Priest defends how order ran reformatory
There was never any excessive physical or sexual abuse at St Conleth's reformatory at Daingean, Co Offaly, which was closed in 1973, the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was told yesterday.
Father Tom Murphy, provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ireland, which managed the reformatory, agreed with the committee chairman, Mr Justice Ryan, that "these institutions were conducive to a boiler situation, but I do think, given the times and the context and customs (of the day) it wasn't unduly punitive, as you would say, in terms of discipline."
The commission has received 322 complaints from former residents at Daingean and at Scoil Mhuire Lusk, Co Dublin, run by the congregation until 1984. Former staff at Daingean heard of complaints from there with "deep shock and deep disbelief", Father Murphy said.
He had "a passionate concern that the story of the reformatories is told, with natural rights safeguarded, and that truth and justice is done".
Discipline at the reformatory was strict and firm as was necessary. Brothers were only allowed to slap boys on the hands with a leather. More serious punishment was administered, by the Brother prefect only, to the buttocks or through cutting an absconder's hair.
The boys were aged between 12 and 18, with an average stay of two years. In the 1950s the number averaged 200 annually, decreasing in the 1960s. The ratio of staff to boys was 1 to 13-15, with the Brothers aged in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
The Brothers had no special qualifications. Everything was paid for from the capitation grant given by the Department, which was brought to subsistence level by income from the farm there.
They had found one complaint of sexual abuse on the Daingean files and, on Garda investigation in 1967, it was found to be groundless. There were also six complaints on file, "probably by mothers", about excessive punishment. He was not aware if the relevant Brothers were disciplined.
They had a complaint in 1997 from a former resident at Scoil Mhuire after which a lay worker was convicted on sex abuse charges. A 1999 Garda inquiry into Daingean found no evidence of sexual abuse, no evidence of severe physical abuse, except the six cases referred to.
Ms Sally Mulready, of the London Women's Group, said research had found that 40 per cent of former residents of the institutions were in Britain. Most had submerged themselves in a British identity and many had not told spouses or children of their background in Ireland, she said.
Her group, which has 380 on its mailing list, was founded in November 1999.
She paid tribute to Mr Mick Waters of SOCA (UK) for the groundbreaking work he had done in the UK where former residents were concerned, and to the Taoiseach for his "very sincere" apology. She appealed to the commission not to forget mothers whose babies were taken from them and put in institutions. These included women like her own mother, now 84.
Ms Christine Buckley of the Aislinn centre in Dublin outlined her now-familiar story of a 20-year struggle to bring the abuse issue into the public domain. She described the centre's work in the counselling and educational areas for former residents, 3,500 of whom had passed through its doors.
Mr Justice Ryan announced that Dr Imelda Ryan of the committee was returning to private practice. She would be replaced in due course, he said.© 2004 The Irish Times