Filmmaker Louis Lentin, director of ground-breaking Dear Daughter, the most watched documentary on sexual abuse committed by Catholic Church in Ireland, and his wife Ronit Lentin enjoy the peaceful mountain paradise of Gran Canaria
LA PROVINCIA / LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA, 29 September 2013
Mr. and Mrs Lentin is a distinctive couple, of those that have tirelessly and successfully worked all their lives but they keep on acquiring knowledge at their age. Louis and Ronit Lentin, 79 and 68, have a wealth of work experience. Three years ago this Irish exfilmmaker of the Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcaster (RTÉ), drama series and documentaries like the controversial Dear Daughter, and this Israeli sociologist at Trinity College Dublin, found in Tejeda a proper holiday destination to switch off this noisy world. “The first time we came here, we just fell in love with the place. It’s gorgeous. What is nice about this hotel is that it’s not expensive, but it’s very classy, beautifully designed, kept and its hospitality is just wonderful. We feel cosy and very well looked after”, Ronit confesses.
The couple has been enthralled by the inner peace they breathe between Bentayga and Roque Nublo peaks and the hospitality they receive at La Fonda de la Tea Hotel and in the village. “We’ve got a friend that has been on holidays in Gran Canaria and we found this place through The Guardian newspaper and we found this is a fantastic place. We do not terribly like the kind of ‘normal holidays’ on the beach with lots of drunk and Irish and English people [laughs]. We like quiet holidays, because we are overaged“, they point out. Louis and Ronit Lentin exclusively come to Tejeda to rest, read, sleep and unwind, and they have just been once to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Although they have already been together for 45 years and they disagree when it comes to politics, they do share culinary taste. They always book a table at La Ensaladería restaurant, because they like the way they cook fish, paella and well done tortilla de patata. They might come back in December so that Louis can blow his 80 candles.
Louis Lentin is a versatile and restless worker, he got retired when he was 73. His media career kicked off as a production and news service manager at the old Studio 3 of RTÉ. The “crazy pace” of work was truly a school for him.
However, after nearly three decades at the channel, Louis resigned in 1989 because they stopped producing the programmes he had conducted: drama and classic music. Therefore after that, he established his own company, Crescendo Concepts, to produce drama series, but above all, numerous documentaries, like the shocking and internationally acclaimed Dear Daughter in 1996. For the first time this work showed the general public the most heinous past in the Irish Catholic Church’s history. Louis Lentin reveals and describes one of thousands of personal stories, like Christine Buckley’s, who suffered an endemic ordeal of sexual, physically and mentally abuse that occurred over 60 years (1930-1990) at reformatories, industrial schools of the country and they were committed by nuns and priests of the own institutions.
Dear Daughter was the most watched documentary in Irish television history. “It was the documentary watched by the largest number of people in Ireland. Almost one million people who watched it, out of a population of 3 and half million, and bear in mind that little children would not be watching it, so it was really a large proportion of the population that watched it”, his wife Ronit Lentin asserts. From a Nigerian father and an Irish mother, Christine kept confined until she was 16 at a school known as Goldenbridge and the documentary starts with her: “I want to find my parents in order to kill them for all the suffering”, she firmly stated.
Louis remembers that it was “extremely shocking”. “Other people that were still alive had been through these schools, some in Goldenbridge, others have been in others throughout the country. Our phone never stopped. Christine and I appeared in every television and radio programmes’, Louis affirms. The ordeal Christine lived with nun Xavieria ended up in McAleese and Ryan reports, that were published by the Irish Government in May 2009, after a decade of investigation. Commonly referred to as The Ryan report, The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse implies certain controversy, because, although the report was in the public eye, it failed to judge offenders. Their names were never published due to a Vatican’s request, that made the real ones be changed to cover them up. Therefore, if an abuser was reported by many victims, general public would never know about him or her.
After having given testimony to the Ryan Commission, victims were obliged to sign up a clause that made them avoid taking any legal action against offenders. To the present day, nobody involved in the cases that appear in both reports has been judged (it is figured out that there were nearly 42.000 victims, according to Protect Your Children Foundation). No trial was held, but a public hearing where the victims were able to speak up and entitled to have a compensation, as Mr. and Mrs Lentin assert. This impunity is revolting.
