Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Special needs schools and residential services

Show Contents

Religion now practised


This chapter of the Confidential Committee Report presents witness evidence of abuse in schools and residential services1 providing care and education for children with special needs as a result of learning, physical, visual, hearing or speech impairment and disability. Some of the schools also had facilities for children to attend from home on a daily basis. A number of the services were formerly known as schools for the mentally handicapped and for deaf and blind children.


Arrangements were made by the Committee to ensure that each witness was afforded the best possible opportunity to place their experiences on record. Witnesses could be accompanied by a companion or professional person to provide support and any necessary assistance during their hearings. Some intellectually disabled witnesses chose to be accompanied by social workers, care workers or other professionals, without whose presence and support a number of witnesses would otherwise have been unable to attend. Commissioners and witnesses were facilitated during some of the hearings by Irish Sign Language (ISL) and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters. As reflected in the Report, a number of intellectually disabled witnesses attended to give evidence regarding specific incidents of abuse and gave no further information about their current lives, personal history or everyday experience in the facilities where they resided as children. A small number of hearings were conducted in or close to the witnesses’ place of residence.



The Committee heard 59 reports of abuse from 58 witnesses, 39 male and 19 female, in relation to their time in 14 different special needs schools and residential services, which were all managed by religious Congregations. One witness reported abuse in two different special needs schools. Nine (9) of the special needs day and residential facilities were gender segregated and five were mixed gender facilities for at least some period of their operation. Thirty seven (37) witnesses reported abuse in day and residential schools and services for intellectually disabled children. Nineteen (19) witnesses reported abuse in day and residential schools and services for children with sensory impairments2. Two (2) witnesses reported abuse in schools and services for children with physical disabilities.


In addition to the accounts of abuse in special needs schools and services that are summarised below, four witnesses also reported abuse in Industrial Schools, foster care and a Children’s Home, the details of which are covered in the relevant chapters of this Report.


This Chapter refers to a 58-year period, with the earliest admission to out-of-home care being in 1935 and the latest year of discharge being 1993.


Ten (10) of the schools and services were located in Irish cities and the other four were in rural and provincial locations.


Varying levels of detail were provided to the Committee by witnesses regarding their background and social circumstances. A number of witnesses reported knowing very little about their family of origin or the circumstances of their admission to the schools and services. Details regarding family of origin, place of birth, current residence and other aspects of the witnesses’ lives are, therefore, not always complete. They are differentiated by gender when there are notable differences. The age profile of witnesses at the time of their hearing is shown in the following table:
Age range Males Females Total witnesses
20–29 years 2 1 3
30–39 years 2 2 4
40–49 years 10 8 18
50–59 years 15 7 22
60–69 years 9 1 10
70+ years 1 0 1
Total 39 19 58


The majority of witnesses were aged less than 60 years at the time of their hearing. Compared with the age profile of witnesses reporting abuse in other settings a notably high proportion of witnesses reporting abuse in special needs facilities were in their 20s and 30s.


Thirteen (13) of those who reported being abused in special needs services were discharged during the 1980s and 1990s. A further 36 witnesses were discharged during the 1960s and 1970s. The remaining nine witnesses were discharged prior to 1960.


Thirty five (35) witnesses, 29 male and six female, reported being born in three Irish counties. The remaining 22 witnesses were born in 12 other Irish counties, the UK and elsewhere. There was no information available regarding the birth place of one witness. At the time of their hearings 52 witnesses were living in Ireland and six were residing in the UK.


Forty three (43) witnesses, 27 male and 16 female, reported being born into two-parent families. Eight (8) witnesses were the children of single mothers, and six witnesses did not know or did not provide information about their parents’ marital status, as outlined in the following table:
Marital status of parents Males Females Total witnesses
Married 27 16 43
Single 7 1 8
Widowed 0 1 1
Unavailable 5 1 6
Totals 39 19 58


The occupational status of witnesses’ parents at the time of their admission was not always reported to the Committee, and was at times unknown. Table 3 indicates the information provided by witnesses regarding their parents’ occupational status:3
Occupational status Males Females Total witnesses
Professional worker 0 1 1
Managerial and technical 0 1 1
Non-manual 4 3 7
Skilled manual 5 2 7
Semi-skilled 4 1 5
Unskilled 14 8 22
Unavailable 12 3 15
Total 39 19 58


Fifteen (15) witnesses did not report or did not know their parents’ occupational status at the time of their admission, further reflecting the fact that many of the witnesses had little or no information about their family of origin.


Forty two (42) witnesses reported having siblings, including 17 who had brothers and sisters in out-of-home care, some of whom were in special needs schools as a result of disability. Altogether the 17 witnesses reported having 38 siblings in out-of-home care. Thirty three (33) witnesses were from families of five or more children and nine witnesses reported having between one and three siblings. Twelve (12) witnesses provided no detailed information regarding their family of origin and four witnesses reported that they had no siblings.


The admission circumstances reported by the 58 witnesses varied but were principally related to the perceived educational and treatment needs of children with specific impairments or disabilities, for example hearing and sight impairments and learning disabilities.

  1. The terms schools, services and facilities are used interchangeably throughout this chapter of the Report and signify the complex range of services provided.
  2. The principal sensory impairments referred to are those of sight and hearing.
  3. The categorisation is based on Census 2002, Volume 6 Occupations, Appendix 2, Definitions – Labour Force. In two-parent households the father’s occupation was recorded and in other instances the occupational status of the sole parent was recorded, in so far as it was known.
  4. Section 1 as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act.
  5. Section 1(1)(a).
  6. Section 1(1)(b).
  7. Section 1(1)(c) as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act.
  8. Section 1(1)(d) as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act.