Sr Ronja,33 who was in charge of Avondale was the subject of complaints by two childcare workers, in 1986 and 1990 respectively.
The complaint was investigated by a Health Board official, but he dismissed it. Sr Ronja said she had no recollection of this investigation, and did not recall speaking with him, despite being shown contemporary documentation of such meetings.
In April 1990, childcare practices in Avondale came under scrutiny once again. Another childcare worker met with Sr Alicia34 and the Health Board official and outlined the difficulties in Avondale in regard to the manner in which the childcare services were being conducted there under Sr Ronja.
On 30th April 1990, in a letter addressed to Sr Alicia, Programme Manager of the South Eastern Health Board, Sr Ronja, House Parent of Avondale, tendered her resignation, having been assigned by her Superior General to a missionary post overseas.
The childcare worker gave evidence of her experience in St Joseph’s. She completed the Kilkenny childcare course in 1974/75 and obtained a contract in Avondale in St Joseph’s for a six-month period from January to July 1990. There were 11 children in the unit, and Sr Ronja was in charge. At the start of her assignment, Sr Alicia warned her that the person she would be working with was ‘quite difficult’. What transpired was that she found the systems in place in Avondale institutional and sterile, and the staff were mainly involved in cleaning, sewing and cooking, with little time devoted to the emotional needs of the children. Very little affection was demonstrated, and there was one particular child singled out for favouritism. The children told her they were beaten quite severely, and she had no reason to doubt what they were saying to her. Food was of reasonable quality but was rationed, and there was no flexibility around the portions the children were allowed. She found all this extraordinary in the 1990s.
She met with Sr Alicia and a Health Board official about her concerns in April 1990. She complained about Sr Ronja‘s management of the children in the house. There was no consultation over key decisions, and Sr Ronja was an autocratic manager. She felt that Sr Ronja resented her and perceived her as upsetting the apple cart. Children were not allowed to show any signs of independence. For example, she allowed the older children to walk to mass by themselves one day, and Sr Ronja took grave exception to this.
Sr Ronja also gave evidence. She joined the Sisters of Charity in the mid-1970s. She started in St Joseph’s in 1977 and remained there until 1990. She was a qualified childcare worker. Sr Ronja worked in St Joseph’s initially and, in 1981, she became House Parent in a group home known as Avondale, which catered for 15 children aged 2 to 15 years. She reported directly to Sr Astrid and, in the beginning, she only had one live-in staff member, Barbara Brady,35 who was a tireless worker.
Sr Ronja tried to ensure that the children in her group home were properly fed, clothed and attended school. She enforced discipline by occasionally slapping the younger children on the backside with an open hand and sending them to their rooms. With the older children, she would ground them from a disco or swimming.
Sr Astrid gave evidence that she witnessed Sr Ronja physically punishing a pupil. Sr Ronja did not remember this occasion, although she did remember having to slap the boy once for not attending school and forging notes of excuse. Sr Astrid said in her Garda statement that she recalled that some of the children complained to her that Sr Ronja was cruel to them. She said that, one day, Sr Ronja had a small boy in the convent parlour. She recalled hearing the boy screaming because Sr Ronja was beating him. She said that Sr Ronja was reprimanded for that.