“Instead of being told ‘this is not right’ and going to police, many priests were sent to another parish where they could abuse other children, and this happened again and again, which means that archbishops and cardinals were also doing some of this cover-up”, Ronit claims. “Suddenly Ratzinger knew, he was a member of the committee go deal with the abuse. And the abuse is not only in Ireland, but it is also in Canada, Australia, mostly in Irish orders unfortunately. But Ratzinger knew and did nothing about it. And that’s one of the things that always annoyed me about him, apart from the fact that he was a member of the Hitler Youth”, the Israeli sociologist asserts.
Christine’s story had a bittersweet end. She eventually found out where her father was in Nigeria. “Ironically he had become a top psychologist in the country”, Louis says. The filmmaker reveals that Christine wrote several letters to her father with no response, until the expected letter came through the post: Dear Daughter, that named Lentin’s documentary. She went to Nigeria to meet him and they got along.
Ronit Lentin: “The first time we came here, we fell in love with the landscape. This is breathtaking!”
“We found this place on the newspaper ‘The Guardian’. It’s awesome!”, affirms Ronit
Louis Lentin:”There is still segregation between Protestants and Catholics, peace in Ireland is incomplete”
However, the relation between Christine and her mother was negative and tense, according to Mr. and Mrs. Lentin. But Christine has managed to built up her life again from scratch. Last winter she got a PhD Honoris Causa of Literature at Trinity College Dublin. Although she was killed while she was still alive, Christine Buckley knew, from the hell she lived, how to bring out enormous strength to help those who suffered the same situation as hers??. Most of them tried to commit suicide, took drugs, alcohol, as Louis Lentin points out.
“Christine did not want revenge, but to heal those people who had been in the schools. So she started a center, the Ashling Centre, where people who did not a chance to have education at the industrial schools, got an education first: Primary, Secondary education and even Degrees. And this center still exists and it’s fantastic!”, Ronit Lentin highlights. After Dear Daughter, the filmmaker Louis Lentin produced Stolen Lives (1999) to make the follow-up of what happened with all those women and children. “What happened to them occurred ruined their lives”, he claims.
Louis considers that the conflict in his country, Ireland, has not been totally solved yet between the two main communities: Unionists and their advocates (Orange Order), the majority of Protestantism, that want Northern Ireland to remain as part of the United Kingdom, and the Irish Nationalists and Republicans, mainly Catholics, that want the independence and just one Ireland.
The filmmaker explains that despite the cease fire agreement signed in 2007, “carefully worked out, there are still occasional killings on both sides and you have a custom every year of Protestants having marches with the parades to recognize The Battle of Boyne (the victory of Protestant King William III of Orange against Catholic James II in 1690), and they walk through Catholic areas where there are always some riots”, he points out. “Unfortunately the conflict still goes on, and until they come to literally get to know each other on a friendly basis, you have a lot of segregated schools, Protestants’ and Catholics’, so how are they are gonna get to really know each other? Even they’ve got a lot of projects they still work on together. It’s not a complete and real peace yet”, Louis Lentin states.
Ronit Lentin: “My family suffered the Holocaust, but now injustice is done by us”
The Israeli sociologist, expert on international conflicts and racism, dreams of a state for Israel and Palestine, although she deems herself a pessimist
LA PROVINCIA / LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA, 29 September 2013
Ronit Lentin, director of the Master in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict at Trinity College Dublin, is skeptical about the fact that the possible attack of the United States over Syria helps the country out. “I really wouldn’t even begin to think what might happen, but I think it would be a great mistake and I am not sure that it actually will help the region, on the contrary, it will make it even more unstable”, Ronit defends.
A spiral of violence will spread across the Middle East will go beyond borders. “Syria will retaliate against Israel, Israel will retaliate Syria, Iran will get involved, and before you know where you are, there will be a much bigger incendiary in the region, which is bad enough”, Ronit predicts. “Syria is really in an huge mess, because on the one hand, Bashar al-Asad is really a dictator and he’s been awful to his people, and on the other hand, many rebels, particularly Al-Nusra, are extremist islamists, whose rule will be scary, as we have seen in Egypt. It’s all very volatile”. The sociologist considers that Obama ‘in his speech is trying to get himself out of the dilemma of what to do and have some ideas on how the whole thing can be resolved”, Ronit indicates.
