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.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Women's Chins and Trouser Pockets

Q. Can we move on then to the issue of education. You have already described how the boys would have done their Primary Certificate and they were educated. You talk then in your submission about the teacher numbers and you say:

"In accordance with the Department of Education rules the number of teachers on the primary school staff was determined by the number of pupils on the roll."

There is a table there. You say:

"The staff number increased from three to four in 1939 and remained so until 1955 when, because of the reduced enrollment, it was reduced to three."

Then the number went up again to four in 1961, I think, and was more or less unchanged until 1973?

A. Yes. Just about the educational standards reached in the school, I think visitors reporting on the educational standards are quite praiseworthy. It says on page 60 there, it says:

"The boys here are very backward due to previous environmental circumstances rather than to lack of ability. Progress, therefore, is initially very slow and of little benefit to those who spent but a short time here. Those spending a longer time show much improvement and interest in class work."

The Tuairim Report talked about how one boy who had been admitted at the age of 10 had spent a total of two days in school in his life. Despite that many of the boys reached the sixth standard and took their Primary Cert. Again just to highlight that the standard of the Primary Certificate was considered quite high and an important exam for young people as they faced the workplace. A lot wouldn't have gone to secondary school education. You will see there in table 8, you have 1943 to '67 when the Primary Cert was stopped. You have the number of boys in the class in each year, then the number presented for the exam. Now, a lot of schools in fact didn't reveal how many boys or girls in fact were in the class, they just give the results, 25 got their results. What we are showing here is that we have the class numbers and the number of people who sat the exam. So the percentage pass rate is reflecting not the people who sat the exam but the people who actually were in the class itself.

Q. How many of the boys, what percentage of the boys would have done the exam?

A. You have it there. In sixth class in 1943 there were seven in the class.

Q. How many were in the school?

A. In the school it would have gone from primary one to primary seven so there would have been a variety of numbers in each of the years. In sixth class of that year there were those small numbers so it was a small number in each of the classes.

Q. Would all boys be expected to get up to sixth standard?

A. When a boy reached the age of 14 if he was in sixth class and didn't get the exam he then went to trades. So every boy under the age of 14 would have been expected to sit the exam.

Q. I see. Can we look at the issue of staff training?

A. Yes.

Q. You say the recognised staff included a lay teacher up to 1940, otherwise the staff consisted entirely of Christian Brothers.

A. Yes.

Q. You describe then that they would have been either the holders of the national teacher qualification of St. Mary's Christian Brothers Training College, Marino, Dublin or had completed one year of the course and by arrangement with the Department of Education under the Monastic Capitation Scheme of obtaining practical teaching experience prior to returning to training college?

A. Yes. In actual fact normal teachers training nowadays involves a student going to a training college and spending say three years or four years training during which they do short periods of teacher training practice out in a school. The Christian Brothers in the early 1940's and maybe earlier thought that a better way was where a brother did a year's training in a college and got the basics of teaching and then went out and had a few years experience teaching. Then came back after two, three or four years and did the second year training. It was a two year training period. They had the benefit of practical experience in the classroom. When they came back for their second year they had all the experience so when the teacher, the professor was giving the theory they could apply that to very practical experience of the years that they were out. With regard to brothers in Letterfrack, some of the brothers would have finished their training totally. Other brothers would have done the first year, gone out teaching, done their second year and were now under probation because following the two year training there was a year's probation after that so some of them would be in that category and others would have been brothers who having finished their first year would be there in Letterfrack, chosen because it was felt they were suitable for it, have had experience there and then gone back to second year training.

Q. Could I just ask you about another aspect of training which isn't teacher training, but the sort of training Christian Brothers would have got themselves in a general way to inform them. There is a paper which was written by a former brother and I have to say he is a brother who has been convicted of sexual assault on pupils in Letterfrack which is entitled "Memories of Letterfrack." He is trying to deal with his concept of the Christian Brother mentality of the late 1960's. In the course of this article he talks about how they were trained, it's going up there on the screen. He says in the first paragraph that:

"There was a regimental attitude to body functions and the oppressive ban on friendships."

He talks, without going into details there, that even such mundane bodily functions as urination and defecation were controlled and you could only use certain toilets, of how, when you were having a shower, there was an enormous military regime in place and then a moment's silence when you recited a prayer before bath to protect us from any form of bad thoughts or immodest touches. The showers were conducted in silence. He describes how friendships with other postulants or recruits as he called them were actively discouraged, that boys who were trained to be brothers would be moved even in the refectory if they were showing any friendship towards people, that they were told to avoid contact. They were totally to exclude female company and to avoid women especially their mothers and only to look at a woman's chin when she was talking and never into her face and eyes. Now, first of all, do you have any general comment to make on whether this regime that he describes as a form of training for Christian Brothers is accurate or not?

A. First of all, I would have to say that I don't think it's accurate.

Q. In what way?

A. The first thing, I think this document was written as a Garda response to serious allegations of abuse. In my view this is trying to justify the abuse that took place. I was in training around the same time as this brother, a year or two after. I think it's preposterous what he is saying.

Q. Are you saying then that there was no protocol in place to admonish brothers against forming any sort of close relationship with another brother?

