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Chapter 2 — Methodology

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The following chapter describes the procedures and methods by which the Committee carried out its mandate under the Acts. This includes the procedures for dealing with applications, the arrangement of hearings, the prioritisation of elderly and infirm witnesses and the adjustments made for witnesses in particular circumstances. It also includes details of the procedures employed to protect the confidentiality of the evidence provided and the method by which witness evidence was compiled. Mindful of the statutory requirements of the Committee to hear evidence of abuse, maintain witness confidentiality, and to make proposals and prepare a final report, a method of work was established that:1 Ensured complete confidentiality in relation to information provided to the Committee Maintained confidentiality of witnesses in relation to both their identity and their evidence Provided an appropriate setting for witnesses to give their evidence in confidence Established clear liaison and communication procedures Was accessible to witnesses who were unable or did not wish to travel to Dublin Allowed for the recording, storing, coding and retrieving of 1,090 files of evidence.



Six (6) Commissioners served on the Committee at different times between 2000 and 2008.2 At any one point there were two Commissioners conducting hearings and for a period there were four Commissioners so occupied. The Committee also employed Witness Support Officers. The role of the Witness Support Officer facilitated communication between the applicant3 and the Committee, as direct contact between witnesses and the Commissioners was restricted to the hearings. The Witness Support Officer made the arrangements for witnesses to travel to their hearings, either in Ireland, the UK or elsewhere. They arranged accommodation and offered other assistance for witnesses and their companions prior to and following the hearings. In addition, at different times between 2000 and 2008, Administrative and Research Assistants were employed. The Committee engaged various expert services for specific legal advice, database construction and software security, research, data compilation and presentation. The Committee had at all times adequate resources to undertake its work.

Undertaking of confidentiality


The Acts give a commitment of confidentiality in relation to information furnished to the Committee. The Acts require that the Report of the Confidential Committee should not identify or contain information that could lead to the identification of witnesses, or the persons against whom they made allegations, the institutions in which they alleged they were abused or any other person.4 It is a criminal offence to breach the assurance of confidentiality provided by the Acts to witnesses and to the work of the Committee.5 The Acts do not permit the Report to contain findings in relation to particular instances of the alleged abuse of children.6


The provisions of the Acts do not allow any person about whom reports of abuse were made to the Confidential Committee, or others connected with the institutions, to challenge the statements made. The confidential nature of the Committee’s work also means that information, documents or evidence provided to the Committee could not or cannot be disclosed to the Investigation Committee of the Commission or elsewhere.7 Exceptions to this were allowed for in only extremely limited circumstances and these are detailed below.8


Before attending their hearing witnesses were informed that the hearings of the Committee were entirely confidential and that no information or material from their hearing would be transferred for use in any other forum. This was emphasised before hearings with the Committee. It is believed therefore that there could be no secondary motivation attached to a witness’s decision to report to the Committee.


The undertaking of confidentiality was converted into a set of rules and protocols that applied to the Commissioners and to all members of the secretarial, administrative, executive and managerial staff of the Committee, technology and other experts, researchers and any other persons in contact with the work of the Committee. The Commission drew up a set of procedures in relation to electronic communications, which covered such matters as use of emails, passwords, storage and the copying of data and restrictions on the electronic transfer of materials. It was emphasised that the duty of confidentiality applied to the period after the termination of employment with the Commission and after dissolution of the Commission. All members of the Confidential Committee subscribed to a protocol on conflict of interest.


The location of the staff and materials of the Committee was within a secure office area, access to which was strictly limited. The offices were located in a building occupied by a number of different agencies, which provided an element of anonymity to witnesses.

Exceptions to confidentiality


Witnesses who chose to give their evidence to the Committee were, subject to the following four exceptions, assured complete confidentiality and their allegations were not investigated. The Committee was legally obliged to disclose information obtained by it either where disclosure was necessary to: Perform its functions under the Act Prevent the continuance of an act or omission constituting a serious offence (by making a report to the Garda Síochana) Prevent, reduce or remove a substantial risk to life, or prevent the continued abuse of a child by making a report to designated persons9 or Comply with an order of the High Court.10



One thousand five hundred and forty one (1541) people applied to give evidence to the Committee. Individuals could contact the Commission in person, by telephone, by letter or through the Commission’s website. People who contacted the Commission were initially provided with information about both the Investigation and Confidential Committees. Application forms for both Committees were also provided. Individuals indicated which Committee they wished to attend by completing in writing the appropriate application form.11


On receipt of an application form, the Confidential Committee sent more detailed information to the applicant about that Committee and the hearing process. The information was provided in the form of an ‘information pack’12 which explained how the Confidential Committee hearings were arranged and conducted. The website and information pack also contained a photograph of an informally furnished room, in which the Commissioners heard the witnesses’ evidence.


