You'd hear the younger ones screaming during the night, the twelve and thirteen year olds. There was a night watchman who used to patrol the dormitories with an ash plant on his shoulder. You'd see him constantly bringing down that stick onto a boy in a bed with his full force, about five or six times. There were an awful lot of priests and brothers there in my time. The priests were unimpeachable, they beat the boys with complete impunity. No one ever interfered.

Location: Ireland

The Ryan Report I hold fast to the view that there must be no more deals, secret or otherwise done between Religious orders and the Government of Ireland without indepth consultation with people who were abused while in the care of religious orders or the state.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A skewed view of the evidence

With most of the tribunals currently operating, you expect to hear claim and counter claim, giving you a basis to weigh the evidence presented, notes Mary Raftery

There is, however, one tribunal where this does not happen, where only one side is being presented in public.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has decided not to allow us to hear those whose sworn evidence concerns allegations of abuse. All we are permitted to witness are those defending their own particular institutions and religious orders against charges which remain unspecified as far as we are concerned.

To be fair to Mr Justice Seán Ryan, who presides over the commission, he does of course have all the facts from both sides available to him. Furthermore, his decision to allow public hearings of even half the evidence is an advance on the previous system whereby everything was to be private. We had an example of the lopsided proceedings of the commission this week with the evidence of Fr Michael Hughes, representing the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. This order ran the State's only reformatory school for boys during much of the 20th century, St Conleth's at Daingean in Co Offaly.

So far it has been a matter for each religious order to nominate who speaks for it at the commission's public hearings. Most have selected their provincial leaders.

However, the Oblates broke with this pattern. Fr Hughes is their archivist and as such he made it clear that he was not in a position to make any concessions on behalf of the order. This set the tone for what was probably the most robust defence to date given by any of the religious orders before the commission at its public hearings.

Daingean is the subject of hundreds of complaints of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Oblates on boys incarcerated there. Fr Hughes rejected out of hand all of the allegations of sexual abuse. With regard to physical abuse, he laid much emphasis on the context of the times, when corporal punishment was acceptable within society. He did not agree that such punishment in Daingean constituted abuse and said it was administered "in good faith".

In this area Daingean is relatively unique in that a wealth of contemporary documents exist which give a remarkable insight into the Oblates' attitude to the beating of children.

Knowledge at senior government level of the abuses at Daingean were a critical factor in the establishment of the Kennedy committee in 1968 to investigate the industrial and reformatory school system in the country. The then minister for education, Donagh O'Malley, had received in 1967 a report from a Fr Ken McCabe which painted an appalling picture of conditions for the children in Daingean.

Fr McCabe reported Daingean as, "at best, punitive" and as "repressive". He stated that severe punishment was used frequently, and that rules governing it were being "widely and seriously abused". Fr McCabe wrote (somewhat prophetically) that a boy "will associate all that is inhuman and harsh with the church . . . He may even come to 'hate' all they stand for".

The Kennedy committee visited Daingean in 1968 where the manager, Fr McGonagle, told them "without embarrassment" about how the children were strapped on their bare buttocks. A Department of Justice official present reported that Fr McGonagle said "he considered punishment to be more humiliating" when children were "stripped naked" for it.

This account produced shock waves in the Department of Justice. Secretary Peter Berry, writing to his opposite number in the Department of Education, described such practice as "indefensible", adding that if it became known it would "cause a grave public scandal".

Needless to say, it did not become known, although, at the insistence of the Department of Justice, the Kennedy committee recommended the immediate closure of Daingean. It does, however, give a clear sense that such brutality towards children was no more acceptable then than it is now.

Last Monday Fr Hughes blamed the shortcomings at Daingean on the poor level of State funding. This has become a general defence put forward to cover many of the sins of the past. However, in the case of Daingean, the argument is a little thin when viewed in the context of contemporary documentation.

In 1955, after a visit to St Conleth's, the secretary of the Department of Education reported to the minister in the most forthright terms. Describing the school as "Dickensian", he wrote that the conditions in which its herd of cows was kept were considerably better than those for the boys. Crucially, he added: "I am of the opinion that very handsome profits are made on the farm, but I can see no evidence of any of the profits being ploughed back for the benefit of the boys."

Unfortunately, we may never know the Oblates' response to this, as Fr Hughes was not asked about it. It is perhaps just one example of the shortcomings involved in the approach which the commission has taken to processing the evidence before it.

© 2005 The Irish Times

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Order rejects claim of serious abuse

Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

Allegations of serious sexual abuse of boys at Daingean reformatory, Co Offaly, which closed in 1973, were strongly rejected yesterday at a hearing of the Child Abuse Commission. So too were suggestions that severe corporal punishment there was abuse.

The hearing was also told that Oblate Brothers at the reformatory had no training and that six of them had nervous breakdowns between 1964 and 1969.

Fr Michael Hughes of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ireland, the congregation which managed St Conleth's reformatory at Daingean, agreed, however, that men under such stress "might snap and become abusive", though he felt they "were [now] being treated very unfairly".

He told the commission's investigation committee that the sexual abuse allegations were "totally and completely denied" by the congregation.

Provincial archivist with the Oblates in Ireland, Fr Hughes alluded to two alleged incidents of such abuse at St Conleth's, one involving a lay person in 1950 and one involving an Oblate Brother in 1967.

Neither was upheld following Garda investigation, and a court hearing in the 1950 case. He said "immoral, impure conduct", strictly forbidden at the reformatory, "was a problem among the boys".

The congregation was "surprised" at the numerous complaints of physical abuse received by the commission. (It has received a total of 322 complaints concerning Daingean and Scoil Mhuire in Lusk, Co Dublin, run by the Oblates until 1984).

Pushed by Mr Justice Seán Ryan, chairman of the commission, as to whether he accepted on behalf of the Oblates that the punishment at Daingean had been abusive, Fr Hughes replied: "I would contend it was done in good faith and that people at the time didn't think it was abusive."

He agreed "the punishment was very, very severe but I feel it would be an injustice to the men of the time to say it was abuse."

Complaints by former residents had been taken "very, very seriously" and each had been replied to individually, but he felt it was for the commission to adjudicate on them. No punishment books - required by law - had survived from Daingean. He didn't know what happened to them.

He was aware of concerns of members of the Kennedy committee, which inspected Daingean in 1968, at the administration of corporal punishment to the boys over the bare buttocks and that the then resident manager there, Fr McGonagle, appeared to accept the value of such punishment as "more humiliating". Fr McGonagle, he said, denied saying he accepted the added value of such humiliation, though he had not denied the boys so punished were naked or had their shirts pulled up.

Fr Hughes accepted as "an honest statement of what was observed" a 1966 report which said corporal punishment at Daingean was "used frequently. When it is used it is very severe and in my opinion cannot in any circumstances be justified."

He disputed complaints that the boys had not been fed properly. He disagreed with an internal Department of Education memo which said there was "shameful neglect" of the boys' education and that they were being made use of as labourers.

He disputed findings by the Kennedy committee that the boys were "dirty and unkempt" and that the showers at Daingean were "rusted and disintegrating" through lack of use, or that toilets were "dirty and unsanitary". He contrasted the Kennedy findings with the "very careful" 1966 report from Dr Lysaght.

He disagreed with Justice Ryan that it seemed "eccentric" to accept the findings of one such report while rejecting that of the other.

© 2005 The Irish Times