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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s


It was Thomas Pleece’s understanding that Dr Black had been asked by Sr Astrid to investigate allegations of sexual abuse, and had found no evidence against him. Dr Black did not spell out the complaint against him, and Thomas Pleece was afraid to ask.


Thomas Pleece denied absolutely that he ever physically abused boys: Well, in regard to physical abuse – I mean, I don’t mind the boys claiming that I abused them sexually, you know, the three lads that I involved myself with. But for any boy to say that I physically abused them, I deny that completely.


He said he only ever laid a hand on boys for three reasons: one, if he was in danger from another boy; two, if a boy was about to self-harm, he would restrain him; and three, in self-defence, which he said never arose. Therefore, when Sr Astrid tackled him, the thought of physical abuse did not enter his head because he had not done it. The only thing she could have been talking about was sexual abuse, which he had done.


Thomas Pleece left St Joseph’s within a day or two of Sr Astrid speaking with him: But I know that she was calling a halt, anyway, to me working with the boys. I would have put the lads to bed that night and I would have said that I was leaving. I think that there was only two weeks or something to the summer holidays or something like that.


He was paid up to the summer and was given to understand by Sr Astrid that he would get a reference. Although he left believing he had been accused of sexually abusing boys, he stated that he left on good terms. He came back to reunions at Christmas and the like for years afterwards, and the invitations for this were extended by the Convent. He said: ‘I know I left under a cloud in Kilkenny. But I left, as I thought, on good terms’.


Thomas Pleece continued in jobs that brought him into close contact with vulnerable young people and children.


In September 1977, Thomas Pleece got a job in a probation hostel in Cork which accommodated boys in their late teens. He assumed they would have sought a reference from St Joseph’s for him there, although he did not see one.


He and his wife applied to foster two young boys in 1978. They were vetted before being accepted. He said that it never crossed his mind that the fact that he had been asked to leave for sexual abuse in Kilkenny was a disadvantage to his application for foster children: We had a number of interviews with the social worker, I don’t know how many there was now, but there was quite a few, and we were in the office another day and there was maybe three people there, and we had interviews with the head social worker, and the social worker that had been interviewing us. That was about it. They passed us to foster.


He assumed that they would have contacted his previous employers but, as this was during the period when he still had regular contact with Sr Astrid and the convent, he was not concerned that he would not be given a reference by them.


He did not link his sexual abuse at work with fostering children: You see those kind of things didn’t enter into one’s head at the time. Abuse wasn’t – I didn’t see it as abuse ... Well, the only thing I was to reassure myself was that it wouldn’t happen again, ever. That’s the assurance I had to give myself, in any other job, because I wasn’t going to let this happen again because I knew I wouldn’t survive a second one ... Yes, in a job situation. That I would never, ever cross the line again, you know, which I didn’t.


Mr Pleece subjected the two fostered boys to a horrific ordeal of sexual abuse once they had become teenagers, but he did not abuse again, according to himself, in his employment. In his Garda statement, he admitted to abusing the boys from when they were about 11 to 15 or 16.


The hostel in Cork closed down in 1979, and Mr Pleece was offered a job in the detention centre run by the Oblate Fathers in Lusk and for this he required references from previous employers. He gave St Joseph’s as a reference because he had asked Sr Astrid if there was going to be a problem with references before he left and he understood from her that he would be okay on that front. At the interview for Lusk he was asked why he resigned from St Joseph’s and explained it by saying he resigned to take a ‘year out’ from childcare.


He worked in Lusk until 1985, when it closed down, and then was out of work for a period until he took up another post in Ballymun, also in childcare. He worked there for two years. Then he worked in a home for children in Dublin as Assistant Manager, and was arrested while still employed there.


As well as the two boys he and his wife fostered, they also adopted two children. Again, they were subjected to a rigorous investigation process before the adoptions were sanctioned. His employment record would have been made available, but it is not clear whether any direct contact was made with St Joseph’s as to his suitability.


Dr Black worked for the Brothers of Charity in Belmont Park between 1972 and 1976, and his job at the time involved the assessment of children with behavioural problems. This work brought him in regular contact with St Joseph’s, Kilkenny, and he knew Sr Astrid well. He estimated that he would visit St Joseph’s about 15 times a year. He had no recollection of being asked by Sr Astrid to conduct an inquiry or try to find out why some of the boys in Summerhill were unhappy. The mode of inquiry that Thomas Pleece said had taken place would have taken much longer than an afternoon visit. He could not have questioned more than one or two boys in that space of time. As far as he was concerned, he never carried out this alleged investigation.

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