Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Letterfrack Hearings 1

THE HEARING COMMENCED AS FOLLOWS ON THURSDAY, 16 JUNE 2005.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning everybody. Just before we start, Mr. McGovern, there were one or two things I want to say. Good morning everybody.

PUBLIC: Good morning.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Just before we start I want to make a few comments that people may find helpful. By coincidence today is the anniversary of the Investigation Committee's announcement of decisions that we made as to how we were going to proceed with the Inquiry into Child Abuse that is mandated by the Act of 2000, it is the precise anniversary of that date. Today is also our 99th day of hearings since the Investigation Commi
ttee restarted this investigation. We are now embarking on our investigation of the industrial school at Letterfrack, County Galway. As is usual we commence with a public phase when the congregation that ran the institution is given the opportunity of outlining its position generally on the issues, that's the purpose of today's hearing. This procedure is the same as we adopted for the other institutions we have enquired into to day. I want to say a little word about that procedure because it's not always clear to people what we are doing and why. Our policy is to be as open and as public as possible, but there are statutory provisions which limit what can be done in public. Section 11(3)(a) of the 2000 Act prohibits the public hearing of evidence relating to individual instances of abuse. The great bulk of our hearings involves allegations of that kind. Even if a witness deals with some more general questions it is almost invariably in the context of evidence of specific instances of abuse whether the person is recounting abuse that he or she says happened or the person is responding to such evidence. Just let me say what the section says, it's section
11(3)(a):
"A meeting of the Investigation Committee or a part of such a meeting at which evidence relating to particular instances of alleged abuse of children is being given shall be held otherwise than in public."

Those are the terms of the Act. This strict statutory injunction is intended to protect people who are giving evidence of abuse as much as those who were responding to complaints. Even if we wanted to do so we would not be allowed to hold those sessions in public. We have described in previous announcements how we intend to have hearings in public where that is permissible and is in the course of the inquiry. The final of hearings, which we call phase 3, we plan to hold in public unless there is a reason not to do so. Our inclination and the bias in the Act are for public hearings. Phase 3 will consider general issues disclosed by the previous hearings and the documentary material we are analysing and aspects of expert reports that we obtain in the course of our work. I hope that people will understand that at this stage it is not appropriate that I try to be precise as to the phase 3 hearings. It would not be possible to be comprehensive and issues may arise or change or develop. By way of progress report, the Investigation Committee has conducted hearings into the following institutions to date: St. Joseph's, Ferryhouse, Clonmel; St. Patrick's, Upton, Cork; Newtownforbes Industrial School; St. Patrick's, Kilkenny; St. Vincent's, Goldenbridge; St. Conleth's, Daingean.

Our next hearings will begin in September and will inquire into Artane Industrial School, which is the biggest in our remit. We are now planning the investigations into other schools which will take place when our Artane hearings come to an end. Other areas of our inquiry are either proceeding or in the course of planning. The interview process that we announced in January of this year is going ahead with satisfactory results for the Inquiry and, more importantly in some respects, for the participants. This scheme which we have introduced means that every person who wished to participate in our work and who submitted a statement can do so. Although we are pleased with what has been achieved so far, we are also very conscious of how much remains to be done. I want to say at this stage that we couldn't have come to this point without the cooperation of everybody who has participated in our Inquiry and we are very grateful for that. Finally, and again conscious that we are very much at an interim point, I want to acknowledge the work that our own people here in the Commission and the Investigation Committee have put in to get where we are. I wanted to make that for illumination, I hope, and for people's assistance and clarification as to what's actually going on today. Now, Mr. McGovern.

