Belfast Telegraph

Rodney Edwards: Brave abuse victims refuse to be silenced any longer

Rodney Edwards
Rodney Edwards

By Rodney Edwards

Bombs and bullets were not the only means of destroying the lives of Catholics and Protestants on an inconceivable scale across rural Fermanagh during the Troubles.

If allegations in The Impartial Reporter are to be believed, scores of children regardless of religion were repeatedly sexually abused while a beleaguered police force struggled to keep up.

It is claimed sex abuse was used almost as a weapon against children and that a veil of secrecy ensured such depravity was kept hidden for decades. Until now. The life stories of two women who claim as young Protestant girls they were abused by Orangemen decades ago would prove that abuse does not discriminate.

Whether it was school principal John McElholm, who was steeped in Fermanagh GAA; the former bus driver David Sullivan, who served in the RAF, or members of the Orange Order, religion did not matter. Like many of the stories published by our paper this year, this is another example of the alleged abuse of power and the suspected failure of those tasked with looking after children.

The dark cloud that has hung over Fermanagh in recent months shows no sign of fading, a bit like the pain that so many victims are faced with.

It is not known if any of them will ever get justice or find closure, but what is evident from the huge public outcry is the level of support that exists like never before. No longer must any sex abuse victim remain silent.

This is a significant moment in Fermanagh as we delve deeper and deeper into a murky past that saw innocent children allegedly raped by evil men again and again and again. But these serious allegations would not have emerged had it not been for the bravery of victims.

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The first story centred around allegations of a paedophile ring in Enniskillen when a man said he was sexually assaulted by a number of businessmen and professional people. His case was dropped by the Public Prosecution Service.

His story led to a second victim coming forward to say that an Enniskillen businessman raped him several times at his home, in his van and at the back of the business he ran in the town.

This abuse lasted for years. Again, this man was never prosecuted as the case was dropped.

Since then more than 50 alleged victims have made allegations against over 60 men, some of whom are now dead.

They are speaking out because they finally have the confidence to do so and feel as if they are being listened to and believed.

Uncovering the past in your own home county is challenging, but it is important. While I am heartened by the response of people in Fermanagh, there have been difficult moments too.

In the past six months I've been accused of "gutter journalism" by a Fermanagh councillor. More recently a Fermanagh Orangeman and member of a unionist party who failed to get elected to government numerous times wrote on social media that I should be "taken down a peg or two" and that I think I am "untouchable".

Demeaning references like this are direct insults to victims.

It is the abusers who have been hiding, it is the abusers who think they are untouchable.

Not any more.

  • Rodney Edwards is the deputy editor of The Impartial Reporter edwards@impartialreporter.com

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