Supporting Victims of Unfounded Allegations of Abuse

Innocent and accused?

We’re here to help

Helpline 0333 335 5827

Ryan Commission publish their report



The Ryan Commission have published their report into alleged historical abuse at religious institutions in Ireland. It makes grim reading with very little coverage of the extent to which any of the claims made were false.  The full report can be downloaded here.


Establishment of the Commission

The Commission was established on 23 May, 2000, pursuant to the “Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000” and given three primary functions:

  • to hear evidence of abuse from persons who allege they suffered abuse in childhood, in institutions, during the period from 1940 or earlier, to the present day;
  • to conduct an inquiry into abuse of children in institutions during that period and, where satisfied that abuse occurred, to determine the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of such abuse; and
  • to prepare and publish reports on the results of the inquiry and on its recommendations in relation to dealing with the effects of such abuse.

The Commission has no role in relation to financial compensation. That function rests with the “Residential Institutions Redress Board”.

Structure of Commission

The Commission heard evidence through two separate committees – the Investigation Committee and the Confidential Committee. The Chairperson of the Commission, Mr. Justice Ryan, is a judge of the High Court and also chairperson of the Investigation Committee. The ordinary members of the Commission, who sit on either (but not both) committee, are drawn from various disciplines. The Commission also has a number of administrative and legal staff, paid for by the Department of Education & Science.

2005 Act – Functions of the Commission

The “Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Act 2005” gave effect to the recommendations of the report of the Government of the “Review Group on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse” and the report and subsequent recommendations of Mr. Justice Ryan, on the workings of the Commission. The new provisions allowed for extension of the Commission’s functions, by including a duty on the Commission to inquire into the manner in which children were placed in institutions and the circumstances in which they continued to be resident there. The Act also removed the obligation on the Investigation Committee to hear all complainants and gave it a discretion as to which witnesses it considered should be called to a full hearing, to ensure that the inquiry’s functions are fulfilled.

Types of abuse

The Commission has a mandate in relation to four types of abuse:

  • Physical abuse – the willful, reckless or negligent infliction of physical injury on, or failure to prevent such injury to, the child;
  • Sexual abuse – the use of the child by a person for sexual arousal or sexual gratification of that person or another person;
  • Neglect – failure to care for the child which results, or could reasonably be expected to result in serious impairment of the physical or mental health or development of the child, or serious adverse effects on his or her behaviour or welfare;
  • Emotional abuse – any other act or omission towards the child which results, or could reasonably be expected to result in serious impairment of the physical or mental health or development of the child, or serious adverse effects on his or her welfare.

Types of institution

This includes a school, an industrial school, a reformatory school, an orphanage, a hospital, a children’s home and any other place where children are cared for other than as members of their families.

A “child” was deemed to be a person who had not attained the age of 18 years at the relevant time.


A witness (complainant) could choose to give evidence to one of the committees, but not both. In relation to the Investigation Committee, evidence was given at either (or both, in some cases) full hearing of the Committee, or interview with members of its legal team.

Confidential Committee

The principal functions of the Confidential Committee are to provide a forum for persons who have suffered abuse in institutions, during their childhood, to recount their experiences on an entirely confidential basis; to receive evidence of such abuse; to make general proposals with a view to having them considered by the Commission, in deciding what recommendations it should make in its report and to prepare and furnish reports, in writing, to the Commission. The committee’s final report may not identify or contain information that could lead to the identification of witnesses, or the persons against whom they make allegations, or the institutions in which they allege they were abused and may not contain findings in relation to particular instances of the alleged abuse of children. There is no opportunity for anyone involved to challenge the veracity of the statements made. The hearings were conducted in an informal manner, in an informal setting and were recorded on an audio system, with the witness’ consent. Commissioners compiled their own notes and sometimes received copies of documents, from the witnesses. Witnesses were not legally represented at these hearings.

Investigation Committee

The Investigation Committee heard evidence from witnesses who wished to have the allegations of abuse inquired into. Consequently, the Committee also heard from respondents – individuals, Religious Orders and others – at both public and private hearings. Most hearings were held in private. The Committee had the power to compel attendance at hearings and to have persons produce any documents required by the Committee. All parties had entitlement to legal representation and to cross examine.

The Committee’s function was to inquire into allegations of abuse in institutions, during the relevant period and to determine the nature, causes, circumstances and extent of such abuse, the extent to which the institutions themselves, the systems of management, administration, supervision and regulation contributed to the occurrence of abuse and the manner in which those functions (of management, administration, supervision and regulation) were performed by the persons or bodies in whom they vested. Finally, the Committee is required to report its findings, in writing, to the Commission.


There have been a number of legal challenges and reviews of the Commission’s work. These have been well documented already and are set out in detail, in the Commission’s “3rd Interim Report”, published in January, 2004.

Current Position

The Commission expects to publish its report, in five volumes (hard copy) or two volumes (disk), on 20 May, 2009. The disks will be in pdf format. The report will also be posted to the Commission’s website. For more detail on the background to and establishment of the Commission, please see its “3rd Interim Report”, which can be found on the website under “Publications”.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was first established by the Government on an administrative basis in May 1999. This was one of a range of measures introduced by the Government to address the effects of abuse in childhood on the victims. The first objective set for the Commission was to consider the broad terms of reference then provided to it, determine if these needed refining and recommend to Government the powers and protections it would need to do its work effectively. The Commission reported to the Government in September and October, 1999. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act, 2000 (the Act) was enacted on 26th April 2000. The legislation follows closely the recommendations in the reports of the non-statutory Commission.

The Statutory Commission established under the Act has three primary functions:-

  • to listen to victims of childhood abuse who want to recount their experiences to a sympathetic forum;
  • to fully investigate all allegations of abuse made to it, except where the victim does not wish for an investigation and
  • to publish a report on its findings to the general public.

The Commission will, through a Confidential Committee, provide a forum for victims of abuse to recount their experience on an entirely confidential basis. The purpose of this Committee is to meet the needs of those victims who want to speak of their experiences but who do not wish to become involved in an investigative procedure. This Committee will provide the Commission with a general report on the issues encountered in its work.

The Commission will also have an Investigation Committee. This Committee will facilitate victims who wish to both recount their experiences and to have allegations of abuse fully inquired into. This Committee will also report to the Commission.

In addition to being offered a hearing by the Commission and its Committees, counselling by a dedicated counselling service that has been set up by the Department of Health and Children and is provided through the Health Boards is available for victims of abuse.

The Commission was given the additional functions under the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse Act, 2000 (Additional Functions) Order, 2001 (S.I. No. 280 of 2001) to inquire into-

a) the 3 vaccine trials referred to in the Report of the Chief Medical Officer entitled “Report on Three Clinical Trials Involving Babies and Children in Institutional Settings 1960/1961, 1970 and 1973”, and

b) any other vaccine trial found by the Commission to have taken place in an institution between 1940 and 1987 based on an allegation by a person who was a child in that institution that he or she was the subject of such a vaccine trial.

On completion of its work the Commission will publish a report directly to the general public based on the reports of its Committees. The Report may identify institutions in which abuse occurred and the people responsible and may make findings in regard to management and regulatory authorities. The Commission in the Report will also make recommendations on measures to alleviate the effects of abuse on victims and to prevent future abuse in institutions.

The Commission and its Committees benefit from the kind of powers and protection which a court would have including privilege for witnesses; compellability of witnesses; discovery of documents; taking evidence on oath and offences for failure to co-operate or for obstruction.