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.

  • Everyday abuse

    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

  • Power

    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

    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.

  • Obscuring patterns

    The structure of the Report obscures the complete picture of how transfers operated

  • Economic motivations

    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

  • Repeated 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.

  • Too linear

    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

  • Absences

    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


Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse

The official digital record of the Child Abuse Commission, published 2009 (commonly known as the Ryan Report)