By Patsy McGarry, Irish Times, January 11, 2012.
THE FUNERAL of journalist and broadcaster Mary Raftery (54) will take place tomorrow morning in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin.
She died at St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin yesterday morning following an illness. She is survived by her husband David Waddell, their son Ben, her mother Ita, sister Iseult and brothers Adrian and Iain. The funeral ceremony will take place at 11am.
An outstanding journalist of her generation, she produced some of the most powerful and influential current affairs programmes broadcast on RTÉ television.
As significant were her 1999 book Suffer the Little Children – The Inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools , written with Eoin O’Sullivan of Trinity College Dublin, her opinion columns for this newspaper from 2003 and her play No Escape , based on the Ryan report, which was staged at Dublin’s Peacock Theatre in 2010.
Her RTÉ 1999 States of Fear documentary on institutional abuse, broadcast over three weeks in April-May of that year, led to then taoiseach Bertie Ahern apologising to victims of institutional abuse on behalf of the State.
It also led to the setting up of what became known as the Ryan commission, which reported in May 2009, and to the setting up of a confidential committee which heard in private the stories of victims of institutional abuse.
States of Fear was also responsible for the then government setting up the Residential Institutions Redress Board. To date, it has compensated approximately 14,000 people, who have received an average of €63,000 each.
In October 2002, her programme Cardinal Secrets – with reporter Mick Peelo – investigated the cover-up of clerical child sex abuse in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese.
It led to the Dáil passing the Commission of Investigation Act 2004 and the setting up of the Murphy commission, which reported in November 2009.
The remit of that commission was extended by the government to include Cloyne’s Catholic diocese in January 2010. Its report on Cloyne was published last July.
Last September, her two-part series Behind the Walls , on the harrowing story of Ireland’s psychiatric hospitals, was broadcast on RTÉ One television.
She wrote extensive analysis pieces for this newspaper following publication of the Ryan report in May 2009, the Murphy report in November 2009 and the Cloyne report last July.
She was one of four children of Adrian and Ita Raftery.
Her father was an Irish diplomat and the family travelled widely before returning to Dublin when Mary was 12.
She attended the Sacred Heart school on Leeson Street followed by a period at Mount Anville before moving to Pembroke School – formerly Miss Meredith’s – in Ballsbridge.
In her fifth year there, she and two other girls from the school were sent to St Conleth’s, a boys school on nearby Clyde Road, for honours maths and physics classes. They were the first girls to be taken in at St Conleth’s.
From there she went to UCD to study engineering.
Half way through the course, she got involved in journalism and student politics. As she wrote in this newspaper in 1999, “engineering was great but I discovered it wasn’t for me. I spent my time writing and agitating and didn’t complete the course.”
Throughout her school and college years, she played the cello, including a stint with the National Youth Orchestra. It led to her becoming involved in the student union at the College of Music on Dublin’s Chatham Row.
After engineering, she spent 18 months as the UCD student union’s sabbatical education officer.
Later she became a freelance journalist with In Dublin and Magill magazines and various newspapers. She joined RTÉ in 1984, working on programmes such as Today Tonight, Check Up and Prime Time.
She left RTÉ in 2002 to become a freelance film-maker and journalist. She then taught media at NUI Maynooth, wrote opinion columns for The Irish Times and continued to make television programmes.
Summing up her work in a Sunday Independent interview last September, she said: “The most important thing you can do is to give a voice to people who have been silenced. And . . . what else would I be doing?”