Exhibition opens on journalist who investigated Ireland’s ‘dark’ corners

Mary Raftery was ‘absolutely determined’ to share the stories of institutional abuse


The fearlessness and power of Mary Raftery’s journalism was remembered on Thursday evening at the launch of an exhibition of her work in Dublin City University.

The exhibition, which draws on material from her archive – recently given to the university – is entitled Fearless. A prize for journalism which shows the quality of analysis and commitment to social justice which characterised her work was also announced at the launch.

Sheila Ahern, Mary Raftery’s friend and long-time collaborator, remembered her “tenacity” in getting landmark work such as her States of Fear series on air. That film, which chronicled the institutional abuse of children in Ireland’s industrial schools, prompted a State apology to the victims of the schools from then taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

It was followed in 2002 by Cardinal Secrets, which detailed the crimes of paedophile priests. This led to the Murphy Commission of Investigation into clerical abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese.

“She was fearless; I’ve never met anyone in my life as courageous,” Ms Ahern said. “People didn’t know then what is known now,” she said, saying that Raftery was “absolutely determined” to share the stories of abuse.

Work’s impact

Author Roddy Doyle, who was a personal friend and UCD classmate of Raftery’s, spoke of how “Mary walked straight into every dark room that this country had hidden away”. He spoke of the “precision” and impact of her work, and said the broadcast of States of Fear was “one of those events where the country was never the same again”.

He spoke of how she was the first person to encourage him to write, and how they became friends as a group of students in UCD which included Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole and her husband, David Waddell. Mr Waddell, along with their son, Ben, attended the launch at DCU.

The Mary Raftery prize, which will be supported by the Mary Raftery Foundation and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, will first be awarded in 2020 for work completed this year by individual or teams of journalists.

DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith said Raftery’s work “continues to be an example” to young journalists. “Her work as a pioneering and influential journalist in the last half-century continues to inspire,” he said, adding that it was “hard to overstate the impact” of the States of Fear series.

“[It] revealed that darkness, that violence, that pain that for so many years was allowed go unchecked behind the doors of Ireland’s industrial schools,” he said.