Tom Wall pictured at the monument in Glin erected in memory of the boys who attended the industrial school there Picture: Michael Cowhey
HUNDREDS of historical documents from Glin Industrial School could be at risk unless the government and the state intervenes to ensure they remain a public record of a grim period in Irish social history, according Fianna Fail TD for Limerick Niall Collins.
And he will be demanding government action on the fate of some 800 documents, placed on loan with the University of Limerick by abuse survivor Tom Wall from Glin in 2015.
This week, Mr Wall revealed that the Christian Brothers who ran the school until it closed are continuing to claim the documents as their own.
And his fear is that unless the state steps in, these documents will effectively be buried out of sight in the Brothers’ own archive or worse, destroyed.
As things stand, he explained, the documents remain sealed at UL because of the Brothers’ legal challenge over their ownership.
The Limerick Leader wrote to the European Province of the Congregation of Christian Brothers asking for a comment on the issues raised but at the time of going to press no reply was to hand.
Mr Wall, who was incarcerated in Glin at the age of three and where he was physically and sexually abused, saved the documents from being burned in 1973 when the Christian Brothers were packing up to leave Glin.
“I was ordered by the Superior, Br Murray, to burn all the documents that he gave me but was told that I could keep any that I particularly wanted,” he said.
“As I was looking for my own file I therefore held back some of the documents that I had been told to burn and I put them in the attic of a house in Glin where they remained for the next 40 years.
“When the Christian Brothers became aware that these documents had survived the fire of 1973 in which I had been told to burn them and that they were being held in UL, they lodged a claim to the university stating that they belonged to them.”
Mr Wall was also warned in 2015 that legal proceedings could follow unless he told UL to return the documents to the Christian Brothers. It was then agreed that the Christian Brothers and/or their representatives could inspect the documents and two visits were arranged, one in 2015 and the second late last year.
After that, Mr Wall was invited to Dublin where he met the superior of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, Br Edmund Garvey and another brother.
“I said I would like to co-operate in every way. What I would be prepared to do is, I would be prepared to give them copies of the original documents,” Mr Wall said.
But instead, Mr Wall recalled, they wanted the originals.
“They said they wanted them in their own archives as a tribute to the boys of Glin.”
But, he continued, “These documents are connected to the children of Limerick that were detained in the Glin Industrial School.”
And he described how one of the documents was a letter written to him by an aunt which he never received. Other documents include information on what supplies were bought for the school.
“I firmly believe that these documents should be kept in the University of Limerick where they can be preserved and viewed and will be a record for future generations,” he said.
This week, Mr Wall said “lines had been drawn” and there was now “no common ground” over the issue of the documents. He has now appealed to a wider public and to the government to step in.
“It is an insult to me as a survivor, and the many other survivors who were abused by the Christian Brothers, that they can now claim ownership of these documents after a lapse of 40 years solely in order to destroy them,” Mr Wall said.
An angry Deputy Collins has thrown his weight behind Mr Wall’s campaign. “Tom Wall’s actions in seeking to preserve these records for both the former residents and the State is very honourable, was the right thing to do and indeed rightly serves the wider public interest,” he said.
“It is beyond belief that the Christian Brothers, having previously sought to burn the personal documents of formers residents , would now threaten legal action against the person who rightly sought to protect them and correctly involved the University of Limerick in the matter,” he continued.
“These records contain State referral documents from the courts and the Departments of Health and Education and also other items like personal letters written by residents to their parents which the Christian Brothers never sent on,” Deputy Collins added. “To now claim sole ownership of these documents is beyond belief.
“These records in my view belong in the first instance to the residents and their representatives and secondly the State. I will personally be raising this matter next week in Dáil Éireann where I will be demanding that the Government and the State take an active interest in this matter and secure these records.
“The actions of the Christian Brothers in threatening legal action against Tom Wall is nothing short of contemptible. It demonstrates to us again that some religious orders still simply don’t get it when dealing with former victims of their abuse, and indeed the wider public.
“We have seen recently the experience in Tuam and this must not be allowed to be repeated in Glin.”
In correspondence seen by the Limerick Leader, solicitors for UL have made it clear that the university “claims no interest in the papers referred to in previous correspondence as the Tom Wall Glin Industrial School Papers”.
The university will only release the documents “pursuant to an agreement” between Mr Wall and the European Province of the Christian Brothers, the letter stated.