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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Physical abuse


The question of corporal punishment in Ferryhouse was considered at a meeting of Rosminian Superiors and others, which took place in Drumcondra on 19th April 1968. Fr Filippo,16 Provincial of the Rosminian Institute, called this meeting, and amongst those who attended was Fr Rafaele, Resident Manager of Ferryhouse, Fr Pietro,17 a previous Resident Manager there, and Fr Lucio18 who succeeded Fr Rafaele in 1970. Also in attendance was Fr Ludano.


The problem of corporal punishment was raised by the Fr Provincial, Fr Filippo, because ‘Recent events seemed to indicate that the administration of it had gone beyond the mean in the past’. His solution was to make it ‘the responsibility of the Rector or the Headmaster’, with the Provincial as manager ultimately responsible. He canvassed their opinions.


One of the solutions suggested had in fact been in the regulations for decades, that ‘all punishments of this kind should be recorded, and further that they should be administered in the presence of a witness’. The Brothers suggested ‘the need for a written guide ... such had been in existence in Upton’.19


There was recognition that much depended on the appointment of capable Prefects.


There was an objection to turning to the Rector even in small things, but it was again asserted that, even there, ‘a little record should be kept’ and ‘a ceiling to the punishments’.


They discussed the current punishment systems in Ferryhouse and Omeath and agreed ‘Corporal punishment was judged the most humiliating of the lot, and the least effective’.


This meeting in 1968 was, in short, debating the need for the regulation of corporal punishment and was reaching conclusions that had been contained in the 1933 guidelines.


Notwithstanding the acknowledgement that it was humiliating and ineffective, the use of corporal punishment continued in Ferryhouse for a further 25 years, until its abolition by the School in 1993.


The Department of Education Inspector, Mr Cobalt,20 touched on the subject of corporal punishment and recorded his concern at its continued occasional use in Ferryhouse. In an addendum to his General Inspection Report of Ferryhouse dated 30th May 1979, Mr Cobalt noted that corporal punishment was still used occasionally, and added that he had not examined the facts of its usage.


Mr Cobalt’s Inspection Reports for the following and successive years, noted the sanctions that applied to the children. A report dated 26th October 1980 listed the sanctions applied to the children as: (a) loss of TV; (b) loss of pocket money; and (c) early bed/loss of home leave. The reports of 1981, 1983 and 1984 are in similar terms, and make no reference whatever to the use of corporal punishment. Circular 9/82 prohibiting the use of corporal punishment in national schools


In January 1982, the Department of Education issued Circular No 9/82 that prohibited the use of corporal punishment in national schools. On 7th May 1982, Fr Stefano, Resident Manager in St Joseph’s, Ferryhouse wrote to the Department on the issue of corporal punishment: While the general practice, philosophy and ideas of the school would be against the use of any form of corporal punishment, nevertheless, because of the nature of the work in which we are involved, there may be certain occasions when the Manager or his Deputy (Care or Education) might feel that some form of corporal punishment should be used.


He went on to ask the Department for its views as to whether or not Circular 9/82 nullified the Manager’s powers under the 1908 Act and 1933 Rules. Despite the considerable reforming zeal that had led to the rebuilding of the nineteenth-century institution, and to numerous other reforms, the abandonment of corporal punishment it seemed was a step too far for him.


Various officials in the Department considered Fr Stefano’s letter. One such official, a Miss Ní Fhearghail, set out her views on the issue of corporal punishment in an internal memorandum dated 11th May 1982 and entitled ‘Corporal Punishment in Special Schools’. She wrote: ... in my view Circular 9/82 only covers the conduct of the children while they are in the national school. It does not cover out of school activities. Even within the school the Rules which were approved under the Act may hold precedence. I think we would need to consult the Chief State Solicitor.


However, the issue lay dormant in the Department for a number of months until March 1983, when Miss Ní Fhearghail, in a memorandum addressed to Mr Ó Críodháin, noted that Fr Stefano never got an answer to his query. Mr Ó Críodháin referred the matter to Mr MacGleannáin who, by memorandum dated 14th April 1983, replied: This matter needs to be cleared up. I think policy should be to prohibit corporal punishment. Undoubtedly, however, members of staff in these schools have to restrain youngsters physically and a thin line divides physical restraint from corporal punishment.


The matter was referred to the Chief State Solicitor. By letter dated 9th June 1983, the Deputy Assistant Chief State Solicitor advised that rules made under the 1908 Act took precedence over the rules for national schools, as they had the force of statute, while the rules for national schools, although they had been judicially noticed, were not made pursuant to an Act. He suggested that the matter should now be rectified by the provision of rules made pursuant to Section 3 of the Act of 1941 for all certified industrial schools.

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  6. Set out in full in Volume I.
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  11. Br Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee; he lives abroad.
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  19. This is believed to be a reference to the Upton punishment book.
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  50. Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Press Publishing Services, 2003), pp 399–405.
  51. Brid Fahey Bates, p 401.
  52. Cussen Report; p 53.
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  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.