Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Some historical milestones


During his tenure as Resident Manager, Fr Stefano carried out an extensive building and renovation programme in Ferryhouse. As Fr Francesco55, Provincial of the Order, stated in the early 1980s at the official opening of the new School in Ferryhouse: The planning of to-day’s reality was begun even before I entered the Order. I recall the late Fr Rafaele working on same. He was followed by Fr Lucio whom I am happy to see here today. With the appointment here of Fr Stefano a necessary intensity and a vital momentum was generated and the ideas became realities.


The conditions in Ferryhouse, despite some improvements in the late 1960s, were very poor. It was for this reason that Fr Stefano set about an extensive rebuilding programme, which was necessary in order to bring about the changes recommended by the Kennedy Report.


Woodstown was a holiday centre in Waterford used by the Rosminian Order for holidays for the boys during the summer vacation. The site in Woodstown was purchased in 1957 and, according to Fr Stefano, was fairly basic. The camp provided basic facilities, which by 1979 were considered inadequate. Fr Stefano’s first redevelopment project was the rebuilding of Woodstown. The renovation in Woodstown began in 1977 with the addition of new kitchens, and a recreation-cum-dining hall; and, by the following year, a new block which housed the sleeping accommodation for the boys was built. According to Fr Stefano, they raised most of the money themselves, but the Department of Education did provide a grant towards the building works. Justice Eileen Kennedy officially opened the new Woodstown in 1979.


Fr Stefano’s next project was to rebuild Ferryhouse itself. One of the principal recommendations of the Kennedy Committee was for children to be cared for in smaller group homes rather that the large dormitory-based, institutional buildings. A scheme of capital funding for the provision of group homes was introduced by the Department of Education with the approval of the Department of Finance. The scheme provided for 90% grant aid towards building costs and service installations.


The Department of Education, however, had a different view in relation to the group homes scheme being specifically introduced into Ferryhouse. In 1974, the Government established a Task Force on Child Care Services, which reported in 1980. The main purpose of the Task Force was to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the Kennedy Report. The Task Force had difficulty with the Department of Education’s proposal to reconstruct Ferryhouse in order to cater for 100 boys. The Task Force saw these proposals as being contrary to the future childcare system, as set out by the Kennedy Report. Furthermore, the Task Force argued that, once the full range of services they had recommended were fully operational, there would no longer be a need for a large centre like Ferryhouse. Their interim report led to further discussions and, in December 1975, the design team was asked to carry out a comparative cost study of a school for 60 rather than 100 pupils. By early 1976, it was proposed that a school for 80 pupils was the most economical number, with provision for 10 in a pre-leavers unit, and sanction was sought for such a school from the Department of Finance.


The Kennedy Report and the Task Force envisaged that St Joseph’s, Ferryhouse would be the centre charged with looking after boys with poor school attendance records or boys unsuitable for foster care. The Task Force was very specific in designating Ferryhouse as a specialised educational establishment, catering for the following categories of children: Those whose educational progress had been hampered by their home circumstances and whose progress, even where they were attending special classes in special schools, was grossly impeded by such circumstances. Children for whom schooling presented particular difficulties and who required special educational help in a sympathetic and understanding environment. Children in trouble with the law or persistently truanting from school and who would not have a community-based service available to them. Children educationally retarded requiring special educational help.


The existing services and buildings at Ferryhouse were out of date and totally unsuitable for the role that was being planned for the School. As a result, an extensive building programme then began in Ferryhouse. A complete transformation of the Ferryhouse complex began in 1980. The planned reconstruction included: An open plan school building to replace the pre-fabricated classrooms. A bungalow style unit to be known as Piccola Casa. This was opened in 1980. A new sports centre, including a gymnasium, sports hall, swimming pool and canteen. Six two-storey residential houses, each designed to accommodate 10 to 14 boys. A new dining hall, reception area and service buildings.


