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The Report

Irish Times, Sep 27, 2011 by Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

Colm O'Gorman and "Torture" in Catholic Institutions
Amnesty's report on clerical child abuse is the first time the Irish division of the human rights watchdog has addressed the issue of torture in Ireland

UNTIL 2003 it was not common for Amnesty to address human rights issues in the jurisdiction where it was based. This too applied to Ireland.

Although In Plain Sight is not its first time to comment on human rights issues here, it is its first time to address the issue of torture in this State, a spokesman for Amnesty said yesterday.

It felt compelled to do so “following all the abuse reports which highlight the failure of the State to act” in the context of “the gravest, systematic human rights failures” in its history, he said.

Research for In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports was undertaken by Dr Carole Holohan.

It was commissioned by Amnesty International Ireland and financial assistance towards the project was provided by Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation.

An advisory committee assisted with its preparation and included lecturer and commentator Elaine Byrne, historians Lindsey Earner- Byrne and Prof Diarmaid Ferriter, Colin Gordon of Food and Drinks Industry Ireland, former Mountjoy governor John Lonergan, Rosaleen McDonagh of Pavee Point, NUI Galway law Prof Gerard Quinn, DCU journalism lecturer Kevin Rafter, journalist Mary Raftery, Bride Rosney of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, Bart Storan of Amnesty Ireland and Bishop Willie Walsh.

Main findings

1 Absence of clear lines of responsibility makes true accountability impossible.

2 The law must protect and apply to all members of society equally.

3 Recognition of children’s human rights must be strengthened.

4 Public attitudes matter. Individual attitudes matter.

5 The State must operate on behalf of the people, not on behalf of interest groups.

Implements Used And Injuries Suffered 

On page 59 of In Plain Sight, “implements” used against children and the injuries suffered, as described in the Ryan report, are detailed.


“The leather; the leather containing metal or coins; the cat o’nine tails; canes; ash plants; blackthorn sticks; hurleys; broom handles; rulers; pointers; sally rods; bamboo canes; towel rollers; rosary beads; crucifixes; hair brushes; sweeping brushes; hand brushes; wooden spoons; batons; chair rungs; yard brushes; hoes; hay forks; pikes; pieces of wood with leather thongs attached; canes; bunches of keys; belt buckles; drain rods; rubber pram tyres; golf clubs; tyre rims; electric flexes; fan belts; horse tackle; hammers; metal rulers; butts of rifles; T-squares; gun pellets and hay ropes.”


Resultant injuries included

“breaks to ribs, noses, wrists, arms and legs . . .

“Injuries to head, genitalia, back, mouth, eye, ear, hand, jaw, face and kidney . . .

“Burns, dog bites, lacerations, broken teeth, dislocated shoulders and burst chilblains.”


Abuse In Institutions Amounted to 'Torture'

Irish Times, Sep 27, 2011 by Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

CHILDREN WERE tortured, brutalised, beaten, starved and abused in institutions run by the State and the Catholic Church, an Amnesty International Ireland report said yesterday.

“There has been little justice for these victims. Those who failed as guardians, civil servants, clergy, gardaí and members of religious orders have avoided accountability,” said Amnesty Ireland executive director Colm O’Gorman in Dublin.

“The Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports tell us what happened to these children, but not why it happened,” he added. “We commissioned this report to explore that question because only by doing so can we ensure this never happens again.”

Mr O’Gorman was speaking at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin at the publication of In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports , a report by Dr Carole Holohan and commissioned by Amnesty International Ireland.

“The abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children is perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the State. Much of the abuse described in the Ryan report meets the legal definition of torture under international human rights law,” he said.

It happened “not because we didn’t know about it, but because many people across society turned a blind eye to it. It is not true that everyone knew, but deep veins of knowledge existed across Irish society and people in positions of power ignored their responsibility to act.

“The research reveals that the true scandal is not that the system failed these children, but that there was no functioning system. Instead, children were abandoned to a chaotic, unregulated arrangement where no one was accountable for failures to protect and care for them. The legacy of this for today’s children is obvious, with our current child protection system itself being described as dysfunctional and not fit for purpose.

“If we do not address the failures revealed by In Plain Sight, our shock and outrage at what happened will be rightly judged as hollow,” he said.

The report found the absence of clear lines of responsibility “makes true accountability impossible”. In the case of residential institutions for children, it found that “it wasn’t that the system didn’t work, but rather that there was no system”.

It concluded that the law must protect and apply to all members of society equally and noted that “despite the severity of the crimes revealed in the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy (Dublin) and Cloyne reports, which range from physical assault to rape, very few perpetrators have been convicted”.

It pointed out that 173,000 children passed through the residential institutions between 1936 and 1970. Of those, 30,000 complained to the Ryan commission, 15,210 applied to the redress board (plus an additional 3,000 by the September 16th deadline as reported in this newspaper yesterday), 11 cases had been referred to the DPP, with just three of these prosecuted.

The report called for greater recognition of children’s human rights. It concluded: “The sexual abuse in the diocesan reports, and the sexual, physical and emotional abuse, the living conditions and the neglect described in the Ryan report, can be categorised as torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under human rights law.”

The report added: “Public attitudes matter. Individual attitudes matter.

“The end of deference to powerful institutions and the taking of personal responsibility on behalf of all members of society will initiate some of the changes that are necessary to prevent the occurrence of human rights abuses.”

