Letters Page Irish Times March 11 1996
From JOY RUDD
Sir, The survivors of our industrial school system have enough to put up with without also being labelled "bad" or juvenile delinquents, yet this is or was the popular misconception, perhaps because most were committed by the courts. For the most part, however, this was merely a device to enable the State to pay a miserable grant for their upkeep. I heard many complaints about this method of committal from the staff of industrial schools in the 1960s, children found this court appearance traumatic and talked about it among themselves they maintained. I brought up these complaints with the relevant section of the Department of Education and was told that if this deterrent was not in place, parents would be queuing up to have their children put away.
Children who had been convicted in the courts of an indictable offence were usually sent to a reformatory of which there were three in the system. Daingean for boys, Kilmacud and Limerick for girls. Only if they were considered too young (under 12) to be sent to a reformatory could some industrial schools receive them, notably Letterfrack, Upton and Clonmel. Less than 20 per cent of the boys and 4 per cent of the girls in industrial schools at any one time had any court convictions, and many industrial schools had no such children. The vast majority were committed under the heading "Lack of Proper Guardianship".
Besides certified schools, reformatories and industrial schools, there were a number of orphanages and homes. These were entirely voluntary and received no subsidy from the State, nor could children be committed to them through the courts. They appear to have subsisted on donations and bequests, and to have been smaller and more flexible than most certified schools.
Prior to the 1970s, physical punishment was widely used as a means of disciplining children, "encouraging" them to learn and to conform socially. In the 1950s the late Senator Sheehy Skeffington tried to get a proposal banning the beating of girls in national schools debated in the Seanad, but couldn't get a seconder. A booklet published by Constance O'Connell's "Schoolchildren's Protection Association" could only be sold under the counter. "Softies" and "Dogooders" were considered subversives trying to buck an authoritarian system whose motto seems to have been, "spare the rod and spoil the child".