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Victims of abuse must be provided with help and support

Conor Murphy is the latest high profile figure to speak out following the revelations about Fr Malachy Finegan, the former head of St Colman's College in Newry.

The Sinn Féin MLA has detailed the appalling physical abuse he suffered at the hands of the priest while a schoolboy at St Colman's.

Mr Murphy told how he was dragged up two flights of stairs before being beaten with a stick on the hands and about the body.

Once this savage outburst was over, Finegan then switched to asking deeply personal and intimate questions of a sexual nature, a completely inappropriate interrogation that Mr Murphy now characterises as grooming.

It is clear from Mr Murphy's account of life at the school that it was widely known among the students that Finegan was not only extremely violent but had an unhealthy interest in the sexual development of the pupils.

He asks why no-one in authority intervened, which is a not unreasonable question.

Mr Murphy says that the Catholic Church, the school authorities and the wider education authorities all have questions to answer, but so far we have had little information or explanation from these organisations.

Victims are being advised to contact the PSNI, which is investigating historical abuse.

But there is an issue over what type of wider examination needs to take place to ensure the full truth about what went on in St Colman's is properly aired.

As Fr Patrick McCafferty, himself a sexual abuse survivor, points out, there was a 'culture of violence' in many schools across Northern Ireland in past decades.

Corporal punishment was legal and widely used and it is not just St Colman's where pupils suffered physical abuse and humiliation that would be viewed as abhorrent today.

How do we as a society address the terrible hurt and trauma of so many victims?

Yes, they were different times but brutality, sexual assaults and emotional abuse can never be justified or excused.

It is perhaps remarkable that it has taken so long before Finegan's victims felt able to come forward.

As a result of previous abuse cases and greater awareness of the the predatory and manipulative nature of paedophiles, we know more about the impact on victims and survivors.

Hopefully those who do talk about their horrific experiences receive help, support and understanding.

It takes incredible courage to come forward to talk about a long buried trauma. We also need to understand and appreciate why many cannot speak about their ordeal even now.

As Fr McCafferty says, every individual journey has to be respected.

As calls grow for a public inquiry, those who have suffered must be encouraged to seek counselling and support from people with expertise in this area.

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