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Chapter 17 — Primary and second-level schools

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Effects on adult life


Children’s education in Ireland is provided for at primary and second-level through the primary, vocational and secondary school system. Attendance at full-time education was compulsory for all children between six and 14 years until 1969 when the official school-leaving age was increased to 16 years. Primary education has been universally free in Ireland since the nineteenth century, and second-level education became universally free in 1967. There are also private fee-paying day and boarding schools at both primary and second-level.1


The majority of primary schools are publicly funded parish schools. Prior to 1975 the schools were managed by an individual manager, usually the parish priest. In 1975 the administration and management of the schools were transferred to boards of management, who included representatives of the parents, teachers, school patrons and the local community. School patrons were usually the local bishops. In recent years multi-denominational and non-denominational schools have been established.


Second-level education is provided through secondary, vocational, community and comprehensive schools. Secondary schools are generally State funded and are privately owned and managed, generally by boards of governors or trustees, the majority of whom are religious communities. Vocational schools are State funded and administered by vocational education committees. Community and comprehensive schools are State funded and managed by boards of management.



This chapter presents evidence given to the Confidential Committee by 70 witnesses, 56 male and 14 female, of their experiences of abuse in schools in Ireland between 1932 and 1992. Witness accounts of the abuse they experienced, the circumstances in which the abuse occurred, and the response of others to the abuse is reported. The information provided by witnesses at their hearings regarding their current life circumstances and the reported impact of childhood abuse on their subsequent physical, psychological and social development is also recorded.


There were 82 reports of abuse by 70 witnesses in relation to 73 different schools over a 60 year period between 1932 and 1992. Fifty five (55) primary schools were the subject of witness reports, 22 of which were mixed gender schools under the auspices of the local parish. A further 33 schools were under the auspices of Catholic religious communities, other denominations and secular management structures.


Eighteen (18) second-level schools were the subject of reports of abuse by 22 witnesses. Fourteen (14) of these schools were second-level schools for boys, two were second-level schools for girls, and two were mixed gender vocational and technical schools. Four (4) second-level schools were each reported by two male witnesses. Nine (9) male witnesses reported being abused in both primary and second-level schools. Twelve (12) of the 22 witnesses reported abuse in second-level schools prior to 1967.


Eleven (11) schools were fee-paying boarding schools, three of which were primary and eight were second-level schools.


The reports related to abuse in 36 city schools, 25 schools in provincial towns and 12 rural schools.


The majority of witnesses were between 50 and 60 years of age at the time of their hearing. Three (3) witnesses were aged over 70 years and two were less than 30 years of age, as shown in the following table:
Age range Males Females Total witnesses
20–29 years 2 0 2
30–39 years 7 0 7
40–49 years 11 4 15
50–59 years 21 6 27
60–69 years 13 3 16
70 + years 2 1 3
Total 56 14 70


Fifty nine (59) witnesses, 45 male and 14 female, were residing in Ireland at the time of their hearing. Eleven (11) witnesses were living in the UK and one witness was living in North America.


Twenty three (23) witnesses reported that they were born in Dublin and 43 witnesses were born in 18 other counties in Ireland. Four (4) witnesses were born outside the State.


Sixty four (64) witnesses, 50 male and 14 female, reported that their parents were married at the time of their birth. Four (4) male witnesses reported being born to single mothers and two male witnesses’ parents were separated or widowed at the time of their birth.


In most instances witnesses provided information to the Committee about their parents’ occupational background as described in Table 100.2
Occupational status Males Females Total witnesses
Professional worker 7 1 8
Managerial and technical 6 0 6
Non-manual 6 6 12
Skilled manual 10 5 15
Semi-skilled 10 1 11
Unskilled 13 0 13
Unavailable 4 1 5
Total 56 14 70


It is of note that the majority of female witnesses reported that they were from a non-manual or skilled manual background. The majority of male witnesses reported being from semi-skilled or unskilled backgrounds. Information was not available regarding the parental occupational status of five witnesses.


Sixty two (62) witnesses reported that they had siblings, and the majority were from families of under six children.

  1. Department of Education and Science: www.education.ie.
  2. The categorisation is based on Census 2002, Volume 6 Occupations, Appendix 2, Definitions – Labour Force. In two-parent households the father’s occupation was recorded and in other instances the occupational status of the sole parent was recorded, insofar as it was known.
  3. Section 1(1)(a).
  4. Section 1(1)(b).
  5. Section 1(1)(c) as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act.
  6. Section 1(1)(d) as amended by section 3 of the 2005 Act
  7. This section contains some unavoidable overlap with the details provided by five witnesses who also reported abuse in other out-of-home settings.