Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 11 — Dundalk

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At the earlier public hearing, she described the atmosphere of the School in more detail: It was a cold building. Even when the heating was put in in ’51 it was still cold and they supplemented it in the 70s and they still had to put in heaters. It has long narrow corridors and it is more long than it is broad. It has a basement and three floors and an attic so it was a very formidable building for little children who were already traumatised to suddenly arrive in.


The limitations of the physical accommodation became a recurring theme in the Department of Education General Inspection reports for the period under review. The biggest drawback was that the School lacked adequate recreational facilities for the children. An outdoor concrete yard was all that was available, until an adjoining field, owned by the adjacent primary school, was used from 1952. This was of great concern to the Department of Education over the years and, in particular, the Medical Inspector, Dr McCabe. Another Inspector from the Department of Education, Mr Sugrue, visited the School in 1958, with the principal intention of providing additional recreational facilities for the School.


It was not until the late 1960s that steps were eventually taken to bring about improved recreational facilities. It would seem that the School lurched along for many years with very little improvement or modernisation of the resources, undertaken either by the school management or by the Department of Education.


The School officially closed in 1983. In a letter dated 24th March 1983, the Sisters of Mercy applied to the Department of Education to resign the certificate for St Joseph’s. The Minister for Education withdrew the certificate under the 1908 Act with effect from 24th September 1983.


Three reasons brought about the closure of the School. First, the Kennedy Report (1970) had recommended the introduction of a group home system, but the physical structure and layout of the School in Dundalk made such a system difficult. The Sisters of Mercy tried to introduce it by establishing smaller groups, with children divided by age. However, the group home structure could only be achieved on a different site and in purpose-built accommodation. The Department Inspector in his General Inspection Report dated May 1973 stated: This is one Home, almost certainly, where we will be spared the concern of providing a Group Home – at least for the present – for lack of suitable site(s).


Moreover, the Department of Education’s architect, on an inspection of the School in 1976, stated unequivocally that ‘This building is a death trap’. He also stated that, ‘There is only one Architectural solution to this case and that is vacate the present buildings’. He was also strongly of the view that under no circumstances should State monies be spent on the building except for first aid repairs.


The second reason for the closure of the School was that Health Boards in the 1970s were focusing more on fostering as a means of caring for children rather than residential care in institutions.


The third factor that contributed to the closure of the School was staffing: the Resident Manager was elderly and in poor health in the 1970s; and it was difficult to recruit staff.


All these difficulties led the Sisters of Mercy to enter into discussions with the Department of Education in 1977 regarding the closure of the School.


To enable the older girls to complete their terms in St Joseph’s, the Sisters undertook the closure gradually. By 1979, the number of children resident in the School had fallen to eight. In 1983, there were just three senior girls resident in the School when it officially closed, and accommodation was provided for them in an apartment opposite St Joseph’s.


The Mother Superior in St Malachy’s Convent, which was situated adjacent to the Industrial School, officially had overall responsibility for its management. She appointed the Resident Managers and was the person who made decisions about major expenditure. The Resident Managers were responsible for the day-to-day running of the School.


There were three Resident Managers during the period 1936 to 1983. Their terms of office were 1926–1945, 1945–1963 and 1963–1983.


All three Resident Managers are now deceased.


In carrying out its inquiry into St Joseph’s, there were three sources of information available to the Committee: (1)The evidence given by three former residents of the School. Originally 21 written statements of complaint were received by the Investigation Committee in respect of St Joseph’s Industrial School, Dundalk. As a result of these numbers, Dundalk was listed within the ‘top 20 institutions’ to be heard [third interim report Dec 2003].2 These 20 institutions were ranked according to the number of complaints made against them. By the time the hearings were scheduled, however, only three elected to give evidence before the Committee. The implications of this reduction in the number of complaints are discussed later. (2)The evidence given by Sr McQuaid, Provincial Leader of the Sisters of Mercy of the Northern Province. She gave evidence in public at Phase I and again in public during Phase III hearings. (3)The documentary evidence from the records of the Department of Education, Sisters of Mercy and the Archbishop of Armagh.


There were three complainant witnesses, spanning the period from 1946 to 1974.

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  2. Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Third Interim Report, December 2003.
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