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Survivor-centred, scoping Inquiry into historical sexual abuse in schools announced by Minister for Education
Coleman Legal LLP
March 08, 2023
The Department of Education has launched an inquiry, led by Mary O’Toole SC, to investigate historical sexual abuse in religious-run schools, emphasizing survivor testimonies and safeguarding practices.

Department of Education initiates inquiry into Historical Sexual Abuse in religious-run schools

Last month, an announcement from the Department of Education said how they would be taking a serious approach to their response after revelations emerged of historical sexual abuse in schools run by religious organisations.

The Department has been working alongside An Garda Siochana with ongoing criminal investigations. Gardaí has reported they had had a large increase in reports received at their sexual crime unit since last November when instances of historical sexual abuse at Blackrock College were reported in mainstream media; these reports have come from both victims themselves and those who have been witnesses to abuse.

Following these reports, the Taoiseach and Minister for Education, Norma Foley, have announced that an inquiry to investigate such instances of abuse would be established. Mary O’Toole SC was announced as the lead investigator of the scoping inquiry. Ms. O’Toole is experienced in Human Rights Law, and her main goal is to investigate historical sexual abuse in schools run by religious orders.

Further aims of the inquiry are to examine the current measures taken by schools and boards of managements in safeguarding children; and to investigate the best practice in protecting the rights of school children. The scoping inquiry is to place survivors at the centre of its considerations, listening to their stories and allowing their voices to be heard.

Throughout the inquiry, investigations will be made into the running of schools, especially those run by religious orders. Of great concern to the general public was the fact that both physical and sexual abuse was able to go on unreported for so long in many religious-run schools.

The Department of Education has already contacted the Carmelites, the Spiritans, and the Vincentian Community—organisations credited with running schools—to ask for their cooperation in conducting the inquiry.

Ms. Foley stated:

I would absolutely expect, at a bare minimum, that all of the orders involved will be more than happy and more than willing to cooperate with the scoping inquiry. At the centre of it, as I said, are the survivors. They are more than deserving of that respect and I would absolutely expect that it will be forthcoming.

Following this statement, Ms Foley announced that a process had been set up to allow survivors to participate in questionnaires, workshops, and direct engagement with facilitators trained in trauma-informed practice. At the end of the (expected) 8-month investigation, a report with the inquiry’s findings and recommendations will be submitted to the Minister of Education so that nothing like this will be allowed to happen again.

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Clodagh Magennis

Clodagh Magennis

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