Sex abuse campaigner hits out at 'selfish' aid remarks
The story below appears in today's Sunday Independent, the newspaper with the largest circulation in Ireland.
By LIAM COLLINS
Sunday December 12 2010
The Irish priest who has campaigned for more than 40 years against the child sex industry in the Far East has hit out at comments by businessman Martin Naughton that Irish aid should be abolished because we are borrowing millions to give away to others.
"It's all right for a businessman to say such things, but does he realise the work people like us do?" asked Fr Shay Cullen, who has worked in the Philippines for the last 40 years and has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
He was responding to comment by philanthropist Martin Naughton, who, in a wide-ranging interview, said: "In my personal opinion, it's crazy for the Government to borrow money and then give it away in overseas aid."
"He's speaking against the Irish people -- because they are unbelievably generous and they know what's important," said Fr Cullen, who was in Dublin last week.
"We still have a lot of people who look beyond their own selfish interests and want to help someone more down-and-out than themselves; that's the Irish spirit and that's what keeps me going," he said.
Among those who support his work is musician and singer Sharon Corr, who is among the stars and sportspeople who have posed for a 2011 calendar to raise funds for Fr Cullen's organisation, Preda.
"It's appalling that these things are still happening to small children," said Sharon, who was keen to help after her manager John Hughes met Fr Cullen walking along the streets in Glasthule, Co Dublin, when he was home on holidays from the Philippines. They got talking and the idea for the calendar with musicians and sports stars was born.
"I think music and sports transcend all barriers, and that's why it's important that we support Shay Cullen's work," Sharon said.
Fr Cullen began campaigning against the child sex industry in the 1970s, when, as a young missionary, he "took on" the activities of American servicemen and the child sex industry that had grown up around their base at Subic Bay. He has survived assassination attempts and death threats from the local mafia groups that run the sex industry, but carries on undeterred.
"When I first arrived in the Philippines, I was mistaken for an American sailor; children were offered to me on the street for sex. It was a wake-up call for me, because nobody was focusing on this horrific crime, not the authorities, not the church, they had nobody.
"I didn't get very far at first, but then Mother Teresa came and she said: 'This is the way Jesus would take.' He would walk down the street of sex bars and clubs, and she told us to go out and minister to these children. This was what we needed to hear."
Since then, he's linked up with an Irish policeman in Interpol to pursue and prosecute sex tourists in Germany and Holland in their own jurisdictions.
"It's a warning to them -- paedophiles, beware," he says.
"And it's not just Americans and people from the continent -- there are Irish people who are part of the sex trade and go to the Far East to prey on children. We have a huge problem and it's something we need to address."
But he also sees positives. His organisation not only tries to get young people out of the sex industry, but out of jails as well. He's launched 'Preda Fair Trade' to export dried mangos and help lift the farming poor of the Philippines out of a life of poverty.
His organisation, Preda, has a staff of 89 centred in Olongapo city and spread through the county. He praises Irish Aid, the government funding agency, but unfortunately Preda's last submission was two months late.
"There is a lot of bureaucracy," he says, without complaint, "but we're hoping that we will get something in the New Year."
In the meantime, the calendar is available in bookstores or it can be ordered directly from www.preda.org.
- LIAM COLLINS