TCD’s Irish School of Ecumenics Hosts Public Seminar in Support of Victims of Torture

Posted on: 14 July 2009

The Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity College Dublin and Spiritan Asylum Services Initiative’s (SPIRASI) Centre for the Care of Survivors of Torture recently hosted a public seminar addressing the Irish response to victims of torture.President Mary McAleese gave the opening address at the seminar which was held on the eve of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

“We know through the work of SPIRASI that there are at least 3000 survivors of torture living in Ireland . The Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE) welcomed the opportunity to share a platform with SPIRASI, to help draw public attention to this fact and the needs of the survivors who live among us”, said Dr Gillian Wylie, lecturer in International Peace Studies at TCD’s Irish School of Ecumenics. “Given the ISE’s teaching and research in the fields of gender-based violence, human rights, peace-building, post-conflict reconciliation and justice, interreligious dialogue, and the spiritual and theological responses to suffering and evil, the problem of torture and our responses to it, are central to our concerns.”

Speakers at the event, including, Helen O’Neill of the Irish Human Rights Commission and Senior Examining Physician at SPIRASI, Dr Eileen Keane , called for greater understanding and care to be shown to the survivors of torture now living in Ireland . Dr Eileen Keane stated: “Many asylum seekers have an innate fear of, and little trust in, people in authority and in uniform. Many survivors of torture do not have physical symptoms but suffer from a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder and have real difficulties in recounting accurately their story to the authorities.”

Victims of torture also spoke at the seminar about their experiences. One Irish citizen who was visiting his family in Iraq was kidnapped and subjected to extreme torture. He stated: “At times I wished and hoped to die, to get away from the awful pain caused by my torturers who became the givers and takers of life itself. He recalled returning to Ireland wanting to get on with his life and work but how he was contaminated by fear, hate and r age , becoming socially and emotionally disconnected with nothing to look forward to.“With the help of SPIRASI, I am getting away from the gates of hell, and am coming back to myself once again and beginning to forget about the past,” he said.

Director of SPIRASI, Fr Michael Begley, stated: “This year’s international theme is ‘Rebuilding Broken Lives’. If this aspiration is to be practically realised here in Ireland , then it is imperative that torture survivors are identified and supported as early as possible in the protection determination process. The new single procedure for protection applicants envis age d in the ‘Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill’, once enacted, will hopefully facilitate this.” He also called on the government to ensure that adequate resources are provided so that required rehabilitation services are made available for the 3,000 survivors of torture, wherever they live in Ireland.