Abuse in institutions amounted to 'torture'


CHILDREN WERE tortured, brutalised, beaten, starved and abused in institutions run by the State and the Catholic Church, an Amnesty International Ireland report said yesterday.

“There has been little justice for these victims. Those who failed as guardians, civil servants, clergy, gardaí and members of religious orders have avoided accountability,” said Amnesty Ireland executive director Colm O’Gorman in Dublin.

“The Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports tell us what happened to these children, but not why it happened,” he added. “We commissioned this report to explore that question because only by doing so can we ensure this never happens again.”

Mr O’Gorman was speaking at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin at the publication of In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports, a report by Dr Carole Holohan and commissioned by Amnesty International Ireland.

“The abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children is perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the State. Much of the abuse described in the Ryan report meets the legal definition of torture under international human rights law,” he said.

It happened “not because we didn’t know about it, but because many people across society turned a blind eye to it. It is not true that everyone knew, but deep veins of knowledge existed across Irish society and people in positions of power ignored their responsibility to act.

“The research reveals that the true scandal is not that the system failed these children, but that there was no functioning system. Instead, children were abandoned to a chaotic, unregulated arrangement where no one was accountable for failures to protect and care for them. The legacy of this for today’s children is obvious, with our current child protection system itself being described as dysfunctional and not fit for purpose.

“If we do not address the failures revealed by In Plain Sight, our shock and outrage at what happened will be rightly judged as hollow,” he said.

The report found the absence of clear lines of responsibility “makes true accountability impossible”. In the case of residential institutions for children, it found that “it wasn’t that the system didn’t work, but rather that there was no system”.

It concluded that the law must protect and apply to all members of society equally and noted that “despite the severity of the crimes revealed in the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy (Dublin) and Cloyne reports, which range from physical assault to rape, very few perpetrators have been convicted”.

It pointed out that 173,000 children passed through the residential institutions between 1936 and 1970. Of those, 30,000 complained to the Ryan commission, 15,210 applied to the redress board (plus an additional 3,000 by the September 16th deadline as reported in this newspaper yesterday), 11 cases had been referred to the DPP, with just three of these prosecuted.

The report called for greater recognition of children’s human rights. It concluded: “The sexual abuse in the diocesan reports, and the sexual, physical and emotional abuse, the living conditions and the neglect described in the Ryan report, can be categorised as torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under human rights law.”

The report added: “Public attitudes matter. Individual attitudes matter.

“The end of deference to powerful institutions and the taking of personal responsibility on behalf of all members of society will initiate some of the changes that are necessary to prevent the occurrence of human rights abuses.”

It said the State must “operate on behalf of the people, not on behalf of interest groups”. It said that while Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s recent criticism of the Vatican suggests a less deferential attitude to the Catholic Church, “transparency in the operations of all arms of the State is necessary to prevent interest groups from exerting undue influence”.

Mr O’Gorman said: “People realise that this is not just about the crimes of the clergy or the failures of the State, but is a much bigger problem: the institutionalised lack of accountability in the Irish State . . .

“Attempts to achieve real reform in how this State functions will be meaningless unless we learn from what must be our greatest collective failure, one which resulted in the abuse and torture of tens of thousands of children.”

Details of the report and accompanying poll are at amnesty.ie