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Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

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On 22nd July 1957, the Department of Education wrote to Archbishop McQuaid about the dangerous condition of the Institution: ... Marlborough House, the building used as a House of Detention, is in so dangerous a state as to make it necessary shortly to look for an alternative building. I have mentioned to the Minister that your Grace has been so good as to have expressed on several occasions a particular interest in the question of the House of Detention and the Minister has asked me to request your Grace to favour me with an interview on the matter.


The Archbishop replied the following day and said: I am very glad to learn that Marlborough House is at last falling down. I have spoken so often to successive Ministers about this Institution, but to no avail whatever. The collapse of the building is now achieving what I had failed to achieve, for the souls and bodies of the boys.


Officials from the Department met with the Archbishop on 24th July 1957. The Archbishop reiterated his view that he was glad the building was in a bad state and told the officials that: At present the boys are idle while there except for a little teaching in Christian Doctrine given by an old Christian Brother. The priests who look after clubs in Dublin will tell you there is nothing worse for boys of that type than idleness. Learning bad behaviour from each other is what they are doing while there ... the first necessity is to find an Order of Brothers to run the place


He felt that the De La Salle Order would be suitable, as they ‘had much experience in such matters’. The Archbishop inquired if the Minister would ‘have any objection to a scheme like St. Anne’s in Kilmacud where the Order itself bought the house and the land and where the Department made arrangements about grants’. The Department official assured the Archbishop that the Minister would be more than satisfied with such an arrangement. The meeting ended and, as the officials took their leave, the Archbishop said: ... the Detention Centre was the root of all good and bad in the Dublin boys who get into trouble and that nothing was more urgent than that the Centre be well conducted.


In January 1958, the Archbishop informed the Department that the De La Salle Order had identified a site at Johnstown House, Ballyfermot for the new place of detention and they would manage it. The Provincial of the De La Salle Order met with senior Department of Education officials on 16th January 1958 to discuss the proposals and, the following day, they inspected the site which was a ‘fine sturdy building’ originally owned by the manager of Guinness. Its only drawback was that it was not large enough. The Department felt this was a ‘golden opportunity’ to transfer the management of the remand facility to a religious order.


However, the transfer of the place of detention to the De La Salle Order at Johnstown House, Ballyfermot never happened. No explanation is provided by the Department and none can be found in their records.


The question of transferring the management and administration of Marlborough House to the Department of Justice arose again in 1963. The Inter-Departmental Committee on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders noted in one of its meetings: The chairman mentioned in passing that even though Marlborough House would be replaced within three years by the new detention centre at Finglas the question of its transfer to the Department of Justice might have to be raised as the pressure in the Dail to have improvements made there, for example, by the provision of facilities for psychiatric treatment, would have to evoke a positive response and if such response was not forthcoming from the Department of Education, the Department of Justice would have to take over direct responsibility for the running of the institution.


However, until its closure in 1972, the administration of Marlborough House remained the responsibility of the Department of Education.


As stated above, there were no formal or regular inspections of Marlborough House by the Department of Education.


At a Minister’s Conference on 23rd April 1951 attended by the Department of Education and the President and Secretary of the Industrial and Reformatory School Managers Association, the subject of Marlborough House was raised at the end of the meeting: Fr. [Y] then introduced the question of the House of Detention. He said that there was no Chaplain there, no instruction, no training, and that younger boys mixed with senior boys who might have an evil influence on them. Boys might often be left there for 9 or 10 weeks. He had been shocked by certain events that had occurred recently in the House of Detention, especially when had seen the evidence given by the boys concerned and had become acquainted with the boys in the Reformatory. He understood that there had been some difficulty, from the point of view of the Archbishop, with regard to appointing a Chaplain. The Minister promised to have the matter inquired into fully at the earliest possible moment.


The following day, the Minister for Education wrote to the Minister for Justice: In the course of a talk with Father [Y] and Brother [V], representing the Managers of Industrial Schools and Reformatories, matters were discussed in relation to the House of Detention at Marlborough House. I think a situation exists there which would dictate that at once we would have an inter-Departmental conference with a view to seeing what type of examination should be carried out there for the purpose of securing that the boys there were adequately looked after and all danger of scandal or criticism eliminated. I feel we have to satisfy ourselves that arrangement are made adequately dealing with the spiritual interest, the occupational interest, health and education of these boys.


In an internal memorandum prepared for the Minister for Justice, it was noted: We have not received any complaints about the conditions in Marlborough House. I assume, however, that the Minister will be prepared to discuss this matter with the Minister for Education and I enclose a draft reply to this effect. I propose, subject to the Minister’s approval, to speak to District Justice MacCarthy of the Children’s Court telling him that it has been suggested that the arrangements in Marlborough House should be looked into and asking him whether he has any comments to make and would be willing to sit in at any discussions.


The Assistant Secretary issued an invitation to Judge MacCarthy on 3rd May 1951, and also asked him if he had heard any criticisms about the place.


Judge MacCarthy accepted the invitation and, in a letter dated 5th May 1951, he listed his concerns about the Institution: For some considerable time past I have been very uneasy about conditions in this institution. I am only too conscious of the fact that, from time to time, particularly during the past six months, some of the boys detained there were consummate young blackguards who gave the Superintendent, and his attendants, a great deal of trouble and annoyance. Nevertheless, the repeated escapes from the Institution, and repeated allegations by the boys of ill-treatment – culminating in the incidents which gave rise to the recent prosecution in the Criminal Courts – have convinced me that the conditions under which boys are detained at Marlborough House call for immediate inquiry and amelioration. I note that you point out in your letter that the Department of Justice have not received any complaints about this institution. You would most assuredly have received them from me were I not aware that, in practice, Marlborough House comes under the supervision and care of the Department of Education, to which Department I have complained on several occasions.


He recommended that the Minister should empower the judge of the Children’s Courts to visit and inspect the Institution: I pointed out to [two Senior Official in the Department of Education] that, as far as I was aware, no persons had ever been appointed, pursuant to section 109. sub.sec.(3). of the Children’s Act, 1908, to visit from time to time, children and young persons detained in Detention Homes, and I requested them to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister. For my own part, I feel that the Minister should, under that Section, empower the Justice of the Children’s Court to pay such visits, alone, to these institutions, or, failing that, that he should, at least, be one of the persons so authorised by Section 109.

  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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