Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Physical abuse


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.


It appears from the Visitation Reports that Br Ames was not very popular with the staff at the School, but it is not apparent whether this had anything to do with his treatment of the boys. The Visitor in the late 1980s said: Brother Ames has made an enormous contribution to the development at Cabra. It is most regrettable that relationships with the staff have broken down. I do not believe that he has any adequate realisation of the impact of some of his behaviour on those for whom he is responsible. For his own sake and that of others, he ought not to remain in Cabra.


Br Ames did in fact leave the School in the late 1980s. The Christian Brothers in their Submission of 2006 said: The fact of a manager being of a dour disposition does not of itself support the veracity of any allegation of physical abuse made against him. Before being posted to Cabra, Br Ames had been appointed as Manager in [an] Industrial School where he introduced many changes and innovations. Allegation against an Assistant House Parent, Mr O’Sullivan4


In the mid-1990s, a pupil made a number of allegations of physical abuse against his Assistant House Parent, Mr O’Sullivan, who had worked in the School for many years. The allegations, which were made to an Eastern Health Board social worker, were that Mr O’Sullivan hit him with a fish slice, caught him under the chin and attempted to lift him off the ground, had kicked him and twisted his arm. He also alleged that Mr O’Sullivan was rough with the boys, would twist their arms and was cruel to the younger boys and had thrown a cup at a boy. The boy who made the complaints had been resident in the School for a period of three years but, at the time of making the allegations, was a day pupil.


The social worker informed the Director of Residential Care, Mr Gallagher,5 who requested that the allegations be put in writing, which was duly done by letter. The Principal, Br Grissel,6 and Mr Gallagher interviewed the boy who made the allegations and Mr O’Sullivan, who denied the allegations. They decided to suspend Mr O’Sullivan on full pay, pending further investigation and inquiries into the allegations. It was intended that he would be suspended for a period of one week; however, this suspension continued for approximately one month. During the internal investigation, six staff members and 13 boys were interviewed.


A meeting was held in which the findings of the internal investigation were revealed to Mr O’Sullivan. The findings were: (1) Mr O’Sullivan was rough and cruel with the smaller boys; (2) he shouted at them and twisted their arms; (3) several boys had witnessed him hitting the boy with a fish slice; (4) he had a habit of grabbing children under the chin and lifting them up; and (5) he had a habit of throwing cups at children expecting them to catch them during wash up. In addition, Management was of the view that: Generally there were certain underlying themes coming forward some in relation to roughness with smaller boys and a kind of mocking, teasing attitude which in some cases was seen as cruel.

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