It's the sixth anniversary of Mary Raftery's passing.
On this anniversary of her death, I want to celebrate with you some of journalist and television producer Mary Raftery's extraordinary achievements.
Mary Raftery was catapulted into national prominence and became a household name for her 1999 RTE three-part documentary series ‘States of Fear.’ This groundbreaking series exposed the extensive and systematic physical and sexual abuse of vulnerable children in reformatories and industrial schools run by religious orders on behalf of a malfeasant Irish government, who funded and supervised them. It shone an intense spotlight on the collusion of the Catholic Church and Irish State, and their cover-ups.
Mary was known as the “most important journalist of her generation.” Mary's personal integrity deeply penetrated each layer of her prodigious body of work and she was an irrepressible force of nature commanding enormous respect. Mary’s difficult path:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Below are quotes that describe Mary’s lifetime achievements and her strength of character.
“…. Ireland’s long history of imprisoning women and children in industrial schools, reformatories, mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, and psychiatric facilities ...”
“…. It [Catholic Church] acted in partnership with the state and elites, creating an institutional nexus that *rejected social-democratic solutions to poverty* and pushed back against women’s liberation.”
“Instead, the effects of poverty became transformed into moral issues to be solved by institutionalization — a process that undergirded Ireland’s carceral state ….”
“… the criminalization of women and children, particularly unmarried mothers who were shepherded by the thousands into Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes.”
“The laundries were a nineteenth-century institution that evolved from a place of temporary respite for women … to *a carceral institution in independent Ireland.*”
“Women worked within them under terrible conditions for no pay, some remaining for short periods, others for their entire lives.”
“The mother and baby homes … emerged in 1922 during the Irish Free State, and were officially endorsed by the Church and state authorities in 1927 as a solution to illegitimacy . Unwed pregnant women were consigned to the homes to give birth and were required to work in the home for two years afterward, unless they had money to leave.”
“Their children were usually adopted illegally from the homes ….”
An historical overview by Sarah-Anne Buckley, lecturer in History at National University of Ireland, Galway
“… She had put a great deal of thought into Ireland and how it might be. She believed that how people were treated, and how citizens were cared for, and how people tolerated each other, were more important issues than dreams about nations, or arguments about identity. The more she thought about the system of industrial schools and the sexual abuse of children in an independent Ireland, the more determined she became that she would deal with this as a television producer and that her work would make the maximum impact, while remaining fair and just.”
Mary’s colleague and friend Colm Toibin
“Of course, Raftery has encountered the worst of people, too. States of Fear, broadcast on RTE in 1999, cracked open the issue of institutional child abuse. She was responsible for the 2002 Prime Time programme Cardinal Secrets, which explosively revealed how the Church and gardai had both ignored reports of abuse, and she is now about to open our eyes to how we made medical cases of many, many Irish people who were not mad, but often simply didn't fit in. Raftery's working life has, for the most part, been about tragedy and suffering, and people's ability to ignore and deny it, but ask her what her work is about and she will say it's about stories. It is, she says, about letting people tell their stories, allowing them to speak and actually listening to them, with a view to helping others. … and giving voice to an unheard Ireland has become her defining work.”
“Raftery joined RTE in 1984 ….”
September 4 2011 5:00 AM
“There can be no better thing than that a person “lay down their life for a friend”. …. For she gave her life for survivors. Her journalistic skills … used to uncover secrets that were a blemish on the Catholic Church in Ireland. Not only on the church but on the State, who in collusion failed to protect its children. ….”
“Mary was clear about ‘truth’, clear about ‘transparency’, clear about ‘justice’. And she was equally clear that the ‘pen is mightier than the sword’. She was clear that facts, written and expressed with skill, intelligence, urgency and passion would achieve more than mega-confrontations or violent acts. Her research – uncovering, discovering and laid before us – would achieve multiple agendas. It would expose truth, uncover lies, show cover-up, give courage to survivors, give voice to the voiceless, vindicate survivors, and form a bond between us that allowed us to hold our heads up high. ….”
