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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Physical abuse


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.


His account of his deeds, and what enabled him to perpetrate them, provided an insight into the behaviour of a child sexual abuser. He operated in the late 1970s, when living conditions and the building itself were better than in the old Ferryhouse. His testimony on what enabled him to abuse for so long may well be relevant to the Institution at other times in the past, when conditions were more likely to facilitate such coercive, furtive and abusive behaviour.


Br Bruno was arrested in 1996 and charged with counts of buggery, indecent assault and assault occasioning actual bodily harm, in respect of four people who had been in his care at Ferryhouse between 1975 and 1979. He was the Brother in charge of ‘A’ group comprising some 36 to 40 boys aged between nine and 11 years. He appeared before the Circuit Criminal Court in 1999, pleaded guilty to the offences charged and was sentenced to a term of nine years imprisonment with the last three suspended.


Br Bruno’s activities as a perpetrator of sexual abuse in Ferryhouse came to light in the late 1970s, following which he was dismissed from the Order, but the case was not reported to the Gardaí until the mid-1990s.


The disclosure occurred when two boys who had absconded from the Institution were hitching a lift. The Resident Manager, Fr Stefano, saw them on the road, picked them up and brought them back to Ferryhouse. As they travelled back to the School, one of the boys broke down, and told Fr Stefano that Br Bruno ‘was at him’. This had an immediate impact on Fr Stefano and, when they got back to the School, he brought the boy to his office, cautioned him about the seriousness of what he had said, and sought details from him. The boy stuck by his story and said that another boy would confirm what he was saying. He said that Br Bruno had started to abuse him when he was in his unit, but that the abuse had continued when he was transferred to the senior group.


The other boy was sent for, and Fr Stefano described how ‘the two boys sat in my office and unfolded to me a most horrific story of what had been happening to them’. The boys told Fr Stefano story after story of cruelty and abuse. The worst, as far as he was concerned, was the abuse of one of the boys during the Pope’s visit to Ireland in 1979. The whole school went to see the Pope in Limerick, except for one of the two boys who was not allowed to go because of his record of absconding. Br Bruno volunteered to stay back and supervise him. The boy told Fr Stefano that, when the rest of the boys left, ‘this Brother came and raped me in my bed’.


Fr Stefano said that he had never suspected Br Bruno; indeed, he found him a very enthusiastic member of staff. His dedication to the work seemed unquestionable: ‘this was a man who seemed to be the last in bed and the first up every day’. Nevertheless, when the allegation was made, Fr Stefano began to see it all very differently: ... the picture that comes to mind always to me is of a huge jigsaw puzzle that you are reasonably happy with but that there is a piece missing and while I had no suspicions of him, the minute those words were spoken, it was as if somebody had put the final piece in the jigsaw and all these activities that he was involved with started to make sense.

  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.
  57. This is a pseudonym.
  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.