TENSIONS flared in a support group for Irish survivors of institutional abuse ahead of its annual meeting, which took place in London over the weekend.
Several members of the Irish Women’s Survivors Support Network (IWSSN) had hit out at the group in the run-up to the meeting over claims it is not providing adequate support.
This has led the group, which held its meeting on Saturday in Kentish Town, to issue a letter saying that those who engage in ‘aggressive’ behaviour will be asked to leave and will face ‘permanent exclusion’ from the network.
It said that such disruptions “will not be tolerated” following incidents at previous gatherings that “caused deep distress to the majority of the women present.”
Last Christmas an IWSSN meeting ended with one member being asked to leave.
The letter, seen by The Irish Post and sent to members, stated: “The disruptive behaviour and aggressive language used by just a few individuals at our last meeting will not be tolerated.
The Women’s Group is there for the benefit of all women and we will not be diverted from our task of providing support and companionship to all women survivors.”
The network, which has provided advice and support services as well as outreach welfare work to vulnerable survivors for the last 14 years, is voluntarily headed up by Chairperson Sally Mulready and Outreach Advice Coordinator Phyllis Morgan.
Ms Mulready said: “We have to have a meeting where women enjoy the experience and when they go they feel like they have been updated and informed about what is happening.”
The Hackney Labour councillor, who also sits on the Irish President’s Council of State, said removing members from this weekend’s meeting would be a “last resort”.
“I am not prepared to be bullied by a small few people,” she added.
But several IWSSN members told The Irish Post they were “outraged” by the letter, which also spoke of the establishment of the Caranua fund and the success of the Magdalene Laundries campaign.
They claim the organisation has excluded several survivors from meetings and want more information about how Irish Government funding – given as part of the UK Step by Step Centre for Irish Survivors of Industrial Schools and Laundries – is being spent.
Last year the group received funds of £205,000 through the Irish Government.
The IWSSN, which has 480 members, is now looking to become a registered charity and is currently recruiting for a Policy and Development Coordinator and a Finance and Administration Officer.
But one survivor, who asked not to be named, claimed IWSSN gatherings feel more like trade union meetings than a support group.
“People are too scared to speak up or say how they feel because of the dictatorial style of meetings,” she said. “The group is not fit for purpose because we are not talking about people in a trade union. They are vulnerable women who see this as a place to come and feel a sense of belonging.”
Another IWSSN member described the threat of expulsion as “provocative”.
“You cannot run a support group like that,” she added. “Even if you feel that there is a difference of opinion, you have to find another way.”
A number of survivors also claim they are being ignored by the group. Three members said they did not receive any letters about this weekend’s meeting.
“We feel like it is only the people who they want to show up at the meetings who are getting letters,” one said.
But Ms Mulready dismissed claims people are being excluded from the group.
“The idea that I am sitting there saying ‘this person can go and this person cannot go’, I do not do that,” she said.