University of Galway conference to discuss teaching Ireland’s history of institutional abuse in schools

University of Galway academics are calling for the history of Ireland’s institutions to be taught in post-primary schools ahead of a conference to discuss the issue this weekend.

The one-day conference, organised by the Irish Centre for Human Rights (ICHR ) at the university and entitled ‘Teaching the dark history of Ireland’s Institutions: Engaging educators and policymakers’, will take place on Saturday October 15 from 10.30am to 4pm.

Focusing on why this history should be taught in schools and how it may be implemented for students in transition year, the conference will draw on lesson plans designed and implemented in schools over the past two years.

The conference was created as part of an ongoing movement lawyering project, which involves the use of the law to contribute to social change, for the Human Rights Clinic at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at University of Galway.

The project’s aim is to create different educational strategies to ensure that the history of Ireland’s institutions is not forgotten. It is led by Mary Harney, and supervised by Judit Villena, both PhD candidates at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, in conjunction with LLM graduates, and has been active since 2019.

“Education is one way we can protect future generations and acknowledge the history of those directly affected by the institutions,” Mary Harney said. “We don’t want this history to be forgotten.”

The conference intends to facilitate discussion among teachers and to draw upon teachers’ first-hand experiences, as well as the testimonies of survivors, to demonstrate the importance of memorialisation through education.

Speakers and topics include Dr Philomena Mullen, Trinity College Dublin, Association of Mixed Race Irish, speaking on the exclusion of the mixed race child from the narrative of the institutions; Noelle Brown, actor, playwright, and survivor, on Theatre as a Platform for Change; and Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, University of Galway, on Teaching the History of Ireland’s Institutions: From the Foundling Institutions to the Mother and Baby Institutions.

Shauna Joyce, a recent graduate of the LLM in International Human Rights Law at University of Galway and co-organiser of the project, said: “As a new generation of Irish citizens, we believe that it is incumbent on us to take up the mantle from those older survivors to ensure that past abuses are not only remembered, but to ensure that through education they are not repeated.”

The teaching of the history of institutions was a recommendation made by the report of the Mother and Baby Homes Collaborative Forum.

“Educating students about Ireland’s histories of institutional abuse is essential to understanding how and why human rights abuses happened, and to ensure that ‘never again’ will we allow such human rights violations to occur,” said Professor Siobhán Mullally, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights. “It is essential to democratic values, to building a democratic society and to active, engaged citizenship. We need to reflect on how we empower students to advocate for human rights protection.”

Professor Mullally is also a UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

“Education about past and ongoing human rights violations is also an obligation under international human rights law,” she added. “To ensure truth recovery, and reparations to those affected, we must take steps to remember, and to guarantee non recurrence of human rights violations, including through education.”

The conference is hosted in partnership with a cross-sectional group of academics, activists, and teachers from the Irish Centre for Human Rights and the College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Celtic Studies at University of Galway and Waterford Institute of Technology.

To register for the conference visit


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