Industrial Memories: Methodologies for analysing the Data of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Report (Ryan Report)

The Irish Government’s Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its final report in 2009 (henceforth, the Ryan Report). The Ryan Report detailed the history of child abuse across 50+ institutions in the Irish State, from 1940-1999; the 2,600 page report gathered evidence from 10 years of inquiry, involving over 1500 witnesses. Though the report contains key facts about how institutional abuse can arise and the failure of governmental oversight, its sheer size has meant that the totality of its findings have never been properly communicated to the public.

The Industrial Memories project treats the Ryan Report as a data corpus which can be mined and analysed – the panel will particularly focus on the intellectual/ethical principles of treating this material as data, the emotive impact of the material, the methodology of approaching a governmental report as a corpus, the generation of research questions, and the potential outcomes of identifying behavioural, cultural and linguistic patterns.

This paper will discuss the careful design of a database to capture aspects of the reports contents; a design that lends additional structure to the current text of the report, without over interpreting its contents for those who wish to explore it further. Leavy will address the development of a web-based exploratory interface, enabling both close and distant readings of the Ryan Report. Text mining tools such as concordance analysis, detailed text searches, statistical analysis of the text and keyword analysis will be demonstrated to illustrate how these were used to uncover patterns and insights in the text. The creation of an abstract representation of knowledge contained in the report through the searchable web interface will be described, demonstrating how each abstraction also links back to occurrences within the text to facilitate exploration of text extracts in context. The paper will conclude by outlining initial findings of the current research relating to passive and active language and how this exploratory interface might be applicable to other research data/fields.


Dr Susan Leavy is a postdoctoral research fellow on the Industrial Memories project, funded by the Irish Research Council 2016-18 at University College Dublin. Her PhD research analysed gender bias in media coverage of politicians in Ireland using natural language processing and machine learning. She has an MPhil in Gender and Women’s Studies from TCD, an MSc in Artificial Intelligence from Edinburgh University and a BA (English & Philosophy) from UCD. She also worked internationally for several years in technology in the finance industry, on the development of global trading platforms. She is currently working on Industrial Memories, a project using digital methods to analyse the findings of the 2009 report on abuse in Ireland’s industrial schools (the Ryan Report).  

Co-author: Professor Mark Keane

Dr Mark Keane is the Chair of Computer Science at University College Dublin (since 1998). From 2004-2007 he was Director of ICT (2004-2006) and Director General (2006-2007) at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and was also VP of Innovation & Partnerships at UCD (2007-2009). He has a BA (UCD) and PhD (TCD) in Cognitive Psychology and previously worked in University of London, the Open University, Cardiff University and Trinity College Dublin (FTCD, 1994).  He is co-author with MW Eysenck of “Cognitive Psychology: A Student’s Handbook” which has been translated into 5 languages and is now in its 7th edition.  In recent years, he has worked as a PI in Insight on text analytics problems; including tools for digital journalism, the use of news to predict market shifts and bubble behaviour and an analysis of the problem of farm land succession in Ireland.

The Industrial Memories project is funded by an Arts/STEM major grant from the Irish Research Council, 2015-2018.