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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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Physical abuse


In a letter written during the course of their deliberations, they gave a lengthy account of numerous aspects of the School, including staffing levels, food, aftercare, health issues and numbers detained in the School. It was clear that the Committee had a number of concerns about Daingean, and met with Mr Thomas O’Floinn, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education. At the conclusion of this meeting, Mr O’Floinn suggested that the matter should be conveyed in writing to the Department for it to be sympathetically considered.


This letter was sent in June 1968. Justice Kennedy stated that the Committee had not formulated final views on Daingean, but felt that immediate interim action should be undertaken to improve conditions, and detailed the following as requiring attention: (1)The premises gave a general impression of grubbiness and required a thorough cleaning. (2)The buildings were cold and interim heating should be provided. (3)The boys were dirty, unwashed with ingrained dirt and verminous hair and their clothing was ill fitting, old and dirty. (4)That the recognition of this School as a special school for the handicapped be given early consideration.


In relation to corporal punishment in Daingean, Justice Kennedy wrote: In the course of discussion with the Committee as a whole, the Resident Manager disclosed that punishment was administered with a leather on the buttocks, when the boys were attired in their night shirts and that at times a boy might be undressed for punishment. At this juncture, the Committee does not wish to elaborate on corporal punishment as such but would urge that the practice of undressing boys for punishment be discontinued. In this regard, attention is invited to the amendment in recent times following the Court Lees18 incident of the British Home Office regulations regarding corporal punishment in Approved Schools which specifies that punishment, if administered on the buttocks, should be applied through the boys’ normal clothing.


Despite numerous reminders, the Department of Education did not reply to this letter until almost a year later, on 22nd May 1969, when they dealt with a number of general matters, but failed to address the corporal punishment issue as raised by the correspondence. Mr Crowe saw this omission and prepared two memoranda concerning corporal punishment in Daingean for the Secretary of the Department of Justice.


Mr Crowe pointed out that Mr O’Floinn, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education, had attended a meeting with the Kennedy Committee that had visited Daingean. During that meeting, Mr O’Floinn remarked ‘... that punishment of the sort disclosed by Fr [Luca] would be regarded as irregular by the Department of Education’. He also said ‘that the complaints of irregular corporal punishment were investigated by his Department but he said that frequently these complaints could not be substantiated’.


Mr Crowe stated at this meeting: I said at this stage and I was supported by other members that what was being brought to his attention in relation to corporal punishment in Daingean did not arise by way of complaint but derived from an open avowal by the Resident Manager of the way in which corporal punishment was administered in the reformatory school.


Mr Crowe stated that Mr O’Floinn invited the Committee to include this matter in the letter to the Department of Education, which was forwarded on 14th June 1968 (as detailed above). This letter did not receive a reply despite numerous reminders until almost a year later, and Mr Crowe expressed concern that the reply ‘... made no reference whatsoever to the particular matter of boys being corporally punished while they were stripped naked’.


The other internal memorandum prepared by Mr Crowe stated that Justice Kennedy, accompanied by most members of the Committee including himself, visited Daingean on 28th February 1968. They made a tour of the buildings and the surroundings, and the Committee members had a general discussion with the Resident Manager of the School, Fr Luca, along with other members of the staff. In the course of this discussion, one of the members enquired about corporal punishment. Fr Luca replied that corporal punishment was administered by one particular member of the staff to whom he assigned disciplinary duties (ie the Prefect). He stated that both doctors on the Committee put a number of questions to Fr Luca about the circumstances of corporal punishment being administered to boys.


According to Mr Crowe, Fr Luca replied ‘openly and without embarrassment that ordinarily the boys were called out of the dormitories after they had retired and that they were punished on one of the stairway landings. The boys wore nightshirts as their sleeping attire and, when called for punishment, would be in their nightshirts only. Punishment was applied on the buttocks with a leather’.


Mr Crowe continued: I put the only question that I asked in respect of corporal punishment at this juncture. I asked if the boys were undressed of their nightshirts when they were punished and Fr. [Luca] replied that at times they were. He elaborated by some further remarks to the effect that the nightshirts were pulled up when this was done. This additional remark was subsequently commented upon by the committee members in private discussion. The point was made that a boy so punished with a leather could hardly be expected to remain still, his struggles were likely to enlarge the extent of his undress and the likelihood that a struggling boy might be struck anywhere on the naked body could not be excluded. Some other committee member asked why he allowed boys to be stripped naked for punishment and he replied, in a matter of fact manner, that he considered punishment to be more humiliating when it was administered in that way.


