Taking The Lid Off Kincora (04.12.86)

Community Care, 4th December 1986

CC041286A CC041286B CC041286C

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2 comments
  1. This is surely one of the best most erudite piece I have read on Tara. I would like to see the complete story one day but I believe that our establishment and other high ranking assosiations are eo depraved and venal that the full picture will never be seen. We have a tremendous battle ahead of us and and pieces such as this are a sound beginning. Thank you spotlight.

  2. Kate MacDonald said:

    Transcript:

    TAKING THE LID OFF KINCORA (Community Care, 4th December 1986)
    There was much more to Kincora than a child care “scandal”, says Jim Lynch. But the truth has not been revealed because its connections and ramifications are too deeply embedded in cultural and political realities of Northern Ireland.
    The temporary suspension of John Stalker, deputy chief constable of Manchester, and his removal from the inquiry into the RUC shootings of six Catholics in Armagh, may have also erased the last lingering possibility that the true story of Kincora might yet be made public.
    Readers grown accustomed to considering Kincora a “sex-abuse child-care scandal” will find this connection surprising. This is a measure of the extent to which the real Kincora has been hidden away.
    Let us begin, as is proper, at the beginning. In January 1980, police began investigations into a single hostel: Kincora boys home, on the Upper Newtownards Road in Belfast. All three of its full-time staff were subsequently convicted on various charges of sexual abuse and gross indecency.
    Of these three, one excited the particular attentions of the press, politicians and various branches of the law: William McGrath, Kincora house-father, admitted to all charges against him, thus obviating the need to give evidence.
    “You mark my words” an associate noted, “a lot of important people breathed a sigh of relief when William McGrath pleaded guilty.”
    Who, then, was McGrath and why did his presence in the case arouse such anxiety; an anxiety which has still not ended? He was a man of many parts and it is the interconnection between his various roles and those of a variety of Northern Irish personalities which prompted a suppression unusual even by that state’s standards.
    McGrath was, first of all, a member of the British Israelites: a sect popular in Commonwealth countries, which claims that the descendants of the lost tribes of Judea are to be found among the white Anglo-Saxon-Celtic races. A strange claim indeed, but one which has certain attractions.
    The Jews, in this version of history, are impostors. Whites are a chosen breed. The conquests of the British Empire are a consequence of God’s hidden hand in human affairs. All of these claims are “proven” by recourse to passages from the Bible. The sect, in short, is an exuberant variety of fundamentalist Puritanism.
    McGrath was, secondly, founder of an independent Orange Order lodge, Heritage Lodge, which took as its motto the phrase “Occupy till We Come”. This is an instruction to Southern Irish Catholics to take some care of the country until such time as the revelation of God’s hidden agenda enables the (Protestant) Israelites to take over.
    One does not form an Orange Order lodge without considerable social and political support. In other words, however strange these claims may seem to outsiders, William McGrath made sense to his supporters.
    Seeking to force God’s hand somewhat, McGrath, thirdly, founded a paramilitary group called Tara. The status of this group was derided by the Northern Irish Assembly during its debates on Kincora. One wonders, therefore, why several Catholic workers vacated their jobs some weeks ago on receipt of death-threats from the very same group. The original Tara grouping had close links with the UVF, but McGrath’s particular brand of fanaticism was too much for even this organisation to stomach.
    It has been unequivocally established that British Army intelligence had unearthed these connections by the early 1970s. They were also aware of the gentleman’s sexual preferences, which seem to have been one of the worst-kept secrets in a very leaky state.
    They chose to keep this knowledge to themselves. The possibility of using such material to embarrass Loyalist politicians and paramilitaries was of far greater interest than the relief which disclosure might provide for a few unfortunate adolescents in “care”.
    Likewise, at least three RUC members had conducted abortive investigations into the affair before its public emergence. The evidence of two of these, as presented to the Hughes inquiry, was so contradictory and implausible that counsel for the youths concerned were forced to express their total incredulity.
    It was this latter connection, between at least one member of the RUC and William McGrath, which John Stalker had reportedly unearthed in his investigations. With his removal from this inquiry, that particular piece of the Kincora jigsaw seems doomed to return to a willed oblivion.
    What is it that emerges from this messy set of misalliances?
    Whatever it is, it is hardly a “child-care scandal”, if by child-care we understand, as most readers must, a discrete portion of the voluntary and statutory response to the disadvantaged in our societies. How, then, have we been led so far astray? The first step was by the addition of the few “similar” homes, whose inclusion on the scandal agenda first extended Kincora and later became Kincora.
    Whatever the case against the homes themselves, this reconstruction was immensely convenient. The Tutt committee, the first investigation convened as a response to Kincora, hastily dissolved itself, citing the “unsolved criminal aspects” of the case.
    The Sheridan committee, from DHSS London, spent an entire week making recommendations on child-care procedures. The Terry investigation into the RUC handling of the affair remains a confidential mystery.
    Finally, of course, the Hughes inquiry. It is not good enough to say that Mr Justice Hughes did the best job he could under difficult circumstances. One must remember that the unequivocal call from all sides was for an open judicial inquiry into the Kincora scandal as a whole. The terms of reference of the Hughes inquiry clearly denied this possibility.
    The resultant over-kill of the Northern Irish child welfare system was unnecessary, misguided in its objectives, and misdirected in its findings and recommendations.
    What really emerges from Kincora is the shadow side of an unstable and anxiety-ridden society. The pattern of connection between the Kincora actors is but a microscopic slice of a way of life which that tragic cultural reality inevitably imposes. To “solve” Kincora would be tantamount to “solving” Northern Ireland. To investigate Kincora properly would be to open to public scrutiny a scenario few people seem willing to confront.