Dr Margaret Kennedy, Founder, Macsas
Survivors Acknowledge Mary for her Clarity of Vision…
“…. Within days of that Cardinal Secrets programme, the then justice minister Michael McDowell agreed that an inquiry would be set up. It became the Murphy Commission, and it produced the Murphy report. ….”
“What you’ve seen in the Ryan report, in the Ferns report, in the Murphy report and in the Cloyne report, is that very few of the priests were ever convicted. And none of the bishops ever saw the inside of a courtroom, despite their acts of concealment having led to the abuse of more children. So for many of the victims, the only justice they ever received was the placing on the public record of their experiences. Thanks to Mary, the Murphy report and the Ryan report are now on the public record of this country, and will continue to inform us for many years.”
Abuse victim on record
“With her documentary States of Fear, however, Mary Raftery exposed a horrifying litany of torment – emotional, physical and sexual – suffered by the children at these schools, and made the case that abuse had been widespread, systematic and covered up by both Church and state authorities.”
“The programme was aired in three parts in 1999 on Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE and the public outcry which followed prompted the government of Bertie Ahern to issue a public apology to victims for the state’s failure to come to their rescue. He set up what became known as the Ryan Commission, which, after a 10-year investigation, issued a devastating report in 2009 confirming Mary Raftery’s key findings.”
“The Ryan report sparked a period of agonised debate which touched on the unholy alliance between Catholic Church and Irish state forged under Eamon de Valera. ….”
The Telegraph, UK, Obituary
Mary Raftery - Telegraph
Another monumental work, ‘Cardinal Secrets’ docu was broadcast on RTE, in October 2002, as a Prime Time special. It was produced by Mary Raftery and reported by Mick Peelo. It led to the establishment of the Murphy Commission of Investigation into Clerical Sexual Abuse in Dublin Archdiocese, which published the Murphy Report in 2009
It exposed widespread clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin diocese and its systematic cover up by the Archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell (he was later made a Cardinal).
“The programme claimed the Church had failed to give information about abuser priests to the police and a 'clean' reference was issued for a priest who was alleged to have abused children.”
“From 1988, Cardinal Connell continued to insure the Archdiocese of Dublin against liability from the victims of clerical abuse. He arranged for compensation payments to be made from a 'Stewardship Trust' that was kept secret until 2003.”
“…. The documentary examined and detailed how Cardinal Connell and a number of his bishops obstructed the course of justice in the case of many priests involved in the rape of children. There can be no more obfuscation, or blathering about canon law. The facts are clear.”
“…. The talk of resignation is laughable, it is much more serious than that. If any person did not release relevant information to gardaí investigating any crime, much less a rape, would we not expect the full rigours of the law to be applied to them? ….”
Tom O’Connor, Batterstown, Co Meath.
Reaction to ‘Cardinal Secrets’
“…. One thing is now painfully clear: only a State-appointed judicial inquiry will suffice to deal with this loathsome chapter in Irish social history.”
“The Catholic Church's internal "audit" under its appointee, Judge Hussey, is not good enough. In Australia and the US, state authority was involved immediately to deal with criminal cover- ups and collusion by senior church office-holders. And real results and real justice was realised. ….”
Paul Moran, Kingston Park, Dublin 16.
Response to ‘Cardinal Secrets’:
“Many of us priests have been saying for some considerable time that the institutional Church has become more concerned with preserving itself than doing what it was founded to do, telling about Christ. …”.
“…. Of course Dr Desmond Connell should go. What is he doing in such a position at this time of his life, anyway? But his going is only the beginning of what is needed: a major dismantling of the institution, until it is again in the service of the people, rather than being their master. - Yours, etc.,”
Father Tony Flannery, Esker, Co Galway.
“….. When one sees bishops hiding behind lawyers one knows that the game is up and that the bishops have failed in their office”.
“The fact that children have been abused by priests and religious is a scandal in itself and a grave evil. … these child abusers where (sic) facilitated by their superiors.”
“Their activities were covered up; and whenever they came close to being exposed they were simply moved on to another community until again the same allegations were made and again they were covered up, and so on. ….”
“…. Remember, silence is consent. ….”
“Finally, where in all of this are the civil authorities? - Yours, etc.”,
Alan Hynes, Gleann Noinin, College Road, Galway.
