Interview: Rosemary Daly Talks To Mary de Courcy

I started here in the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre last February. It was a joyous occasion for me to get the job. I suppose I thought I was so branded with the hemophilia issue that to make the jump into something totally different was very difficult for me. Between working with the Irish Haemophilia 
Society and coming here I spent a year in France and then I worked with a public relations company for nearly six months. It was a wrong move. I was a senior public relations consultant but I didn’t like the corporate world at all. I became really troubled with, where do I go from here? What am I going to do? I was in a very strange place. Then when the DRCC CEO job was vacant I was thrilled and I focused on that.

The DRCC has a much bigger staff than the Irish Hemophilia Society. An
 NGO is about looking for money, for grants from the government in order to ensure that the client gets the best service. But the difference between the
 DRCC and the IHS is that I don’t know the clients. I never will know the
 clients. So it’s a managerial role, a lobbying role, a representative role. But now I’ve got a whole new language to learn.

The hemophilia community was a group of about 300. I got involved with everybody. I knew the terminology and the issues at a national, an international and global level. However coming in to the DRCC, I was conscious of the fact that there are boundaries. Even the best-intentioned person could say something to the media that could cause hurt to somebody, to the victims or to the organisation. Having come from an area of expertise in hemophilia, I was going back to literally crawling.

The similarity of secrecy amongst both the families of people with hemophilia and those affected by rape is sadly one of the things that attracts me to this job. I have an abhorrence for issues that are taboo. HIV 
and AIDS back in the late 80s and early 90s were not to be spoken about. Issues of sexual abuse, rape and sexual violence are opening up very slowly. In the couple of months that I have been here, my experience is that I can feel the difference immediately. With the hemophilia issue there was huge sympathy and sadness. In contrast, the response around issues of sexual violence is, ‘Awful. Hard work. But please don’t talk about it’.

The other issue that comes up constantly is feminism. The originators of the
 DRCC were very strong courageous women who set out to change public opinion and attitudes, and to change how women were treated. I think they were labelled as mad feminists in an effort to put them down by those who didn’t like what they were saying. I’m very happy to be a feminist because I am very comfortable in myself, in my femininity and with my sexuality. I am a woman and I am proud to be. I think in the minds of the public that there is a link between the image of a mad, militant, burning bra woman and the other side: that feminists will get things done and further the cause of women. Now there is a recognition that men are being abused and a service is being provided by the DRCC for men. That’s an image that we have to promote; that men are welcome. I wonder about the people who had the courage and foresight to establish the organisation. What are their views? I’m new but I’d like to be true to their vision.

My early involvement with issues around secrecy and things that were unspoken started off as a child watching the civil rights issues in the North of Ireland. I was brought up in Dundalk. I remember Bloody Sunday vividly and the next Sunday telling my parents that I was going up to the march. I wanted to walk and say how horrified I was at what had happened. In the
 mid 80s I worked as a youth officer in Coolock with young people who were very troubled. Sexual abuse was a huge issue and it wasn’t easy to deal with it in the 1980s. I was aware that young people were so hurt. There was no money and no future. There was a sense of life being wasted. There was a suicide pact in the particular area I was working. Young men were hanging themselves from a particular tree and the state’s response was to cut down the tree. I remember a particular young man. He was very bright, about 17
 years old. Two of his friends had already hung themselves. I remember talking to him for hours, and he said the future held absolutely nothing for 
him. He was into joyriding. He’d done his time in prison and as far as he was concerned there was no future. He did hang himself. Something scared me about that. I wondered if because he was very bright, did he see something more than someone who was less aware, something about the hopelessness of his position?

I’ve seen an awful lot of death. I think that’s a journey which I’ve been privileged to see. I’m constantly seeing death and being challenged by death. Seeing people dying stops you in your tracks to re-evaluate yourself. It’s very lonely to be with people in death. There isn’t a town in Ireland that I can drive through without remembering somebody who died there. There’s a constant sense of sadness and loss that stays with me. I don’t know if I deal with it at all. I have a good weep now and then when it comes upon me. Then I get fired up and motivated. Death has been constantly by my side
. During the time I was working with hemophilia, my parents both died in
 the space of three years. I see death the same as birth, as a process, not scary. 
I think I would have been terrified of my parents’ deaths if I had not had the privilege of being at other peoples’ bedsides. My parents’ death was a beautiful journey for them because I was able to say on the morning of my mother’s death, I think it’s today and you’re going to be in heaven with your little boy, John Joe. You’re going to your own mammy and daddy today. My mother was very moved by the whole process of dying herself. She believed she was going to heaven. She embraced it. Off she went. She did die that day. That’s giving the impression I wasn’t devastated. I absolutely was. But I wasn’t afraid of it.

My father had a stroke and died within 48 hours. I sat with him and held his hand and knew he was dying. I carry a fear of my own family dying because
 I can’t believe that i have been so blessed, that nothing horrific has happened to me or my family. There was a sixteen-year-old girl found up the North last night. She was murdered. All I can do is visualise my own daughter. I actually experienced terror for the parents of that child this morning. There’s this image that time heals everything. It does move you into somewhere else but not necessarily into healing.

The work in the DRCC is not about death. It’s about healing and recovery, about feeling safe and nurtured. And that is something that motivates me. I see all of us in the DRCC as working towards healing. You can feel it in the building when you come in. Of course there are human frailties as a result of people working closely together and dealing with very tough issues. I said one day that my style of management would be to be on the bottom holding them up rather than at the front leading the charge that my metaphorical arms are strong enough to hold and support those who are doing the work. Obviously, you have lines of demarcation in administration but the end product is that the client comes in, gets support, and starts on the path to recovery. I feel it’s down to me to be that holding parent, to support the work and in the meantime to be changing attitudes around sexual violence and abuse in a lobbying capacity.