The following is a summary of the general route to a Confidential Committee hearing: Individual heard about the work of the Commission from media reports and notices placed by the Commission, through contact with a social or health service in Ireland or overseas, from meetings held by survivor-oriented organisations in Ireland or overseas, from a friend, family member or persons previously associated with the institutions. Applicant contacted the Commission to request information. Applicant obtained information about the Commission’s work and application forms. Applicant selected which of the two Committees he/she wished to attend. Applicant returned a completed application form to the Confidential Committee. The Confidential Committee ascertained whether the applicant fell within the remit of the Acts. Receipt of the application was confirmed and further information about the Committee was sent to the applicant. A Confidential Committee hearing was scheduled for the applicant.


Four hundred and fifty one (451) of the 1,541 applicants did not proceed to give evidence in the following circumstances: One hundred and thirty six (136) applicants withdrew from the Confidential Committee process to transfer to the Investigation Committee, as provided for under the Acts.13 One hundred and twenty one (121) applicants applied to give evidence but later withdrew their application for unspecified reasons. Ninety two (92) applicants were deemed to have withdrawn as they did not respond to any subsequent communication from the Committee. Fifty two (52) applicants withdrew when appointments were made with the Committee, stating they were too distressed or no longer wished to attend a hearing. Eighteen (18) applicants were withdrawn from the process due to death or serious physical or mental illness. Sixteen (16) applicants indicated a wish to attend a scheduled hearing but failed to attend on the day and did not request a rescheduled date. Sixteen (16) applicants were withdrawn because they fell outside the remit of the Acts for different reasons, including not having been a child of less than 18 years at the time of the reported abuse.

Transfers between Committees


A number of applicants who had applied to give evidence to the Confidential Committee subsequently applied to transfer to a hearing of the Investigation Committee and vice versa. Such transfers had been envisaged and were provided for in the 2000 Act.14 Evidence given to the original Committee had to be disregarded by the original Committee once the transfer was effected. Altogether 253 witnesses transferred from the Investigation Committee and 136 witnesses transferred from the Confidential Committee.15



The Confidential Committee heard from 1,090 witnesses who applied to give evidence of abuse they experienced as children in Irish institutions. They had been discharged from, or left, the institutions between 1922 and 2000, and were residing in Ireland, the UK and other parts of the world.


A small number of third-party witnesses applied to give evidence and the Commission decided that they could be heard by the Confidential Committee for the potential beneficial effect it may provide. Sixteen (16) hearings were attended by third-party witnesses who came to report abuse on behalf of their deceased family members or spoke of their own children who had been abused in institutions and who did not seek to give direct evidence themselves. The emphasis of the evidence given by third-party witnesses was on the impact on them of their relatives’ abuse. While the evidence of adults other than persons who suffered abuse as children in institutions could not be included as evidence of abuse, the testimony of third-parties was included in consideration for the overall proposals.

  1. Sections 4(6), 15(1) and 16 as amended.
  2. See Appendix 2.
  3. The term applicant refers to all individuals who applied to be heard by the Confidential Committee, not all of whom proceeded to become witnesses and give evidence.
  4. Sections 4(6), 5(4), 11(2), 15(1), 16(2), 27, 32, 33, and 34 as amended.
  5. Section 27(6).
  6. Section 16(2).
  7. Section 27(1).
  8. Sections 27(2), 27(3).
  9. Section 27(2).
  10. Section 27(3).
  11. See Appendix 3, which includes a copy of the CICA Information Leaflet and the Application Form.
  12. See Appendix 4, 4A and 4B,which includes a revised edition of the Information Pack, sample appointment letter and a photograph of the Hearing Room.
  13. Section 19 as amended by section 14 of the 2005 Act.
  14. Section 19 as amended by section 14 of the 2005 Act.
  15. These figures do not include all dual applicants.
  16. Section 1(1).
  17. Section 7.
  18. Section 4(1)(b), as amended by section 4 of the 2005 Act.
  19. Section 27(1).
  20. Statement delivered at the First Public Sitting, 29th June 2000, 3rd Interim Report page 240.
  21. Section 4(6)(a) and (b) as amended by section 4 of the 2005 Act. See also paragraph 2.43 below.
  22. This 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.
  23. For example: as witness evidence is presented according to the decade of discharge, a witness who spent 12 years in a school and was discharged in 1962 will have been included in the 1960s cohort although the majority of that witness’s experience will relate to the 1950s.
  24. Section 16(2)(a).
  25. Formerly the Department of Education.
  26. Section 4(6).