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Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

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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.


It is not known whether this conference ever took place, and the Department of Justice in their Statement said: ‘The departmental files do not reveal if such a conference did take place’. In any event, the suggestion of Judge MacCarthy that District Judges undertake inspections of Marlborough House was not implemented and the lack of inspections continued until its closure.


One of the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders in 1963 was that the industrial schools and Marlborough House should be ‘inspected more frequently’ and that ‘Visiting Committees’ should be established. A draft letter dated October 1963 from the Minister for Justice to the Minister for Education stated: ‘I hope that the Inter-Departmental Committee’s recommendations in relation to Marlboro House and the Industrial school system will find ready acceptance ...’. A handwritten note appended to the top of this letter read: Minister Unless somebody prods the Department of Education the Committee’s work will go for naught to a large extent.


The letter was not sent, as a note on a draft said: ‘Letter need not issue – I have spoken to Dr Hillery’, who was the Minister for Education.


The Kennedy Committee, in July 1969 and in November 1970, recommended that Marlborough House ‘should be closed forthwith and replaced by a more suitable building with trained child care staff’.


The Department of Education produced a memorandum on the closing of the Institution. It announced the closure of Marlborough House on 1st August 1972. In the first step towards its closure, the Department decided that boys on remand were not to be sent there from 22nd May 1972. From that date, only short-term committals under section 106 of the Children Act, 1908 were accepted. It was decided not to provide a place of detention to replace Marlborough House, ‘as the Minister for Education is satisfied that the concept of the committal of young offenders to an institution such as Marlborough House for a period of detention up to one month is not in accordance with present-day attitudes as to the appropriate treatment for children under care ...’. The Minister for Justice removed Marlborough House from the Register of Places of Detention for the purposes of Part V of the Children Act, 1908 on 28th July 1972.


A remand and assessment centre managed by the De La Salle Order was constructed in Finglas, Dublin, The building at Marlborough House was demolished in January 1973.


The Investigation Committee heard evidence in private from three witnesses at the Commission’s offices on 31st March 2006. The Department of Education and Science and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform were legally represented at these hearings. In addition to oral evidence, the Investigation Committee considered documents received from both of these Departments as part of the discovery process. Statements were also furnished by these two Departments for the Phase III hearings. The Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science, Ms Brigid McManus, gave evidence at a two-day public hearing on 12th and 13th June 2006. These hearings focused on the role of the Department of Education in the regulation of industrial schools and its management of Marlborough House. The Assistant Secretary of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr James Martin, gave evidence in public on 19th June 2006. The premises: a condemned building


When Marlborough House was acquired by the Department of Education, the OPW advised that it required considerable repair but that it could easily be adapted for use as a detention centre. The front of the building was in very poor condition, particularly the roof and the walls. These repairs were not undertaken because, in February 1952, eight years after taking possession of it, the Department was informed by the OPW of the ‘bad state of repair’ of the roof and top storey of the front part of the building. This part of the building was very precarious, and they advised that the top storey would have to be reconstructed by taking it down to ‘put a reinforced band around the whole building, lay a new second floor in concrete if required, rebuild the walls, stacks and parapets and put on a new roof’. An internal Department of Education memorandum in 1952 stated: ‘This place should never have been used to cater for children ...’.


In August 1952, the OPW again wrote to the Department of Education, seeking permission to go ahead with the re-construction of the front of the building, without delay, because of the dangerous condition of the roof and top storey. On 7th September 1955, the OPW stressed again the ‘dangerous condition’ of the front of the building and stated: ‘It is imperative that there be no further delay whatsoever on the question of reaching a decision about its demolition and reconstruction’. In another letter, dated 28th November 1955, they stated: ... we have to inform you that the premises have reached such an extreme state of dilapidation that we cannot guarantee that any measures which we may take will serve to render them safe for occupation for even a short period.


The reticence on the part of the Department to acquiesce to these vital repair works resulted from the anticipated transfer of the management to a religious Order. By December 1957, the Department thought this would take place within the year, and so the OPW were asked to find suitable temporary premises in the meantime, as ‘the Minister feels that he could not be responsible for having the children concerned detained in the present House of Detention a moment longer than is absolutely essential’. The Department of Education were unsuccessful in their attempts to transfer management of it to a religious Order.


Stormy weather in November 1959 resulted in further deterioration to the front structure, and immediate remedial work was undertaken, in that wooden shorings were placed against planks fixed to the walls in a vertical position to prevent the wall from falling. On 30th January 1960, the OPW wrote that ‘it is now considered desirable that steps be taken to have the premises vacated as soon as possible’.

  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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