The allegations against Mr Ashe span a period of five years, beginning in the 1980s. In the year following the commencement of his employment at St Joseph’s, the first complaint about him was made at a Parent-Teacher meeting in the School. A parent complained to the Chairman of the Board, Br Noyes,2 that Mr Ashe had struck her son. Br Noyes responded by defending the teacher and ‘eventually smoothed over the situation’. In March of the following year, the parents of a boy wrote to the Principal, Br Ames,3 complaining about the aggressive and arrogant manner in which Mr Ashe had spoken to them. The Principal pointed out to Mr Ashe that such behaviour was unacceptable, but the teacher was unresponsive and Br Ames noted that he ‘got so little satisfaction from talking’ to him that he did not reply to the letter of complaint.
Parents of a boy wrote to Br Ames, alleging that Mr Ashe had struck their son and had used foul language. Six months after this complaint, a boy complained that Mr Ashe had struck him on the nose causing it to bleed; and, one month after that, four boys wrote letters to the Principal complaining that Mr Ashe ‘thumped’ them. Furthermore, he had threatened and tried to intimidate the school Principal.
The final allegation put to Mr Ashe at the meeting was that he threatened and tried to intimidate the Principal, Br Ames, by words and gestures. In reply, he described an angry meeting when he accused the Principal of trying to set him up and of being hypocritical. The minutes of the meeting include the following comments that Mr Ashe made to Br Ames: Are you up to your old tricks again or what? You have some neck to try to set anybody up with all the beatings and spankings and all the other stuff you have been up to lately. The Guards never come down to me over hammering. Remember, in case you forget it, that it was to you, yes you, the Guards came, after the daylights being kicked out of a pupil.
The Board was conscious of potential difficulty and embarrassment. Other teachers could be expected to support Mr Ashe, notwithstanding the history of complaints and incidents. There was also the matter of the Principal’s own history, which is dealt with below: There are some points that could be made to look awkward for Br Ames, eg. that a pupil went to the Garda station to complain about Br Ames, and the Gardai came down to meet him.
The Priest appointed by the Archbishop held meetings with Mr Ashe and the Board of Management separately. He advised the Archbishop as follows: Having consulted with the Education Secretariat and [a Solicitor], I have come to the conclusion that the permission sought by the Board of Management of St. Joseph’s to dismiss Mr. Ashe should not be granted. The case made against Mr. Ashe does not warrant dismissal and would probably not stand up to testing in court. It is generally agreed, however, that Mr. Ashe would be better suited to teaching in an ordinary second-level school or at third level. In view of this and of the poor relationship between Mr. Ashe and the Principal of the school, every effort should be made to assist Mr. Ashe in finding alternative employment as soon as possible. The attempt should be also made to establish better relations between Mr. Ashe and Brother Ames for as long as Mr. Ashe is in the school. That might be for some considerable time due to the general employment situation for teachers.
As a result of the Archbishop’s decision, Mr Ashe remained in the School. However, the concerns of the Board of Management were justified, as two further allegations of physical abuse were made against Mr Ashe the following year. A parent wrote to the Chairman of the Board of Management complaining that Mr Ashe had punched his son twice in the stomach. A month later, another teacher witnessed Mr Ashe physically assaulting a boy in a classroom. Both incidents were reported to the Principal, Br Ames, who carried out an investigation by interviewing relevant witnesses. He received no co-operation from Mr Ashe. Following his investigation, Br Ames informed Mr Ashe in a letter that he would be dismissed if he again breached the rules of the Department.
Around this time, Br Ames wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Education informing him of these incidents. He also sought advice from the Department in dealing with Mr Ashe, as the Board of Management ‘find that they are helpless’. Within the Department, Br Ames’s letter was referred from the Special Education section to the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Branch for the following reason: as your section has a file regarding this case, perhaps, R and I could examine this whole issue with a view to arriving at a solution acceptable to all concerned.
It appears from correspondence in the early 1980s that Br Ames believed he and other school staff were entitled to resort to physical chastisement when occasion required. In the course of a reply to a parent’s letter complaining about physical abuse by another Brother, Br Ames admitted hitting the boy himself for what he thought was good reason: ‘We must look at the case realistically’. He said that the boy was ‘by no means an easy boy to manage’ and at times he ‘found it necessary to give him a good “clip” and I make no apology for this as I have been put to the end of my tether with him’.
The unfortunate boy who was treated in this fashion by the staff fared no better with his fellow pupils. The boy’s father complained again to Br Ames, some two years later, that his son was being bullied by other boys in the School because of his religion, displaying acceptance of a prejudice that should have been wholly unacceptable to the management of the School: As [the boy] has been the only boarder of his religion; it is understandable that certain pupils would give him a hard time. He has had his hair torn out by the root, his clothes taken from his locker and his head battered against a wall necessitating us taking him to [hospital] for a brain scan to ascertain any permanent damage to his skull.
It appears from the Visitation Reports that Br Ames was not very popular with the staff at the School, but it is not apparent whether this had anything to do with his treatment of the boys. The Visitor in the late 1980s said: Brother Ames has made an enormous contribution to the development at Cabra. It is most regrettable that relationships with the staff have broken down. I do not believe that he has any adequate realisation of the impact of some of his behaviour on those for whom he is responsible. For his own sake and that of others, he ought not to remain in Cabra.
Br Ames did in fact leave the School in the late 1980s. The Christian Brothers in their Submission of 2006 said: The fact of a manager being of a dour disposition does not of itself support the veracity of any allegation of physical abuse made against him. Before being posted to Cabra, Br Ames had been appointed as Manager in [an] Industrial School where he introduced many changes and innovations. Allegation against an Assistant House Parent, Mr O’Sullivan4
A few years later, a parent wrote a letter of complaint to the Principal, Br Ames, alleging that Br Seaton12 had punched his son in the stomach and slapped him around the face when he was wearing his hearing aids. Br Ames wrote a very unsympathetic letter in response, stating that the boy was ‘by no means an easy boy to manage’ and, as stated above, admitted that he had found it necessary to give him a good ‘clip’ and made no apology for it. Br Ames also alleged that the boy had been sedated in his former school, which was the reason he had had no problems there, a fact denied by the boy’s father who had spoken with staff at that school. It would appear that no action was taken against Br Seaton on foot of these allegations.
It was clear to Br Ames that big changes had to be made, and he decided that the place should be changed into residential homes. He stated that he failed to get funding for the work from the Department of Education and so went to the bank and borrowed £15,000. The Department of Education discovery, however, indicated that, in 1974, ‘The Home was remodelled interiorly at a cost of £8,000 £6,000 of a grant was given by the Dep. of Education’.
Br Ames said that he and his colleagues tried different schemes, and eventually installed 15 bedrooms with living/dining areas attached, so as to replicate a family environment as far as possible.
The whole system, in short, was organised on civilised and sensitive lines, with a view to making the lives of the boys as close to normal as possible. Br Ames acknowledged that what he did could not have been achieved with larger numbers, but he did point out that another Brother had had considerable success in Artane when he reduced the number of boys in a unit to 30.