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Chapter 5 — Investigation Committee Report - preliminary issues

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Outside events had the potential to influence evidence given by witnesses. Following the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme in 1996, which documented allegations of abuse in Goldenbridge Industrial School, there was a flood of publicity about abuse in institutions. There were television programmes such as ‘States of Fear’, which were broadcast by RTE in April and May 1999 dealing with institutional abuse, which attracted enormous public interest and comment. The largest institutions such as Artane and Goldenbridge were often discussed in all the media, including the internet. Books of reminiscences appeared, and one major study, ‘Suffer the Little Children’ by Raftery and O’Sullivan,2 was published.


The campaign for recognition and redress continued after the establishment of the Commission. Many meetings were held by victims’ groups in Ireland and the UK. They were also used to organise complainants to participate in the Commission’s work. These meetings were well attended. Members of the audience participated and, on occasions, recounted their experiences of abuse in the institutions. These meetings were another source of potential influence and suggestion to witnesses.


Attending meetings to press for a Redress Scheme, and to provide generally for advantageous conditions for victims of abuse, was not wrong, and it was entirely to be expected that people would attend and would describe their experiences. Witnesses who attended the meetings, however, were very defensive and reticent about what went on. The Committee is satisfied that, at some of these meetings, individual accounts of abuse were recounted in detail and individuals were identified.


Yet another source of potential pressure and influence on witnesses complaining of abuse was to be found in the developments that led to the enactment of the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 2000.


The story of the amendment to the Statute of Limitations Act, 1957 can usefully begin with the Taoiseach’s announcement of the package of redress measures on 11th May 1999, when this Commission was also announced. The Taoiseach announced that the Government would amend the 1957 legislation to enable victims to bring claims for sexual abuse, but it was not anticipated at the time that physical abuse would be included. The progress of the Amendment Bill through the Oireachtas was followed closely, and was discussed at meetings of victims groups all over Ireland and the UK. The Government referred the question to the Law Reform Commission, whose consideration and report also gave rise to public interest. The solution that was put in place in the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 2000 was confined to sexual abuse. The Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002 was not so confined, and extended to the full range of abuse with which this investigation is concerned. There was an important period during which there was real concern that compensation might be restricted to cases of sexual abuse.


The amendment to the Statute of Limitations conferred an entitlement to bring a late claim on persons who, by virtue of the trauma associated with sexual abuse, had been unable to bring a claim within the existing limitation period. In addition, it provided for an extension of time to claim for victims who had spoken about their experiences and who therefore would have had difficulty in proving the necessary psychological impairment required by the Act. Such a person qualified by fulfilling one of two conditions, namely: (a) the claimant had consulted a solicitor and had been advised that the claim was statute barred; or (b) the claimant had made a report to An Garda Síochana about sexual abuse within one year prior to the enactment of the legislation.


People giving evidence about events that occurred many years ago in their childhoods might not be precise on detail. Many of them were young children in large institutions, in which the adults dressed the same and were known as ‘Sister’, ‘Brother’, ‘Father’ or by surnames, religious names or nicknames. In addition, staff came and went, and sometimes stayed only for very short periods of time.


Potential distorting influences on evidence were not confined to complainants. While some ex-staff members were extraordinarily candid in their acknowledgment of abuses in institutions, others were unable to recall major incidents or practices that were features of them. There was a tendency to shut out unpleasant and embarrassing incidents. The inability of some former staff members to recall any unfavourable aspects of their experiences in institutions was not inspired by a desire to mislead the investigation. It was, rather, incapacity to accommodate the fact that people whose mission was spiritual and religious could have behaved cruelly, basely and self-indulgently, and that colleagues might have stood by or covered up such wrongdoing.


It was not always easy for respondent witnesses to testify to the shortcomings, either of themselves or of their colleagues, when they had to do so in the presence of senior members of their own Congregations.



In the Position Paper published in May 2004, the Investigation Committee considered the question of naming individuals who were believed to be guilty of committing abuse of children. The Committee subsequently decided to implement the policy that was set out in the Position Paper.


The amending legislation in 2005 only permitted the naming of persons who had been convicted in the criminal courts of abuse of children. The legislation did not require that the person to be named should have been convicted of the specific abuse that was the subject of the report. In other words, if a person had been convicted of abuse of children of some nature at some time, it was permissible under the legislation for him or her to be named as being responsible for abuse in some quite different circumstances or at a different time.


Even under the unamended legislation, naming some individuals was always going to be fraught with difficulty and inconsistency. The probability was that only a very small number of persons would actually be named. This issue was debated in the Position Paper, and outlined to the public meeting of the Investigation Committee. The supposed benefits of being able to name persons who committed abuse were outweighed by the disadvantages.


The Report does not identify individuals by name in respect of any abuse that they committed.


The anonymity of complainants is guaranteed under the Act.


Although the process is called anonymising, that is a relatively convenient and pronounceable, but somewhat misleading, way of referring to the actual process, which is protecting persons living or dead by giving them pseudonyms. The mechanics of the process are that respondents are given names from a catalogue of names that have a common source. For example, all the Christian Brothers are given names of French origin. In other cases, Spanish or Italian names are used. As far as possible, the names have been chosen with a view to emphasising the fact that they are pseudonyms.

  1. In Re Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse [2002] 3 IR 459.
  2. Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan, Suffer the Little Children (New Island, 1999).