Ronit really knows what she talks about. She has witnessed the entrenched Israeli-Palestine conflict. She was born 68 years ago in Haifa, the third biggest capital in Israel, before the Jewish state was established in 1948. Until Ronit was 25, she lived in her hometown and she was brought up within a Jewish family, with sionist values of a long-lasting state for Jewish israelies. However, as time went by, her view on the conflict turned to the other side of the spectrum. Ronit evokes the Six-Day War (1967, against Egypt, Jordan, Irak and Syria) as scary, when she was running with her friends “in the streets as the bullets were flying like idiots”. “We didn’t go to the shelter because we were a kind of crazy and young”, she says. She assures that in the city she then saw dead bodies of Palestine people because they were never collected. “People felt that 1967 was an Imperialism rather than a survival war. The more I thought of it and the more I became knowledgeable about it, I just cannot understand why we are doing what we are doing beyond the dictum to survive… Survive, yes, but does survive have to entail oppression? This is something which makes me very uneasy”, Ronit underlines, and she dreams of a state equally ruled by both parts, although she is extremely pessimist.
“I felt initially hear-broken by what happened, because I believe we had justice on our side because I come from a Romanian family who had survived Europe and some of them survived the Holocaust. All the time I had the feeling this was an injustice done to my people and now injustice is done by us”, she asserts. Furthermore, Ronit condemns “the whole regime of stopping” of the Israeli checkpoints, especially Qalandia’s, popularly named as The Terminal, for being the main one on the way to Ramallah. Haifa-born sociologist affirms that now there is an extremely restrictive new system of permissions, especially for work that depends on the Israeli Secret Intelligence Service (The Mossad). “If you are male and under 35 years old, it is very hard to get a permit. But there have been cases of females not being allowed to have their babies in hospitals or detained, there has been a number of babies born on a checkpoint, some of them did not survive“, the sociologist explains. Although Ronit acknowledges the number of suicide bombers have decreased, she regrets that “an uncontrolled hate” is being caused. Ronit admits that Palestine people are not absolutely right, but she feels that “the occupation of Palestine lands was and is a disaster”. According to the Israeli sociologist, the discontinuing land owing to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the intersecting roads that Palestine do not have access to because of the wall, would make life impossible in Palestine if it were a state, because of the opposition of Israel and the United States to dismantle Israeli outposts.
- Louis Lentin (Limerick, Irland, 1933*)
Jewish film and theatre director and music programmes producer at the Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcaster (RTÉ) from 1961 to 1989. Miss Julie, from Strindberg, or The King of Friday’s me, from MJ Molloy, appear in his list of drama series. For television Louis Lentin adapted and directed King of the Castle, from Scottish Eugene McCabe. He feels nostalgic about the way they used to shoot and edit scenes. He has been working on his biography for over five years. In 1967 Louis Lentin travelled to Israel to help others to found Israeli Experimental Television. It was where Louis and Ronit Lentin met and married. His documentary Dear Daughter in 1996 was a milestone in his career. Louis has won numerous awards like US International Film and Television Festival in the United States.
*Please note: Louis Lentin passed away, aged 80, in 2014, nearly one year after this report was published in Canary local newspaper La Provincia. My deepest and warmest condolences to his wife, Ronit Lentin, and the rest of his family. It was truly an honour and pleasure to interview both of you.
- Ronit Lentin (Haifa, Israel, 1944)
Feminist, sociologist and director of the MPhil in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict at Trinity College Dublin (University of Dublin), where she critically teaches the theory of racism, where she admits its existence with no excuses and she is committed to eradicate it. Before she was 25, Ronit Lentin lived three wars between Israel and Palestine that she wrote about in several books like Thinking Palestine. Her last piece of research, Migrant Activism and Integration from Below in Ireland (2012) documents they way immigrants organise themselves in order to be part of society, instead of the State actions towards them. Against prostitution, Ronit Lentin is now actively involved in a draft law that would criminalise clients.