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Fr Murphy, Provincial of the Oblate Congregation, presented evidence to the Investigation Committee at the Emergence hearing on 23rd July 2004. Fr Michael Hughes, the Provincial Archivist, gave evidence at the Phase I public hearing into Daingean on 9th May 2005. Complainant and respondent witnesses were heard in private between 10th May and 2nd June 2005 at the Commission’s offices. Finally, a public hearing in Phase III was held on 6th June 2006, and evidence was again given by Fr Hughes.
Fr Hughes said in the Phase I hearing that he was sure a punishment book would have been used but that, when he asked ex-staff members, there were ‘always very vague responses’.
Fr Hughes gave evidence about staff ratios operating in Daingean: I give you two examples there, we have a staff list of 1944 which shows the presence of a population, a school population, of 236. They were 24 Oblates in the school ... That would indicate there was a staff ratio of one member of staff to 10 inmates.
Fr Luca’s letter of concern for the stress placed on the staff of Daingean is illuminating. At no time was similar concern expressed for the unfortunate boys who were there. The consequences of having overworked and overstressed staff in Daingean were examined during the Phase I hearing. Fr Hughes was asked about the content of the letter of Fr Luca and about the problems that could result from stressed staff. When asked if this kind of strain carried with it any risks for the people in the care of those under that type of strain, he replied, ‘I suppose the men under stress might snap and become abusive, it is a possibility’. He accepted that it was an undesirable situation, where people working in a position of responsibility over young people were under extreme stress. On the basis of this evidence, there was never an adequate staff at Daingean.
In the Emergence hearing, Fr Murphy said, ‘The Kennedy Report in 1970 mentioned St. Conleth’s. They highlighted two things in that report: The state of the buildings and the clothing of the children’. His colleague, Fr Hughes, when questioned about the Kennedy Committee’s criticism that the showers were rusty through lack of use, rejected the Committee’s criticism, saying: There is no evidence that the Kennedy Committee did a very thorough examination of the premises, they descended on it as a group, there is no evidence that they made a very careful examination of everything ...
Fr Luca, who was Resident Manager at the time, gave a different version. He said in evidence that he got two day’s notice of the visit and that they did not ‘land on the doorstep unannounced’. Fr Hughes urged the Investigation Committee to read instead the ‘much more careful report’ of Dr Lysaght who ‘made a report there in 1966 after a very careful investigation, it is a very nuanced report and I think one would accept his observations as being fair and just’. He went on to explain that Dr Lysaght: went there specifically to do an investigation. He did a very careful and very honest and objective report which is far from being totally favourable but at the same time it has its nuances. I think one would have to accept it. Dr Lysaght’s report on St Conleth’s, Daingean, 1966
Fr Hughes blamed the State for this neglect of education: It did not supply any funds for teachers or for anything else, it was just left entirely to the school to find its resources from the capitation grant.
Boys were in Daingean usually for two years and would be available for only one full school year, and, as a result, Fr Hughes told the Committee: ‘The boys did not have a great success in getting certificates’. Moreover, he added: the equipment was rather poor. The equipment of course had to be supplied by the school, again out of the capitation grant, it was never funded by the State ... Another big reason ... was the difficult of attracting good teachers. The teachers for the technical school were provided by the Offaly Vocations Committee ... That was the only element of the educational programme that was paid for ...
Fr Hughes agreed with counsel for the Investigation Committee that it would be fair to suggest that the educational aspect of the boys’ time in Daingean was not particularly enlightening. He continued: Yes. Again you have to remember the capacity of the boys too, it would be naïve to think one could achieve a great deal in that context.