Should Leinster House hold a one minute silence each year as a mark of respect for survivors and their families
Like a National Day of Remembrance? Not only for survivors of the Industrial schools, but also the mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries etc etc? Example May 20th was the publication of the Ryan Report
On 20 May 2009, Ireland made international headlines when the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) was published.
The Ryan Report, as it was to become known, quickly entered the Irish national lexicon as bywords to the Church and State’s shameful treatment of children in institutional care over a period of decades.
The report detailed in shocking detail, the scale of physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered by children in institutions run by a range of Catholic Orders but which were funded and inspected by the Department of Education.
Abuse was reported by over 1,000 men and women in over 200 residential settings between 1914 and 2000.
The settings included industrial and reformatory schools, children’s homes, hospitals, national and secondary schools, day and residential special needs schools, foster care and a small number of other residential institutions, including Magdalene laundries.
The report identified some 800 known abusers.
The report concluded that physical and emotional abuse were features of the institutions examined while sexual abuse “occurred in many of them” — in particular boys’ institutions.
It found that the Department of Education had a “deferential and submissive attitude” towards the congregations that ran the institutions to the extent that it compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools.
The report shocked the nation and made headlines around the world. It had taken 10 years to get to that point.
There had been a number of media revelations relating to child abuse in the 1990s — in particular, the Dear Daughter documentary on RTÉ by Louis Lentin in 1996.
The issue of child sexual abuse in Irish institutions was firmly on the public agenda by this point.
Then, on May 11, 1999 the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern issued a formal apology on behalf of the State and its citizens to the victims.
“On behalf of the State and all the citizens of the State, the Government wishes to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse, for our collective failure to intervene to detect their pain and to come to their rescue,” he said.
Mr Ahern’s apology wasn’t exactly out of the blue. It came just hours before the final episode of what was to become one of the seminal documentaries ever made in Ireland — RTÉ’s States of Fear.
The documentary by the renowned investigative journalist Mary Raftery fully exposed the scale of physical and sexual abuse suffered by children who passed through Ireland’s industrial school system.
The broadcast caused a national outcry. The ensuing scandal saw demands for a State inquiry made in the Dáil.
Mr Ahern announced that a Commission of Inquiry would be set up to investigate the abuse.
He said that “the primary focus of the Commission will be to provide victims with an opportunity to tell of the abuse they suffered in a sympathetic and experienced forum.”
The CICA was formally established on a statutory basis the following year in 2000 and operated through two main strands.
1. A Confidential Committee where victims could relate their experiences in a confidential and private setting.
2. An Investigation Committee where the more pro-active investigative body of work could be carried out and individuals could be compelled to contend.
The CICA was followed up in 2002 with the establishment of the Residential Institutions Redress Board which was tasked with making “fair and reasonable awards” to people who had been abused in industrial schools, reformatories and a range of other institutions.
The CICA was initially headed up by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy. It published two interim reports in May and November 2001.
However, tensions had been growing between the Commission and the Government which eventually culminated in the resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy in September 2003.
Her resignation came just one day after the Government of the day announced the second phase of a review into the Commission’s remit.
The first phase had begun the previous December.
For its part, the Government claimed that, at the then rate of progress, the Commission would not complete its work for up to 11 years and could result in legal fees of up to €200m.
The resignation caused widespread controversy, particularly as Ms Justice Laffoy was scathing of the Government in her resignation letter.
She claimed that “since its establishment, the commission has never been properly enabled by the Government to fulfil satisfactorily the functions conferred on it by the Oireachtas.”
She also pointed to “a range of factors over which the Commission had no control had produced “a real and pervasive sense of powerlessness”.
Ms Justice Laffoy also complained that additional resources sought by the Commission since the previous June had not been made available.
She was replaced by Judge Seán Ryan, who was at the time a senior counsel.
The controversy didn’t end there and came in the form of a controversial deal done between the Government and the 18 religious congregations at the centre of the inquiry.
Further controversy was to follow — a controversy which continues to echo in the present, over a decade later.
The deal was signed in June 2002 — the dying days of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats coalition.
Signed by the then education minister Michael Woods, it was finalised after the dissolution of the 28th Dáil and before the new Dáil had met.
As a result, it was carried out without any public scrutiny and without a vote in the Oireachtas.
The details of the deal were hugely controversial. Under the agreement, the religious congregations were granted indemnity against all legal claims in return for €128m in cash and property.
To date, the total liability incurred by the taxpayer is over €1.5bn.
In short, the deal opened the State up to unlimited liability while the liability attached to the religious congregations was effectively scrapped in return for a financial contribution which subsequently emerged to be far short of what would be required.
For example, the following year, in a scathing report, the Comptroller and Auditor General put the bill at €1bn.
It also revealed that during negotiations on the indemnity deal, not a single government department did a forensic analysis on the exposure of the State with regard to the agreement.
Following the publication of the Ryan Report in 2009, the congregations offered a further €352m. As of last year, just €253m of the total €480m pledged has been transferred to the State.
The circumstances surrounding the indemnity deal remain controversial to this day.
Just last month, in an RTÉ documentary, the then attorney general Michael McDowell said the State “effectively signed a blank cheque” in agreeing to the deal.
The Ryan Report was finally published on May 20, 2009 and made headlines around the world and shocked the nation.