An Inconvenient Truth: Barriers to Truth Recovery in the Aftermath of Institutional Child Abuse in Ireland

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Contemporary settled democracies, including the United States, England and Wales and Ireland, have witnessed a string of high profile cases of institutional child abuse in both church and state settings. Set against the broader literature on transitional justice, this analysis argues that there are significant barriers to truth recovery within the particular context of historical institutional abuse by the clergy in the Republic of Ireland. In the main, I argue that the frameworks of the inquiries and commissions into historical institutional child abuse are not conducive to truth recovery or the search for justice in dealing with the legacy of an abusive past. It is the church-state relationship which makes the Irish situation noteworthy and unique. The Catholic Church and child care institutions are especially self-protective, secretive and closed by nature and strongly discourage the drawing of attention to any deficiencies in organisational procedures. The nature of the public inquiry process also means that there is often a rather linear focus on accountability and apportioning blame. Collectively, such difficulties inhibit fuller systemic investigation of the veracity of what actually happened and, in turn, meaningful modification of child care policies. The article concludes by offering some thoughts on implications for transitional justice discourses more broadly as well as the residual issues for Ireland and other settled democracies in terms of moving on from the legacy of institutional child abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-214
Number of pages26
JournalLegal Studies
Issue number2
Early online date13 Jun 2012
Publication statusPublished - 07 May 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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