RTÉ – REDRESS: Breaking the Silence

Episode Two

RISN Review by Mark Vincent Healy


The programme was billed to be groundbreaking and certainly was in a number of ways where our understanding of Residential Institution Survivors who left Ireland for a chance of having a life, a better life in the UK, was concerned.

One third of the 15,500 who applied to the Redress Board lived in the UK. When it came to additional funding available from the Residential Institutions Redress Fund (RISF) administrated by CARANUA, nearly 21% of all applications were from UK survivors. The average payout in redress was €62,500.

Listening to the personal stories of those who left for the UK, one came to understand why it was so important where opportunities were possible. However, when it came to access to the RISF funds, the process demanded levels of literacy which proved daunting to many applicants in Ireland and the UK, as pointed out by Simon McCarthy, an Outreach Worker, interviewed from the Coventry Irish Society.

The experience of survivors of Redress was distressing as outlined by the brave men and women who gave witness to their experiences of it. The familiarity with the distress of it has been noted in the numerous column inches of news print and hours of media coverage to date.

An extreme example was given by survivor Tom Sweeney who contested his offer in a desire to have his story told. Initially, he was to receive €113,333 which was reduced by €40,000. The story had been highlighted in the media in 2004 and was a scandal then, as it was to hear again last night.

The revelations of talking about one’s award and how much it was in breach of any NDA (non-disclosure agreement) or in publishing such comments contrary to Section 28(6) are not likely to lead to a prosecution where sentiment and social opinion would be horrified.

Instead of sealing any records perhaps it is time to seek a move in the opposite direction to the proposed Retention of Records Bill in a call for a full and frank disclosure of the whole matter so we might learn from the past.

The programme broke new ground in telling stories which named institutions of abuse and the paltry amounts paid in recompense for lifelong injuries that never rest in their victims. However, it did not highlight the ‘holy grail’ of all RIRB survivors which is to be able to name their abusers.

The case of Tom Sweeney served to highlight the extraordinary effort he took to have his story told in a court of law. Instead, the case was settled out of court for €150,000 and his abusers never mentioned, even to this day.

We heard how it was the intention of Justice Mary Laffoy to hold those responsible for such abuse to account which never came to pass. We heard how Justice Sean Ryan had to concede to the Christian Brother’s application that no names could be published of those against whom allegations of abuse were made. All the atrocious acts in sexual offences, physical, emotional and psychological abuse, were to remain told in the passive voice. The passive voice tells what was done to children and not by whom.

There were so many ‘sweet’ deals which were made which had profound impact on the lives of RIRB survivors whose rights were in no way vindicated as required by law, by the Irish Constitution, where the worst were in limiting the liability of the religious, and the denial of naming one’s abuser, let alone convicting one of them.

If RIRB survivors feel more empowered to tell their story, it is always in the absence of the greatest matter to which they are ‘gagged’, WHO did these things to you? WHO was held to account? If ever a social justice process sabotaged and undermined itself, it has to be the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Redress Board.


RISN slogan © 2017 - designed by Mark Vincent Healy

See also:   Press Release – 2nd March 2020

RTÉ – REDRESS: Breaking the Silence

Episode One

RISN Review by Mark Vincent Healy


I think episode one was interesting in granting voice to the experience of so many survivors who left these shores for the UK at the first opportunity they had of leaving the hell of residential institutions and their nightmare experiences of those places behind them.

The diversity of RIRB (Residential Institutions Redress Board) survivors is missing in this episode, which is a pity if not unfortunate, as they might feel neglected even for a mention in yet another program about RIRB survivors. They are the Deaf, the DeafBlind, the Blind, the Disabled, the Traveller Community and the families of survivors of Residential Institutional abuse. It is as a mirror within a mirror, a scandal within a scandal.

The first episode reads as nothing new in the main story line which could have come directly from ‘The Irish Gulag: How the State Betrayed its Innocent Children’ and Bruce Arnold’s accounts so brilliantly recounted by him.

It was in the few personal comments from RIRB survivors that the inhumanity is exposed and the deep and lasting suffering caused revealed.

The angry boy in Michael O’Brien for example gives way to what all boys do after they get a chance to vent their anger, they cry, and never stop crying. Emotions are not a single image of a person but a moving picture of their emotional transience which in such victim’s lives rises and falls like a tide, except some days it returns as a tsunami and drowns you.

