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Mary Raftery is the moving spirit behind the child abuse witch-hunt in Ireland. She is our Witch-Finder General (with apologies to Hammer Films and the late Matthew Hopkins). There are thousands of articles about her on the Internet but apart from one or two of mine, practically no critical articles. The following piece - from "The Voice Today" magazine - may be the only detailed study of the woman and her work that has appeared in the print media.

Rory Connor
18 June 2006

The Voice Today, 16 June 2006

Mary Raftery has been one of the most influential Irish journalists of the last decade. Producer of documentaries such as the award winning States of Fear and Cardinal Secrets, and a columnist with the Irish Times, she is championed by many journalists as a fearless critic of both Church and State. However she is something of a bete noir for religious orders.

Her stated view is that those involved in physical and sexual abuse in institutions run by religious orders, "were not just a few bad apples," implying that the abuse in these institutions was systematic. And she is on the record saying that the Church should have no involvement in the running of schools and hospitals. So who is Mary Raftery?

Remarkably for such an influential and high profile journalist, little is known about her. She was educated at primary level by Sacred Heart nuns at Leeson Street but found "the sense of wealth and privilege overwhelming".

She then transferred to the less-than- proletarian sounding Miss Meredith's Academy, where she finished her secondary education. From there she moved to UCD to study engineering, but by her own admission she spent most of her time there "writing and agitating". She never finished her degree.

Her career as a journalist began in RTE. By the mid-80s she was working as a producer on Today Tonight, and she continued working on its successor Prime Time.

But it was "States of Fear" that catapulted her to prominence. Its searing indictment of religious institutions sent shockwaves through the country and forced the Government to set up structures to deal with the allegations.

However in the wake of the follow up book she wrote in 1999 with collaborator Dr Eoin O'Sullivan, "Suffer The Little Children", which goes into greater detail about the abuse suffered in residential homes, questions began to emerge about the accuracy of Raftery's research.

Columnist Breda O'Brien challenged some of the research for the book, pointing out that the authors failed to cross check stories told to them by former inmates. She cites the example of a coroner''s report which contradicts a claim made in the book about a young boy dying at the hands of the Christian Brothers in Artane.

Furthermore in an article in March of last year , Raftery implied that Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, the Sisters of Charity nun better known as Sister Stan, who founded the Focus Ireland charity, knew about allegations of sexual abuse in the 70s when she was in charge of St. Joseph's Industrial School in Kilkenny.

Sister Stan has denied the claim and her account has been corroborated by Edward Murphy, a childcare worker who alerted her to physical abuse that was taking place. So far, Raftery has refused to apologise for making this claim.

Members of the religious orders have also hit out at some of Raftery's claims, arguing that her commentary on cases lacks balance. Sister Una O'Neill of the Sisters of Charity, responding to further allegations by Raftery that other members of her order knew about sexual abuse, has pointed out that in a High Court ruling on the abuse in question, the judge Mr. Justice Finnegan, accepted that the Sisters did not know about sexual abuse.

Brother Edmund Garvey of the Christian Brothers has also taken issue with Raftery's claim that the order "had spent years denying the contents of their files", including evidence of physical and sexual abuse. Brother Garvey pointed out that the order had acknowledged the evidence and had apologised six years before Raftery's article in 2004.

Responding to allegations by Raftery that some Brothers had actually admitted sexual abuse during an investigation of the Brothers industrial school in Artane, Brother Garvey continued: "The leaders of the Christian Brothers in Ireland have no evidence available to them that 'Brothers had actually admitted during the (Artane) investigation (by the gardai) that they had sexually abused boys.'"

"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."

Her response has been to suggest that critics are deniers of child abuse and Church apologists. She has also suggested that columnists such as O'Brien have had privileged access to the archives of religious orders, an allegation which the latter vehemently denies.

Raftery's "States of Fear" was a piece of landmark journalism. But her continued insistence on believing any allegation against religious orders, her refusal to give them the benefit of the doubt in any situation and her selective use of evidence suggests that her journalism lacks balance.

Uncovering the truth about child abuse is, of course, a pressing concern but many commentators feel that Raftery's approach to the subject hinders rather than helps that aim.