Irish State officials stood idly by as thousands of children were subjected to a horrific litany of physical and sexual abuse in institutions run by religious orders.
he damning report by the Ryan Commission, published yesterday, found the Irish Department of Education did nothing to prevent a staggering cycle of abuse spanning more than half a century in the Republic.
But the findings failed to satisfy many victims who criticised the report for concealing the identities of abusers.
More than 1,000 victims also refused to give evidence or cooperate with two key committees set up by the commission amid claims that it was too adversarial and legalistic.
The report found government officials were aware of widespread physical, emotional and sexual trauma inflicted on children by Catholic priests, brothers and nuns. But instead of tackling the problem, complaints by parents and others were not properly investigated by the department.
The €60m report follows almost 10 years of work by the commission which dealt with complaints from former residents of predominantly Catholic institutions dating back to 1936.
More than 200 institutions and 1,800 reports of abuse were examined by the commission chaired by Mr Justice Sean Ryan.
But the inquiry was hampered by the unexplained disappearance of files on almost three-quarters of the children admitted to the institutions under investigation.
The report found:
l More than 25,000 children were sent to 55 industrial and reformatory schools — for ‘crimes’ such as missing school, committing offences or mainly because they were needy or poor — in the years between 1937 and 1978.
l Files related to 18,000 children sent to these schools and other church run institutions are missing from the Department of Education.
l Sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ institutions. It was identified as a “chronic” problem in industrial schools in Artane, Dublin and Letterfrack in Co Galway.
l Corporal punishment was widespread at institutions throughout the country and used in the belief that instilling fear in the pupils was essential to keep order.
l The “deferential” and “submissive” attitude of the Department of Education towards religious orders allowed the abuse to continue unchecked.
l The most vulnerable children — the poor, the abandoned, the neglected — suffered “disturbing” levels of abuse.
The commission also called for a memorial — inscribed with the words of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s 1999 apology to the victims of abuse — to be erected as permanent public acknowledgement of their experiences.
The launch of the report was marred by chaotic scenes at a Dublin hotel where some of the victims and groups representing them were denied access to the press conference launch.
The commission found the harshness of the regime was ingrained in the culture of the schools.
Corporal punishment was the option of first resort for breaches of discipline.
“Prolonged, excessive beatings with implements intended to cause maximum pain occurred with the knowledge of staff management. Individual brothers, priests or lay staff who were extreme in their punishments were tolerated by management and their behaviour was rarely challenged,” the commission found.
Children who absconded and were caught ended up being severely beaten, sometimes publicly. Some also had their heads shaved.
Neither the Department of Education nor the schools investigated the reasons children ran away — leading to cases of absconding related to chronic sexual or physical abuse going undetected.
The commission found that instead of investigating complaints the department “sought to protect and defend the religious congregations and the school”.
Department officials had a deferential and submissive attitude towards the religious orders which compromised their ability to carry out statutory monitoring and inspection of schools runs by the religious orders.
The report also found the system of funding of industrial schools helped perpetuate the problems. It found sexual abuse was “endemic” in boys’ institutions, but not in girls’ schools.
Documents uncovered by the commission found that sexual abusers were often long-term offenders who repeatedly abused children wherever they worked.
When confronted with evidence of sexual abuse, the response of the religious authorities was to transfer the offender to another location.
Religious orders covered up cases and were more worried about the potential for scandal and bad publicity than the danger to children.
Additional reporting by |Dearbhail McDonald, Eilish O’Regan and Fergus Black