Only last December did the tide turn on one such victim, only 20 at the time of the State Apology, from the School for the Deaf in Cabra. He had just turned forty and suicided for reasons no one will ever fathom on a shore line that has claimed too many already. I am heartbroken for him and his family. I attended his funeral and such occasions are not like other funerals, not like them at all.

If a round and perfect mirror represented all the children so horrendously abused in Ireland, and it were thrown upon the ground, the Irish State has only picked up on one shard of it, called ‘Residential Institutions Child Abuse’, whilst leaving so many more pieces upon the ground as yet to be cherished as our constitution claims.

The State Apology in May 1999 was to all those campaigners in the Sycamore Room addressed by the Taoiseach of Ireland, Mr Bertie Ahern, which included the day school survivors of abuse in Irish educational institutions. They were a ‘shard’ largely left upon the ground, where less than 20 received any compensation from the State Claims Agency only last year. The follow up success for day school child abuse in the ECHR judgment of January 2014 has not delivered what was needed to grant them justice and any ‘relief and remedy’. Like the Redress process was fraught, so too is any attempt by day school survivors of child abuse in general and child sexual abuse specifically.

The worst cases are not confined to the harshest of institutions. I have been representing a man just shy of 80 years of age who was gang sexually assaulted at a private school where a can was inserted into his rectum which required surgical intervention to remove, leaving him with a daily reminder of his most violent sexual abuse every day of his life.

When we miss the individual case, we miss the point. It is for the one in ninety-nine whose suffering is so intense that we ought to feel duty bound to assist. It is in places well off the radar.

Thanks to the RTÉ program makers for standing in such space as can only traumatise them, may they find strength to carry on their work on behalf of RIRB survivors.


RISN slogan © 2017 - designed by Mark Vincent Healy

See also:   Press Release – 2nd March 2020


On 17 November 2017, an agreement with the Department of Education was reached to hold consultation talks with survivors. These consultation talks are survivor led and will give RISN survivors the opportunity to have their voices heard, to reflect on their experiences of State services in response to the issue of institutional abuse provisioning, and to make any recommendations survivors wish to call for.

RISN has been doing a lot of work in the background regarding the setting up of these consultation talks. We have asked the department to publicly issue their press release by today. Their press release was sought to show their expression of interest in survivor-led services, and in order for them to show their good faith and intent to  ensure survivor voices are heard regarding our interests and concerns in service provisioning of our needs. The Department of Education did not provide a Press Statement which was specifically sought to declare their intent and to support this survivor-led initiative to conduct survivor consultation talks nationwide and in the UK. Sadly, the department failed to issue a Press Statement.

In order to give all survivors, who are interested in having their voices heard, an opportunity in attending a meeting, we would like you to contact us to show us just how many survivors are interested in establishing better services.

Please get in touch with us. It will allow us to petition for as many consultation talks as ought to be held in Ireland and the UK so that everyone’s voice is included.

If you would like more information about this, please contact me at +353 85 2574737 or email at info@risn.ie.

I look forward to hearing from all survivor out there.


RISN slogan © 2017 - designed by Mark Vincent Healy

RISN Consultation Talks delayed until capacity estimates ensure the welfare and safety of survivor participation

RISN has attempted to expedite matters in the most efficient and effective manner.

Negotiations between RISN and the Department of Education on the 4th December 2017 made little progress following concerns RISN raised concerning an offer of a number of consultation talks. We promised to provide our review of the number of consultation talks on the 5thDecember which we did. This was clarified on the 8th December in a call with the Department of Education.

We could not reach that Department official thereafter unfortunately. In two subsequent calls, RISN raised concerns on capacity planning in respect of how the Department estimated the number of consultation talks. RISN pointed out that it was crucial to obtain capacity estimates on the proposed talks so they could and would be managed and conducted properly with due regard to participants who were made up of the most injured community in the Irish State, not to put too fine a point on it. Try as we might to obtain any capacity estimations for the consultation talks, there was a resolute reiteration on the number of consultations rather than any engagement on the capacity estimate planning which the task required.

