Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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Physical abuse


The social worker informed the Director of Residential Care, Mr Gallagher,5 who requested that the allegations be put in writing, which was duly done by letter. The Principal, Br Grissel,6 and Mr Gallagher interviewed the boy who made the allegations and Mr O’Sullivan, who denied the allegations. They decided to suspend Mr O’Sullivan on full pay, pending further investigation and inquiries into the allegations. It was intended that he would be suspended for a period of one week; however, this suspension continued for approximately one month. During the internal investigation, six staff members and 13 boys were interviewed.


A meeting was held in which the findings of the internal investigation were revealed to Mr O’Sullivan. The findings were: (1) Mr O’Sullivan was rough and cruel with the smaller boys; (2) he shouted at them and twisted their arms; (3) several boys had witnessed him hitting the boy with a fish slice; (4) he had a habit of grabbing children under the chin and lifting them up; and (5) he had a habit of throwing cups at children expecting them to catch them during wash up. In addition, Management was of the view that: Generally there were certain underlying themes coming forward some in relation to roughness with smaller boys and a kind of mocking, teasing attitude which in some cases was seen as cruel.


Mr O’Sullivan was given two weeks to respond to these findings, and he was informed that a final decision would then be taken. He responded by denying the allegations in a letter, and was informed shortly afterwards that the Management had reached their final decision, which was to transfer him to another residential house at the School. They also decided that he should be psychologically assessed by a doctor from the Granada Institute in order to assess his suitability as an Assistant House Parent. However, he was reinstated, despite the absence of a psychological assessment. Four weeks later, Mr O’Sullivan had still not been psychologically assessed, but arrangements were being put in place for that to be done. It is uncertain whether he was ever psychologically assessed, as no such report was furnished in discovery.


In a Visitation Report from the mid-1950s, the Visitor commented that Br Mason7 had ‘on a few occasions ... struck boys with his fist’. By the following year, Br Mason had ceased to be a member of the Community at St Joseph’s but no reason is recorded for his departure.


In the mid-1960s, a report by an Inspector in the Department of Education observed that Br Hamlin8 ‘... besides having very defective speech, was very cross with the boys and was hitting them’. The Visitor the following year noted that Br Hamlin was ‘a bit hasty in his manner of dealing with the boys but with some experience he should be able to control himself’. Br Hamlin remained in the School until the early 1970s, when he was dispensed from his vows on the grounds that he did not like teaching and was not happy at it.


Br Odil,9 who taught in the School during the 1990s, had been the subject of a complaint of ‘excessive punishment’ when he was teaching in another school in Dublin, which he left to attend a course of studies for two years in university. However, no allegations were made against him concerning his time at St Joseph’s.


A report by Dr Byrne,10 Consultant Psychiatrist, in the early 1970s on an eight-year-old boy from St Joseph’s who had been referred to him for assessment, referred to comments made by a nurse at St Joseph’s when she had attended with the boy. The report stated that: She was able to control his behaviour by giving him work to do but has found that slapping and isolation methods have not worked.


In the early 1980s the school Principal, Br Noyes, received what he regarded as ‘minor complaints’ from boys that a lay supervisor, Mr Lynch,11 ‘was too harsh, cross and slapped them’ and was very strict. Mr Lynch was the subject of an allegation of sexual abuse, which resulted in his resignation.


A few years later, a parent wrote a letter of complaint to the Principal, Br Ames, alleging that Br Seaton12 had punched his son in the stomach and slapped him around the face when he was wearing his hearing aids. Br Ames wrote a very unsympathetic letter in response, stating that the boy was ‘by no means an easy boy to manage’ and, as stated above, admitted that he had found it necessary to give him a good ‘clip’ and made no apology for it. Br Ames also alleged that the boy had been sedated in his former school, which was the reason he had had no problems there, a fact denied by the boy’s father who had spoken with staff at that school. It would appear that no action was taken against Br Seaton on foot of these allegations.


Br Seymour,13 who taught in the School from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, was the subject of an allegation of physical abuse when he was teaching in another school in the late 1980s. A pupil there alleged that Br Seymour had hit him on the back of the head, which caused his head to shoot forward and his mouth to hit the desk, thus damaging his teeth. Legal proceedings were instituted and the matter was settled without admission of liability. Br Seymour was transferred to a school in Galway following this allegation.


In the mid-1990s, a number of the boys stated that their House Parent, Mr Moore14 was rough and cruel and slapped them. These allegations were made in the course of an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against Mr Moore.


1 .Physical abuse of boys in the School is documented in the records. 2.Corporal punishment, at times excessive, took place at the School as late as the mid-1990s, despite the ban on corporal punishment which had been in place since 1982. It is particularly regrettable that this form of punishment was used on children with disability, who should have been treated with kindness and consideration. 3.In a case involving a teacher, Mr Ashe, about whom numerous complaints of physical abuse had been made, the Board of Management was unable to dismiss him because it was overruled by the school patron, the Archbishop of Dublin. However, it is noteworthy that the Board sought his resignation first and was prepared to give him a reference to enable him to transfer to another school. 4.The Department of Education was ineffective in investigating complaints of physical abuse in the School. In the case of Mr Ashe, no action was taken against the teacher and the file is mysteriously missing. 5.The requirement of the Archbishop’s consent to dismissal made it more difficult for the School Management to deal with the serious problem that affected the lives of the pupils. 6.Even as late as the mid-1990s, a care worker, Mr O’Sullivan, was not dismissed from his employment despite the fact that senior management found that he had been physically abusive towards younger children. The solution of transferring him to another residential house within the Institution ignored the safety of the children in the School.

Sexual abuse


The Christian Brothers in their Submission dated October 2006 acknowledged that individual Brothers had sexually abused boys in their care, but argued that there was ‘no evidence that it was a systemic phenomenon’. They defended the manner in which the Congregation dealt with such allegations, saying that there was no cover up and that: Each incident was investigated thoroughly as soon as it came to the attention of the relevant authorities, and action was promptly taken. There was no cover up.


They admitted that their approach to allegations of sexual abuse at the time was ‘seriously inadequate’, but added that this arose ‘through lack of awareness or knowledge rather than through neglect’. They cited the lack of clinical research into child abuse and the recidivist nature of such abuse in support of their approach. They submitted that there was little or no understanding or regard given to the effect of such abuse on the child concerned. Sexual abuse, they argued, was seen as a moral failing on the part of the Brother in question, and this and ‘the danger of scandal arising out of that moral failure were seen as the primary matters to be addressed when a case of child sexual abuse presented itself’.


They also conceded that complaints of sexual abuse were not reported to the Gardaí. This they justified on the basis that at the time ‘an incident of sexual abuse was considered more of a failure in morality than a criminal act and therefore the idea of reporting to the Garda was not considered to be usual practice’.

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