The abuse of thousands of innocent children in State and church run institutions in Ireland amounted to torture, a scathing report from Amnesty has found.
Youngsters suffered decades of inhuman and degrading treatment by being brutalised, beaten and starved, the human rights watchdog said.
The horrific details of neglect, physical abuse and rape were revealed in recent years in four sickening State ordered reports – Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne.
Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “The abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children is perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the state.
“Much of the abuse described in the Ryan Report meets the legal definition of torture under international human rights law.
“Children were tortured. They were brutalised, beaten, starved and abused.
“There has been little justice for these victims. Those who failed as guardians, civil servants, clergy, gardaí and members of religious orders have avoided accountability.”
Mr O’Gorman – a survivor of clerical abuse – said the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports told what happened to children, but not why.
Amnesty International Ireland commissioned a new report, carried out by Dr Carole Holohan, to explore why it happened to ensure it never happens again.
In Plain Sight was launched by Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald in the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin.
Mr O’Gorman continued: “This abuse happened, not because we didn’t know about it, but because many people across society turned a blind eye to it.
“It is not true that everyone knew, but deep veins of knowledge existed across Irish society and people in positions of power ignored their responsibility to act.
“Attitudes to poverty at both the public and political level, were also significant factors.
“Society judged and criminalised children for being poor rather than address the underlying factors that condemned their families to poverty.”
:: The Cloyne Report, published in July, revealed former Bishop John Magee – a one-time Vatican aide and papal envoy – deliberately misled authorities and failed to report clerical abuse allegations as recently as three years ago.
:: In November 2009 the Murphy Report found four successive archbishops in Dublin had covered up allegations of abuse and did not report claims to gardaí for decades.
:: Six months earlier the damning Ryan Report shocked the nation with revelations tens of thousands of children were neglected and suffered physical and sexual abuse for decades in orphanages, industrial schools and residential institutions run by religious orders.
:: And the Ferns Report, published in October 2005, revealed more than 100 allegations had been made against 21 priests over 40 years – with hierarchy putting the interests of priests before children.
Mr O’Gorman said Amnesty’s research reveals the true scandal was not that the system failed children, but that there was no functioning system.
“Instead children were abandoned to a chaotic, unregulated arrangement where no one was accountable for failures to protect and care for them,” he added.
“The legacy of this for today’s children is obvious, with our current child protection system itself being described as dysfunctional and not fit for purpose.”
An Amnesty International/Red C poll also found the vast majority of Irish people believe wider society should have done more to protect children from abuse.
Mr O’Gorman said: “People realise that this is not just about the crimes of the clergy or the failures of the state, but is a much bigger problem: the institutionalised lack of accountability in the Irish state.
“Attempts to achieve real reform in how this State functions will be meaningless unless we learn from what must be our greatest collective failure, one which resulted in the abuse and torture of tens of thousands of children.”
Key findings of abuse report:
In Plain Sight was commissioned by Amnesty International Ireland to uncover why thousands of children suffered decades of horrific sexual and physical clerical abuse.
Its five key findings were:
:: No clear lines of responsibility make true accountability impossible. The abuse of children continued unchecked, with no system in residential institutions. State authorities also failed in their duty to monitor residential institutions, or to act when abuses by agents of the Catholic Church in communities came to light.
:: The law must protect and apply to all members of society equally. Children who were placed in residential institutions were branded as criminals as a result of the court committal process, while the majority of perpetrators of abuse have not been held to account by that same criminal justice system.
Very few perpetrators were convicted and no charges have been laid against those in positions of authority in the Catholic Church who concealed crimes.
:: Recognition of children’s human rights must be strengthened. Amnesty said the abuses in the reports can be categorised as torture, under human rights law. They also demonstrated children’s rights to private and family life, the right to a fair trial and the right to be free from slavery and forced labour were contravened, as was their right to education and to physical and mental health.
:: Public attitudes matter. Individual attitudes matter. Fear, an unwillingness and an inability to question agents of the Church, and disbelief of the testimony of victims until recent times indicate that wider societal attitudes had a significant role to play in allowing abuse to continue.
:: The State must operate on behalf of the people, not on behalf of interest groups. The reports showed how the State had a deferential relationship with the Catholic Church. The complaints of parents, children and lay workers about problems and abuses in residential institutions were dismissed by officials, while the reputation of religious orders was defended by Ministers and TDs in the Dáil.
Political actions must have at their core the best interests of the wider population and not sectional interests, Amnesty added.