Inquiry The Ferns Inquiry

Inquiry Type
Non-statutory Inquiry
Ireland; Diocese of Ferns, County Wexford

Key Dates

1962 - 2002
Period of investigation
2003 - 2005
Period of operation
28 March 2003
Announcement date
Final Report


The Ferns Inquiry was established to identify allegations of child sexual abuse made against clergy in the Diocese of Ferns, and the Church and authorities' response to complaints. The issue was brought to light in the BBC documentary, "Suing the Pope". The Inquiry began as a scoping study, conducted by a judge, George Bermingham, who recommended a government inquiry. The initial scoping work was announced on 10 April 2002 by the Minister for Health and Children. On 28 March 2003, Judge Francis D. Murphy of the Supreme Court was commissioned to head the inquiry. The inquiry considered allegations of abuse against 21 priests and examined the Diocean response and the response of the South Eastern Health Board and the An Garda Siochana response.

The Process
The inquiry comprised four distinct phases. The first was an analysis of Mr George Bermingham's report, which established the paramenters of the Inquiry. The second pahse consisted of research and consultation on the following topics: a) child sexual abuse; b) Paedophilia/Ephebophilia; c) Management structures of the Church, Health Board and An Garda Sfochana. The third phase involved establishing the background to events and included documentary analysis. The fourth phase involved hearing of evidence of abuse by witnesses and complainants and testimony from representatives of the relevant authorities.

Governing Legislation
It was a non-statutory inquiry and so had no governing legislation. However, it is important to note that the potential of it becoming a statutory inquiry was inherent in its Terms of Reference, should state and church authorities not cooperate. If there was a lack of cooperation, this would result in the Minister for Health and Children granting the inquiry statutory powers.

Inquiry Locations
Ireland; County Wexford

Private Sessions
These were called "Oral hearings", where victims, and representatives of the Church and Education Department gave evidence. Evidence was unsworn and witnesses could not be cross-examined.

Case Studies
The inquiry examined allegations against 21 priests.

Written Submissions
People were invited to make written submissions. The Inquiry received 57 written submissions.

While it is noted that the inquiry undertook "research", it does not appear to have commissioned research. Internal Research appears to be primarily legal research.

147 victim/survivor witnesses. This comprised 90 oral hearing and 47 written submissions. In addition, there were also over 100 witnesses that included Church authorities, representatives of the South Eastern Health Board and from the Garda, who gave testimony.

All alleged perpetrators were male. The gender of complainants was included in the summaries of the allegations against particular priests, but the Report does not note how many of the witnesses were male or female.


The Inquiry identified more than 100 allegations of child sexual abuse made between 1962 and 2002 against 21 priests. The Report found that Bishops failed to act to protect children, that child sexual abuse was treated as a "moral problem" and that priests against whom allegations were made were transferred to a different diocese. After 1980, accused priests were sent for psychological counselling. The Report was also critical of the Garda (police), finding that there were failures to properly investigate allegations of abuse.

20 recommendations were made. The Report recommended a national publicity campaign about child sexual abuse; that legislation and publicity preserve and strengthen the more open evironment of reproting chid sexual abuse; that organisations which employ people to work with children should have codes of conduct; and that all complaints should be detailed in written record and that records be accurately kept.

Estimated to be €2.3 million.


Final Reports

See also

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