Journalist Mary Raftery dies aged 54

Wednesday 11 January 2012 09.01
Mary Raftery was best known for her 'States of Fear' documentary series
Mary Raftery was best known for her 'States of Fear' documentary series

The death has taken place of journalist Mary Raftery. The 54-year-old died following an illness.

2009 RTÉ interview with Mary Raftery - The Whistleblower

Ms Raftery was best known for her 'States of Fear' documentary series, which revealed the extent of physical and sexual abuse suffered by children in Irish industrial schools and residential institutions.

It led to the creation of the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse.

In 2002, her 'Cardinal Secrets' programme for RTÉ's Prime Time led to the setting up of the Murphy Commission of Investigation into clerical abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese.

Ms Raftery was one of four children and her father worked in the Irish diplomatic service.

The family moved home many times before settling in Ireland permanently when she was 12.

In the late 1970s, she left her Engineering course at UCD to work for In Dublin magazine as a sub-editor and a journalist.

Between then and 1984, she went on to write for Magill, where her investigation of the background of a prominent Dublin family of professional criminals first alerted her to the effect of industrial schools on the lives of the children committed to them.

In 1984, she became one of the first people without a university degree to be recruited by RTÉ as a TV producer/director.

She went on to have a wide-ranging career as a programme-maker, which included the arts programme 'Black Box', a series on media called 'Slants', and the magazine programme 'Evening Extra'.

In her work on the Current Affairs series 'Today Tonight', from 1986 to 1993, she produced programmes on national and international subjects.

From 1993 to 1995 she was Series Producer on the health series 'Check-Up'.

Her continuing attention to the health system resulted later in programmes, such as the 2008 Prime Time report on malpractice in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda and the 2004 'Prime Time Investigates: Bad Medicine' - an award-winning account of medical negligence in Ireland.

Ms Raftery worked for RTÉ from 1984 until 2002, going on to write a column for The Irish Times and teach at the Centre for Media Studies at NUI Maynooth.

She also continued to produce programmes for RTÉ, the last of which - 'Behind the Walls' - was broadcast in September 2011.

She is survived by her husband David Waddell and their son Ben.

Tributes for a 'fearless' journalist

RTÉ Director General Noel Curran paid tribute to Ms Raftery, saying her journalism was defined by determination and fearlessness, and that she had left an important legacy for Irish society.

Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin credited her exposés of clerical child sexual abuse on RTÉ television with making the Church a better place for children. He also said it had made it a place that had learned many lessons.

Andrew Madden, the former altar boy abused by a senior Dublin cleric, said Ms Raftery had understood that the Church's concealment of child sexual abuse was systemic, but that it could best be exposed by helping survivors to share personal experiences.

He said that her work had provided a way for some survivors to do that.

The organisation Survivors of Child Abuse said all survivors will forever remember her enormous contribution to revealing historical abuse in the country's enclosed institutions.

Its spokesman, John Kelly, said each survivor owed a great deal to her steadfast courage that brought hope where there was despair and vindication when it was sorely needed. He said their hearts and prayers were with her family.

On behalf of the Labour Party, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore joined many other in tendering condolences to her husband David and their son Ben.

Mr Gilmore called her a campaigning journalist who was tireless and fearless and who made an outstanding contribution in the area of human rights and justice.

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin said she had given a voice to the voiceless, including victims of abuse and, more recently, to those who suffered in psychiatric institutions. He said she had forced governments to act.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald
said Ms Raftery had played an essential role in the alerting the country to its child protection duties.

She said her ground-breaking documentaries such as "Cardinal Secrets" brought home to viewers the squalid prevalence of child sexual abuse while emphasizing the life-long damage it could inflict on those abused.

She said Ms Raftery's documentaries were not "docu-dramas" but packed just as much emotional punch because she understood that a visual image could help viewers to viscerally grasp the terror a young person experienced when trapped without anybody close at hand to help.

Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said Ms Raftery ''will be mourned by all who knew and respected her as a fearless journalist".

He said she was someone "who was always willing to ask awkward questions, to seek out uncomfortable facts and to shine a light in the darkest corners of Irish society".

The Irish Times Editor Kevin O’Sullivan said Ms Raftery’s journalism ''fearlessly exposed the gross failures of Church and State in looking after some of the most vulnerable and damaged of people in Irish society".

He said her work lifted ''so many layers of institutional secrecy''.