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Chapter 1 — Department of Education

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Part 2 The structure of the Department of Education


Two District Justices expressed opposition to this move. In a letter dated 30th July 1954, District Justice J J O’Hora advised the Secretary of the Department that the arrangement involving Letterfrack would cause serious difficulties for the Children’s Court in Limerick. The Justice requested that the Minister make representations to the Brother Provincial of the Christian Brothers to have either Glin or Tralee appointed for the reception of cases in which offences had been proved. However the Department had earlier consulted with the Christian Brothers requesting that it reconsider its decision regarding Letterfrack but the Order’s position remained unchanged.


Secondly, District Justice McCarthy, Children’s Court Judge in Dublin from 1941-57, stated in 1954 in open court, that he would not be prepared to send to Letterfrack the type of boy for whom the school was supposed to be reserved henceforth, until such time as the ‘non-offenders’ at present in the school were transferred to other schools. As a result, a conference was convened on 14th May 1954 and, attended by the District Justice, the Department’s Secretary and Assistant Secretary (Micheal O’Siocfradha) and Br O’Hanluain, the Provincial of the Order. The compromise reached was that the Manger of Letterfrack would transfer all the boys sent by local authorities and a number of non-offenders committed by the courts until the total number at Letterfrack was 85. They would be sent to Salthill, mainly, and to Artane and other schools.


These diverse opinions illustrate that the question of whether offenders and non-offenders should be held in the same institution was an issue on which informed opinion could differ. The Department ought to have developed a considered policy in consultation with the schools and ought then to have ensured that the schools observed it. Instead, it appears to have simply allowed the question to be decided by the Congregation. For example, in 1954 the Department noted resignedly: The Provincial (of the Christian Brothers) has informed the Department that his Council have decided to introduce into the Industrial Schools conducted by their congregation a measure of segregation. They have, accordingly, arranged that the Industrial School in Letterfrack is to be reserved for boys brought before the court and found guilty of an offence. All such boys, if committed to an industrial school will not now be accepted into their schools by the resident managers of the Artane, Salthill, Tralee and Glin Industrial School. The Industrial Schools for senior boys at Upton, Clonmel and Greenmount [non-Christian Brother School] will continue to accept boys as heretofore.


When addressing this question, before CICA, the Department of Education simply stated: The policy regarding the category of child admitted to and detained within a particular school was a matter for the Religious Order concerned and the Department had no role in the committal process. While the courts ordered the detention of a child, the Resident Manager of a School could exercise his/her power to refuse to accept this child into the school. Similarly the Religious Order could decide to change the category of child being admitted to a school. The essential question, however, is broader than the legalities involved. For the schools to work properly the system needed an authoritative overseer. If the Department declined to play such a role then there was no one to do so.

Part 3 Departments of Health and Justice


One noteworthy aspect of the State’s approach to childcare was the difference between the policies and approaches of the two Government Departments with responsibility in the area of childcare.


They had divergent attitudes to boarding out as an alternative to the schools for dealing with needy children. The Department of Health’s general policy, repeatedly stated, was that maintaining children in their families of origin should be encouraged and, if this was not possible, foster care rather than institutional care should be provided. In sharp contrast, the Department of Education believed firmly that institutional care offered many benefits and in March 1946 went so far as expressly to prohibit the boarding out of children from Industrial Schools.


Reflecting on this divergence, a Department of Education memo, written in 1964, stated. It seems strange that two Government departments should be at variance on such a fundamental issue. I spoke to an official of the Department of Health and apparently that Department considers that a home, even a disrupted home, is preferable to an institution however good...Industrial school managers are not in the most favourable position for supervising the treatment of boarded out children and this Department has no officers for that kind of work. On the other hand the Department of Health has its own Inspectors for inspecting foster homes etc... If the practice of boarding out children becomes widespread the industrial schools could very well become uneconomic but it is submitted that to keep children in institutions for the sake of the institutions would be inverted thinking. Modern thinking as practised by Department of Health and abroad, regards institutionalism as a dehumanising factor and instead favours a home environment as a proper place for a child to develop its personality. Moreover the decision of this Department to prohibit boarding out from industrial schools was taken at a time when economic conditions were very bad (immediately post-war) and was based on fear of an inquiry rather than on what was best for a child.


