MARY RAFTERY AND THE DEATH OF PATSY FLANAGAN
States of Fear and Suffer The Little Children ¨- The TV Series and the Book
Mary Raftery wrote, produced and directed the three part documentary series States of Fear which was broadcast on RTE television in April and May of 1999. It depicted the industrial schools run by the religious orders in Ireland as horrifying places replete with sexual abuse and physical cruelty up to and including the killing of children.
The series prompted a national outcry with hundreds of enraged callers to TV and radio stations and acres of newsprint denouncing the religious orders. On 11th May 1999, the day the final episode was broadcast the Taoiseach Bertie Aherne issued his famous apology to the victims of childhood abuse. Two weeks later the Minister for Education Michael Martin, announced the establishment of a Commission to Inquire into Childhood Abuse, chaired by Ms Justice Mary Laffoy of the High Court.
There were other consequences as well. In June 1999, Nora Wall (formerly Sister Dominic of the Sisters of Mercy), was convicted of raping a child and sentenced to life imprisonment. She was the first woman in the history of the State to be convicted of rape and also the first person to be sentenced to life imprisonment for rape. I was told by one of Nora Wall's defence team that her conviction was due to a climate of hysteria created by the media and specifically by the States of Fearr series.
There is a brief and misleading account of the reversal of Nora Wall's conviction on page 268 of Raftery's book Suffer the Little Children. The book was published in November 1999 as a follow up to the television series. However I the following article I am concentrating on Mary Raftery's claim that a boy died in "suspicious or unexplained circumstances" in Artane Industrial School in the 1950s.
Journalist Breda O'Brien pointed out that there had been an inquest into the boy's death which found it to be an accident. The boy had been sliding down banisters and had fallen. (Mary Raftery had not disputed the results of the inquest. In her TV series and her book she simply ignored it.) For her temerity in producing this evidence Breda O'Brien was described as an agent of the Catholic Church by Raftery and other journalists. When Raftery's "eyewitness" produced contradictory accounts of the incident, Mary Raftery tried to square the circle by claiming that more than one boy had died in this way!!
The following consists of an extract from the book Suffer the Little Children and selections from articles and letters to newspapers between November 1999 and January 2000 which relate to the controversy. I think that any unbiased person can easily work out who is telling the truth.
16 March 2005
Extract from "Suffer the Little Children" by Mary Raftery and Eoin O'Sullivan page 233
"There are a number of accounts from survivors, of deaths of children in mysterious or unexplained circumstances. The States of Fear documentaries contained accounts from some of these. One was from Barney O'Connell of the death of a boy in Artane Industrial School. Barney had been detained there during the 1950s, and this child had fallen 40 feet to his death through an internal stairwell. The boy fell past Barney who was on the stairs, almost touching him as he passed. It is an image, which he can never forget, he says, and he will not rest until he receives a proper explanation for the boy's death. The Christian Brothers have stated that a boy did indeed die in this manner in Artane during the 1950s, but that it was an accident resulting from the children's exuberance following a visit to the circus. Once again, no records whatsoever exist on this case in the Department of Education."
Extract from "How the Church Ambushed the Producer of States of Fear" by John Cooney Irish Independent 26 Nov. 1999
At the launch this week of the book Suffer Little Children the inside story of Ireland's Industrial Schools the novelist Colm Toibin accused unidentified church sources of selective leaking of information to columnist Breda O'Brien that was used by her to question the credentials of the book's co-author earlier that same day on the Pat Kenny Show. In an impassioned address delivered in Dublin's Winding Stair bookshop Toibin claimed that O'Brien was given privileged information relating to conditions in Artane in the 1950s that must have come from the Christian Brothers archives and which differed to some degree from the book's descriptions about the situation in the 1940s based on the archives of the Department of Education.
"Sneaking little bits of information out is seriously dishonest and must stop", Toibin said, pointing out that the religious orders which ran the 52 State subsidised Industrial schools had refused access to their records to Raftery, the award winning RTE producer of States of Fear and co-author Eoin O'Sullivan lecturer in Social Policy at Trinity College ...............
Most of those attending the launch were convinced that Breda O'Brien had not only received "insider" information from someone in authority in the Catholic Church but that RTE radio had facilitated her participation in the programme in compliant to a new, more aggressive public relations approach on the part of the Church's spin doctors. The clear consensus was that O'Brien had set out to ambush Raftery, one of RTE's own and that Kenny's role as interviewer was usurped by O'Brien. .........................................................................
