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26th September 2011, 14:12:40 UTC

Amnesty International Ireland said today that the abuse of children revealed in the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports included acts that amounted to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald TD launched In Plain Sight at 10am this morning (26/09/2011) in the Royal Hibernian Academy, 15 Ely Place, Dublin. The research was undertaken by Dr Carole Holohan and commissioned by Amnesty International Ireland.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.

“The Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports tell us what happened to these children, but not why it happened. We commissioned this report to explore that question because only by doing so can we ensure this never happens again.

“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 research reveals that the true scandal is not that the system failed these 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. 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.

“We welcome the establishment of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the placing of child protection guidelines on a statutory basis and proposals to establish a new child protection agency, all of which shows the Government’s commitment to child protection.”

Amnesty International also published the result of polling carried out by Red C, which suggests the vast majority of Irish people believe wider society should have done more to protect children from abuse.

Colm 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.

“The poll reveals an overwhelming majority of Irish people believe that wider society, and indeed individual members of society, have a responsibility for what happened.”

The poll found that 85 per cent of people believed that “individual members of society should have done more to protect these children”.

Colm O’Gorman concluded: “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.

“Ireland is facing its most significant crisis since the establishment of the state. Not just an economic crisis, but a crisis of confidence in the structures and institutions that have governed our society for decades. Now is the time to address the consequences of the institutionalised lack of accountability in this state. The Cloyne Report showed that these are not issues that can be consigned to the past.

“If we do not address the failures revealed by In Plain Sight, our shock and outrage at what happened will be rightly judged as hollow.”

Read our full report In Plain Sight

Find out more on the Red C polling data