Contemporary settled democracies, including the USA, England and Wales and Ireland, have witnessed a string of high-profile cases of institutional child abuse in both Church and State settings. Set against the broader literature on transitional justice, this analysis argues that there are significant barriers to truth recovery within the particular context of historical institutional abuse by the clergy in the Republic of Ireland. In the main, it argues that the frameworks of the inquiries and commissions into historical institutional child abuse are not conducive to truth recovery or the search for justice in dealing with the legacy of an abusive past. It is the Church–State relationship which makes the Irish situation noteworthy and unique. The Catholic Church and child care institutions are especially self-protective, secretive and closed by nature, and strongly discourage the drawing of attention to any deficiencies in organisational procedures. The nature of the public inquiry process also means that there is often a rather linear focus on accountability and apportioning blame. Collectively, such difficulties inhibit fuller systemic investigation of the veracity of what actually happened and, in turn, meaningful modification of child care policies. The paper concludes by offering some thoughts on the implications for transitional justice discourses more broadly as well as the residual issues for Ireland and other settled democracies in terms of moving on from the legacy of institutional child abuse.