Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Sexual abuse


Arrangements were for the screening and assessment of pupils at St Joseph’s who it was felt could have been the subject of sexual abuse by Mr Moore. This was a slow and lengthy process. At the same time, the Eastern Health Board conducted an inquiry into the allegations, and a Garda investigation was also underway which continued early into the next year. Approximately two months after the investigations commenced, Mr Moore was dismissed from his employment.


There was a delay in actually commencing the screening process of past and present pupils at St Joseph’s, which was to be conducted by the social workers of the Eastern Health Board together with a member of staff at Cabra. The St Clare’s team had stressed the need to begin the screening process quickly. However, the minutes of a case conference held following the dismissal of Mr Moore noted that the screening process had not begun and parents had not even been informed at that stage, some five months after the initial complaint of sexual abuse had been made. The screening process began shortly after this case conference. Initially, 17 boys were screened. However, further screenings took place and were expanded to include past and present pupils of the School, which resulted in 70 boys being screened.


There were communication problems and poor organisation. There was a lack of co-operation between the Eastern Health Board, the Gardaí, St Clare’s and the authorities at Cabra. At one point, criticisms were levelled against the management of Cabra by the Eastern Health Board on these grounds. It was stated that the senior social worker and his assistant and the St Clare’s Unit were ‘not getting full co-operation from St Joseph’s, Cabra, especially from the Principal’. This was challenged by the Congregation at a subsequent meeting, and it was acknowledged that there had been co-operation from management, but that there had been difficulties and differences of opinion. It was raised at a meeting that there had been a lack of communication with the parents and the setting-up of an independent inquiry was discussed. Some parents were upset by the delays in informing them and there was a lack of clarity as to who should inform them. The issue of peer abuse and its prevalence in the School was raised and it was stated that ‘there was evidence of a kind of culture of abuse having developed in St Joseph’s among the boys themselves’ which had to be dealt with. Br Grissel wrote a letter defending his actions in the handling of the investigation, stating that there had been full co-operation from him and his staff.


The case was reported in the media and the investigations then took on a more urgent role; two teams worked in tandem at St Clare’s to assess the boys, extra staff were involved at St Joseph’s in carrying out the screening process, and extra Gardaí were recruited to assist in conducting the interviews with staff and pupils of the School. A treatment programme was also devised by the Eastern Health Board for pupils affected. Staff training was also mooted and there was counselling for staff affected by the issues. A total of 11 case conferences were held over a 12-month period.


In the course of the investigation into Mr Moore, allegations were made against a Christian Brother, Br Farber, who had been on the staff of Cabra since the late 1950s, by one of the boys who had been assessed. Allegations were also made by an ex-pupil who wished to remain anonymous.


Sr Clarke reported that she had met with the past pupil who was prepared to ‘come forward in relation to allegations against Br Farber’. In the report of the Health Board, two allegations of sexual abuse were recorded against Br Farber. Br Farber did not return to Cabra.


Given that the allegations against Br Farber arose in the course of the investigation into Mr Moore, it seems extraordinary that no similar investigation was conducted into Br Farber by either the Congregation or the State agencies.


In 1994, the Christian Brothers commissioned a review of the management structures, care practices, care programmes, administrative practices, staff selection, training, deployment, supervision and liaison with teaching staff and parents. An interim report was issued followed this review. One of the issues identified in the report was the lack of reporting and communication structure between teachers in the School and the care staff of the residential units regarding each child. Problems were also noted in communicating information to parents. It was recommended that the Director of Residential Care should be the conduit for liaising and communicating information regarding children. The report said that there was a lack of information about children on admission to the School. It was also recommended that care staff should have professional qualifications, which was something that had previously been recommended in a 1977 report by the Department of Education on the Education of Physically Handicapped Children. The unsuitability of mixing younger children with older children in residences was also raised. Other recommendations included staff training programmes, care programmes geared towards the particular needs of younger children, and staff counselling. The issue of sexual abuse was not addressed in this report.


A few months later, the Eastern Health Board produced two reports. The first dealt with complaints about staff at the School, and the second with observations on the management and operation of the residential units. The first report catalogued complaints against members of staff that came to light during the course of the investigation, but it did not come to any findings. The second report identified three main issues of concern: (1) matters of sexuality; (2) communication; and (3) child care issues. With regard to matters of sexuality, the Health Board identified that there was a lack of a clear policy in this area, which they felt could ‘only have contributed to the likelihood of sexual abuse occurring in the units’. This was stated, in particular, with regard to sexual abuse amongst the boys. The report noted that there was a ‘sexualised culture within the school in general’ which they felt could only ‘be shifted by radical and ongoing management and training’. They concluded that institutional abuse had occurred in the School.


The report found that there was a ‘tendency to discredit complainants by, for example, alluding to their personal characteristics or family history’ and continued: Even at the highest level there does not seem to be the skills, or the inclination, to suspend judgement, or even to think it possible that the complainants might be telling the truth. A protocol is required whereby guidelines can be followed in a standard way, regardless of the opinions of the staff, or their line management.


The report pointed out the need for sex education and that a modified version of the ‘Stay Safe Programme’ was also needed. Moreover: As is obvious to everyone by now a guideline for identifying and reporting sexual abuse needs to be implemented and should include the teaching as well as care staff.


The investigators commented that the School was a ‘total institution’, in that it was self-sufficient and divorced from its immediate community, but suggested that much could be done to integrate pupils with the local community. The residential units were completely independent of each other, with no sense of integration between them, which resulted in a ‘hierarchy of deafness where one house can feel superior to another house in which the level of disability may not be equal’.


An added complication with the pupils was that some of them, in addition to being deaf, were also mentally handicapped. The report recognised this as an issue and felt that ‘consideration also needs to be given to the separation of “deafness” from “mental handicapped”’.


The report found communication with parents was poor and liaison with them slow and incomplete. Communication between childcare staff and the Director of Care was also unsatisfactory, because it was ‘formalised on an administrative, rather than a professional basis for instance, rosters, leave etc. will be organised efficiently but there is little evidence of professional supervision or professional accountability’. A problem with communication between management and staff was noted, and staff complained of being ‘kept in the dark’. Lack of communication between one shift of staff and another was found. The relationship between the residential and teaching staff was poor. The Eastern Health Board felt that a formal liaison system needed to be established between both staff groups to discuss matters of mutual concern.


Another disturbing problem of poor communication was the high number of staff members, including those at management level, who did not have sign language. The report commented ‘it seems incredible that so few members of staff can use the language of their clients. There ought to be an in-service training programme for staff’. Even senior management did not have training in sign language and needed to use interpreters.

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