MR. McGOVERN: Good morning, Chairman, Members of the Committee. This is a public hearing as you have already indicated into St. Joseph's Industrial School in Letterfrack. This hearing will follow the same
format that has been used in the past year or so when investigating other institutions and will be in line with statements made by the Commission on the question of the procedures to be followed. This means that the evidence regarding St. Joseph's Industrial School will be heard in three phases. Phase 1, commencing this morning, will consist of the hearing of evidence of Br. David Gibson Province Leader of St. Mary's Province Ireland, one of two provinces of the Christian Brothers in Ireland. This province would have had responsibility for the northern half of the country, north of a line from Dublin to Galway and would have included Letterfrack. Br. Gibson's evidence will be based upon a submission which aims to describe life in Letterfrack in the period coming within the remit of the Commission, including the Congregation's view as to how the institution operated and what life was like there and it is intended to serve as general background information on the institution. It is appreciated that some or perhaps all of the evidence which he gives will not be accepted by some who are present here today or were present in the
institution at Letterfrack and that if there are issues that remain to be resolved these will be come back to in due course in phase 3 as you have described a few moments ago. When this brief public hearing comprising phase 1 is completed then phase 2 will begin. This will involve the hearing of evidence from persons who have filed statements with the Commission outlining abuse suffered by them while they were in Letterfrack. The Committee has prepared a schedule of hearings involving relevant witnesses who may have evidence to give with regard to the institution and these hearings will commence tomorrow Friday, 17th June and are expected to conclude sometime next month. These hearings will take place in private. After the Committee has had an opportunity to consider the evidence given in both phase 1 and phase 2, it is proposed to return to a public hearing which will deal with any contentious matters outstanding or any other relevant issues concerning the management and operation of Letterfrack and that is phase 3 as we have referred to. At that stage the Investigation Committee will permit such cross-examination as fair procedures require in the light of the issues which have been identified in phases 1 and 2 from those parties who appear to have a legitimate interest in them. A decision has been made to leave over these contentious issues until phase 3 since by that time the Commission will have had an opportunity of hearing evidence from persons who were in Letterfrack at the relevant time rather than now when the Committee can only have a limited picture as to what contentious issues are likely to arise.

Before calling Br. Gibson to give evidence here before you, I just want to briefly set out the history of Letterfrack. Letterfrack was an industrial school and was built on lands owned formerly by Mr. James Ellis, an English Quaker who had made his fortune as an manufacturer of woolen goods in Bradford. He built Letterfrack House which later became the Brother's residence and a school for children in the district. In 1885 the Archbishop of Tuam approached the Superior General of the Christian Brothers with a view to establishing and managing an industrial school on the property. On 24 February 1886 a lease was executed to that effect and a certificate for an industrial school was granted on 1 April 1886 for 75 boys, later to increase to 150. A contract for the erection of new buildings was signed on 1 June 1886 and the buildings were paid for by the Christian Brothers. The institution opened on 12 October 1887 with 10 boys. By the end of 1891 180 boys had been admitted. The institution closed its door for the last time on 30 June 1974 following a decision which had been made a year earlier, that is in 1973.




I would now ask Br. Gibson if he would now come forward please.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning, Br. Gibson, thank you very much. Would you like to go up to the witness box.

MR. HANRATTY: Perhaps at this stage, Sir, I should indicate for the record that I appear on behalf of the Christian Brothers Order. My name is Patrick Hanratty and I appear with Ms. Sara Moorhead and Mr. Joseph O'Sullivan for the Order of Christian Brothers.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning Mr. Hanratty, very good.

BR. DAVID GIBSON, HAVING BEEN SWORN, WAS EXAMINED BY THE COMMISSION AS FOLLOWS

THE CHAIRPERSON: Sit down there, Br. Gibson, please.

Q. MR. McGOVERN: Good morning, Brother.

A. Good morning.

Q. We have a fairly comprehensive submission which has been made on behalf of the Christian Brothers and I propose taking you through that submission. I just want to indicate to you that there will be certain
aspects of it that I won't be dwelling on significantly because the Members of the Committee will of course consider everything that is there and there are some issues which are not very contentious and other issues which we way want to explore with you. I hope in the course of asking you questions that I will be fair and reasonable to you and give you an opportunity to represent the position of the Christian Brothers. I think you are the Province Leader of St. Mary's Province; is that right?

A. That's right.
Q. As I indicated earlier that Province is one of two provinces of Christian Brothers and deals with the northern half of the country if you draw a line between Dublin and Galway?

A. That's right, yes.

Q. Letterfrack would have been within that area of control?

A. That's right.

Q. I know my resume of the history of Letterfrack was rather brief, but I don't think that anything of significance turns on the years. Is it correct that it began to operate in October 1887 and continued
operating as an industrial school until 1974?