The Department of Education funded this building programme. The Rosminians stated, however, that they supplemented the cost of these buildings with charitable donations raised by their members locally. Ferryhouse was now a much smaller complex, with state-of-the-art facilities, caring for a much smaller number of boys. A General Inspection Report for Ferryhouse completed in the post-reconstruction period (Report dated 14th October 1985) detailed the school conditions and services. The Report stated that the diets and meals were excellent for adolescent boys. No complaints were noted and, as diet was a central pivot of care, it must be highly commended. It noted that the School had a consistent long-term psychiatrist, and provided an excellent psychological service on a seasonal basis, with excellent reports on individual children. It concluded that the School was an excellent and well-run, caring School and residential centre that provided stability and security for boys, with well-balanced controls that were both meaningful and sensitive.


After the publication of the Kennedy Report in 1970, fundamental changes in childcare policy in Ireland began. Residential care was now viewed as the last option. The numbers of children in full-time residential care would drop dramatically within this decade and would continue to do so throughout the 1980s. Running parallel with the drop in numbers of children in care was an increase in the numbers of staff working in the remaining residential schools.


Fr Stefano, in his evidence to the Investigation Committee, spoke about the increasing numbers of trained staff made available to him during his tenure as Resident Manager in Ferryhouse.


As Fr Stefano stated in evidence: I would like to compare that to the manager in Ferryhouse that comes on duty this morning. He has two full-time deputy directors. Now, neither he nor the deputies, unless there is severe crisis, would ever have to work a weekend, and they would work a nine to five day. Underneath the two deputy directors there are eight unit managers. Underneath the eight unit managers, there are eight assistant unit managers, and these sixteen people run the school really on a daily basis, 365 days of the year. Under the eight assistant unit managers, there are forty care staff, and most of these staff are highly professionally trained staff. To assist them, there are ten night supervisors and, as Fr O’Reilly said in the last day or two, you know, the average number of boys in the school now would be 30 boys, and very happy about that, you know. These are the objectives that we worked for over the years, but it puts in perspective what a person arriving at Ferryhouse in 1960, 70, 75, the responsibilities that that person was taking on.


Today, the staff to pupil ratio is heavily in favour of the staff member. In earlier years, there were just 2 or 3 young, untrained men in charge of 200 or so boys. The consequences of this imbalance are evident from this report.


Fr Stefano had noted that the residential group homes at Rathdrum, Lenaboy, Lakelands, Moate, Cappoquin and elsewhere had been financed by 90% grants sanctioned by the Department of Finance for the building of group residential homes. Fr Stefano also noted the State’s building of three schools, Oberstown Boys Centre, St. Laurence’s, and St. Michael’s, and he was envious of the staffing and conditions offered to residents at these schools. In response, Fr Stefano sought the services of a consultant, to undertake an evaluation of the Ferryhouse services. Fr Stefano then held a formal meeting with the Principal Officer (Special Education) to discuss the findings of the consultant. The Rosminians, according to Fr Stefano, laid down an ultimatum to the Department of Education. They required the funding to employ 16 lay childcare workers, as there were no professional childcare workers in Ferryhouse. Furthermore, the Rosminians required a budget system of funding for the School. Fr Stefano wanted Ferryhouse financed on a proper budget system, and staffed with generous staffing schedules, in line with the other three new schools recently built by the Department.


The Rosminians sought 16 care staff, to provide adequate cover for night shifts and weekends. The Provincial informed the Department of Education that, if these proposals were not given, he would close Ferryhouse.


The Department of Education acquiesced, and provided the staffing required by the Rosminians. The staff changes, according to Fr Stefano, directly altered in a beneficial way the boys’ lives in Ferryhouse. He told the Investigation Committee: From the beginning, the early staff, we made a conscious decision that we would take on female childcare workers rather than male childcare workers at the start because we had four Rosminians and the balance was very overloaded in the boys’ lives so all the early childcare workers were female and there was a great sense of well-being and happening in the air. They were young people who were very energetic and very enthusiastic.

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  6. Set out in full in Volume I.
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  11. Br Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee; he lives abroad.
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  37. Latin for surprise and wonder.
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  50. Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Press Publishing Services, 2003), pp 399–405.
  51. Brid Fahey Bates, p 401.
  52. Cussen Report; p 53.
  53. Cussen Report, p 54
  54. Cussen Report, p 55
  55. Cussen Report, p 52.
  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.