"Flawed Research is books downfall" Irish Independent 26 Nov 1999
"I believe that what Colm Toibin said is highly defamatory and I am deeply concerned about it", replies the Sunday Business Post columnist Breda O'Brien . "I really resent being made out to be some sort of puppet of the Church."
Saying that she had initially declined the invitation from Today with Pat Kenny to review the States of Fear book, she finally relented on Friday of last week, and set about reading the 400 page book over the weekend.
"A couple of things leapt out at me and I wondered if I would be able to get the other side of the stories," she said. "So I lifted the phone and asked if someone would be able to talk to me. Someone agreed to take a call. They agreed to show me a copy of the coroner's report. I read it and took notes. Then I went to talk to the Sisters of Charity because there are extraordinary allegations about Sister Stan in the book. This took me a weekend. Why did nobody else do this?
I would say I did what any serious journalist would do. When I saw things that didn't ring true I checked them out for myself. If I could manage it in a weekend how in the name of God could these facts not have been verified? I'm appalled that people would say things that have no foundation."
One of the most contentious issues raised by Breda O'Brien in Monday's programme [re the launch of "Suffer the Little Children"] was the death of a boy at Artane who had fallen down a staircase.
Last weekend Breda O'Brien received sight of the coroner's report concerning the boy. It stated that death was due to a combination of internal injuries and an anaesthetic administered to treat a jaw injury.
"The book is a mixture of excellent research combined with seriously flawed research. She (Mary Raftery) didn't even know there was an official sworn enquiry into the death of the boy", Ms. O'Brien contends.
"In States of Fear it said he fell 40-feet. In the coroner's report he fell 14ft-8ins. She doesn't give a shred of proof of these allegations about other boys falling from stairs. Nothing that I said was in any way implying that the abuse - and dreadful abuse - was not a reality. The point I'm making is about the research."
Extract from "Child Abuse Book: the facts and fictions", by Breda O'Brien Sunday Business Post 28 Nov 1999
A former resident of Artane speaks of a boy who died in "very, very mysterious circumstances" by falling some 40 feet over a banister. The same person told John Drennan in the Sunday Independent that the boy was thrown over the banisters through an atrium and down two 60-foot high floors, leaving blood and human guts to be cleaned up using sawdust. The authors of the book might not have known of the discrepancies in the two accounts, but surely where such a serious allegation was made, further investigation was warranted?
The authors make much of the fact that the Christian Brothers would not open their archives. However a simple visit to Artane, where the boy who died is publicly commemorated, combined with a visit to the coroner's office, would have revealed that the coroner's report says that the boy fell 14 feet, had no visible external injuries except facial ones, that sworn testimony was taken and foul play was not suspected. It would have been the author's prerogative to cast doubts on the validity of the coroner's report. But to be unaware of or to omit the existence of a coroner's record is completely unacceptable.
Mary Raftery stated on the Pat Kenny Show that there were at least two such incidents involving staircase falls. Where is the proof of this in her book? Following persistent questioning, she claimed that the names of the boys were supplied to her by Department of Education. This is an extremely serious allegation. Why in the interests of justice, did the authors not ask the Christian Brothers whether two or more such incidents happened and publish their response?
Eoin O'Sullivan, lecturer in social policy and Mary Raftery, authors of Suffer the little Children reply to questions raised by Breda O'Brien about their findings ¨ - extract from article in Sunday Business Post 5 Dec 1999
With reference to Breda O'Brien's remarks about Suffer the Little Children (New island Books), we wish to correct a number of factual inaccuracies in her article last week.
Concerning the tragic death of a boy in Artane Industrial school during the 1950s, the Christian Brothers issued a statement in 1998 saying a boy died following a fall over banisters at the school. This statement is reported in Suffer the Little Children. The report of the coroner into the matter, which Ms. O'Brien now admits she received from the Christian Brothers rather than from the public record, also states that a boy died of his injuries following this fall. However, the fact remains that eyewitnesses, themselves inmates of Artane at the time, continue to believe the circumstances leading up to this tragedy remain mysterious.
Suffice to say that this death is now the subject of a Garda investigation.
As stated in Suffer the Little Children, the Gardai are now investigating allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children against up to 100 current, former and deceased Christian Brothers in relation to Artane School. These are the facts of the matter and have been accurately reported by us in our book. .........................................................................
Your readers might remember that she [Breda O'Brien] was also critical of States of Fear when it was broadcast last May. Could this have been the reason why the Christian Brothers were so accommodating as to allow her access to material, which they hold in their archives?
