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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Physical abuse


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.


On 3rd August 1983, the Department of Education passed on to Fr Stefano the advices received from the Deputy Assistant Chief State Solicitor. They wrote: The present Rules and Regulations for Certified Industrial Schools were approved by the Minister some fifty years ago and have, to a great extent, become out-moded in practice. I would be grateful if you would give earnest consideration to the question of statutory Rules for the conduct of your school and would draw up a schedule of Rules deemed appropriate. It would be helpful if a copy of these draft Rules were forwarded to the Department not later than the 30th September, 1983.


Fr Stefano gave evidence that nothing was done about this request. The School was being rebuilt, and the management were apparently too busy to respond.


It would seem that the use of corporal punishment continued in Ferryhouse. The report of Mr Cobalt of 13th April 1989 records that the strap had been given to one boy and was witnessed. He wrote that a positive decision should be made about its use as a punishment for out-of-school misbehaviour. In a note attached to the end of the 1989 Report, he advised that the use of corporal punishment be discontinued ‘as the evidence is that is does not change deprived boys in their anti-social behaviour ... and my experience confirms that’.


In July 1989, a draft Circular (1/89) was prepared which, on the face of it, imposed a ban on the use of corporal punishment in industrial schools operating under the terms of the 1908 Act. In evidence, Fr Stefano said he had no recollection of ever receiving this circular. He believed that, if he had seen it, he would have remembered it, and would have discussed it. He presumed he would have ceased the use of corporal punishment. Fr Stefano said that, when the 1989 draft circular first came to his attention at a recent meeting in preparation for his evidence to the Commission, they carried out an extensive trawl through the Ferryhouse documentation relating to this period, but failed to disclose the original.


The issue remained a live one in the early 1990s. At the end of a document concerning requests for amendments to the School rulebook, dated 12th April 1990, there is a handwritten comment by the Inspector: It is noted that corporal punishment can still be administered in St Joseph’s. I raised this matter with the Director on my recent visit to the school and he would be strongly opposed to any move to alter this rule.


At a meeting in 1993, the senior management team at Ferryhouse took a decision to stop using the strap.


What emerges from the foregoing is that there was concern about the use of corporal punishment in Ferryhouse during the period of time under investigation, and attempts appear to have been made in the late 1970s and 1980s to devise a policy in respect of its use, but there was little, if any, regulation of this policy by the Department of Education. Ferryhouse was given leeway to continue its use.


1.Corporal punishment was the option of first resort for problems. Its use was pervasive, excessive, unpredictable and without regulation or supervision and for these reasons became physically abusive. 2.Frequent corporal punishment was the main method of maintaining control over the boys and it created a climate of fear that was emotionally harmful. 3.The system of discipline was the same as in Upton and the Rosminians accept that there was excessive corporal punishment in Ferryhouse. 4.Young and inexperienced staff used fear and violence to assert authority. Severe punishments were inflicted for a wide range of acts and omissions. 5.Rules and regulations governing corporal punishment were not observed and a punishment book was not maintained. The rules were regarded as merely guidelines, with no provision made by the Department of Education for sanctions and reprimands being issued to schools that ignored them. They were therefore ignored with impunity. 6.Excessive, unfair and even capricious violence did lasting damage to many of the boys in Ferryhouse. 7.For most of the period under review, boys were punished for bed-wetting and were subjected to nightly humiliation, degradation and fear.

Sexual abuse


Two religious members of the Rosminian Institute and one layman were convicted of sexual abuse of boys in Ferryhouse. Another religious who served in Ferryhouse was convicted of a crime committed elsewhere, on a boy who had previously been a resident of Ferryhouse and who was then living in another Rosminian institution. These three religious offenders served in senior positions in Ferryhouse and the layman was a volunteer there for different periods of years between 1968 and 1988.


The fact that sexual abuse occurred was not in dispute. The issue that the Committee had to decide was whether the abuse was systemic, related to failures of the Institution or of management, or whether the abuse was to be viewed as episodic acts perpetrated by individuals, unrelated to the nature of the Institution and its management.


The most revealing evidence about sexual abuse came from Br Bruno,21 who worked as a Prefect in Ferryhouse in the latter half of the 1970s, and who was convicted in 1999 of a number of counts of serious sexual assault on four young men when they were boys in Ferryhouse.


Br Bruno’s account described how he committed systematic and repeated abuse of boys during the four years that he was a Prefect in Ferryhouse. He gave candid evidence at a private hearing about his modus operandi, how he was able to escape detection (which surprised even himself), and how he was able to frighten boys and prevent them from reporting him or talking about him. He was frank about the nature of his acts, the circumstances in which he committed them, and the extent of what he did.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
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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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  37. Latin for surprise and wonder.
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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.
  53. Cussen Report, p 54
  54. Cussen Report, p 55
  55. Cussen Report, p 52.
  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.