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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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On the impossibility of change


In the discovery from the Department of Education, an interesting document emerged in correspondence written after a deputation from Daingean had gone to see the Minister for Education. During the war, large numbers of boys had been sent to Daingean, filling the School to its capacity of 250 boys. When the war ended, numbers began to fall dramatically and, on 2nd March 1950, Fr Ricardo, Superior General of the Oblate Congregation, and Fr Pedro, Resident Manager of Daingean, met with the Minister for Education and his team to discuss the problem of reduced numbers in Daingean. The Oblates made the following points: 1.The chances of a boy’s reform are in inverse proportion to the number of chances given to the boy by the District Justice. Every new offence contributes to habit, and boys are now under the impression they have a right to be let off three times under the First Offenders Act. They wanted the Department of Justice to be brought into discussions to make the District Justice aware of an agreed plan, and make him “inclined to commit the boys for a period that would suit the course”. 2.The falling numbers meant falling income under the capitation system. They wanted a grant on a sliding scale once the numbers fell below 200. 3.Father Ricardo stated he would like to be able to appoint a special priest to deal with the children during their recreation period. 4.Father Pedro stated that the two-year period of detention is scarcely long enough to train boys properly in preparation for trades.


On 29th April 1950, the Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools drafted a reply to all these points to his colleague in the Department. The letter contained forthright criticism of the reformatory school system, which can be summarised as follows: (1)Reformatory schools did not fulfil the purpose for which they were established. There was something wrong in the system. (2)The need for a special priest in a reformatory was not even worth discussing, as such a man did not fit the bill. (3)Boys should not be retained longer for the type of training they receive at Daingean, as it was not going to prepare them for trades. Such a suggestion, he opined, might have been made to increase the income of the Institution. (4)Vocational school training was more appropriate to the needs of the boys, and more teachers of woodwork and metalwork were needed. (5)The Oblates needed to be educated as much as the boys, as they knew little about the value of practical subjects or the training of boys. (6)The authorities of the industrial schools were no better, and they would only be convinced of the need for change by example, and changing the Reformatory may do that.


These criticisms were made in 1950, yet the industrial and reformatory schools continued to function as they had always done, until the Kennedy Report in 1970 forced them to change or close down. A key question is why the Department of Education was unable to adopt this approach as its policy.


It is clear from this memorandum that the Department felt it was the Orders that were resisting change, while in the 1960s Fr Luca believed the Government Departments were to blame for stifling innovative thinking.


In their General Statement, the Oblates quoted from Patrick Clancy’s article, ‘Education Policy’, on this matter.38 He wrote: Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Irish education system is the level of church involvement and control. Church control of education is rooted in the ownership and management of schools. After independence in 1922, the new state institutionalized the denominational school system which it inherited. Successive ministers of education adopted the view that the role of the state in education was a subsidiary one of aiding agencies such as the churches in the provision of educational facilities. The classic expression of this position is outlined in Minister of Education, Richard Mulcahy’s speech to Dáil Éireann in 1956: ‘Deputy Moylan has asked me to philosophise, to give my views on educational technique or educational practice. I do not regard that as my function in the Department of Education in the circumstances of the educational set-up in this country. You have your teachers, your managers and your Churches and I regard the position as Minister in the Department of Education as a kind of dungaree man, the plumber who will make the satisfactory communications and streamline the forces and potentialities of educational workers and educational management in this country. He will take the knock out of the pipes and will link up everything’. (Dáil Debates, 159: 1494).


The State left the management of the School to the Oblates but, under the special agreement made when the Oblates moved the Reformatory from Glencree to Daingean, the Department of Education owned the building, and had to pay for large-scale maintenance and any new buildings erected on the site. Thus, the Oblates could claim, in their General Statement, ‘It would be unreal therefore to see the State as distanced from direct responsibility for the school’.


The Oblates also asserted: Given the nature of the work, the fact of State ownership of the property, the fact that the school depended on State funding, and the many appeals for help from the school administration, responsibility for the state of the living conditions in the school and its lack of facilities as described must lie primarily with the State.


It was true that the State had made the unprecedented decision to take responsibility for the buildings and maintenance, but general upkeep, cleanliness, clothing, bedding and supervision of the boys were the responsibility of the Oblates. As Dr Lysaght observed, the boys were dirtier, their clothes were more tattered, and the beds were less satisfactory than in other institutions. It was this kind of neglect that also struck the members of the Kennedy Committee. Both the State and the Oblates had allowed conditions to deteriorate so far that closure of the School was inevitable. With neither side taking responsibility for policy, or indeed for the care of the boys sent to Daingean, matters had just drifted until the Kennedy Report forced a decision to be made. The General Statement submitted by the Oblates described the characteristics of the care offered in Daingean. Each of the 13 points [see list at 11.24 above] raised by them can now be examined in the light of the information received by the Committee. 1. A substantial staff, mostly religious Brothers and priests but lay staff too


Staff numbers were inadequate in Daingean, and this placed serious strains on the Brothers and priests actively engaged in the work there. 2. A well-established administrative structure


An inadequate level of staffing led to an inadequate administrative structure. Resident Managers and Prefects had numerous time-consuming duties.


There were, in short, delegated responsibilities, but no supervision, no checks to ensure that regulations were being adhered to. 3. A remedial educational programme


There was effectively no primary school education for the boys in Daingean. One or two lay teachers catered for the primary educational needs of the entire population of boys for most of the period under review. Up to 50 percent of the boys in Daingean were not receiving any formal education right up until the late 1960s, but instead were engaged in hard manual labour on the farm and bog. 4. Vocational training in various trades and occupations


By their own assessment, the Oblates did not provide vocational training in various trades and occupations. Over half the boys spent their time working on the farm and bog. 5. A routine of instruction and work


As pointed out, there was very little instruction because of shortage of staff. There was a work routine: the boys would rise at 6.45 , wash and go to Mass, have 15 minutes for recreation and then eat breakfast. At 9.30 am, they would fall in, split up into their respective groups and then go to work. Over half went to work on the farm; others went to the bog, or the garden; others to the boot-makers, carpenters, printers, refectory, kitchen and laundry. There was also the band, spoken of by one witness. Another witness told the Committee it was ‘child labour’. None of them saw it as a daily routine of instruction. 6. The assignment of the boys to a Brother in a school/training group and whose task it was to integrate the newcomer into the life of the School


Not one witness spoke of being assigned to a Brother. Most of them spoke of being on their own. 7. The separation of juniors from seniors

  1. This is the English version of Tomás O Deirg.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
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  6. This is the Irish version of Sugrue.
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  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.