A. I think there were a number of things. I think it's probably quite a complex thing. A lot of the young people joining the brothers at this time would have been very young, they would have been probably 15/16. It's a time psychologically where the whole homosexual dimension of sexual formation becomes -- it's a sort of latent period of sexual homosexuality. Obviously the people in authority were aware of that so they were taking normal precautions that there wouldn't be active sexual activity in a boarding school, which unfortunately there is or can be in boarding schools. That was one thing. The second thing was when brothers take a vow of celibacy they take a vow to extend their love to all people rather than focussing on a partner so their work and their ministry and so on is to all people. It was highlighted in our formation that we are not here to form close and intimate relationships with people.

Q. Do you think the training went so far as to actively discourage you to form any forms of friendships. I am not talking about improper friendships but friendships generally?

A. I would say that there was a tendency to do that. I would also say that a lot of brothers survived very well and formed very firm and strong relationships, but there was an awareness that brothers could develop relationships that were not healthy.

Q. I understand that, but I am just wondering if the training, when you look back on it now, perhaps had inherent dangers in it in terms of being able to relate to people for some brothers, would you have view on that?

A. I think all people have difficulty of relating or can have difficulties of relating. I went through the same sort of system which he describes in a way that I wouldn't accept.

Q. Is it the way he describes it or are you saying that the training didn't encompass these things. For example, being advised to sow up your trouser pockets?

A. That's untrue.

Q. Hands in pockets was regarded as a danger to chastity?

A. It is ridiculous.

Q. You were never told that?

A. Never. There are lots of things in that document that are totally off the wall. It's sad to see reading them and it would seem to me when you compare this document written when the unfortunate brother or former brother was accused of abuse is writing this and when you compare that to the document he wrote when he was actually in Letterfrack where he describes the work of the brothers and I refer you to the ...(INTERJECTION)

Q. This is the "The Cause for Concern" document?

A. Yes, I refer you to, I just haven't got it to hand here, but the last paragraph, in fact the last page of that, maybe if I can get it.

Q. We will put that up on the screen. I just want to make sure there is no names in it now. In fact, Chairman, there are too many names in this.

A. I will just read a few sections.

Q. If you could omit the names please.

A. This is a brother who was in Letterfrack, very competent guy, but has serious allegations of abuse against him. His final paragraph says: "Let's hope that the gates of St. Joseph's Letterfrack will remain open to the underprivileged and closed to the auctioneers as a summary comment." He talks further on up at the second paragraph of page 47: "The Christian Brother's ability to impart this sound Catholic education qualifies them for working with underprivileged children. Many of the boys who were sent to the institute conducted by the congregation benefit greatly from the training they get so much so that when they return home they lead lives much different from the career of crime that they originally embarked upon." Then I refer to page 45 where it talks about the weight and so on of the boys. It says: "The remarkable difference is I think a tribute to the Christian Brothers who by their tradition for sound learning and progress succeeded in mitigating much of the backwardness in the children sent to their industrial schools. Without this tradition the figure for backwardness would be as high as that for reformatory schools, none of which are run by us." Maybe just to highlight that this document is pointing out the very valuable contribution of the brothers and this young man was pointing to all that was positive in the school. This second document "Memories of Letterfrack" written for the Garda , he is in my view trying to explain the reason for child abuse. It is unfortunate that child abuse cannot be justified just by what a person would consider inadequate formation.

Q. Can I just ask you in what context was the "Cause for Concern" document written?

A. The "Cause for Concern" document seems to have been written for a chapter that was coming where he felt that reformatory schools or industrial schools were going to be closed. He felt that there was need for this type of education for boys who were wayward. His cause for concern was that the work of Edmund Rice which started off, he has a question here on page 1: "The cause of Edmund Rice which was for young people and poor children would be neglected." He says: "Are we witnessing the complete shut down of institutes for underprivileged children. Who is responsible? Questions such as these cannot be answered satisfactorily." What he is saying is the cause for concern is that there was need for a type of education for these children and the danger was that we were going to close them.

Q. Do you know when that document was written?

A. My understanding is, I remember myself reading it about 1970 so I think it would have been written in probably '69. I remember years ago reading it and feeling that that was an interesting document.

Q. Can I invite you to look at a document I am going to put up on the screen by a same author which was dated September 1972. At the top of the page there he deals with lack of trained brothers: "Brothers come here fresh and green from normal schools quite unprepared for what they meet here. When faced with awkward situations they do not know how to react. Such changes have been disastrous. Brothers coming here need training in delinquent care." Now, I accept that's a slightly different issue, but do you feel that when you look at the entire nature of the training that the brothers were well prepared to deal with young boys in a residential institution like St. Joseph's Letterfrack?

A. Well, I suppose what I would say is this: Brothers were trained to be teachers. There was no training for residential child care. There was no State training, there was no State funding. There was no courses on. I think the first course in child care, serious course, was in Kilkenny in 1970 and one of our brothers went on that course when it started. There wasn't any form of child care formation. There were occasional day courses or day seminars in child care in the 1950's, but other than that there was no proper training available and certainly no funding for it. I would say the brothers who went to these institutions were chosen specially, a lot of them were of the highest calibre. There were some who unfortunately were found to have abused. I suppose it's particularly concerning that brothers who were not trained; in other words, a brother who was say a kitchen brother or a non-teaching brother probably hadn't the same sort of training that a teaching brother had -- well, he hadn't -- and maybe, therefore, hadn't that same appreciation for the ministry of care to young people that a brother would have had.

MR. McGOVERN: Chairman, I am about to move on to another topics.

THE CHAIRPERSON: I was just going to let you go until we finished a particular topic. Shall we say 2:00. Thank you very much.


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