A new report has claimed the institutional abuse of thousands of children across Ireland amounted to torture,
Human rights watchdog Amnesty said young people in church and state-run homes suffered decades of cruel and degrading treatment by being brutalised, beaten and starved.
Four recent reports – Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne – have detailed a litany of neglect, physical abuse and rape allegations.
Colm O’Gorman from Amnesty Ireland – himself a victim – said the scandal has been “perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the state”.
Commenting on the organisation’s research, entitled In Plain Sight, he added: “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 said the state-ordered reports told what happened to children, but not why.
Amnesty’s 100,000-word study, which was officially launched by Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald in Dublin on Monday, aims to explore why it happened to ensure it never happens again.
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 Newry-born former Bishop and Vatican aide John Magee failed to follow church rules on reporting clerical abuse as recently as three years ago.
In November 2009 the Murphy Report found four successive archbishops in Dublin had covered up abuse allegations, and did not report claims to gardaí for decades.
Six months earlier the Ryan Report sent shockwaves through Ireland with revelations that tens of thousands of children were subjected to decades of physical and sexual abuse in orphanages, industrial schools and residential institutions run by religious orders.
Before that, the Ferns Report revealed in October 2005 that over 100 allegations had been made against 21 priests over 40 years – with hierarchy putting the interests of priests before children.
According to Mr O’Gorman, 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 explained.
“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.
“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.”