    Child care in Northern Ireland is necessarily implicated in this scenario. How could it not be? It is also involved in a professional and responsible encounter with the damaged victims of its society’s struggles. This sense of professional responsibility and accountability has been seriously impaired. And it has been impaired, not so much by Kincora, as by the response to Kincora.
    The “original” Kincora is characterised by a web of deceit and collusion. It is a tale of spies and of spying; of revelations designed to conceal and concealment designed to reveal. What is striking and of fundamental importance is the extent to which the response to Kincora has extended and amplified these tendencies.
    One has, to begin with, the extraordinary emphasis on the prevention and detection of male pederasty. If the findings of a plethora of researches into sexual abuse are to be at all trusted, then the sexual abuse of young girls by males outstrips male-to-male abuse by a phenomenal factor. This distorted policy is a direct and tragic consequence of Kincora.
    Second, it is, at the least, extremely unlikely that the range of abuse detection strategies now unfortunately built into the Northern Ireland system will protect a single child, male or female, from physical or sexual abuse.
    A gross level of surveillance is already one of the greatest problems facing the ordinary citizen in that Province. Replacing what little tenderness and trust exists with a climate of further paranoia and suspicion is hardly an auspicious basis for development or maturation.
    But then, as D W Winnicott had it: “The axiom is: What is good is always being destroyed”, (from “The Place of the Monarchy”, 1970, published in Home is Where We Start From, Penguin 1986) and this “concept of unconscious intention” provides a useful introduction to assessing the deeper implications which Kincora poses for child care.
    There is a second response to Kincora which remains relatively unexplored. This is the response of child-care workers themselves in the face of the unfolding saga.
    Northern Irish child care workers are intimately acquainted with the complexities of Kincora and with the wider and deeper implications which have been thus far briefly outlined. They, above all others, know that there is and was more to Kincora than has been made available in its sanitised reconstruction.
    Why then, one must ask, have they acquiesced so readily in the scapegoating of their profession? Why has their resistance to the abuses of power been so weak and fragmented? It is impossible to answer this question without taking into account the subjective and unconscious impact of the accusation implicit in Kincora.
    This hypothetical accusation proclaims: “You have been exposed as complicit in that which our society abhors above all: the physical violation of the weak and defenceless. And you were supposed to care.”
    Our rational selves will respond to this accusation with a simple yea or nay “mea culpa” or “not guilty, m’Lord”. Having by now explored this aspect of Kincora with sizeable number of care personnel from Northern Ireland, I have a firm and growing belief that their reaction to Kincora was both deeply irrational and understandable.
    Individual child care workers were subjectively paralysed by Kincora. They experienced themselves as complicit in the abuses its publication revealed. What this points out is not any form of rampant collusion in such abuses. Rather, it is a dramatic affirmation of the emotional vulnerability which is an inevitable component of the practice of child care in a divided and contradictory society.
    These contradictions are not confined to Northern Ireland. They are generalised contradictions which take particular forms in particular cultures. Let us examine the Kincora sample in this light.
    Northern Ireland says, as do all Western societies, that it places a sacred value on the life of the child. It also cherishes and values institutionalised aggression and slaughter. Whatever the historical and economic determinants may be, this society promotes both of these sets of desires on the basis of a rigid adherence to the letter of divine law, in the name of God the Father.
    This essentially blasphemous contradiction can never be openly acknowledged. Those who are healthy experience it as an unconscious struggle between their yearnings and their prohibitions. Those who are sick manifest it in practice. This practice is neither confined nor reducible to sexual abuse. It is a form of purist pornography which can be studied in detail within Hitlerian procedures and policies.
    Even a cursory examination of fascistic agglomeration will reveal the same unsettling fusion of excessive purity and craven abjection. It is, in short, the corruption of ethics by power. William McGrath personified this mode of corruption. He frightened the life out of child care. The resultant inertia enabled the powers – that – be to suppress what he stands for.
    This sadistic lining to civilised society is not confined to extreme states nor to extreme parties. There is only one effective response to this phenomenon which concerns all of us. And that is to aim for the preservation of “the good”. What is good, healthy, tender and trusting within us is also necessarily vulnerable, ambivalent, non-righteous and prone to annihilation from within and without.
    There is an impulse in post-Seebohm child welfare to respond to this positive ideal on an organised societal basis. This impulse is undergoing a grave crisis of identity and is being subjected to an unremitting level of destruction. What Kincora shows up is the manner in which power can play on our internalised sense of guilt and complicity.
    It is crucial to remember that this very capacity for empathising with the best and the worst within us is the cornerstone of a professional response to the victimised subjects of the state. Northern Irish care workers have been understandably reluctant to speak out of this space. Under such intense public scrutiny, would you risk being labelled a “pervert” by association?
    But if child care, as a social ideal, has anything to offer, it is the transformation of abuse via the very channels of desire which, in their pathological form, caused such abuse in the first place. This is the healthy paradox which must be sustained and embellished. This is the training policy which must stand firm against the grey and undesiring face of bureaucratic substitutes for loving.
    Power, for all its horrors, is ultimately defenceless against the articulated will of intelligent love.

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