'Behind the Walls' was Mary’s final documentary two-part series, produced and written by her on the history of psychiatric institutions in Ireland. It was broadcast on RTE One on 5 September (Part 1) and 12 September 2011 (Part 2).
“Irish people have been too willing to surrender their civic responsibilities to a variety of authorities and elites and then to claim ignorance when abuses arise. … psychiatric hospitals were used for generations to stifle social dissent and incarcerate difficult or unwanted individuals.”
“…. By the 1950s, this State led the world in the incidence of psychiatric illness as families and various authorities used a hugely expanded system of mental hospitals to lock up troublesome or non-conforming members of society. …. But RTÉ’s documentary series on psychiatric hospitals, Behind the Walls, shows clearly that such treatment was also commonplace in State-run institutions, overseen by prominent medical practitioners, where barbaric therapies were routinely employed.”
“Complicity between the State, its elites and the church in directing and controlling all of these institutions was a defining feature. The number of citizens detained in psychiatric hospitals peaked at 21,000 in the 1960s and has since fallen to 2,800. The number in prison on the other hand averaged about 600 in those decades but has since risen to 4,500. …”
Mon, Sep 12, 2011
“Her last documentary, Behind the Walls (2011), revealed that in the 1950s Ireland led the world in locking up its people in psychiatric hospitals; on a per-capita basis it was even ahead of the Soviet Union. Brutal and squalid state-run mental institutions, she found, were “dumping grounds for Irish social problems”, locking away for life not only the mentally ill, but people who were simply regarded as an inconvenience by their families. These included, typically, the “unmarried sister on the farm, getting in the way of your brother marrying” and, in one case, a woman whose cause of insanity was listed as ‘husband in California.’ … ‘Huge numbers of people ended up in psychiatric institutions in Ireland, often due to social causes’
“Lines of naked people, faeces covering the floors, food served up with pitchforks, people deliberately kept in a state of animal-like existence – not exactly the kind of descriptions one expects to come across in Department of Health files.”
“The report concerned the Clonmel District Mental Hospital, as it was then, still open today and known as St Luke’s psychiatric hospital. It was written in 1958 by the assistant inspector of mental hospitals, Dr Ramsey, and delivered to the Department of Health in September of that year.”
Dr Damien Brennan of the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College Dublin
“Dr Brennan looked at figures closer to home, in particular comparing numbers locked up in psychiatric hospitals with those in prisons. This presents a truly remarkable picture of Irish society in the mid-decades of the 20th century, where the number of prisoners rarely exceeded 600. In 1958, the year of Dr Ramsey’s Clonmel report, this number was 369.”
“Compare this with the 900 psychiatric patients locked up in Clonmel alone. Unlike prisoners, they had had no due process, no trial, no hearing, no appeal, and no end to their sentences. Stripped of their basic human rights, they were consigned, often for decades, to conditions so bad that one official in the Department of Health wrote he “was thoroughly shocked at the abysmally low standards in Clonmel.”
“What makes this even more horrific are the very clear statements in Department of Health files that Clonmel was not unique.”
‘Behind the Walls’ a two-part documentary series produced and written by Mary Raftery
Mary Raftery's painstaking research work empowered Justice for Magdalenes (JFM). For example:
“In Aug 2003 she wrote of the 1993 exhumation of 155 women’s remains at the High Park Magdalene Laundry in Drumcondra, Dublin. As a result, a small group of women formed the Magdalene memorial committee to establish a memorial to the women. ….”
“Once the committee’s goals were met it eventually disbanded until 2003, when Raftery broke the story of the suspicious circumstances surrounding the High Park exhumations.”
“Several women, some of whom had mothers who spent time behind the Magdalene walls, resurrected the organisation which in 2004 emerged to become Justice for Magdalenes.”
“Writing in The Irish Times, Raftery revealed disturbing details regarding the exhumation, cremation, and reburial of the women who had lived and died at the asylum operated by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.”
“Buried between 1858 and 1984 and interred anonymously, these women were denied a proper burial and final resting place. The religious order sought and received the required state licence to exhume the bodies in 1993. However, the licence listed only 133 sets of remains. Death certificates were missing and it was through Raftery’s revelations, 10 years later, that Irish society learned about the 22 bodies for which the nuns could not account.”