On 16th April 1970, Mr Berry, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, sent a letter to the Secretary General of the Department of Education. He stated that Mr Crowe had reluctantly signed the ‘Report of the Committee on Reformatory and Industrial Schools’ on 13th April 1970. He then gave Mr Crowe’s reasons for his reservations in signing the report: To sign a report which made no reference to the situation about punishment in Daingean would, in the absence of evidence that the practice had ceased, be to appear to acquiesce in a practice which is indefensible and for the continuance of which the Minister for Justice could not avoid some official responsibility arising out of his having registered Daingean as a suitable place of detention under the Children Acts. On the other hand, to make any reference, however oblique, to this particular method of punishment in Daingean would be likely to lead to a disclosure of the situation and, in this way, to cause a grave public scandal. When the problem was explained by telephone to your Department, it appeared that the request of the Committee about punishment had been overlooked. It was confirmed that punishment of this kind is contrary to the policy of the Minister for Education and an assurance was given that – subject of course to any limitation there may be on the Minister’s powers – action would be taken to stop it in Daingean. In view of this, Mr. Mac Conchradha signed the Report. The Minister is also concerned lest a similar method of punishment may exist in other schools to which children and young persons are sent by the courts and he would be glad if your Department would take whatever steps are open to it to ensure that this is not the case.


The Department of Education replied to the above by letter on 30th April 1970. The letter stated: following on the letter from the Chairman of the Committee of the 14 June, 1968, the Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools had a discussion with the Resident Manager, Rev. [Luca] O.M.I., at which the manager was told that the boys should not be undressed for corporal punishment and that the aim of the management should be to phase out corporal punishment in the institution. At a special meeting with Fr. [Luca] on 21 April, 1970, the manager stated firmly that boys were no longer undressed for corporal punishment and that corporal punishment was being phased out in Daingean ... The omission of reference to the Inspector’s discussion with Father [Luca] from the letter to District Justice Kennedy of 22 May, 1969, is a matter for regret ...


The letter then added: There is one further point to which it is felt reference should be made. Father [Luca] took grave exception to the last sentence of Mr. MacConchradha’s account of his visit to Daingean in which it is alleged that the Manager considered corporal punishment to be more humiliating when administered on the naked body. Father [Luca] has no recollection of making such a remark, the theory of which he asserts is neither in his philosophy nor in his character, nor would he have answered any question by a member of the Committee “in a matter of fact manner” on such an important occasion.


This argument over what had been said became a matter of some lengthy controversy, including letters in the press in attempts to elucidate the matter.


Fr Luca gave evidence before the Investigation Committee on 1st June 2005. He recalled the Kennedy Committee’s visit to Daingean, and said that it was a very bad day for them to arrive as it was Ash Wednesday. The Secretary of the Committee did not come with the others on the visit. He made them as welcome as he could and he did know the reason for their visit. He remembered that he got two days’ notice of their visit and they did not just ‘... land on the doorstep unannounced ...’.

  1. This is the English version of Tomás O Deirg.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
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  6. This is the Irish version of Sugrue.
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  15. This is a pseudonym.
  16. This is the Irish version of Richard Crowe.
  17. This is the English version of Mr MacConchradha.
  18. Allegations of brutal beatings in Court Lees Approved School were made in a letter to The Guardian, and this led to an investigation which reported in 1967 (see Administration of Punishment at Court Lees Approved School (Cmnd 3367, HMSO)) – Known as ‘The Gibbens Report’, it found many of the allegations proven, and in particular that canings of excessive severity did take place on certain occasions, breaking the regulation that caning on the buttocks should be through normal clothing. Some boys had been caned wearing pyjamas. Following this finding, the School was summarily closed down.
  19. This is a pseudonym.
  20. This is the English version of Ó Síochfhradha.
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  26. This was Br Abran.
  27. Organisation that offers therapy to priests and other religious who have developed sexual or drink problems run by The Servants of the Paraclete.
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  35. Board of Works.
  36. Bread and butter.
  37. Board of Works.
  38. Patrick Clancy, ‘Education Policy’, in Suzanne Quinn, Patricia Kennedy, Anne Matthews, Gabriel Kiely (eds), Contemporary Irish Social Policy (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2005), p 79.
  39. This is a pseudonym.