What We Learned
Abuse was the defining characteristic of the Industrial School system for children in modern Ireland
Children in these institutions experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse; they were beaten and raped; they were neglected and malnourished; they were deprived of education.
Recurring patterns in survivor testimony indicate a wide range of events were experienced as abusive, from persistent hunger and thirst, to the separation of family members
Abuse was about power: making children wait for punishment was one common way of exerting power. Survivors’ testimony about waiting was classed by our digital analysis as an ‘abuse event’
Inspections detected abuse but did not intervene to stop it; often the language of inspectors’ reports underplayed the negative effect of extreme corporal punishment
A system of abuse
The system was abusive to everyone within it – staff members were also dehumanised and our digital analysis defined some of their testimony as bearing the hallmarks of abuse.
The system existed to make abuse disappear.
Secrecy enabled widespread abuse. Transfers of known abusers were motivated by the fear of scandal, not child welfare. These transfers – of abusers from one school to another – caused abuse to become systemic and endemic.
The structure of the Report obscures the complete picture of how transfers operated
Schools were short-staffed and so were economically motivated to keep religious abusers on staff
Attitudes to abuse
Our transfer map illustrates that different religious orders had different policies on transfers
Statistically, we show that there is no relationship between the number of allegations of abuse, the number of transfers and the removal of a member of religious staff from the Order
People knew: Church and State.
Abuse was not invisible and there was a large cohort of people, from religious to state inspectors, to community members who saw evidence of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
An active network
We tracked instances of communication and co-occurence within the Report to show the wide and active network of people who knew about abuse within the system
Stakeholders across society
This relational network includes parents, solicitors, Resident Managers, Priests, Archbishops, Government Ministers, lay members of staff, Church and State Inspectors, the Gardai, and the Departments of Education and Justice
Abuse was seen
Proximity to abuse did not translate into action: seeing and knowing were not enough to make people act as ethical witnesses
But the oversight system was broken
Oversight of the system did not either prevent or halt abuse, nor did it ensure the welfare of, or protect, the child being abused
The stories of the survivors are still not being witnessed.
The Ryan Report is 2,600 pages long and spread across five volumes. It is one of the most important publications in the history of the Irish state, but it is not being read.
The Report’s structure is based on including one chapter per institution – this gives the inquiry depth, but prevents readers from seeing patterns across institutions
Needs systemic analysis
The structure obscures the systemic aspects of how the institutions operated, such as transfers of abusers, and the failures in the inspection system
The Executive Summary of the Report is not an accurate guide to the involvement of State stakeholders, from Gardaí to the Department of Education
Not 'a few bad apples'
The abuse that occurred was not the result of a ‘few bad apples’ or individual abusers – the system itself was abusive
Survivors carry the legacy
Survivors of abuse carry the legacy of that pain – even the language of their testimony is marked by abuse
The official digital record of the Child Abuse Commission, published 2009 (commonly known as the Ryan Report)