‘Awe at dignity and humanity’: Abuse survivors commemorate State apology

Events held in Dublin to mark 20 years since apology to survivors of residential institutions

Survivors of abuse in residential institutions have gathered for a celebration of music to mark 20 years since the State issued an apology over their suffering.

In the stained glass chapel of St Patrick's Cathedral, the Christine Buckley Centre survivors choir began the event, which also marked 10 years since the publication of the groundbreaking Ryan report into the abuse.

The lyrics of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young filled the small but elegant chapel, led by singer Sharon Murphy, who herself grew up in a Co Galway orphanage.

Senator Frances Black also performed a song after speaking of her awe at the "dignity and humanity" of those gathered.


A moment of silence was held for campaigners who had fought to expose abuse in residential institutions who have since died.

A separate event was held in the Mansion House, organised by survivor and campaigner Mark Vincent Healy. This event featured a film on the theme of the State apology, which included contributions from former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin.

On May 11th, 1999, Mr Ahern had issued a State apology to those who had spent their childhoods in residential institutions run by 18 religious congregations.

Role of Mary Raftery

The apology from Mr Ahern came on the eve of the broadcast of the final episode of the RTÉ States of Fear series by investigative journalist Mary Raftery, which laid bare the abuses of children in such institutions.

Earlier on Saturday, a large number of survivors attended a conference on institutional abuse at Trinity College Dublin, organised by the Christine Buckley Centre.

Carmel McDonnell Byrne, chairwoman of the centre, which was set up to support abuse victims, said people had lost their identities when placed in residential institutions.

“We became numbers, who were battered, brutalised, degraded, sexually abused … and worked from morning to night – and no one really gave a damn,” she said.

It was crucial that counselling sessions provided to survivors remained free “for as long as they feel they need them”, she said.

Speaking at the event, director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O'Gorman said abuse perpetrated in religious-run institutions were the "gravest human rights violations in the history of the State".

There had been “very significant gaps” in the State’s response to the legacy of abuse, he said.

The indemnity given to the institutions was an “appalling” mistake by the State, which had the effect of letting the religious orders “off the hook” in relation to redress for victims, he said.

Survivors interviewed

Prof Alan Carr, head of the University College Dublin school of psychology, was the conference keynote speaker. He had conducted research for the Ryan report, interviewing 247 survivors on their experiences later in life, and the effects of the abuse.

Commenting on this work, Prof Carr said his research had found the prevalence of psychological disorders among abuse survivors was twice that in the general population.

More than half of those interviewed reported symptoms of abuse-related trauma in the six months prior to the survey, with flashbacks one of the most common traumas, he said. The finding, which was included in the Ryan report, was “truly extraordinary”, and highlighted the lifelong impacts of child abuse.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times