I still am involved with people who have hemophilia. They’re part of my family. I can’t let it go. It’s part of who I am. Now I view illness in my friends from a different perspective. It’s down to friendship and is part of who I am and what I do. With the ethical boundaries around relationships in the DRCC comes great liberation. That in turn will give me extra energy. I can’t believe how free I feel. I’m not afraid to be hurt but I know the boundaries are there so that I won’t be hurt. And I need to use my role and
 my position to make sure that the system doesn’t hurt anyone. If I can’t then I’ll be smothered. And if I’m smothered, I’m swallowed up. I need freedom and trust. Respect hopefully will come. I have the capability within myself to influence change for other people, changes that they want. All change is down to money. But leaving the word money aside, the image of the centre has got to be an all encompassing service that embraces everybody; for all genders, creed, nationalities, and for those with disabilities. Refugees and non-nationals are making the demand for our service. There is the issue of the provision of interpreters, of providing a service for someone who is deaf. It’s down to money and to willingness to fund the service. Fundamental to the vision of the DRCC is separate representation for the victim when they go to court. Collaboration with 
other bodies who have a similar interest is to me very simple. If all this needs constitutional change, so be it.

My fears are that none of that will happen. One of my biggest fears is that the funding would dry up and that the service is no longer available. I hate and abhor the possibility that we, and similar organisations will be sent out to beg for scraps on the floors of the Ministers for Justice or Finance. Or that I would have to say that the DRCC is a better service than any other organisation. God forgive any politician who puts us in a position where we have to vie with any other organisation for funding.

The fact that people are reporting sexual crimes is a good thing. Our numbers are going up. Crimes are still being committed. There is no sense that justice is being fully implemented. How crimes are being assessed depends on the reports, the judge and the comments that are made. When there’s no uniformity, how can a victim have the confidence to disclose and go through with the court procedure? It would be a great success for me if we could say that our service was no longer needed. Our objective would be not to have to provide this service. If we could achieve a society free of sexual crime, we would have done a good job. We are currently reviewing whether we can work with young people of sixteen to eighteen. It’s an area I had experienced when I was a youth officer. I worked with a young girl of sixteen whose father had raped her. Her father was coming home from prison for Christmas and the girl was terrified to return home. I took her into my home. There was no where else for her to be safe. What do you do? Close the door?

I’m going to do the volunteer training this month although I could 
get thrown out if I disturb the equilibrium of the group. I want to be trained like one of the volunteers. I want to get the language, to get the feeling. I also want to do the training so that when or if I do meet a client, I have some sense that I won’t say anything outrageous.

I had no more energy for the IHS work by the end of the Lindsay Tribunal. When it was over, I think I allowed my energy to go down. I couldn’t do anymore. It was very painful. It was a bereavement of huge proportions, a horrific time. It’s back to the theme of death. The going away helped but I was stupid. I forgot that I had to come back. I thought the healing was in the going. I did a huge amount of crying. There was huge sadness and I think every sadness that I ever had got wept on. I couldn’t stop. When I thought it was over, it would start again. When I returned to Ireland it started all over again. It was like going back to your childhood, to the place that you lived and suddenly realizing that your parents are gone. I had to come to terms with the fact that I no longer was the one to sort everything. I could be distressed and unknowledgeable. That was a relief but also a shock. Then all this energy surfaced and I thought, ‘What am I going to do now? Where will I do it? Who will have me?’ I came back from France to launch the book in May 2003 and worked in the PR company from June until December.

But I was so miserable. I found the PR work quite isolating. I isolated myself. I didn’t care if a particular multinational’s shares were up or down. By not caring, I lost interest. I had thought PR would be a great move out of the caring world. But the message was loudly received; you need to care. I was going through a huge metamorphosis. I suppose I was isolating myself from admitting that I had made a public wrong decision. The book launch, the new job, my daughter abroad for six months, I had to say enough. Enough input. You’re being influenced by too much from outside. My husband is an auld treasure. He’s been tremendous in trying to understand the issues in my head. What he says carries great store for me. And what he says matters a lot to me but sometimes I’m not ready to hear it.

It’s a strange world, the psychotherapist world. I remember the first time I tried to engage a therapist for the IHS. It was your organisation, the IAHIP, 
that I asked. In 1989 I was with the IHS and I was sent off to St Charles’ in London for 4 weeks to do a course in counselling. This was a whole new world for me and an introduction to a new profession. Counselling was primarily done by social workers. And there was very little personal therapy. I needed some training to do the best job I could. For me it was back to the big fear of not hurting somebody. Last week, I was down in the kitchen chatting with two of the counsellors. I said, ‘Oh stop! You are analysing me. 
You’ve got that glazy look.’ I’m not freaked by therapists now. It’s useful to have a therapist when you are floundering and not quite sure. I would be the world’s worst person to be sat down and counselled. My perception of therapy is sitting in a room and talking about me with a view to changing something about me. I feel like I’m doing it with you now. Oh dear Jesus, that’s terrifying for me.

From my own and the victim’s perspective, I’m interested in the public perception of the therapist as someone who analyses the client. I’d like to
 challenge you to look at yourselves as psychotherapists and take on board
 the public attitudes to your profession. I have some idea of what you would do. I’m afraid of it. I don’t exactly want to do it myself. So what are you doing to help people become more comfortable with what you do?

Rosemary Daly is currently the Chief Executive Officer with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. She is co-author with Paul Cunningham of A Case of Bad Blood, which outlines the plight of Irish hemophiliacs since the 1980’s.