Our own repeated requests to be allowed such access were flatly refused by the Brothers. We consider it unacceptable that this religious order be permitted to play politics with vital material which should now be fully accessible to public scrutiny.
Extract from article by Breda O'Brien in Sunday Business Post, 5 Dec 1999
I repeat for what I hope is the final time; I did not receive access to the Christian Brothers'archives. I received sight of a coroner's report from a Christian Brother when I requested verification of his version of events. He told me he had personally secured the report from the coroner's office and that it had never been part of the order's archives. To say that the coroner's report in question is part of an order's archives is like saying that my article of last week is now part of Ms Raftery's archives and therefore privileged information. Just like my article the coroner's report is freely available in the public domain for those willing to look.
Neither of the author's seems to get the point that their failure to source the coroner's report for themselves is evidence of very poor research. This is compounded by the fact that on Today with Pat Kenny (November 22) Mary Raftery actually claimed that there were a "number of incidents" involving deaths on staircases. This makes it even more bizarre that they would make no effort to verify independently the records of these alleged deaths. Instead they relied solely on stories related 40 years later and unconfirmed newspaper reports of Christian Brother's statements. Why not approach the Brothers directly about specific incidents and ask for their comments when such serious allegations were being made? A request for archives would hardly clarify the matter, if the circumstances were indeed mysterious. ...................................
Extract from Article in Irish Times by Fintan O'Toole 10 Dec 1999 "Evading the Unpalatable Truth about Child Abuse"
On Today With Pat Kenny, in the Sunday Business Post and in the letters page of The Irish Times, Breda O'Brien, a sincere and committed journalist, has made extravagant claims about her own alleged ability to uncover flawed research in Suffer the Little Children.
Earlier this week, in a letter to The Irish Times, Maria Byrne treated these claims as if they were now an established fact, showing how quickly wild hyperbole can be transmuted in public discourse into accepted reality. Ms Byrne wrote that Breda O'Brien had come up with "damning evidence" of "distressing errors and omissions" in Suffer the Little Children.
Breda O'Brien is clearly distressed by the evidence that is emerging from the survivors of abuse and, like many of us, she would prefer to think that it did not happen. On Today With Pat Kenny on November 23rd, she strongly implied that many of the survivors may, in fact, be misremembering their experiences or imagining things that did not happen at all. To her credit, she later apologised to the survivors for this unfortunate implication.
But the fact that she said these things in the first place gives some indication of how deep runs the desire to believe that the horrors are just some kind of awful nightmare that will go away when we all wake up. It is in that mood that she has purported to show the flaws in the research for Suffer the Little Children. What her attack comes down to is, in fact, just two issues.
One concerns the death of a boy in the Artane industrial school in the 1950s. The book cites eyewitnesses who suggest that this death was the result of deliberate violence. Ms O'Brien flourishes the contemporary coroner's report which finds that the death was accidental. But this, in fact, tells us nothing except that the evidence before the coroner - which came, of course, from the Christian Brothers - was to that effect.
A coroner's report is not a criminal investigation. To cite eyewitness evidence that was not available to the coroner is to raise entirely legitimate questions that may eventually be answered by the current criminal investigation into events at Artane. .......
Letter to Irish Times on 22 Dec 1999 from Brother M. Reynolds, Christian Bothers
Sir - Fintan O'Toole's column of December 10th does little to promote the cause, which it espouses - promoting the truth. He refers to the danger of treating claims as if they were now an established fact. Unfortunately his own article goes even a step further and treats claims, misinformation and inference as if they were established fact.
He states that the Raftery/O'Sullivan book Suffer the Little Children cites eyewitnesses who suggest that the death of a boy in the early fifties was the result of deliberate violence.
The book cites one person who claims he was an eyewitness. However this witness has presented the public with three quite different versions of the event; one in which the boy fell 40 feet, brushing past the witness; a second in which the boy was actually thrown over the banisters by a Brother and fell a distance of 120 feet; and a third in which both boy and Brother crashed into the witness, knocking him down several steps.
The witness also describes injuries, which are totally at variance with the injuries described by the surgeon in the Mater Hospital and by the pathologist. The witness states that the event took place in the winter of 1956. In fact the sad event occurred on February 18th, 1951.
Despite all these discrepancies Fintan O'Toole is of the opinion that such evidence is sufficient cause to raise "entirely legitimate questions" about the contemporary coroner's verdict.