It said the State must “operate on behalf of the people, not on behalf of interest groups”. It said that while Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s recent criticism of the Vatican suggests a less deferential attitude to the Catholic Church, “transparency in the operations of all arms of the State is necessary to prevent interest groups from exerting undue influence”.

Mr O’Gorman said: “People realise that this is not just about the crimes of the clergy or the failures of the State, but is a much bigger problem: the institutionalised lack of accountability in the Irish State . . .

“Attempts to achieve real reform in how this State functions will be meaningless unless we learn from what must be our greatest collective failure, one which resulted in the abuse and torture of tens of thousands of children.”

Details of the report and accompanying poll are at


'Horrifying if done to prisoners of war'

Irish Times, Sep 27, 2011 by Patsy McGarry

MINISTER FOR CHILDREN: THE IN Plain Sight report reminds us that Irish children were subjected to “treatment that would be horrifying if it were done to prisoners of war, never mind little boys and girls”, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday.

“Rape, burning, beating, biting. Horrendous, awful torture.”

Launching the In Plain Sight report, she said it “says boldly what we now must accept; people knew about children being abused long before it was put in print in the Ferns, Cloyne, Murphy and Dublin reports”.

This “strikes at our very national identity. Whatever happens to us, we Irish like to believe we are fundamentally a good people – kind, generous, brave, open-minded.

“So how could we have allowed this systemic abuse of children to have gone on for so long? How could a decent society have let this happen?

“One causative factor, one national attribute is becoming ever clearer to me as I read more of what happened in our schools, clubs, churches, homes and communities. Deference,” she said.

“At every turn, Irish people kept their mouths shut out of deference to State, system, church and community; when they should have been unified in fury and outrage they were instead silenced, afraid to even whisper a criticism against the powerful.

“Much of the blame for that lies in a past where the chasm between the powerful and powerless was too vast to close, but let’s not fool ourselves into believing that abuse occurred in a sepia-toned Ireland that is dead and gone.

“Abuse – awful, shocking abuse – happened long after we knew of the atrocities of the distant past. And again it was covered by deference,” she said.

“A critical error was the unquestioning deference to an organisation making itself out to be the paragon of virtue it obviously was not.

“We have to move Irish society to a position where we are not afraid of debate, where there are no sacred systems that take precedence over our people.

“We must make sure that no system and no people are ever allowed to become so important that lives are destroyed to protect their reputation.”

The “very awfulness of what happened may go some way to explaining why, as the report says, so many people find the topic too overwhelming to deal with”, she said in reference to a Red C poll finding published to coincide with the report.

“But the problem with that reaction, that urge to deny, to shut our ears and eyes, is that it can allow the past to recur.”

The poll took place on July 25th and 27th last. The Cloyne report was published on July 13th, with the Taoiseach’s controversial Dáil response on July 20th.

It found that 52 per cent of people found the content of the Ryan report on child abuse issues “overwhelming”, with 35 per cent saying it was “too upsetting to engage with”, while 58 per cent felt “helpless” as a result. On the other hand, it made 89 per cent angry at those who abused the children and 84 per cent “angry that wider society didn’t do more”.

Seventy-one per cent of those surveyed believed that “wider Irish society bears some responsibility for what has been revealed in the Ryan, Ferns, Murphy and Cloyne reports”.

And 88 per cent believed that “individual members of society should have demanded that the State act to prevent child abuse”, while 85 per cent felt that “individual members of Irish society should have done more to protect these children”.

Half believed “wider society is prejudiced against children in care in the State today”.


Cori regrets not being asked for response

Irish Times, Sep 27, 2011 by Patsy McGarry

REACTION: THE DIRECTOR general of Cori, the Conference of Religious of Ireland, has expressed regret it had not been invited to contribute an essay to accompany the In Plain Sight report.

“In the interest of academic rigour and balance,” Sr Marianne O’Connor said, “I believe we should have been asked for a response, it would have been in order.

“It was possible that they may have contacted one of the [18] congregations” involved in running the residential institutions investigated by the Ryan commission “and got no response”, she said.

She was not aware that this had happened.

Had she been invited, Sr O’Connor added, she would have addressed in more detail data-protection difficulties faced by the congregations and referred to in the report’s chapter on The Catholic Church and Child Protection.

In general she thought the report was “excellent” and she welcomed the idea that it was “the beginnings of a process”.

Essays in the report are by academic and commentator Elaine Byrne, canon lawyer Fr Tom Doyle, Prof Gerard Quinn of NUI Galway, Colin Gordon of Food and Drinks Industry Ireland, consultant in strategy Dr Eddie Molloy, abuse victim Andrew Madden, Rosaleen McDonagh of Pavee Point, Kevin Rafter of DCU and Deirdre Kenny of the One in Four victim support group.

Others who contributed essays included Martina Deasy of Arklow Springboard Family Support Service, Norah Gibbons of Barnardos, Lisa Collins of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Jackie Murphy of Wales’s Tros Gynnal Plant services, Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan, Seán Cottrell of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network, solicitor Pearse Mehigan and James Smith of the Justice for Magdalenes Campaign.

Among the large attendance at the publication of the report in Dublin yesterday were abuse victims Marie Collins, Andrew Madden, councillor Mannix Flynn, Michael O’Brien and Christine Buckley; the Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan, Senator Jillian Von Turnhout of the Children’s Rights Alliance, Maeve Lewis of the One in Four group, Ellen O’Malley Dunlop of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, and Sr O’Connor of Cori.