Institutional child abuse: a timely reminder from Geneva

There came a timely reminder from Geneva this week.

It got a mention en passant in Mick’s piece earlier, and the Prime Time programme (available on RTE Player until 28 June) does provide an excellent catch-up / analysis, but the subject matter truly merits much closer study.

That’s the Concluding Observations by the UN Committee on Torture following its periodic review of Ireland. 

There’s lots of good stuff in there  – on the use of Shannon for illegal rendition flights, and on prison conditions, for example – but that’s for another day. For the purposes of this post, l will concentrate on the observations regarding Ireland’s performance on dealing with child and institutional abuse.

Firstly, the UN Committee made clear that ultimate responsibility for human rights violations committed in non-State run institutions (like the Magdalene Laundries or independently-run children’s homes) lies with the State, even if criminal responsibility might be found to lie with those wearing habits, dog collars or the uniforms of some charitable institution. It was singularly unimpressed with the government’s ‘defence’ that this all happened “a long time ago” in private institutions.

Secondly, the UN report called for the government to establish a statutory inquiry, a “prompt, independent and thorough investigation” into allegations of abuse against the girls and women held in Magdalene institutions.

Thirdly, the Committee said the State should punish the perpetrators of the Magdalene Laundries abuse. In another section of the report, the Committee made clear it was not impressed by the progress the Irish authorities were making in bringing prosecutions following the publication of the report of the Ryan Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse:

The committee is also gravely concerned that despite the findings of the Ryan Report that ‘physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions and that sexual abuse occurred in many of them, particularly boys’ institutions’, there has been no follow up by the state party.

Fourthly, that the government must provide redress, likely to include a State apology, and compensation to the abused women, estimated to number a few hundred surviving today.

All this is an important success for the survivors of these institutions in the Republic – like the Justice for Magdalenes group – who have fought hard for justice.

But the UN report is potentially just as important for their Northern Ireland counterparts, those who suffered institutional child abuse – sexual, physical, mental and emotional – in children’s homes and orphanages over the course of decades. The recommendations coming from the Geneva this week to Dublin closely echo the demands of the victims and survivors of institutional abuse in Belfast, L’Derry, Armagh, Kircubbin and elsewhere.

The Interdepartmental Taskforce established by the NI Executive to make recommendations on the nature of an inquiry here, should be making its report in the coming weeks. The Executive is expected to take crucial decisions on the inquiry soon thereafter.

The UN Committee against Torture report on Ireland serves as a timely reminder that getting this right isn’t just a matter of natural justice, it’s also a matter of international law.

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  • Pete Baker

    “The UN Committee against Torture report on Ireland serves as a timely reminder that getting this right isn’t just a matter of natural justice, it’s also a matter of international law.”

    That’s an interesting point to end on, Patrick.

    Which is not to gainsay any of the other points made in your post.

    But, “it’s also a matter of international law.”?

    Which “international law”, do you have in mind?

    And where, and how, could that ‘international law’ be enforced?

    “There’s lots of good stuff in there”


  • Crubeen

    To hell with international law … and to hell with historical enquiries … this abuse is STILL going on as anybody who watched the recent Panorama programme knows … and it is still covered up by regulators and Government bodies charged with preventing, investigating and punishing it.

    And that is why I damn the self styled “professionals” and social workers to eternal perdition!

    They know the way to stop it and that is to put the power in the hands of families and relatives who are the people who really care for and about the vulnerable!

  • Cynic2


    Well lets start with the European Court of Human Rights

    which deals with cases in signatory countries of the European Charter of Human Rights (ECHR) to which Ireland is a signatory.

    In the present case however it might be the International Court of Justice that would deal with it and it would have to be referred to that court by a competent third party – I think that has to be another state. Who knows. Perhaps the UK could help out by referring it.

    The problem with applying the law is that the Convention on Torture was only ratified by Ireland in 1992 so I am unsure about cases before that. An action under various parts of ECHR however seems likely to succeed. I am sure a legal aid starved solicitor will help out

  • Mrs jones

    Child Abuse-Racism and Sectarianism Are All Institutionalized in Ireland-If it’s a matter of International Law then the Lawmakers have a lot to answer for.

    ‘Afterwards Walsh wiped him with “a purple sash he had with him”. When Walsh picked up his jacket “a small receptacle for holding Holy Communion wafers fell out of his pocket”. He brought David back to the presbytery, “put on Elvis records . . . and gave him a glass of Coke”. He then showed David “a Bible with pictures of hell and said if he told anyone he would burn in hell and never go to heaven and then he let him go home”.Two of the original counts in the trial related to that incident, but Judge O’Donnell directed the jury to find Walsh not guilty of either, as David had given differing dates for it between his two statements to the Garda and what he insisted was the correct date in his evidence to the court.’-Father Tony Walsh aka The Beast of ballyfermot raped on his own addmission at least 1/2 boys a week over a 20 year period.The Gardai knew within 2 days of his arrival what was going on.We’re talking 500 kids here-

    The Only Recommendation the Victims deserve Is an International Court of Inquiry.The Pope and all those who knew what was going on should be allowed the opportunity to Clear Their Names.