Ireland is still debating the scandal of child abuse in the Catholic Church, eight years after a royal commission into the matter delivered its groundbreaking report.
It found abuse was endemic in church-run schools where the under-privileged and troubled were sent.
The Ryan Commission published its report in 2009, 10 years after it began, and found that “beyond a doubt the entire system treated children like prison inmates and slaves”.
Mannix Flynn was seven years old when he was taken to court for skipping school and stealing a toy car in Dublin.
“I was brought into the cells under the building, dragged out in a police van and taken away on a train, hundreds of miles away,” Mr Flynn said.
He was sentenced to seven years at St Joseph’s Industrial School in Letterfrack on the other side of the country, run by the Christian Brothers.
He suffered sexual abuse and was one of the hundreds of witnesses who gave evidence to the Ryan Commission.
The inquiry in Ireland was restricted by two rules — there would be no calls for prosecution and no sanctions of any party involved.
Mr Flynn, who is now a Dublin city councillor, said it was a flawed process and he was pessimistic about the impact of the Australian inquiry.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia is due to hand down its final report on December 15.
“So what will happen in Australia is that there’ll be mock shock, they’ll print out the report, they’ll find things we already knew but there will be no justice delivered,” Mr Flynn said.
Irish victims compensated 1.25 billion euros
In Ireland 15,500 victims were compensated at a cost of 1.25 billion euros after an original forecasted cost of 250 million euros.
A National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church was also established from the Ryan Commission.
Its current chief executive officer, Teresa Devlin, gave evidence to the Australian inquiry.
The board is an independent watchdog but was set up by the Church and oversees all Irish congregations, setting standards of conduct and auditing and inspecting them.
“What will have to happen in Australia is that the same process will have to occur, that while that body will be funded by the Church they have to assert their independence,” she said.
“They have to demonstrate their independence, and assert to the public at large that they’re not in the pocket of the Church.”
She believed the board’s work was making a difference.
“Two years ago there were 270 new allegations against priests and religions in Ireland,” she said. “Last year there were 79.
“There’s no longer a situation of ‘I’ll keep it to myself’. I’ve heard so many times, ‘Well, I told Father so-and-so and he did nothing’.
“Father so-and-so now knows he has to do something.”
‘There won’t be agreement in Australia’
Patsy McGarry, a newspaper reporter in Dublin, covered the Ryan Commission for The Irish Times.
“It is impossible to do justice to the effect it had on the Irish people,” he said.
“It was horrendous the stuff it came up with.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the safest place for a child in Ireland today is on a Catholic Church premises.
“[That’s] because of an army of women appointed by parishes to oversee the implementation of Catholic Church guidelines for the protection of children.”
The impact of the Ryan Commission on the Catholic Church was enormous.
Attendance dropped and congregations that remained faithful demanded accountability.
The Catholic Church lost its authority. That’s believed to be one of the reasons the same-sex marriage vote passed in Ireland.
Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, who co-wrote Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools, said there would been a number of positive outcomes from the Ryan report.
“One of the key outcomes they wanted from the report was that this wouldn’t happen to other children again, so I do think it has implications for current child welfare and protection,” Professor O’Sullivan said.
But he criticised the polarised debate in Ireland over the report’s findings.
“There wasn’t agreement in Ireland and I suspect there won’t be agreement in Australia about the conclusions.
“It will probably polarise people as it did in Ireland, but use it as the basis for a more rational discussion about how we treated children or other groups in the past.”