A. That's correct.

Q. In the course of the submission that has been made you indicate that you are anxious to present the picture of life in Letterfrack in the context of the time in question, that is the period 1940 to 1974?
A. Yes.

Q. Could you just explain what you mean by that?

A. Yes. What I hope to do today is present a picture of life in St. Joseph's Industrial School and I am aware that there are many perceptions and there have been many reports that would indicate that life in St. Joseph's Letterfrack was anything but salutary. Now, we will be presenting a very different picture of life in Letterfrack. We don't wish in any way to justify the hurt or damage that was done to those who were abused. Whoever was abused in Letterfrack we would express our deepest sorrow and shame that this could have happened and we repeat our apology of 1998 where we did apologise. It might be useful to look at when the Christian Brothers in 1998 made an apology to all the former residents of the school. The reason for doing that was that we had already begun to receive a number of complaints for all our institutions. On 29 March 1998 we made an apology. At that time three complaints had reached our files relating to Letterfrack. There is an overhead which shows the statistics that you might like to present there. So following the year of the apology, which had been transmitted in all forms of media, a subsequent nine complaints came before the Christian Brothers. Then following the announcement by the Taoiseach that there would be a Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse and that the Statute of Limitations would be altered and that some form of compensation scheme arose. From the 12 complaints we had in that following year 449 complaints were made. Now, that caused serious concern in the congregation and we wondered about the nature of those complaints. One of the difficulties as I said in presenting the balanced picture of Letterfrack is that we are talking about an institution that closed 30 years ago. Of the 85 people who worked in those most of them are dead. In many ways the surviving brothers who worked in the 50's, 60's and 70's, over 30 years ago, are faced with the daunting task of proving their innocence which is often the reversal of the normal process of justice. What I would hope to do is to present a more objective view of Letterfrack. I would be basing it on the contemporary documents that were written, not documents that have emerged in the last year or two. These documents would be from the Department of Education, Department of Health and the Congregation of Christian Brothers. I think also it is important to remember that we are talking about a time in the 40's, 50's and 60's where now there is a tendency to judge life at that time from the viewpoint of how life is now. What I would be hoping to show is that the Christian Brothers provided a very necessary service to the State in caring for children who themselves were marginalised. The financial support provided by the State will show that it was grossly underfunded and that the brothers had to go to enormous lengths to provide adequately for the needs of the pupils.

Q. I think in due course we will come back to that, you have some statistics, and I only intend to deal with some?

A. Yes.
Q. They are Quite stark and show that the level of funding here compared to other jurisdictions in the neighbouring island was quite significant?

A. That's right. I would also like to show that there have been many complaints that people didn't receive an education. What I will be showing is that there was a 90% success rate in what was the key exam of the time, that is the Primary Certificate, which was a very significant and important exam for many people, most of whom would not have gone on to post-primary education. I would like to also talk about corporal punishment and again to look at it in the context of the time, without justifying in any way people who stepped beyond the boundary of corporal punishment and went towards physical abuse. I would like to make the distinction between the normal corporal punishment that was allowed in all national schools throughout the land, was sanctioned and the physical abuse that is where somebody goes beyond the normal regulatory way of punishment. I would also like to mention because in the media for the last number of years there has been a lot of coverage about mysterious deaths and I would like to show that there have been no such mysterious deaths at all in Letterfrack. I would also like to point out that there was abuse in Letterfrack by a small number of brothers in an individual capacity. It was not systematic, isolated and done by individual brothers. I would like to show also that when that was known it was not concealed, action was taken immediately and every effort was made to prevent its recurrence. Maybe judged again in present day guidelines it may not have been adequate, but certainly at the time it was the best that could be done. I would also like to emphasise the fact that sexual abuse in a period 60 years ago was seen more as a moral failure than a crime and that it was more the failure morally of the person rather than the actual criminal dimension of the act. The Christian Brothers accept their dismay of the fact that boys were sexually abused. We apologised and continued to apologise and have sought to reach out to those who have suffered. Nothing can excuse child abuse. Our hope is that this Commission and today, this will be a process where we can begin reconciliation between all parties and that we would hope to reach out to those who have suffered abuse. In doing that we would hope that the danger that innocent people would be ignored or wrongfully accused could be avoided. It's something that we are very concerned over.

