Mary Raftery, investigative journalist, has died at 54.
Raftery’s States of Fear documentaries exposed the violence, both emotional and physical, as well as the sexual abuse inflicted on children in the industrial schools and residential institutions of this country. They forced a reluctant justice minister, Michael McDowell, to set up the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse which produced the horrific Ryan Report cataloguing widespread and systematic abuse of children by members of religious orders. Following publication of the report, which some orders resisted to the last, the Residential Institutions Redress Board was set up, with all its flaws and inequities.
Raftery’s Prime Time report in 2002, titled Cardinal Secrets, exposed the extent of sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese and led to the creation of the Murphy Commission of Investigation, which exposed further clerical horrors and shook the Irish Catholic church to its roots, leading the Irish government to issue an unprecedented condemnation of the Vatican’s role in protecting clerical rapists .
Her sense of justice wasn’t confined to clerics. The documentary Behind the Walls, broadcast last September, investigated the practice of imprisoning Irish citizens in mental institutions, without trial, on the say-so of a doctor. People who didn’t fit in, who were awkward, who were too outspoken or who might have been an obstacle to somebody inheriting a farm, were all locked away to rot in these State-run jails. According to Raftery, there was a time when Ireland imprisoned more people per head of population in psychiatric institutions than they did in the Soviet Union.
Despite being demonised by diehard elements of the Catholic right who believed that a woman’s role is silence, Mary Raftery continued to poke and dig at the rotten underbelly of our heartless little country.
Mary Raftery’s death is Ireland’s loss.