RISN repeatedly sought from the Department how they estimated capacity per consultation talk. This was of considerable concern to us survivors. Based on the principle of non-discrimination and inclusion declared at the 4th December meeting, we provided our position based on potential capacity as a result of three known indicators covering the 143 institutions scattered around the 32 counties:

  1. 10% to 15% participation of the known population of residential institution survivors in redress,
  2. the numbers who engaged in RISF applications through Caranua
  3. and previous CICA indicators of a survivor willingness to engage in voluntary data gathering

RISN tried to present the relevance of these but was denied any direct contact from 8th December. It appeared as though we ought to be grateful, which we were, but RISN required far more detailed planning on how estimates on the numbers of survivors envisaged in attending any particular consultation talk.

Our intelligence at RISN showed that there was no logic behind picking any number from the air in respect of the number of consultation talks. Nor was it a process that could necessarily be back ended in tagging on a number of extra consultation talks without potentially causing considerable distress to the survivor participant population already wary and weary of State engagement experiences.

With a history from the tortuously abusive childhood in residential institutions; to a redress board which was otherwise called the re-abuse board; to the actual focus of and need for the consultation talks which was the abuse, hurt and injury caused to residential institutional survivors through application for residential institutional survivor funds administered by Caranua. Indeed, roughly 13% of the number who applied in the redress scheme were willing to engage with Caranua. Perhaps potential applicants were just incapable or dissuaded from attempting to engage with Caranua because it was surrounded by a level of public outcry which terrified them.

Failing to discuss the issue of capacity per consultation talk was and is not a risk we at RISN were or are prepared to take with residential institutional survivors who in many cases have been treated appallingly at their every engagement with the State. We held that there must be better planning and estimate management required or the potential outcome in any lack of capacity estimation planning would or could hugely distress participants who weren’t planned for.


There are approximately 2,000 willing survivors who engaged with Caranua in over 6,000 applications. The figure of 2,000 represents approximately 13% of the total redress population of 15,500 where all redress survivors must be allowed to participate, though all will never engage. We know that the proportionate survivor engagement who pursued legal action to non-legal engagement is roughly 2 to 1 for non-legal account of experiences. The estimate of these, allowing for a 10% to 15% willingness to engage in consultation talks, might be 2,000, comprising some of those who availed of Caranua and some who did not, but were entitled to. If they didn’t engage with Caranua, we need to allow them tell us why in the data gathering exercise.

Without some consideration of capacity, there remained a huge potential for negative impact in the form of disappointment, non-inclusion, denied participation, feelings of deception and being duped once again. How? Well if you fail to plan for capacity, any overrun will unfortunately mean some may not be able to be given time to voice their experiences, interests or concerns defeating the purpose of the exercise. It is not an option to plan and gather this most vulnerable survivor group and turn them away or expect that they might come back another day to try again.

We know from the ‘Connecting for Life’ mental health plan 2015-2020, launched by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny on 24th June 2015, that our survivor population is noted as a priority vulnerable group in the plan’s listings. We know that over 60% of those turning up on the Self-Harming Register in our Accident and Emergency services are survivors of child sexual abuse. We know that survivors of childhood sexual abuse are 13 to 14 times more likely to suicide than the general population. We know that a significant number of redress participants despite winning their cases went on to suicide some with extraordinary clustering. Therefore, from what we know we ought to apply as much intelligence in our planning for consultation talks which are not served by plucking a figure out of the air. The capacity of any talks must review what we know and extrapolate from there what ought to be done, and done safely.

The issue of how capacity planning is not only essential but vital in the interests of safety in gathering such a known vulnerable population to consultation talks.

The number of talks is a function of capacity, and if you don’t plan for capacity even at a low estimate of between 10% to 15% participation then the outcome could not be vouched safe and RISN was not prepared to run such risks where capacity was not discussed and planned for in the task at hand.

Because the Department of Education was not prepared to review the number of consultation talks, RISN said it would be willing to agree to their number of talks but under the proviso that RISN would declare its misgivings in respect of any failure to conduct capacity planning estimates and the safeguarding of survivor participants.

As of Friday, 26th January, the Department of Education has agreed that more planning is needed around proper risk assessment of capacity issues.

There may have been unfortunate delays, however, the fullest consideration is called for in hosting, conducting and processing these proposed survivor consultation talks.

