The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA)

In 1999, in the wake of a number of legal actions brought by former inmates of children's institutions in the country, the Irish government established the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. Its remit was to investigate the abuse of children in institutions in the State, primarily Reformatory and Industrial, Schools, between 1936 and the present time. These institutions were run by Roman Catholic religious orders such as the Irish Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.

The inquiry received harrowing details of practices that had been followed at various institutions. Typical was St Patrick's Industrial School at Upton, County Cork, owned and managed by the Rosminian Order. Seven sexual abusers were identified as having worked at the School, with at least three of them there at the same time in the 1950s. Those who were discovered had usually been transferred to other institutions. Excessive physical punishment 'was an everyday occurrence and was brutal and severe'. The general state of the School was also very poor. Following a visit in 1965, the Lord Mayor of Cork had expressed the opinion that the conditions he had witnessed 'would not be tolerated in a workhouse of by-gone days'.

The Commission's report, published in 2009, contained forty-three conclusions, the first of which was that, 'Physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions. Sexual abuse occurred in many of them, particularly boys' institutions. Schools were run in a severe, regimented manner that imposed unreasonable and oppressive discipline on children and even on staff'. The report proposed twenty-one measures aimed at addressing the effects of the abuse on those who suffered, and to prevent or reduce the incidence of abuse of children in institutions. The recommendations included a proposal for the construction of a public memorial to abuse victims bearing the words of a statement made by the Taoiseach in May 1999: 'On behalf of the State and of all citizens of the State, the Government wishes to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse for our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue.'