Q. Your submission is divided into a number of sections and the first section deals with the early years. I don't propose to go through that, Chairman, with the witness. You will be reading this submission and I don't think there is anything controversial about that. There is one thing I think of some significance, Brother, which you might deal with. Up until 1954 was it the position that Letterfrack was an industrial school taking in boys who were either destitute or not properly cared for at home or were not attending school; is that correct?

A. Well, it was a mixture, if I could point you to ...

Q. I think on page 9 of your statement you refer to the fact that in 1954 it was decided that only boys guilty of criminal offences be admitted. Are you saying that prior to 1954 there was a mixture of boys
who had been sent there for criminal offences and the other boys I have described?

A. Yes. If I could turn you to page 38 of the submission.

Q. Yes.

A. You have there a list, and in fact there is an overhead on it, I think --

Q. Yes.
A. -- which shows that in the 1940's the problem for people ...(INTERJECTION)

THE CHAIRPERSON: Let's get the overhead if we are going to put it up on screen.

MR. McGOVERN: That's coming now.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Take your time.

A. In the 1940's you had 224 people who were sent to Letterfrack for lack of proper guardianship. That can encompass many, many things that we could go into later on: 37 for school attendance, 10 or destitution and homelessness, 58 for larceny and other crimes, If you like before 1954 you would have, combining the first two boxes there, you would have probably in the region of 150, 40 or 50, who were there for larceny, and maybe 20 or 30 who were there for other crimes. They were mixing with people who were there because of lack of guardianship, school attendance and destitution. I suppose the key figure there is in the 60's where you have larceny there, 399 and other crimes, violence and so on, 61. So particularly in the 60's I think it would be fair to say that that's where the vast majority of people there were there because of serious indictable crimes. You can see the level of guardianship going down to, at that stage, 62. Even though there was an attempt, going back to page 9, in 1954 that only boys guilty of criminal offences be admitted to Letterfrack, the reason for that was, and talking to the brother who has just recently deceased, was he was of the opinion that boys who are coming from homes who were orphaned shouldn't be mixing with boys who had got into quite serious crime.

Q. Yes.

A. He felt it would be important to separate those and. The Association of Resident Managers in 1953 began looking at that and in the minutes of that report they could see two reasons for it. One was a financial reason. The financial reason was that of the six homes run by the Christian Brothers there was a significant number of vacancies there, over 380 vacancies spread over six institutions. To have that financially was crippling on the institution so they felt that close one and group the rest into the five remaining ones. In the grouping they felt at the same time that now was the time to separate those who were orphans, who were from broken homes should be separated from those who were there for indictable crimes.

Q. I think you met with some resistance from the Departments of Education and Justice as well as from the Garda with this proposal, is that so?

A. Yes, it appears that the Departments of Justice and Education and the Garda were opposed to that.

Q. Do you know why?
A. I am not too sure.

Q. I see. Eventually I think the proposal was accepted?

A. The proposal was accepted and in 1954 it was decided that all the children who were orphans and so on would move to other institutions and in fact 81 boys at that time were transferred out.

Q. If we look at the chart that's up on the screen, we see from '50 to '59 and really from then on in the third column, Destitution and Homeless Children, there were eventually no more of those, there was one
in the period '50 to '59?

A. Yes.
Q. There do seem to be a not insignificant number under the headings of Guardianship and School Attendance?

A. Yes. Probably you would have to go through the background of the children who were in the institutions and see what lack of proper guardianship meant. I would refer you mainly to the index on page
126.

Q. Yes. I don't think it's page 126. I don't want to waste too much time on this, Brother, and I don't want to put you off either. I think the thrust of your evidence seems to be that there was a change
proposed, there was some resistance to it, and eventually it was accepted, but that even after the acceptance there was certain categories of boys who had guardianship issues or school attendance issues?

