Mary Raftery, 54; exposed Irish abuse scandal
Bruce Weber: NEW YORK TIMES JANUARY 17, 2012
NEW YORK – Mary Raftery, a journalist whose television documentaries exposed decades of abuse of needy children in state-sponsored, church-run schools in Ireland, prompting an apology by the prime minister and a government investigation, died of cancer Jan. 10 in Dublin. She was 54.
Ms. Raftery uncovered the child abuse as a producer for Ireland’s national broadcasting service, RTE, and brought it to national attention in “States of Fear,’’ a three-part documentary series broadcast in April and May 1999. In examining the state child-care system in Ireland, the series brought to light a Dickensian network of reformatories and residential schools for poor, neglected, and abandoned children known as industrial schools.
The schools, which were financed and supervised by the government and managed largely by religious orders, mainly Roman Catholic, served about 30,000 children from the 1930s to the 1990s, according to a government report in 2009.
The films, making poignant use of interviews with victims, focused on the system in midcentury and presented a horrifying litany of torments the young people suffered at the schools: beatings, semistarvation, insufficient clothing, filthy living conditions, overwork, emotional abuse, and sexual assault.
Ms. Raftery was not the first to report on the abuse. In 1970, in what was known as the Kennedy Report, a government commission deplored the mistreatment and recommended that the schools be closed. (Some of the more egregious ones were.)
Later, memoirs like “The God Squad’’ by Paddy Doyle and “Fear of the Collar’’ by Patrick Touher, as well as “Dear Daughter,’’ a television documentary about a woman named Christine Buckley, all bore vivid witness to the savagery visited upon children by the school authorities, including priests and nuns. In 1998, the Christian Brothers, a Catholic order that ran many of the most notorious schools in Ireland, issued a public apology to those who had been abused in their care.
The widely seen “States of Fear’’ was not only painstakingly researched but also comprehensive, making the powerful case that the abuse had been widespread and systemic.
“What television can do, if you get it right, is it can concentrate and focus a story at a particular time, and make people face it and make people furious,’’ Ms. Raftery said in a television interview in 2010. “So it was a question of constructing a series of programs that wouldn’t allow people to go back into denial again, in other words that the body of evidence would be so overwhelming that it could not be denied anymore.’’
Ms. Raftery and a coauthor, Eoin O’Sullivan, followed the series with a book-length adaptation of the material, “Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools.’’
The documentary series and the public outcry it engendered prompted Prime Minister Bertie Ahern to apologize publicly.
His government also established the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, which released a withering report in 2009, describing the schools’ treatment of young people in agonizing detail. Thousands of victims received compensation, though the report was criticized by victims’ advocates for not naming the abusers.
After “States of Fear,’’ Ms. Raftery further jolted Irish society with investigative programs like “Cardinal Secrets,’’ about the sexual abuse of children in the Dublin Archdiocese, and “Behind the Walls,’’ about Ireland’s psychiatric hospitals and the large number of people committed there by their families.
Ms. Raftery leaves her husband, a son, two brothers, and a sister.
Tuesday January 10 2012
JOURNALIST and documentary maker Mary Raftery passed away today following an illness.
Ms Raftery (54) was best known as the producer and director of the States of Fear series that revealed the extent of physical and sexual abuse suffered by children in the Irish childcare system.
It was credited with sparking several investigations into religious orders.
She is survived by her husband David Waddell and their son Ben.
RTE Director General Noel Curran said:
“Mary Raftery’s journalism was defined by determination and fearlessness. Her record in broadcasting is extraordinary… She has left an important legacy for Irish society.”
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