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 2 Education

Q. MR. McGOVERN: If we move on to the question of education. I think from 1936 onwards the syllabus and curriculum were offered in the primary school attached to St. Joseph's in Letterfrack?
A. Yes. From 1926 onwards the syllabus as I say was the rules and regulations for the primary school. So all boys under the age of 14 would have had classes Monday to Friday, 183 days a year. Then those boys on reaching the age of 14 who had already finished their sixth class would then have moved into full-time work in learning a trade.

Q. Yes.
A. Then those who were in sixth class, and they might have been 14, because when they arrived in Letterfrack they were put in the class that best suited their ability. It wasn't according to age. You could have had a boy of 14 in fifth class or fourth class if that was the ability when he arrived. When they arrived at sixth class and if we were 14 and weren't going to succeed in that class well then it was considered that they should go into the trade regardless.

Q. Yes. I think the numbers then in the primary school on the roll averaged between 140 in the years '36 to '53 and then peaked at 176 in 1943?
A. Correct, yes. Then from '54 onwards it would have been a smaller group. I will deal with the education later on.

Q. Moving on to the next section of your submission which deals with management and administration. I think you refer to different types of administration, there was Government administration, local management and then you deal with various forms of inspections that would have taken place. Now, in terms of Government administration, I think the Department of Local Government and later the Department of Justice became responsible for the administration of industrial schools?
A. Yes. It's quite interesting to look at the level of inspections that were taking place in the school, the institution of Letterfrack. You had the reformatory and industrial school branch of the Department of Education and they were responsible for the management of the industrial and reformatory schools so you had that sort of level of inspection where the school was inspected as a reformatory school.

Q. Yes, but just to explain how that came about. I think that under the Minister and Secretaries Act of 1924 the task which had been entrusted to the Department of Justice then passed on to the Department of Education?
A. Correct.

Q. I think both the Department of Justice and Education maintained a responsibility for industrial schools?
A. Yes. They would have been sent through the courts so the Department of Justice had that role in the committal of young people to the institutions and it was following the Secretaries Act of 1924 where the Department of Education then became involved and became involved at two levels. It became involved inspecting the institution from a reformatory and industrial school side and also then from the primary school and the standards achieved in the primary school. In terms of the inspection from the industrial school branch, often you will see Dr. McCabe mentioned very often talking about the annual visits done to Letterfrack and Mr. Sugrue making the visits from 1950 to '60.

Q. Yes.
A. I think the visits from the Department of Education were quite inadequate. The Kennedy Report of 1970 points out that a very inadequate system of inspection in Ireland existed because of lack of personnel where only one person was employed by the Department of Education. I have an overhead which shows the report that they wrote following the inspection. You will see from that that it's a quite summary document where simply talking about the food or talking about the standard they would use the word "satisfactory", "needs to be improved" and so on. It took place probably during a day and after the report it was lodged with the Department of Education, but there doesn't seem to have been any feedback to the institution itself other than a verbal feedback. In the annals at the time there are comments saying the inspector from the reformatory and industrial schools branch was there on the day and they said everything was satisfactory. There was no indication that a communication was sent from the Department to the school and certainly not to the leadership of the congregation. There was one or two cases where if there was somebody who they saw had been physically hit they wrote a letter saying they want to find out why that happened so at least there was that level of inspection.

Q. There was also inspection from the leadership of the congregation, I think?
A. Yes. Well, before that there was the inspection of the primary school branch. That was done on an annual basis again. It was particularly done, there were two types, there was a general inspection which looked at the overall performance of each teacher. The inspection at that level would have looked at how each subject was being taught, the level of expertise of the teacher, the efficacy of the teaching and they would have drawn up a general report. We have one or two of them, but they don't seem to be available.

Q. Yes.
A. I am not sure why but they are not available to us anyway. The inspector would have looked at the monthly progress report, the annual scheme of the brothers, who were the teachers there, and a detailed assessment particularly of teachers who were on probation. Every teacher having done national training was on a probationary period and the inspector could turn up at any time without announcing and see how the progress was going in the classroom.

Q. Do you have a view as to the adequacy of these reports?
A. We don't have very many of them. We have one of them. They seem to have simply the word "satisfactory" or "s s l" and that's it or maybe a few comments. There was one inspector who was famous for his harshness in terms of judgment. He visited in the 60's and was quite critical of the two brothers who were teaching there. However, the results at the end of the year seemed to indicate that the brothers had done quite well.

Q. What was the nature of his criticism?
A. Their professionalism, standard of teaching, ability to impart the information to the children. They were the two inspections, if you like, the one on the industrial and reformatory school and the other one on the primary school. I come now to the leadership.

Q. I think there were inspections from the leadership of the congregation and these were known as visitation reports?
A. The visitation reports, and again maybe I would just show an example of them. You won't be able to read them, but it is just to give you an idea. There are about five pages there, closely typed pages. Maybe just to explain what happened at a visitation by the leadership team of the congregation. They would have arrived, announced their arrival. They would have stayed for about five or six days, well anything up to five or six days.

Q. Sorry to cut across you, when you say they would have "announced their arrival", was that when they arrived or in advance?
A. No, in advance. They would have informed the Manager or the Superior that they would be arriving. Often that was to make sure that they had a bed and so on.

Q. Would that have alerted people to have everything looking shipshape?
A. Well, I would hope so. I suppose just looking at what happened during visitation I think would give you a flavour of what went on. Every brother who worked in Letterfrack at the time would have had a private interview with the visitor. The visitor would have asked him how he thought the school was being run, he would have asked him about how the Superior was running the school, the Resident Manager, he would have asked about the level of religious observance in the community. He would have asked about the level of attendance at religious exercises. It was a very detailed examination through personal interviews with the brothers. He would then have visited the school. He would have stayed in classes and watched the teachers teaching. He would have looked at the maintenance of the buildings. He wrote quite detailed reports if he thought that some of the buildings needed repair. He went into the finances and organisation of the running of the institution. He talked to the boys individually and in great freedom over the six days. When he had done all that having spent six days, he lived with the brothers, he would have watched the food that the children were getting so he would have had an extremely good idea of what was going on in Letterfrack at the time. He would then have written this detailed report that you have seen and that would have been sent to the Province Leader at the time. They would have met then and discussed Letterfrack as a team if there were any issues of concern.

Q. Can I ask you if any of these visitation reports show that any boys who would have been interviewed ever complained of physical or sexual or other abuse?
A. Well, I think I will leave it until I come to the instances of sexual abuse and physical abuse. In short I suppose the answer would be that other than the complaints that we have in our report there weren't.

Q. Did these come in any way through visitation reports?
A. No. In terms of talking to the boys at the time, there was no indication that sexual abuse or physical abuse was taking place. They may have heard from brothers that a brother was harsh and that needed to
be looked at and that may have happened.

Q. I see.
A. When the leadership discussed the findings of the brother who had visited Letterfrack, a communication would have been sent then to the general leadership of the congregation and the general leadership of the congregation would have got a copy of that report and sometimes the general leadership would write back to the province leadership and say 'look, you are going to have to look at this issue or that issue'. Then subsequent to that a letter was sent from the province leadership back to Letterfrack so you would have again a letter there which shows a letter was written to the institution outlining the positive things about the school but indicating things that needed improvement.

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