The Irish Examiner
Raftery helped to lift lid on abuse | Irish Examiner
Investigative journalist Mary supported Justice For Magdalenes up until her untimely death aged 54:
“Sir, – Mary Raftery’s commitment to recovering the story of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries is part of her impressive legacy of investigative journalism.”
“Twice in the past year she wrote opinion pieces on the need to bring about justice for Magdalene survivors. She identified the State’s moral obligation to redress historic injustices. She recognised families’ and society’s responsibility for these women – the daughters, sisters, aunts who were summarily disappeared: the invisible workforce who cleansed our dirty linen. And, Mary Raftery demanded that the four religious congregations account for the women in their ‘care’.”
“Back in August 2003, she wrote her influential exposé on the 1993 exhumation of 155 women’s remains at the High Park Magdalene Laundry, Drumcondra. That piece acted as a major catalyst in the rejuvenation of the Magdalene Memorial Committee and, ultimately, the formation of Justice for Magdalenes (JFM). Entitled “Restoring dignity to Magdalens,” the article offered a searing critique of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. The issues raised – the discovery of an additional 22 bodies, the lack of death certificates for 54 women, the lack of names for 24 women, and significant discrepancies between the names listed on the exhumation licence issued by the Department of the Environment and the headstone subsequently erected at Glasnevin Cemetery where the bodies were cremated and reinterred – were alarming at the time; they are disconcerting still because as yet they remain unresolved.”
“These details would have gone unnoticed but for Mary Raftery’s particular brand of investigative journalism. She began the previous April by contacting the nuns seeking to clarify the aforementioned anomalies. She obtained copies of the original and revised exhumation orders, she tracked down death certificates for individual women, compared names on the Glasnevin gravestone with those on the exhumation licence. Ultimately, she submitted a list of 19 detailed questions for the attention of Sr Ann Marie Ryan at High Park.”
“To read those questions now is to fully appreciate Mary Raftery’s determination to get at the truth – she asked why so many deaths went unregistered, she asked why the order did not know the first and last names of numerous women who spent their lives working in the institution, she sought explanation for the discrepancies between the exhumation order and the headstone, she asked how much “did the exhumation, cremation, and reburial cost? Did you pay it all? Did the purchaser of the land pay any of it?” And, she asked why the order decided “to cremate the remains” and whether they were “aware of Canon Law 1176 in this regard?”
“She concluded by referencing the fact that “a number of religious orders have already apologised for their role in the industrial schools” before asking “Has your order done so? Do you feel this is either appropriate or warranted?” Her questions would go unanswered.”
“Looking back, it matters less that Sr Ryan’s response (a brief statement issued the week the article was scheduled to appear) is notable only for its evasion”. “Rather, it seems important we recognise Mary Raftery’s work practices as worthy of emulation by everyone interested in better understanding Ireland’s recent past.”
“Her life’s work was fuelled by the conviction that all human beings deserve dignity and respect. She sought to restore dignity to Ireland’s Magdalene women and in doing so she inspired all of us in the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) campaign to do likewise. – Yours, etc,”
James M Smith, Associate Professor,
English Department & Irish Studies Program,
Boston College, Massachusetts, US.
Prof James Smith, Boston College, is a Friend of Justice for Magdalenes
For me, and others, too, it was this fearless warrior’s ability to painstakingly marshal cold hard facts and evidence, and then powerfully communicate her message to a wide audience, which left an indelible impression on my life.
I wonder what Mary would have made of the Bon Secours religious order’s disposal of children’s bodies in the sewage structure at St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway? Doubtless she would have confronted the Bon Secours religious order and Irish State head on. Further, Mary would not have countenanced the government’s deflections, misrepresentations and trampling underfoot of the elderly survivors from these homes.
Furthermore, Mary would have forensically examined the findings of the government’s Inter-departmental Committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, which was tasked to investigate the Magdalene laundries (their report was released in February 2013). She would have laid bare the McAleese Report’s farrago of lies, omissions and cover-ups to protect both Church and Irish State.
Part 2 continued below...