Inquiry The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse

Alternative Names
  • Ryan Commission
Inquiry Type
Independent Statutory Inquiry

Key Dates

1936 - 1999
Period of investigation
11 May 1999
Announcement date
23 May 2000 - 20 May 2009
Period of operation
May 2001
Interim Report
November 2001
Interim Report
January 2004
Interim Report
26 October 2004 - 4 May 2006
Public hearings
Final Report


On 11 May 1999 the Government apologised to victims of child abuse in Irish institutions and the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, announced the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) was first established as a non-statutory inquiry in May 1999, under Judge Mary Laffoy, and became a statutory inquiry one year later, on 23 May 2000. The Inquiry sought to examine the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of abuse on children in institutions from the period of 1936 onwards. The Commission was charged with making recommendations in relation to dealing with the effects of abuse and to prevent or reduce the incidence of abuse and protect children in institutions.

The Process
The Commission comprised two separate and distinct Committees: the Confidential Committee and the Investigation Committee. The Confidential Committee heard the evidence of child abuse from victims and survivors in a confidential setting and in a sympathetic way. This evidence was not contested. The Investigation Committee, by contrast, drew on contested evidence. People who wished to give evidence had to choose whether to give evidence to either the Confidential or Investigation Committee.

Governing Legislation
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act, 2000

Public Hearings
The investigation into most schools consisted of a Phase I public hearing. This allowed the congregation involved to present their case. Phase II were private hearings into specific allegation of abuse. Phase III involved public hearings in which the congregation responsed to the evidence. In addition to investigations into schools and other institutions, Phase III public hearings also included Departments of Education and Science; Justice, Equality and Law Reform; and Health and Children, as well as hearings into the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC).

Private Sessions
These were conducted in the form of the Confidential Committee.

Case Studies
Institutions where there were more than 20 complainants were investigated and over 20 institutions were investigated by the Investigation Committee.

Written Submissions
Persons giving evidence to the Confidential Committee could provide written submissions.

Commissioned Research
The Commission engaged a number of experts to assist with their investigations. Research was undertaken on 'The Psychological Adjustment of Adult Survivors of Institutional Abuse', statistical information and analysis in relation to the committal of children to Industrial and Reformatory Schools, research on the health records of children in institutions, a review of the historical context, a review of developments in residential care, residential child welfare for the period of 1965-2008.

Over 1,500 who were resident as children in schools and state care facilities gave evidence across both Committees. 1,090 witnesses provided oral evidence to the Confidential Committee.

592 males and 498 females gave evidence through private hearings to the Confidential Committee. The majority of people gave evidence in the Commission's office in Dublin. This took place over a six year period, from 2000 to 2006 with 2000 hours of evidence recorded.

22 institutions are examined in detail in the Report. Institutions were defined by CICA to include schools, industrial schools, reformatory schools, orphanages, hospitals, children's home and any other place where children were cared for by people other than their families. Investigations were conducted into institutions where there were more than 20 complaints. It appears there were more boys' institutions investigated. Institutions covered single sex institutions and those that were mixed.

The Ryan Commission concluded that physical and emotional abuse were endemic in Irish institutions, and that sexual abuse occurred in many of them, especially boys' institutions. Poor standards of care were reported, including children often being hungry and there was excessive discipline across institutions.

21 recommendations were made. Recommendations were made under two areas - one covered allieviating the effects of past abuse and the other was to prevent or reduce the incidence of abuse in the future. Five recommendations were made with regard to helping those who had been abused in the past, including the erection of a memorial inscribed with the apology from the Taoiseach in May 1999; that lessons should be learnt, that counselling should be available; and that family tracing services be continued. Sixteen recommendations related to prevention or reduction of future abuse. These included child centred policy that should be regularly reviewed and evaluated; children's services should be reviewed, regulations enforced, independent inspection, accountability, and children being able to communicate without fear, have access to support services and remain connected to their families and adequate records kept.

Estimated to be around €126 million to €136 million.


Final Reports


Acknowledgement: this summary was prepared by Katie Wright, La Trobe University