We at RISN hope to announce the very welcome news that our consultation talks will proceed as soon as possible. We hope we can make up the lost time since the 8th December 2017 in goodwill and proper planning.


RISN slogan © 2017 - designed by Mark Vincent Healy

RISN, tired of the way we survivors are treated and want to do something about it.

We at RISN are survivors. We are committed to survivors. RISN is not in it for money. However, we will ensure that Irish State support is adequately provided to survivors and their families by right as much as by the Irish State’s duty and constitutional responsibility.

Are you not tired of the way we survivors are treated and want to do something about it? That’s how we feel. We’re doing something about it at RISN.

We’d like other survivors to join in that effort if they wish. We’re tired of abuse by a State that has utterly failed us. We at RISN dare to put our head up to do something ourselves in good will and good faith. We’re survivors and know exactly what ought to be done. We don’t need others to tell us. We do need other survivors to make sure no one’s suffering or issue is dismissed or left behind. We have read how other survivor groups have been faced with difficulties of one sort or another. RISN wants to work with those groups. We’re also very aware that the vast majority of survivors have not even applied to the administrators of the Redress Fund where there have been only 6,000 applications many of them repeated. If the actual number of applicants is only say 2,000 that means only 13% of the 15,500 applicants of redress have applied for further assistance. Where are the remaining 87% of survivors? RISN wants to hear from all those survivors and asks everyone to get the word out we’re looking for them to hear their voice and have their voice heard. RISN must be from the ground up not the top down.

RISN is only starting and yet some might make out we’re like others. Well, we’re not. We believe fellow survivors can work together. Everyone else seems to say we can’t because some survivors are noted as turning their anger at anything that moves in this space. We need to build our own bridges amongst ourselves so we can get the job done that others claim we can’t. Lawyers took €160 million. Caranua has taken its generous cut. Enough! We’re better together!

Let’s be clear, RISN is about survivors ensuring survivors are heard. Everyone matters. RISN has a goal to ensure what matters to survivors is addressed, and remedy and relief is provided as it ought by moral conscience as much as a constitutional duty of the Irish State.

If you wish to help tell us what survivors want in jobs, homes, medical support, disability support, participation in local communities, education, physical and sporting community involvement, help with family matters, and end the betrayal that has been typical over so many decades, then by all means do tell. We want to know at RISN.

RISN is not for tearing down but for building up. Building up the services and supports that ought to have been provided, long before now, to residential institutions survivors and their families.

We’re the real deal, we’re authentic, we’re fellow survivors and we know the heartache, the trauma, the abuse, the disrespect, the alienation, the loneliness, the depression, the anxiety caused by a society which would rather we might just go away.

RISN says, “Enough is enough!” There are going to be different rules from now on, and we survivors are going to be the authors of those rules on how to treat residential institutional survivors with the dignity, justice and compassion that all citizens should know from the services and supports in the Irish State.

RISN is ready to work with all survivors of residential institutions abuse, openly, honestly, and for the very best interests of all, none will be left behind by us. We care about the most vulnerable amongst us, perhaps even more so.

RISN is not for squabbling as that plays into the hands of those who take advantage of division. Our slogan means what RISN means, we’re Better Together!


RISN slogan © 2017 - designed by Mark Vincent Healy


Welcome to RISN. We hope to keep you up to date on the initiatives taken to establish a survivor-led network (RISN) to better represent what is important to residential institutions survivors and give voice to our specific concerns and interests.

We hope to achieve this by listening to all survivors and learning to speak for and of ourselves.

For too long, we have been kept apart and our voice is silenced concerning our needs, or when we complain about the distress caused us when applying for funding, support or appropriate care.

A Press Statement was sought from the Department of Education for Christmas. The importance of a Press Statement was explained, not as a detailed plan of the agreed consultation talks, but as a statement of intent that such talks are in planning and are supported by the Minister, Mr Richard Bruton, so that the voice of RISN survivors will be heard which is essential in supporting their interests and concerns following the furore about Caranua in the Dáil debate on Wednesday 24th May this year and on the serious media reported failures and failings of Caranua in providing vital services to survivors and their families.

We hope by involving residential institutions survivors directly in identifying our concerns we will be able to improve less stressful access to services and supports.

Together we can ensure that changes can be efficiently and effectively achieved.