Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse to cost €90 million
Chairman Mr Justice Sean Ryan tells describes ‘long, difficult and costly’ inquiry
Mr Justice Sean Ryan, chairman of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. Photograph: Eric Luke
A dormitory at St Conleth’s Reformatory School, Daingean, Co Offaly
St Conleth’s Reformatory School, Daingean, Co Offaly
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse will cost €90 million in legal expenses, Mr Justice Sean Ryan has said.
Speaking at the World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights in Dublin, the president of the Court of Appeal, who chaired the commission, said the legacy of damage, mostly psychological, had been inherited by later generations.
They “suffered at the hands of vulnerable adults who were previously vulnerable children who were damaged in institutions”, he said.
“One hopes that the impact will be diluted and the toxicity lessoned, because of better understanding.”
The judge said the consequences for the State were also significant, in reputation and expense.
“The scheme of redress for those who were injured or damaged in institutions has cost some €1.5 billion to date, but the price of abuse is very high and is long term,” he said.
Mr Justice Ryan told delegates though the report, which examined abuse in industrial schools and reformatories, was published on May 20th, 2009, it was “amazingly still news”.
He said controversy about the contribution the religious orders agreed to provide to the redress scheme resurfaced at “every new revelation of religious exploitation or oppression”.
“Just last month, a member of the Oblates order, anonymous, didn’t need to be anonymous, issued a public statement in defence of the congregation’s failure to pay up a bigger share of the redress Bill,” he said.
“That order ran the reformatory at Daingean in the Irish Midlands ... a horrible place that was condemned in 1970.”
He said on a typical night in St Conleth’s Reformatory School, in Daingean, Co Offaly, a small group of teenagers would be lined up in a cold stone building at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the dormitories, to be flogged.
The boys were dressed in flimsy night shirts “that were pulled up to expose their buttocks for lashing with leather, in some circumstances they might be entirely naked”.
“The shrieking of the boys as they were being punished echoed through the building with a frightening effect on the others who were asleep in the dormitories,” he said.
“On one occasion, the screams also interrupted the nightly prayers of the father principal, who years later told the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse that he remembered thinking at the time, ‘what would Christ think?.”
Mr Justice Ryan addressed the congress on the last day of its four-day event in the Convention Centre in Dublin. There were 150 speakers, and more than 600 delegates attended, including a large number from Australia, where the congress was founded.
He told delegates the inquiry, which he chaired following the departure of Justice Mary Laffoy, was “long, difficult and costly”.
It investigated all institutions in which there were 20 or more complainants. The legal team interviewed all former residents who hadn’t been called to give evidence at the formal hearings and the commission uncovered physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse.
Mr Justice Ryan praised the late Mary Raftery, a journalist whose “extensive legacy” included television programmes in the 1990s on abuse in institutions, such as Dear Daughter.
“Modern Ireland owes a real debt to this courageous spokesperson for many victims of abuse of power,” he said.
He also said the mandate of the commission was to investigate whether abuse happened, what kind of abuse happened, why it happened, how it happened and how much of it there was.
“That is a formidable list of tasks for an investigation, I’m not sure that we could realistically claim that we fulfilled that mandate,” he said.
He told delegates the biggest complaints the commission got were “not really about the severity of the punishment, but about capricious and unjust punishment”.
“The real thing that sowed bitterness in people’s lives and had them complaining severely was injustice,” he said.