Mixed race Irish in State care subjected to colour specific abuse, Oireachtas told

Group says members were deprived of food, clothing and care more than white peers

The Irish State “singularly and spectacularly failed mixed race children” in its care, the Oireachtas justice committee was told yesterday.

Carole Brennan, co-founder of Mixed Race Irish, a campaign group representing mixed race men and women placed in Irish institutions between 1940 and 1980, said their members were subjected to "colour specific" abuse and lived in a hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment that crushed their health, dignity, self-respect and aspirations.

“We were deprived of the knowledge that our fathers were students of medicine, law, engineering, and of a professional nature, contributing to Irish society, and instead were fed with repeated lies that our fathers were savages from the jungle,” she said. “Our boys and girls were targeted for sexual abuse by lay and medical staff and the clergy. Some of the young men were incarcerated at the age of 15 and our girls were subjected to racist sexual inspections.”

In a submission to the committee, the group highlighted experiences including being called “monkey”, “savage”, “nigger”, “blackie” and “wog” and being told to “clean blocked toilets on the basis my colour was the same”. Others were doused in talcum powder and told “now you know what it’s like to be white”.


The group, representing 71 people in Ireland, the UK, US and China, said their true names were withheld from them, they were used to boost income for unassessed foster parents or put to work unpaid for local farmers.

They told the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality they were abused mentally, physically, emotionally and sexually and deprived of food, clothing and care more than their white peers.

Some 44 per cent of those who participated in a survey told the group they had been sexually abused, more than a third suffered severe mental and physical health problems and seven died by suicide. All reported suffering trauma and emotional and psychological problems.

Industrial schools

Up to 150 mixed race Irish people were placed in State industrial schools, the group said, including in St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s in Kilkenny, Letterfrack in Galway and Banada Abbey in Sligo.

Evon Brennan, a co-founder of the group and the twin sister of Carole Brennan, said the group could no longer tolerate racial suffering being "airbrushed from Irish history".

Rosemary Adaser, also a co-founder of the group, told the committee how as a child she recalled being shown films of missionary nuns going to "the savages" and being told that was what she was.

“This insult we grew up with was common for all of us,” Ms Adaser said.

“We’ve never been accepted by Irish society and we’ve never felt safe in Ireland.”

The group has called for recognition and acknowledgment of their particular suffering whilst in the care of the State. They would also like support and reparation for members and access to records about their childhoods.

The group also hopes to campaign to provide a gravestone for Pauline Griffith, a mixed race 22-year-old found dead in the river Liffey and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist