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Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

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The memorandum concluded with the suggestion that the Department entrust the day-to-day management of Marlborough House to a religious Order, in particular the Hospitaller Order of St John of God. It calculated that the cost to the State of such a move would be the same as the present running costs, but the service provided would be better: The advantages are obvious. The whole tone of the establishment would be raised to a very high level. At the worst the boys’ would be catered for, both spiritually and physically, in a far better manner than at present. At the best, the Order might send one of its trained Psychiatrists to take charge.


The Department memorandum added: The Department would have disposed satisfactorily of responsibilities which, in my opinion it should never have undertaken and is, in the nature of things, unable to discharge satisfactorily.


In a subsequent letter to the Department of Finance dated 30th March 1944, the Department of Education referred again to the poor quality of staff: I am directed by the Minister for Education to inform you that the method of running the Place of Detention, formerly located at Summerhill and recently transferred to Marlborough House, Glasnevin, has never been regarded as satisfactory. The management is in the hands of a Superintendent (£50 per annum plus quarters) a Matron, the Superintendent’s wife, (£30 per annum) and three Attendants who receive, approximately, the same pay as messengers in Government Offices. With a staff of this calibre the maximum that can be expected is that the fundamental human needs of the youths detained there should be attended to and that they should be prevented from escaping. No personal reflection is intended on the present staff who are the best we have been able to get for the wages and conditions of service offered ... The Minister for Education is satisfied that this standard is inexcusably low for an Institution of its type which is managed directly by this Department. Public interest in juvenile delinquency and its associated problems has shown a marked increase in recent years. In England and elsewhere young offenders are subjected to observation and treatment by Psychiatrists in special clinics. There is in this country an ever-growing interest in this method of dealing with the problem. The growth of enlightened public interest has thrown into stark relief the already well known shortcomings of the Place of Detention and the Minister is satisfied that the present system cannot be allowed to continue any longer.


They sought sanction from the Department of Finance on 30th March 1944 for their proposal, citing that: After a careful examination of all aspects of the problem it has been decided that the best solution would be to hand the Place of Detention over to a suitably qualified Religious Order.


The Department of Finance, in a replying letter of 12th May 1944, stated there was no justification for transferring the management to a religious Order, as the only criticism against the place of detention was its location: That defect has been remedied by the transfer to Marlborough House, and until you have some experience of the system in new surroundings it seems to be somewhat premature to suggest a change in the manner of management which must, I feel, inevitably entail additional cost to the State.


The Department of Finance believed such an arrangement, could only be economical ‘... if the Place of Detention were grafted on to a larger institution’.


Not to be deterred, the Department of Education wrote again to the Department of Finance on 31st May 1944, setting out detailed reasons for their proposal. In particular, they asserted that ‘The chief consideration is that the Institution should have the best possible influence for reform on the young people who are detained there’. In this regard, they felt that, ‘a few days detention under the right guidance might prevent a subsequent career of law breaking’, which they felt could only be achieved by a religious Order, such as the Hospitaller Order of St John of God. They went on: Regarding your suggestion of grafting the place of detention onto an existing institution for boys conducted by a religious order the only suitable institutions of the kind are the industrial schools at Artane and Carriglea. We have tried repeatedly in the past ten years to get the managers of these schools to take charge of boys under detention or to set aside a small section of their premises for the purpose, but they definitely refuse to do so. I understand that Artane did make an arrangement of the kind many years ago and their experience of the difficulties and trouble involved has decided them against ever touching the matter again.


They concluded that ‘... it is a general experience that for an institution of the kind management by a religious order is more economical than lay management’. On 15th June 1944, the Department of Finance sanctioned ‘in principle’ the proposal to entrust the management of the Institution to a religious Order, but no commitment was to be entered into without the approval of the Department. The Minister of Education wrote to the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr McQuaid, on 4th July 1944, seeking his advice and approval for the proposal: I feel that the time the boys spend in this institution could be turned to much greater advantage if its management could be entrusted to a religious community, whose training could enable them to face the problem presented by the juvenile delinquent.


Archbishop McQuaid replied on 5th July 1944: I shall have the matter examined at once, but you will readily understand that some time will be required, especially at this season, when many persons are absent from the City, before I can give you a completely helpful answer.


No reply was received from the Archbishop, and the Department decided against sending a written reminder to him ‘as it was felt that it would be better to raise the matter verbally with His Grace if opportunity offered’.


It took a decade for the opportunity to present itself again.


On 19th March 1952, the Department of Education again approached the Department of Justice and proposed transferring responsibility for the Institution to it. The Department of Justice rejected the proposal as it would be seen as ‘a retrograde step’ because ‘its transfer to the Department from the Department of Education would result it its being run as a prison rather than as a Juvenile Remand Home’.


In 1955, the proposal to transfer the management to a religious Order was resurrected again. The Department of Education wrote to the Archbishop of Dublin on 8th January 1955, on the basis that the Superintendent was due to retire and the future of the Institution was uncertain and that ‘Your Grace has expressed a desire that the institution should be in the hands of some Religious Order’ and seeking his suggestions. This letter was followed up by a personal visit to the Archbishop on 20th January 1955, by the Minister for Education and the Secretary of the Department, to discuss the proposal and, in particular, the possibility of using Artane Industrial School as a place of detention. However, the Archbishop considered that Artane was unsuitable for this purpose.


The Secretary and the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education continued in their efforts. They met with District Judge MacCarthy of the Children’s Court on 13th June 1955, and explained ‘that Marlborough House had been more or less condemned as a building and the question now arose as to whether a new building should be found or whether some other means of catering for boys on remand should be considered’. It was agreed ‘that Artane seemed to be the only possible potential House of Detention’, but Judge MacCarthy said that the Christian Brothers had decided that Artane should only accept ‘boys of a non-criminal type’, and so it was unlikely that they would allow Artane to be used as a place of detention.


On 9th July 1955, the Superior General of the Christian Brothers and the Superior of Artane met with the Minister for Education to discuss the issue, as the Archbishop had contacted them. The Christian Brothers were not in favour of the proposal for the following reasons: (1) Artane now housed only orphans and boys who had been before the courts on minor charges. (2) All boys convicted of crimes of an indictable nature were sent to Letterfrack. (3) They were anxious that nothing should be done which would take away from the good name which they had been endeavouring to build up for Artane or which would result in any stigma attaching to a boy who had been in that Institution. (4) The layout of the lands and premises in Artane would not lend itself to separate quarters being provided for a house of detention.

  1. .The Department of Education was negligent in the management and administration of Marlborough House. Its unwillingness to accept responsibility for the Institution caused neglect and suffering to the children there and resulted in a dangerous, dilapidated environment for the children.
  2. .The employment of unsuitable, inadequate and unqualified staff resulted in a brutal, harsh regime with punishment at its core.
  3. .There was no outside authority interested in the welfare of the children in Marlborough House. No concern was expressed by Department officials at the appalling treatment and care they knew the boys were receiving. The concern at all times was to protect the Department from criticism.
  4. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It later changed its name to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. (ISPCC)
  5. The average cost of keeping a prisoner in Shanganagh Castle in 2002 was €169,450, the second highest in the state outside of Portlaoise
  6. Department of Education & Science Statement to Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 19th May 2006, p 220.
  7. Correspondence cited in Department of Education submission, p 223.
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