Daingean Hell Hole
Minister describes steps to uncover abuse in 1960s
Details of how the Kennedy Committee uncovered abuse of boys in Daingean Reformatory school in the 1960s were given to the Dail by the Minister for Education.
Mr Martin said that the committee members visited Daingean in February 1968. "Their impression of it was a dismal place which should be closed as soon as possible. " They asked the manager about corporal punishment, and he replied "openly and without embarrassment that ordinarily the boys were called out of the dormitories after they had retired and that they were punished on one of the stairway landings".
When asked if the boys were stripped, he replied that at times they were. Asked why he allowed boys to be stripped naked for punishment, he replied, "in a matter-of-fact manner, that he considered punishment to be more humiliating when it was administered in that way".
Mr Martin said that District Justice Kennedy, who chaired the committee, wrote to the department on this and other matters and received a reply which dealt with everything but the punishment. "While giving assurances about the closure of Daingean, assurance about the punishments stopping seem only to have been given as a result of significant disputes, the exact details of which do not seem to be documented."
Mr Martin said that the exception to this was an April 1970 letter from the Secretary of the Department of Justice to the Secretary of the Department of Education. The Secretary of the Department of Justice wrote that the official of his Department, who was a member of the Committee, had signed the report on the basis of assurances that the Daingean punishments would be stopped.
He wrote: "to sign a report which made no reference to the situation about punishment in Daingean would, in the absence of evidence that the practice had ceased, be to appear to acquiesce in a practice which is indefensible and for the continuance of which the minister for justice could not avoid some official responsibility arising out of his having registered Daingean as a suitable place of detention under the children acts."
Mr Martin said that the Secretary's next comment revealed much about the approach to abuse, even of concerned people: "on the other hand, to make any reference, however oblique, to this particular method of punishment in Daingean would be likely to lead to a disclosure of the situation and, in this way, to cause a grave public scandal.”
Mr Martin said that the episode demonstrated the need for everything to be out in the open. "I have no doubt that there are many other such incidents in official records and that official neglect and ignorance was commonplace."
The Minister, who was speaking during a debate on child abuse, said that any remaining files relating to the state's industrial and reformatory schools would be made public. The minister added that he was appointing a professional researcher to draw from the department's archives all files which would assist the commission or assist in identifying the Kennedy committee's working files, should they exist. He said that the patterns of neglect and abuse, which had been publicised, were clearly evident in surviving evidence, both archival and oral. "There is simply no doubt that these institutions were not only deficient, they witnessed serious levels of the direct sexual and physical abuse of children."
He recalled that in 1968, the then Minister for Education, Donough O'Malley, decided to do something about them and established a committee chaired by District Justice Kennedy. One of the committee members had told him that Mr O'Malley said of the schools: "I want the skin pulled off this pudding." but unfortunately, Mr O'Malley died soon after the Committee was established.
The Committee received little assistance in its work, said Mr Martin. "The behaviour of many managers and officials has been described to me as at best silently obstructive. It was due to the direct intervention of the new minister, Brian Lenihan, that the committee was given a proper secretariat."
It is important that the response of the State and the public to abuse should be both "adequate and courageous", Labour's Education spokesman, Mr Michael D Higgins, said. He expressed concern that there were many people who did not want the truth to come out and who "will work against the commission to make sure that the truth does not come out".
The Commission to establish the nature and extent of abuse would not work unless the person could see the perpetrator of their abuse before them and the perpetrator admitted the abuse. They would tell their own story and might then decide to leave what had happened aside and be prepared to move on. "But that has to happen first," he said. "They also had to face up to this excuse that many people didn't know what was happening. In his own constituency there were boys in the school in Letterfrack. The farmers in the area rang the institutions and had boys working in the fields. Those farmers knew who they had in the fields and the punishments that took place in the fields."
He recalled the publication of the actor Mannix Flynn's book Nothing To Say. Mr Flynn had been in Letterfrack. The Labour Deputy said he remembered the difficulty the actor had in publishing the book and in having it reviewed. "There were many people who simply would prefer that the truth never came out. They are still there."
© The Irish Times