Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Some historical milestones


Fr Ricardo gave evidence to the Investigation Committee. He was asked what improvements he saw in Ferryhouse when he returned in the mid-1980s following a time of absence. He said: At that time there were huge, I think, changes. No.1, lay staff – I know lay staff had come in on the scene. One thing I do remember when the first lay staff came – like before they came, the boys would be quite boisterous. I remember the Community having a long discussion shortly after lay female staff came, how the boys had mellowed or softened in general. That to me was one of the huge changes or factors. Also staff were being trained as well, because the Waterford Regional College had set up a training course ...


The lay staff now employed in Ferryhouse had received proper training. This was a direct result of the Kennedy Report, which had recommended that priority be given to proper training of staff in residential institutions. The Department of Education state that their response to this recommendation was immediate. A full-time residential course in childcare at the School of Social Education, Kilkenny was established in 1971 with funding from the Department of Education. All the industrial schools and reformatories were given funding to send their staff on the course. The Department of Education was also involved in the organisation of in-service training courses at numerous colleges nationwide. By 1974, approximately 75% of staff working in residential homes had received training in childcare.


The second part of the ultimatum given by Fr Stefano to the Department of Education was an adequate budget system along the lines of the budgets provided by the Department to the newly constructed schools. Fr Stefano told the Investigation Committee that the capitation system was the only significant funding received for the School. The farm was ‘not making money at that stage’ and he was determined that he ‘would never fundraise to put food on the table or clothes on a boy’s back or anything that was the responsibility of the State’. He resolved that all fundraising by the Rosminians was to enhance the lives of the boys and not to provide the basics.


This ultimatum in relation to budget funding for their School was in line with the thinking of numerous other groups and individuals. The Kennedy Report recommended that the system of payment of grants on a capitation basis should be discontinued, and replaced by an annual grant based on a budget of estimated costs submitted by each school sufficient to cover all costs. The grant was to be paid direct to the schools by the State. The criticism of the capitation system was that it encouraged institutions to detain children rather than to release them to their families.


Fr O’Reilly spoke about the problems caused by the capitation system: You needed to have a certain number of children in the School in order to make it financially viable, which is not a good way to look at it, but that was the economic reality at that time and therefore at times they were complaining about not having enough children in the school and they wanted more children to be able to have a greater income to spread across ... The system of its nature sought to, or it forced Managers into, trying to have a greater rather than a lesser number of children.


The Department did not give Fr Stefano his required budgetary system immediately, but he succeeded in obtaining a system whereby the School would receive deficit payment on production of financial records every three months. This was a considerable improvement financially for the Rosminians, as Fr Stefano stated, ‘so with money starting to come in, we could start planning’.


By 1984, a budget system of funding had been introduced into all the schools.


A number of critical factors combined to bring about fundamental changes in the education provided for the boys in Ferryhouse and industrial schools generally. The Kennedy Report noted that ‘if the task of integration of children in care into society is to be successful it is essential that those in care for one reason or another should have educational opportunities to the ultimate of their capacities’.56 The Report stated that the children in care were educationally disadvantaged, and the industrial school educational system had failed to take this into account in catering for the children’s educational needs. Therefore, in the light of deprivation suffered, the children should be provided with more than normal educational facilities so that they could be educated to their ultimate capacities. The Department of Education policy from the 1970s onwards, in relation to education, focused on rehabilitation and compensatory education, provided by well-trained staff. St. Joseph’s Industrial School building programme provided the opportunity to put these policies to work.


With the new school building completed, class sizes were reduced considerably. This allowed intensive remedial teaching to occur for the boys. The numbers of boys detained in Ferryhouse had fallen dramatically, while the number of trained staff had increased. Additional teachers were also put in place to provide teaching in the practical subjects. As a direct result, older boys would undertake preparation for the State examinations in the School. The first State examination was held in Ferryhouse in 1987.


The education provided in Ferryhouse today enables most of its residents to sit a State examination, while a number complete the Transition Year programme, with the option of completing the Leaving Certificate Examination while in Ferryhouse.


In September 2001, the Rosminians withdrew from active management of Ferryhouse and, in June 2002, they transferred ownership of the centre to the Department of Education and Science.


