Marlborough House in Glasnevin, Dublin was registered as a detention centre for up to 50 boys on 24th March 1944, pursuant to Part V of the Children Act, 1908. It had four purposes: (a) It was used to accommodate boys sent on remand pending the hearing of their court cases, (b) It was used as a substitute to imprisonment, at the discretion of the court, for periods of detention not exceeding one month, (c) It provided temporary accommodation for boys who had been committed to industrial schools awaiting transport/escort, and (d) It was used by the Gardaí or NSPCC1 to lodge boys in for safe custody, pending disposal of their cases, where the boys had no fixed abode, or had parents who had refused to provide bail.
Throughout its existence, from 1944 to 1972, Marlborough House was an anomaly. The Department of Justice certified it, but was not responsible for its management, or for the children within it. That responsibility fell to the Minister of Education. Under the Children Act 1908, Adaptation Order 1928, he was made responsible for the inspection of places of detention for children and young persons.
The Department of Justice did run some facilities for older children. It certified and administered St Patrick’s Institution, which housed young male offenders between the ages of 16 and 21 years, and Shanganagh Castle, bought by the Department of Justice in 1968 to serve as an open prison for juveniles. It opened in 1969 with a bed capacity of 60.2
This left Marlborough House in a unique position. The Department of Justice certified it as a suitable place of detention, but, pursuant to section 109(3), the Department of Education was responsible for its administration.
It came under the remit of the Department’s Reformatory and Industrial School Branch, whose Inspector had the duty to carry out inspections relating ‘to all the children and the entire accommodation in the school at the time of his/her visit’.3 ‘All the children’ meant the responsibility extended to children on short term remand as well as those committed by the Courts to be detained in the school.
With responsibilities disputed between these two Government Departments, it is not surprising there were chronic problems. The Department of Education did not regard Marlborough House as being rightfully in its remit. Tarlach O’Raifeartaigh, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education, wrote a letter on 19th March 1952, to the Department of Justice making his Department’s position clear. The Department of Education, he wrote: ...had absolutely no power whatever regarding the entry, removal, transfer and disposal of the inmates in the Institution. All these powers are exercised by the Minister for Justice.
Moreover, he went on: This Place of Detention cannot in fact be regarded as anything more than a Prison for Juveniles, whether used as a place of remand or as a place of detention, and should accordingly be administered by the Department of Justice.
In reply, on 24th April 1952, Mr Costigan, of the Department of Justice, conceded that the administration of Marlborough House might well be more appropriate for his Department, but nonetheless argued that ‘the transfer would be bound to be criticised as a retrograde step’ as it would be seen as running the place ‘as a prison rather than a Juvenile Remand Home’. He then rejected the argument made by O’Raifeartaigh that it would be more cost effectively run by Justice, as it ‘would be unlikely to result in the Place of Detention being run more satisfactory or more cheaply than at present’. 4
Rivalry, often amounting to hostility, marked the relations between the two Departments. The Minister for Justice, in the 1960s and afterwards, on a number of occasions, indicated disquiet at the Department of Education’s performance or made an attempt to urge that Department into reforms. For example, a letter dated October 1963, addressed to the Minister for Education, Patrick Hillery, was drafted for the Minister for Justice, Charles J Haughey. It stated: ...I hope that the Inter-Departmental Committee’s recommendations in relation to Marlborough House and the Industrial School system will find ready acceptance, the more so as the recommendations are subscribed to by the expert from Education on the Committee. In particular I should like to see some action taken to establish Visiting Committees and After-care Committees for the Industrial Schools. Contrary to views held earlier in your Department it has now become apparent that the Managers of schools, such as Artane, are not opposed to such a development.
A civil servant had written at the top of this letter ‘Minister, Unless somebody prods the Department of Education the Committee’s work will go for nought, to a large extent.’ A second copy of the letter is scored through and endorsed: ‘Letter need not issue – I have spoken to Dr Hillery’.
The Department of Education failed in its many attempts to get The Department of Justice to take over Marlborough House, which remained under its control until its closure on 1st August 1972.
Despite being legally responsible for inspecting all the children and the entire accommodation in the school, the Department of Education did not carry out its supervisory role. In its submission it wrote: Records indicate that there were no formal or regular inspections of Marlborough House. With the exception of Departmental Officials accompanying visiting dignitaries on walkabout inspections of the facilities or Departmental Officials calling to the centre to report on urgent matters such as the investigation of a serious complaint, records indicate that Departmental officials did not inspect the facilities in Marlborough House as a matter of routine. In the absence of a formal or routine inspection system, contact with Marlborough House was mainly in the form of written correspondence between the Superintendant of Marlborough House and the Inspector of the Reformatory and Industrial School Branch when dealing with issues such as the investigation of complaints and incidents, staffing, funding, requisitions, etc.
The children in Marlborough House, then, were afforded even less protection than the children in Industrial and Reformatory Schools, where the Department did set up a regular inspection system. The Department relied almost exclusively on responding to complaints as its means of monitoring the running of the institution.
The Department’s submission to the Commission explained the complaints system by quoting from a letter dated 17th May 1971 from the Secretary of the Department of Education to the Minister for Education. All complaints from parents, guardians or other sources about the treatment of children in Marlborough House are investigated by the Department. The Attendant-in-charge is furnished with a copy of the complaint and his observations are requested. Should the seriousness of the complaint warrant it, an Officer of the Department will also interview the child and the Attendant-in-charge and/or the attendant against whom the allegations are made and the Department takes appropriate action where necessary. No complete record of all complaints received is available since many of the complaints received are of a trivial nature.
The procedure was largely the same as that set up for the Industrial Schools, except that these schools would have been visited by the Department’s Inspector, who would have regular contact with the school.