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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s


Sr Astrid stated that she had no memory of a meeting with Richard Evans and Joe in which Thomas Pleece’s sexual abuse of the boys was raised. She remembered that Joe came to see her once or twice, but did not remember Mr Evans accompanying him. She did not disagree with Mr Evan’s recollection, as she believed he was an honest man, but she did not remember it herself.


Sr Astrid was asked if she made Thomas Pleece aware in 1976 that Joe had made allegations of a sexual nature against him, as stated by him in his Garda statement. She replied, ‘No, that never – I have no recollection of that’. Thomas Pleece also said that Dr Black was brought in to conduct an inquiry. She was asked if she had brought Dr Black in to carry out an inquiry. She replied: Dr Black came regularly to St Joseph’s, he was just on his way to the – he called regularly to see us in St Joseph’s, to see had we any problems and usually he saw some of the girls. At that particular time the lads were inclined to run away a bit and come back to me and tell me he was tormenting them or at them. Well, I said wouldn’t – now he was come at that particular time and I said would you have a chat with the boys and see how they are, have they any special reason for running away.


She agreed that a number of boys had complained to her that Thomas Pleece was ‘at them’, which she understood to mean beating them or punishing them. On the particular occasion when she dismissed Thomas Pleece, it was one boy who came. That boy was Simon. She was surprised by her use of the term ‘abuse’ in her Garda statement: ‘abusing is there, but at that stage I knew nothing about abuse, sex abuse; that’s the truth’.


She realised something was wrong, in the sense that she thought the beating was more than usual. Simon told her ‘we are not able to stick it’.


To the question why Thomas Pleece was asked to leave, she replied: Well, when Simon told me that day in the yard, you know, that it was very bad. “We can’t stick it,” I said, “Well I’ll have to go to Thomas Pleece myself”. I went to Thomas Pleece that very day myself and said to him “you can’t stay here any longer because the boys are very unhappy”.


Sr Astrid was asked how often she had spoken to Thomas Pleece about being too rough with the children before she had dismissed him. She said it happened a few times: You see I’d have to go over to him when the lads were run away or anything and they’d be coming to me. I’d have to go over and say " ... there is something wrong with this the lads shouldn’t be afraid of you and you shouldn’t be beating them". Then eventually he’d take them back, sure some of them wouldn’t even go back I would have to take them down to one of the houses. One particular lad, he said "I won’t go back to him now, Sister". I said, "all right, sure come on for a night or two but it will be harder on you then when you do go back." But after a few days talking to him and that I’d take him back.


Sr Astrid said that this had ‘probably happened a few times’ and remembered big groups of boys being involved.


Notwithstanding her decision to remove Thomas Pleece immediately, Sr Astrid was adamant that she had not been told of sexual abuse.


In 1979, less than three years after Mr Pleece had been dispatched from St Joseph’s, a letter was sent to Sr Astrid by the Department of Education looking for a reference. It said: I wish to refer to Mr. Thomas Pleece, who has been offered a post as Housemaster in Scoil Ard Mhuire, Lusk, Co Dublin. Mr. Pleece has claimed service in your residential home from 1972 to 1976. Perhaps you would be good enough to state; 1. the nature of the post occupied by Mr. Pleece; 2. whether service was full-time and satisfactory; 3. the first and last date of service.


Sr Astrid replied by stating that Thomas Pleece had worked in St Joseph’s as a House Parent from 1972 until 1976. Nothing in her reply indicated any difficulty with Mr Pleece, in spite of the clear invitation at 2 above to express any reservations she might have. She said: I suppose one thing I wasn’t good at writing letters myself, but I don’t know why I wrote such a short note; that I didn’t say he wasn’t satisfactory.


She said that she would have said on the telephone that she would not have had Thomas Pleece back in St Joseph’s: I did. I had told him on the phone you see, that was the trouble. They rang me up, you know, for a reference ... Well the information I gave on the telephone, that I wouldn’t employ, re-admit Thomas Pleece or that I wouldn’t have him.


She went on to say: I remember getting phone calls from different places where Thomas Pleece applied when he left St Joseph’s. I know the only answer I ever gave was "I wouldn’t have Thomas Pleece back in St [Joseph’s]” – or I wouldn’t reply.


Sr Astrid confirmed that she did not think Thomas Pleece was suitable to work with children because she believed that he was severe with them.


Mr Evans’ account of his meeting with Sr Astrid and Mr Pleece’s account of his departure are consistent with an allegation of sexual abuse. Had Mr Pleece’s behaviour been identified and acknowledged, other children would have been spared abuse and suffering. Having dismissed Thomas Pleece, Sr Astrid should not have given him a reference for another job that would bring him into contact with children.


Peter Tade was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison at Kilkenny Circuit Criminal Court on 9th June 1998. He died in prison in 1999 before the hearings into St Joseph’s took place.

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