got to come out and speak because I feel the need to do that. I have to talk out openly. And I am here to help and I need to leave this world a little bit better for others than it was for me.”