Br Reynolds, Deputy Leader of St Mary’s Province of the Christian Brothers, said at the Phase I hearing that it was clear at the time that the Kennedy Committee would recommend the closure of industrial schools. The Opening Statement stated: it was becoming clear to the Congregation that the future of Artane Industrial School was uncertain and had been under discussion from the middle nineteen fifties. Eventually, in or around 1967 the Congregation took a decision in principle to close the institution.
Br Reynolds added that he thought that the decision ‘could have been taken in 1967’, with the timing being left to the Provincial to decide. On 23rd January 1968 the Provincial informed the Minister for Education that the School would close on 31st August of that year. At a meeting attended by the Minister in March, the Brothers agreed to a deferment until 31st December 1968, to give the Department time to arrange alternative accommodation for the boys. One further extension until 30th June 1968 was subsequently agreed. The Cussen Report and Artane
Phase I of the hearings into Artane took place on 15th September 2005 with a public session at the Alexander Hotel, Merrion Square, Dublin 2. Evidence was heard from Br Michael Reynolds, who described life in the Institution and outlined the Congregation’s view as to how the Institution operated.
In Phase III of the Investigation Committee’s inquiry into Artane, Br Reynolds returned to give evidence on behalf of the Congregation at a public hearing which took place on 22nd and 23rd May 2006. This session focused on issues that arose as a result of the private hearings into Artane and the documentary material furnished to the Commission.
The spokesman for the Christian Brothers at Phases I and III of the hearings was Br Michael Reynolds, who conceded that: There are three and possibly four cases there where I would say yes, there was certainly very severe punishment administered. I am not saying that is the totality of it, I am saying that is what I can work out of on record. I would say the discipline was quite strict and corporal punishment was used and so on. What I am saying is I don’t think that even in relation to physical punishment that it was an abusive institution by the standards of the time.
In relation to documentary sources, Br Reynolds was unable to explain the absence of a punishment book, which was required by regulations to be kept, but he accepted the obvious point that such a record would have assisted the inquiry. Indeed, as appears from the discussion of this matter below, maintaining that book would also have tended to reduce excesses.
At the first public hearing on 15th September 2005, Br Reynolds, speaking for the Christian Brothers, was asked if he found it appropriate for the Congregation to effect such a transfer under the circumstances, and he replied: It wasn’t appropriate. I would say it wouldn’t have been uncommon in various places at the time. Certainly that one is the most serious incident we have and it was handled badly I would say from all aspects of it. The other thing that gives some sort of indicator or is indicative of society at the time and what surprised me when I read it that even Peader Cowan, the TD who alerted the Dáil to it at the end of it said, “this is an isolated incident and it won’t happen again” and so on. That came as a surprise to me, but I am taking that as indicative of the times as well. It’s probably indicative of the attitude that somebody who did something of that nature could be transferred elsewhere.25
Br Reynolds was examined in relation to this in Phase I of the Investigation Committee’s inquiry. Referring to the view of the Brothers that the grandmother was dangerous, he said: I think in that particular case they had reasonably good foundation for the conclusions that they came to. I don’t particularly want to talk about the good lady in question, but I think if you examine the documentation in relation to that case it is quite clearly shown that Number one, an investigation was carried out and the considered opinion of the Resident Manager was that the incident she was complaining about didn’t actually take place. Nonetheless, they did issue a letter, not just to Artane, to all our industrial schools saying if punishments of this nature, if it should happen that they did take place it should cease if that is the custom or if it has happened. I am not sure why that happened. It would appear to me that that was their action to it first of all in relation to giving instruction to the various institutions and may well have said to the mother or the grandmother who was complaining, “we have done this. We don’t accept your complaint, but we have done this in relation to that complaint”. I haven’t documentary evidence in relation to that but I can’t see why else they would send that out to all industrial schools if there wasn’t some reason of that nature for it.
Br Reynolds was referring to a circular sent by the Superior General to the Christian Brothers’ industrial schools prohibiting the Brothers from taking boys out of bed at night to administer corporal punishment.
During the Phase III hearing into Artane, Br Reynolds, referring to the nature of Br Herve’s meddling, commented as follows: But I mean, what the Provincial believed or didn’t believe I am not sure is of any consequence. What I was saying in the submission is that the lady thought it didn’t happen, the Dean thought it did. And, obviously, that’s the view that I am taking, that if the Dean thought it did well then it did happen.
It was put to Br Reynolds that this comment showed clearly that the Congregation was aware of the recidivistic nature of abuse as far back as 1938. Br Reynolds did not agree: I would come back to say that this letter, in my view, does not point out that the recidivistic nature of child abuse was known to whoever wrote it. What he is saying is that this individual person, certainly he believed, abused but he wasn’t in a position to take any action on it until he had sufficient proof.
This observation is scarcely correct, as the correspondence shows that the Superior had brought Br Herve into his office in September 1937 ‘and abused him and rated him roundly for his kissing of the boys and his fondling of them. On that occasion he promised to give it up for good’. However, Br Reynolds persisted in his view that they had no evidence prior to 1938.
Br Reynolds was also reluctant to accept that the reference to ‘May God grant that the consequences are not worse’ referred to the involvement of the Gardaí or other authorities: That’s your interpretation is all I am saying ... Off the top of my head that would not have been my interpretation of that. But I am not saying that you are not correct in that.
At the Phase III hearings, Br Reynolds was not able to explain why the Gardaí had been called in the case of a layman, but had not been called in relation to sexual abuse by Brothers. He said that the reluctance to involve the Gardaí was ‘common practice right across society’.
At the public Phase I hearing, Br Reynolds commented on Br Danton’s appointment to the infirmary. He rejected the Visitor’s description of the Brother’s mental condition, and he did not appear to regard it as a major example of incompetence or failure of care. He said: I would say a number of things about it. First of all, obviously I know who the Brother was, I knew the Brother and I would not agree with the description of the Visitor, but so be it. Secondly, I would say that he wasn’t a teaching Brother and I don’t think the criticism was in relation to the mental soundness of the person. I think the main criticism was here was somebody that was sent in and he does not seem to be able to fulfil any role, so essentially I think the Visitation Report said that he was a negative quantity in the place. I would take that certainly I presume not in the community and from religious observance, but from the point of view that his work rate wasn’t very good and his contribution wasn’t adequate in the eyes of the Visitor. As you wisely say, why not take him out. The simple fact of the matter was he was left there, they tried him in a number of situations, they didn’t work and eventually he was moved on. During part of that time incidentally, the Brother in question was studying in university, he wasn’t a full-time member of the staff.