The daily adjournment debate (a maximum of 30 minutes in all, consisting of a speech from the member who initiated the debate, followed by a reply from the responsible Minister) enables a member to agitate some matter in a fairly narrow, often local, field. This might have seemed to be just the procedural vehicle for some allegations of individual injustice in a School to be ventilated. In fact it was seldom so used. One exceptional case in which it was invoked arose out of an incident in which a 14-year-old boy had his arm broken by a Brother at Artane using a sweeping brush when he refused to submit to additional beating. Both the Minister (Sean Moylan) and the Deputy, Captain Cowan, who raised the matter were concerned to emphasise that this was an ‘isolated incident’. In response to the debate, the Minister remarked rather broadly, that ‘this is an isolated incident...[and] any guarantee I give parents of full protection of their children is no licence to any of the children to do what they like’. He stated that he had visited practically all the schools and, rather unexpectedly, that ‘they are deficient in many things [and] in future a wider provision for expenditure must be made if these schools are to serve the purpose they ought to serve in the nation’. In one other rare adjournment debate, Deputy James Dillon set out the increasing figures for the committals by the Dublin Children’s Court and asked unavailingly that the Minister should review each individual committal.46
More generally, the publication in 1966 of the White Paper on Health Services and their Further Development125 paved the way for a new administrative structure for the delivery of medical and health services in Ireland, including community care services, which in turn were to deliver social work services and particularly childcare services, within a system of regionalised health boards, thus replacing the existing county-based system. Although 1965 is taken as the starting point for this paper on the basis that a consensus was clearly emerging as to the desirability for shifting the focus of the child welfare system and the limitations of the existing system of residential care, a number of reports prior to this date had highlighted these issues. A non-exhaustive list includes the Commission on Youth Unemployment126 (1951), the Report of Joint Committee on Vandalism and Juvenile Delinquency127 (1958), Captain Peader Cowan’s pamphlet on Reformatory and Industrial Schools (1960) 128 and the Inter-departmental Committee on the Treatment of Crime and Prevention of Delinquency (1962).129 For many commentators, it was the publication of a report by the think-tank Tuairim that hastened the process of change in this area.130
The incident was then raised in the Dáil and was covered by the Press. The TD, Captain Peadar Cowan, regretted having to raise the matter in the Dáil, but he said that: the House will want an assurance from the Minister, and the country will want an assurance from him, that punishment, if it is to be inflicted on those sent to industrial schools, will be inflicted by some person of experience and responsibility. If punishment were to be imposed in a fit of hot temper, it would be exceptionally bad and, in fact, as in this case, it would be dangerous. ... The very fact that the incident did occur shows how necessary it is that this House, through the machinery of the Department of Education and through the Minister charged with that responsibility, should have the closest supervision of schools such as this, where children, many of them without parents at all, are sent to be brought up.
In one newspaper, under the headline, ‘Boy Wasn’t Beaten, Say Teachers’ the journalist wrote: A boy in a school for delinquents had his arm broken when he resisted a beating, the Dáil was told before it broke up this week, but teachers at the school gave a different version of what happened ... Captain Peader Cowan told the Dáil that the boy resisted [being] slapped on the hands with the leather ... The boy, said Captain Cowan, grabbed a sweeping brush to resist the punishment, but was struck on the arm by it as two Brothers wrested it from him ... When I visited the school yesterday, teachers told me the story had been exaggerated. The boy was hurt when he attacked the Brother with a brush, they said.
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