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Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Physical abuse


The Board was conscious of potential difficulty and embarrassment. Other teachers could be expected to support Mr Ashe, notwithstanding the history of complaints and incidents. There was also the matter of the Principal’s own history, which is dealt with below: There are some points that could be made to look awkward for Br Ames, eg. that a pupil went to the Garda station to complain about Br Ames, and the Gardai came down to meet him.


The Board’s solicitors advised that Mr Ashe should be dismissed, and approved a proposal to terminate his employment at the end of the school year. The Chairman, Br Noyes, wrote to Mr Ashe, stating that the allegations of physical abuse were ‘well founded’ and therefore justified his dismissal from the School. However, he urged Mr Ashe to take the option of resigning: This should help you in your future career. A reference could be furnished as I am sure you could get on well in another type of school. I just do not think you are suitable to a special school such as St. Joseph’s.


Br Noyes also wrote to the Patron of the School, the Archbishop of Dublin, seeking his permission to dismiss Mr Ashe, but the Archbishop refused. In a letter he said: The matter was investigated on my behalf by [the parish priest]. [The parish priest] has given me a full report on the case. Having studied the documentation and report, I am not prepared to give my permission to the Board of Management to give notice of dismissal to Mr Ashe at the present time.


The Priest appointed by the Archbishop held meetings with Mr Ashe and the Board of Management separately. He advised the Archbishop as follows: Having consulted with the Education Secretariat and [a Solicitor], I have come to the conclusion that the permission sought by the Board of Management of St. Joseph’s to dismiss Mr. Ashe should not be granted. The case made against Mr. Ashe does not warrant dismissal and would probably not stand up to testing in court. It is generally agreed, however, that Mr. Ashe would be better suited to teaching in an ordinary second-level school or at third level. In view of this and of the poor relationship between Mr. Ashe and the Principal of the school, every effort should be made to assist Mr. Ashe in finding alternative employment as soon as possible. The attempt should be also made to establish better relations between Mr. Ashe and Brother Ames for as long as Mr. Ashe is in the school. That might be for some considerable time due to the general employment situation for teachers.


In a replying letter, the Chairman of the Board of Management stated that the Board, whilst accepting the decision of the Archbishop, was concerned about this teacher remaining on in the School.


As a result of the Archbishop’s decision, Mr Ashe remained in the School. However, the concerns of the Board of Management were justified, as two further allegations of physical abuse were made against Mr Ashe the following year. A parent wrote to the Chairman of the Board of Management complaining that Mr Ashe had punched his son twice in the stomach. A month later, another teacher witnessed Mr Ashe physically assaulting a boy in a classroom. Both incidents were reported to the Principal, Br Ames, who carried out an investigation by interviewing relevant witnesses. He received no co-operation from Mr Ashe. Following his investigation, Br Ames informed Mr Ashe in a letter that he would be dismissed if he again breached the rules of the Department.


Br Ames wrote to a Priest in the Education Secretariat of Archbishop’s House recalling the representations that had been made the previous year and reporting ‘a repetition of the same kind of behaviour this year’. He enclosed documentation ‘on this years crop’ and commented: ‘Once again the Board are powerless’. Although he had written to Mr Ashe, he had received no response, and on the advice of the FUE [an employers’ organisation], that the case would not stand up in court, he said that: We are wondering if this is to go on for ever with no come back? We think that the Patron must issue a final warning to this man as it is he will have to consent to the dismissal. Is this kind of behaviour acceptable to the Patron?


The Priest replied on behalf of the Archbishop and expressed his dismay with the continuing problems with Mr Ashe. He pointed out: ‘The Patron becomes involved directly in the situation only if the Board of Management wishes to proceed with dismissal. Although he would be concerned that proper professional standards be maintained by all teachers, it would not be proper for him to communicate with an individual teacher.’ He noted that Mr Ashe had been issued with a formal warning and added: ‘I am sure you will continue to look for his explanation of the incidents in the school. I would be glad to be kept informed of any developments’.


Around this time, Br Ames wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Education informing him of these incidents. He also sought advice from the Department in dealing with Mr Ashe, as the Board of Management ‘find that they are helpless’. Within the Department, Br Ames’s letter was referred from the Special Education section to the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Branch for the following reason: as your section has a file regarding this case, perhaps, R and I could examine this whole issue with a view to arriving at a solution acceptable to all concerned.


There is no information on the file regarding the solution reached, if any.


The Commission sought records from the Department of Education and any report which arose out of an investigation of complaints into Mr Ashe during the 1980s, as no such records had been furnished in discovery. The Department stated that these records were contained in a numbered file but ‘the file cannot be located’. They added that ‘the earliest records of complaints held by this Department regarding Mr Ashe relate to incidents in 1985’, but this file does not contain any information as to the action taken by the Department. The Christian Brothers in their Submission claimed that ‘management clearly sought’ to have Mr Ashe ‘removed from his employment but this was not possible as the Patron of the school did not give his consent’.


Mr Ashe taught for over 20 years in the School. As to the circumstances in which he came to St Joseph’s, a Board minute in the 1980s noted that he was taken on by Br Noyes and that ‘Later he found out that he was unsatisfactory in two other schools although he was satisfactory for one year in St Joseph’s’, which implies that references were not obtained prior to his engagement.


This case is disturbing, particularly the handling of it by the Department and the Archbishop. The Department’s investigation file on this teacher is missing. There is no information available as to the outcome of the Department’s investigation, or indeed if the Department even conducted an investigation. Despite numerous complaints of physical abuse, Mr Ashe continued teaching in the School for an additional 15 years. The decision of the Board of Management to dismiss him was overridden by the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Department of Education, it seems, took no action.


It appears from correspondence in the early 1980s that Br Ames believed he and other school staff were entitled to resort to physical chastisement when occasion required. In the course of a reply to a parent’s letter complaining about physical abuse by another Brother, Br Ames admitted hitting the boy himself for what he thought was good reason: ‘We must look at the case realistically’. He said that the boy was ‘by no means an easy boy to manage’ and at times he ‘found it necessary to give him a good “clip” and I make no apology for this as I have been put to the end of my tether with him’.


The unfortunate boy who was treated in this fashion by the staff fared no better with his fellow pupils. The boy’s father complained again to Br Ames, some two years later, that his son was being bullied by other boys in the School because of his religion, displaying acceptance of a prejudice that should have been wholly unacceptable to the management of the School: As [the boy] has been the only boarder of his religion; it is understandable that certain pupils would give him a hard time. He has had his hair torn out by the root, his clothes taken from his locker and his head battered against a wall necessitating us taking him to [hospital] for a brain scan to ascertain any permanent damage to his skull.

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