Mr. 'Toole's throwaway comment concerning the evidence "which of course came from the Christian Brothers" is both mischievous and telling. The implication seems to be that the sworn evidence of the Brothers may have been false. If this inference was not intended I fail to see what was the purpose of the comment. In actual fact, the evidence at the inquest did not come solely from the Brothers. A Garda sergeant, a surgeon, a pathologist and a student who witnessed the accident also gave evidence. Mr. O'Toole owes it to all concerned to clarify exactly what he meant by his comment on the origin's of the evidence. - Yours etc.
Br. M. Reynolds
on behalf of Province Leadership Team
Christian Brothers Provincialate
North Circular Road
Extract from "A search for the truth does not question the reality of child abuse" - article by Breda O'Brien, Irish Times 10 Jan 2000.
"I choose to dispute issues which show how the underlying beliefs of the authors distort the picture. For example I highlighted the existence of a coroners report on the death of a boy in Artane which the authors either failed to find or ignored.
In response to this Mary Raftery alleged on radio that there were a number of deaths on staircases in Artane while providing no documentary evidence whatsoever to back her claim. The eyewitness she relies on is now on record with three totally different versions of the one incident. (See Letters page, December 22nd). This raises legitimate questions which [Fintan] O'Toole conveniently ignores."
Extract from Mary Raftery's letter to Irish Times on 13 Jan 2000 re "Suffer the Little Children"
In her article she [Breda O'Brien] makes two specific criticisms of our book. Firstly, with regard to the report of the coroner into a boy's death in Artane industrial school during the 1950s, it should be noted that this (and other) information was supplied to Ms. O'Brien by the Christian Brothers.
This order has so far declined to open its archival material on industrial schools to public scrutiny. We were most anxious to include any relevant material in its archive in Suffer the Little Children, but the Christian Brothers refused to allow us access to it.
However, concerning the tragic death in question, we did in fact include in Suffer the Little Children the statement which the Christian Brothers had publicly made confirming that a boy had died following a fall over banisters at Artane and that this had been as the result of an accident. We further included the order's own explanation as to what had occurred.
Despite this the fact remains that several former inmates of Artane, witnesses to the tragedy, continue to believe that questions need to be answered with regard to this death. The coroners report sheds no new light on this issue; it states that a boy died as a result of internal injuries following a fall over banisters at the school.
It is relevant to note that this particular incident now forms part of the extensive Garda investigation into the hundreds of allegations of severe physical and sexual abuse of boys by Christian Brothers at Artane up to the late 1960s.
(Authors of Suffer The little Children)
Letter from Brendan Conroy in Irish Times 26 Jan 2000
Sir - Mary Raftery and Eoin O'Sullivan co-authors of the book Suffer the Little Children seem determined to react defensively when faced with any kind of challenge to their research. Their continuing failure to engage with what the editor of the Irish Times has described as "valid and sustainable criticism"does them no credit.
For example in a letter to this newspaper (January 13th) they claim erroneously that an incident described in their book involving the death of a boy in Artane in the 1950s is the subject of an ongoing Garda investigation. (An event, incidentally, about which their main witness has now given three very different accounts.)
Later that same day on Eamon Dunphy's The Last Word radio programme, it was put to Mary Raftery that the Garda Press Office had confirmed that this incident had been investigated previously but was no longer the subject of investigation, and that unless new evidence were to emerge there would be no further investigation. Mary Raftery's unbelievable response to this information was: "This is complete rubbish. This is rubbish. This is rubbish."
Ms. Raftery has recently accused others of denial. How does she account for her own?
Failure to face up to unpalatable truths and name-calling those who those who differ with your opinions simply places more obstacles in the search for a fuller understanding of child abuse past and present. For the sake of justice for all, this has got to stop.
MY FINAL COMMENT
Mary Raftery continues to tell tall tales about the Christian Brothers. In an Irish Times article on 8 July 2004 she admits that a massive Gardai investigation into Artane resulted in only one decision to prosecute [and he strongly denies any wrongdoing], but claims that "Brothers had actually admitted during the investigation that they had sexually abused boys." Brother Edmund Garvey wrote back on 15 July 2004 that leaders of the Christian Brothers have no evidence of any such admissions and that "if Ms. Raftery is aware of such names, as she seems to claim, then in the public interest, congregational leadership and the Gardai ought to be informed."
Mary Raftery wants the Christian Brothers to have abused boys and indeed to have killed boys and she is disappointed when the evidence fails to support her pre-conceived views. That is why she invents the evidence.
16 March 2005