The words of the then Provincial, Fr James Flynn, at the opening of the new Ferryhouse on 11th May 1990, already quoted above, remain apposite: Like any human institution, old Ferryhouse had its bad points as well as its good points, its weaknesses as well as its strengths. It damaged some boys and those have looked back in bitterness and anger to their time here. For many of them, this was the only home that they ever knew and sadly they did not find it a good one. Let me say that a lot of that anger is justified ... The greatest guilt has to be borne by those of us who utilised or condoned or ignored the extreme severity, even brutality which characterised at times the regime at old Ferryhouse. An occasion like this is an opportunity for me on behalf of the Rosminians to publicly acknowledge this fact and to ask forgiveness of those who were ill treated or hurt. We have sinned against justice and against the dignity of the person in the past and we always need to be on our guard that we do not do the same today in more subtle or equally hideous ways.

General conclusions


General conclusions Physical abuse 1. Corporal punishment was the option of first resort for problems. Its use was pervasive, excessive, unpredictable and without regulation or supervision, and was therefore physically abusive. 2. Corporal punishment was the main method of maintaining control over the boys and it created a climate of fear that was emotionally harmful to the boys. 3. The system of discipline was the same in Ferryhouse as in Upton. The Rosminians accept that there was excessive corporal punishment in both institutions. 4. Young and inexperienced staff used fear and violence as a means of asserting authority. Punishments were inflicted for a wide range of acts and omissions. The severity of punishment was entirely a matter for the staff involved. 5. Rules and regulations governing corporal punishment were not observed. 6. Excessive, unfair and even capricious punishment did lasting damage to many of the boys in Ferryhouse. 7. Boys were punished for bed-wetting and were subjected to nightly humiliation, degradation and fear. 8. The regime placed excessive demands on the few men who did the bulk of the work. Sexual abuse 9. Sexual abuse by Brothers was a chronic problem in Ferryhouse and it is impossible to quantify its full extent. 10. Complainant witnesses from every era, from the early 1940s onwards, testified to the Investigation Committee about the sexual abuse of children in Ferryhouse. The Rosminian Institute acknowledged that not all of those who were sexually abused have come forward as complainants, whether to the Commission, to the Redress Board, or to An Garda Siochana. In their Final Submission to the Investigation Committee they wrote, ‘We know that some boys were sexually abused who have made no complaint to the Commission or otherwise, but have spoken to us about it’. 11. The succession of cases that confronted the authorities must have alerted them to the scale of the problem, and to the need for a thorough ongoing investigation as to how deep the problem went among the Brothers and staff in Ferryhouse. Such an investigation did not happen. Instead, each case was dealt with individually, as if no other case had occurred. The Order was aware of the criminal nature of the conduct, but did not report it as a crime. 12. Sexual abuse was systemic. When it was uncovered, it was not seen as a crime but as a moral lapse and weakness. The policy of furtively removing the abuser and keeping his offences secret led to a culture of institutional amnesia, in which neither boys nor staff could learn from experience. 13. The extent and prevalence of sexual abuse were not addressed although the Order had some awareness of its impact on children. 14. Once placed in posts, priests and Brothers had complete autonomy, and there evolved a convention of not interfering with what other people were doing. 15. The Department of Education did not act responsibly when an allegation of sexual abuse was made to it in 1980. Neglect and emotional abuse 16. Living conditions in both schools were poor, unhygienic, inadequate and often overcrowded. 17. Boys were hungry and poorly clothed in circumstances where funding was sufficient to provide these basic needs. 18. Education and aftercare were deficient. 19. Family contact was not encouraged or maintained. 20. As their submission to the Cussen Commission reveals, the Rosminians knew the detrimental consequences of the industrial school system, but did nothing to ameliorate them. They could have changed the regime, but they did nothing until the 1970s. The attitude of the Rosminians 21. The Rosminian Institute of Charity is to be commended for its attitude to the Committee. The Rosminians’ refusal to take the conventional adversarial approach, their sympathetic questioning of the witnesses, and their proffering of apologies to the witnesses at the end of hearings, all contributed to an atmosphere very different from that of other hearings. 22. The Rosminians used the memories of former residents to add to the Order’s knowledge of life and conditions in their schools. The witnesses became a source of information and, by tapping into it, the Rosminians helped the Committee’s inquiry. 23. The Rosminians’ attitude to the allegations evolved before, during and after the hearings. They were the first Order to apologise publicly in 1990. They sometimes modified their approach during the course of a hearing, and they issued a final submission that was a balanced and humane response to the evidence they had heard.

  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.