The enthusiasm of the Department of Health for ‘boarding out’ and the reluctance of some health authorities to implement this policy is apparent in a note of September 1964 from M Division of the Department of Health, which states: Art 4 of the Boarding Out Regs, 1954 provides that ‘a health authority shall not send a child to a school approved by the Minister under Section 55 of the Act unless such child cannot be suitably and adequately assisted by being boarded-out’. Health Authorities do not always comply with this provision of the Regulations and it is normal departmental procedure to challenge the continued maintenance of children in institutions who would seem to be suitable for boarding-out. Such action is taken on the recommendations of the Inspector who is supplied with a list of all children in institutions under Section 55 of the Health Act, 1953, on the occasion of her bi-annual visit to the health authority offices.


The different attitudes between two Departments of State are not easy to explain. Education had neither access to, nor direct knowledge of, boarding out and its legislative powers were confined to supervising the school authorities. By contrast, boarding out was and always had been organised by way of local boards of health, the Department of Health being the central Department for these agencies. Thus, the Department of Health had access to the information obtained by the boards of health as well as information gathered by its own inspectors whose responsibility extended to both boarding out and the Industrial Schools. In short, Health had a more informed view, whereas, short of major legislative changes, which no one in the Department contemplated, it would have been impossible for Education to get any children boarded out or to acquire knowledge of the subject.


The Department of Health took more individual interest in each child than Education. For example, by way of a Department of Health circular, health authorities were requested to establish arrangements between the health authority and the Manager of the school whereby a child could be visited at any reasonable time and at regular intervals, by an authorised officer of the health authority or of the Department of Health. The reason given for this decision was to ascertain if any children were suitable for transfer to relatives or to foster homes. Likewise the Department of Health, or the health authorities, kept track of family circumstances and there are files in which it is evident that the return of a child to his or her family was initiated by Health, rather than being, as in Education, a reaction to a parental request to the Minister to grant early discharge.


The only responsibilities that the Department of Justice had as regards the detention of persons under the age of 16 years were (a)if they were certified unruly or depraved by a court under sections 97 and 102 of the Children Act 1908, they could be detained in an adult prison and (b)the Department had responsibility for certifying places of detention for children (i) arrested in connection with an offence held pending an appearance before court or (ii) remanded in custody by the court pending trial (as ‘the police authority’) under section 108 of the Children Act 1908. There was also the possibility under section 106 for a child to be sentenced to such a place of detention for a period not exceeding one month. The Department of Education was responsible for the inspection of such places of detention pursuant to section 109(3).


Justice was mainly involved by way of its responsibility for the District Court and the Gardaí, who were the major channel by which children were committed to the schools. In addition, Justice was responsible for places of detention including St Patrick’s and Shanganagh Institutions, in other words, institutions exclusively for delinquent juveniles.


However, the public and sometimes even officials did not appreciate that the Industrial and Reformatory Schools were not primarily for delinquent children and consequently, it was often assumed that the Minister for Justice was responsible for them. The Minister for Justice, in the 1960s and afterwards, on a number of occasions, indicated disquiet at the Department of Education’s performance or made an attempt to urge that Department into reforms. A letter dated October 1963, addressed to the Minister for Education, Patrick Hillery, was drafted for the Minister for Justice, Charles J Haughey. It stated: ...I hope that the Inter-Departmental Committee’s recommendations in relation to Marlborough House and the Industrial School system will find ready acceptance, the more so as the recommendations are subscribed to by the expert from Education on the Committee. In particular I should like to see some action taken to establish Visiting Committees and After-care Committees for the Industrial Schools. Contrary to views held earlier in your Department it has now become apparent that the Managers of schools, such as Artane, are not opposed to such a development.


A civil servant had written at the top of this letter ‘Minister, Unless somebody prods the Department of Education the Committee’s work will go for nought, to a large extent.’ A second copy of the letter is scored through and endorsed: ‘Letter need not issue – I have spoken to Dr Hillary [sic].’


Evidence of confusion as to who was responsible for the schools system also came from members of the public addressing complaints regarding the schools to the Department of Justice. For instance, in 1953, an ex-resident, wrote to Justice to complain about his experiences in Baltimore, who passed on his letter to Education; and a former night watchman at Glin wrote both to Department of Education and Minister for Justice. Justice dealt with criminal justice, including the courts and prisons. In the public mind, it followed that Justice was involved with the schools.