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Chapter 16 — Marlborough House

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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’.


Almost 10 years later, in July, a member of the Kennedy Committee, Mr MacConchradha, who was a civil servant with the Department of Justice, said that when a Sub-Committee of the Committee visited Marlborough House ‘they nearly lost their lives’. He added: ‘The building is tottering, there is virtually no activity, educational or recreational, and the staff are totally unsuitable’. The Kennedy Committee in July 1969, a year before it published its final report, made a special interim submission to the Minister of Education that Marlborough House should be closed ‘forthwith’, as the building was in ‘an extremely bad state of repair and, indeed, appears to be in imminent danger of collapse’.


An Assistant Secretary with the Department of Education wrote to the Department of Justice on 23rd July 1969, seeking to transfer the place of detention at Marlborough House temporarily to a prefabricated building at the open prison at Shanganagh Castle, pending the completion of the remand centre in Finglas. The Department of Justice rejected this proposal outright.


The building was not vacated, and conditions deteriorated even further. A photograph of Marlborough House in early 1971 is inserted below: On 20th June 1971, nine attendants resigned without warning, in protest against the poor conditions. Staff from both the Department of Education and the Department of Justice were drafted in temporarily. A week later, it was reported in both the Sunday Independent and Sunday Press newspapers that a riot had occurred at Marlborough House on 26th June 1971, when 17 boys went on a two-hour rampage, smashing windows and breaking furniture. The Gardaí were called, and eventually the situation was brought under control.


A Garda Superintendent who had been called to the premises stated: ‘The conditions are bad and are in my opinion such as to cause discontent and unrest among the inmates’. A Garda who attended after the incident reported that the problem lay with the ageing attendants not being able to control the boys and ‘that all the boys are kept in a large detention room with no form of amusement, with the exception of a T.V., for the most part of the day and they have nothing to do except fight with the attendants and each other’.

  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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