Journalist and UCD alumna Mary Raftery passes away


Journalist, documentarian and former UCDSU Education Officer Mary Raftery is remembered by Sally Hayden

I once asked Mary Raftery for tips on being a good journalist, and she said to always start your articles with a short sentence. So here it goes:

Former UCDSU Education Officer and UCD student Mary Raftery has passed away.

Student politician turned journalist, last September she spoke in an interview of her time in UCD, which she spent “doing a lot less engineering than I should have and getting a lot more involved with the Students’ Union and the student newspaper.”

She worked as a sub-editor and writer for the In Dublin magazine, before moving on to work for the current affairs publication Magill in 1984, and later for RTÉ until leaving in 2002.

The word that has been mentioned again and again in tributes to her is “relentless”. This relentlessness led to her producing and directing States of Fear, a documentary series that revealed the physical and sexual abuse suffered by children in Irish industrial schools and residential institutions.

Such was the immediate reaction to the programme that before the third part had even been broadcast, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, publically apologised to victims of institutional abuse on behalf of the State. The Ryan Commission and the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which has to date compensated approximately 14,000 victims, were both set up as a result of her work.

Cardinal Secrets, her 2002 exposé on which she worked alongside Mick Peelo, examined the cover-up of child sex abuse allegations, and led to the establishment of the Murphy Commission of Investigation into clerical abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese.

Her last documentary Behind the Walls, which she worked on while she was ill, was broadcast in September 2011, and examined the history of Ireland’s psychiatric hospitals.

During her career she also exposed the plight of residents of Magdalene laundries, deaths in Garda custody, medical negligence and the activities of property developers.

Probably the most remarkable Irish journalist of the last twenty years, Raftery’s works instigated huge changes in our society. She shined a light on the darkest corners of this country, fearlessly fighting against both injustice and ignorance, while giving a voice to those who had been silenced. And despite all that she uncovered, she never lost faith in the goodness of humanity. “The most refreshing thing about what I do is the fact of how good people are”, she said in September. “It’s amazing to see how they are fundamentally driven to help others, and that they will do so by revealing themselves and their adversities and their challenges. And it’s wonderful. You really do see the best of people … The most important thing you can do is to give a voice to people who have been silenced …what else would I be doing?”

Mary Raftery is survived by her husband, David Waddell and their son, Ben.