A. That's correct.

Q. I think you may have been referring to appendix 6 at 21 page 125?

A. The introduction, yes, 125. That's basically showing, and I mean that's a long appendix there, but it's showing the background of a lot of children who came from extremely difficult circumstances.

Q. I will be coming back to that with you in the course of your statement. In terms of the change of status then, it was predominantly a reformatory after that, isn't that so?

A. It became a reformatory. It didn't receive the funding for a reformatory which would have been higher than that for an industrial school, but in fact rather than in name it became a reformatory.

Q. Yes. I think you accept that the care which would have been provided in residential institutions at the time was physical care. There wouldn't have been as much emphasis, if any, placed on issues such as emotional care and that sort of thing?

A. Yes, I think I would emphasise something about the spiritual care. I think there was always a concern for the spiritual welfare of the young people. I refer to things like say the Legion of Mary meetings that were taking place in the institutions at that time, retreats that went on, the fact that they went to mass and so on. There was certainly a real concern about their spiritual welfare. The emotional impact of residential care, and we will deal with that later on, was not really understood and certainly separation from home and from the family, however bad the home was, and unfortunately some of them were very inadequate, it wasn't fully understood the impact of that on children separated from their families.

Q Yes. Dealing with the background of the boys, if we could move to the submission at page 13. You talk about the type of boys who arrived in Letterfrack and that they were from very difficult circumstances?

A. Yes. On page 13 you have a short selection of cases, hard cases where children were coming from no fixed abode, child found wandering around the country, father was an n'er do well, these would be written on forms as the child arrived in Letterfrack.

Q I think just in a general sense after giving those 25 specific examples you say that a lot of the boys were from very difficult circumstances who had been traumatised by their life experience?

A. Exactly and that the normal support that a family structure would give was in fact missing so the children were abandoned in many ways.

Q. Were these children almost exclusively from socially disadvantaged communities?

A. Yes, they were. I think a paper written entitled "The Cause for Concern" analyses the background from which children came. It shows that in fact the parents of those children, hardly any of them were from skilled professional backgrounds. Just looking at one incident where the child is residing with parents in a tent in Inchicore, living in a one room tenement, father, mother and four other children, where parents were addicted to drink and the Garda did not consider the parents suitable to be entrusted. It was a sad and sorry case. I do refer to Karl O'Brien in a recent article that he wrote about child care where he talked about in fact today young people who require residential interventions come from socially disadvantaged communities and difficult home environments. I am just aware that in many ways circumstances have not changed.

Q You mentioned the document "Cause for Concern" I think which was written by a brother, we needn't name the brother, but that actually was handed to me this morning. It doesn't appear in the discovery that I am aware of from the Christian Brothers, have you any idea why that would be?

A. Well, it's in one of the footnotes.

Q Is it?

A. It is, yes.

Q I stand corrected. What footnote reference do you know is it?

A. Just wait there.

MR. HANRATTY: Page 46 footnote 74.

MR. McGOVERN:
Thank you.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.

Q MR. McGOVERN: Sorry, Brother. Page 46 we are told. I just want to clarify this in case it's of any significance. Note 74 on page 46 does indeed refer to this, but in volume 2 of the submission which you made where the vast majority of documents ...(INTERJECTION)

A. You have it in 74.1.

Q Yes, but it doesn't seem to be in the copy which I have. I am not sure that it was in the copies which were furnished. We have page 70.2 and the next one is 85.1?

A. I am not sure why that is.

Q Nobody in my team here had seen this before and I am just wondering why?

A. Well, I am not sure about that. My understanding was it was sent, certainly those two pages of it. I am not sure about the full document whether it was sent, I wouldn't be sure about that.

Q THE CHAIRPERSON: It's available, I take it?

A. It's available.

MR. McGOVERN: It's available. I don't want to make a big issue about it.

THE CHAIRPERSON:
No, but I think Br. Gibson's point is 'look, we have named it in the submission'. I think that's his point.

MR. McGOVERN
: It may be of some circumstances later on, Chairman, in a matter I will be dealing with.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Anyway the full document is available, I understand.

MR. HANRATTY: We have already provided a copy of the full document.

THE CHAIRPERSON: That's grand, thank you very much.

Part Two to follow


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