Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 1 — Department of Education

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Part 3 Departments of Health and Justice


However, the public and sometimes even officials did not appreciate that the Industrial and Reformatory Schools were not primarily for delinquent children and consequently, it was often assumed that the Minister for Justice was responsible for them. 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. 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 Hillary [sic].’


Evidence of confusion as to who was responsible for the schools system also came from members of the public addressing complaints regarding the schools to the Department of Justice. For instance, in 1953, an ex-resident, wrote to Justice to complain about his experiences in Baltimore, who passed on his letter to Education; and a former night watchman at Glin wrote both to Department of Education and Minister for Justice. Justice dealt with criminal justice, including the courts and prisons. In the public mind, it followed that Justice was involved with the schools.


Marlborough House Detention Centre was administered by the Department of Education, notwithstanding its repeated attempts to transfer responsibility to the Department of Justice. See the discussion of this matter in Volume I Chapter 16

Part 4 The Cussen Commission


It seems that the impetus for the establishment of the Cussen Commission came from a desire to evaluate the entire schools system prior to the long overdue amendment of the 1908 Act. The Minister for Education, in his speech at a public session, to open the Cussen Commission (The Irish Times, 8th May 1934; DD vol 151, vol 1621, 11th April 1934) identified as among the reasons why the system called for examination: the training provided by the schools might be out of date in terms of the gradual disappearance of village tailor, shoemaker and carpenter; the fact that some of the children were ‘mentally deficient’; and the increase in juvenile offenders. The Minister also stated that the legislation that created the system in the first place was predicated on the assumption that it would deal primarily with delinquent children, whereas by 1934 the institutions catered primarily for poor and neglected children.


Despite this encouraging launch, contemporary press and Oireachtas reaction to Cussen, who published the Report on 17th August 1936, was slight. There appears to have been no press report on Cussen. The absence of political interest can be measured by the lack of debate that the report received in the Oireachtas. There were only six Dáil questions dealing with the recommendations. These questions were spread out over several years and centred on the monetary aspects of the Cussen proposals, including a question on whether or not teachers of literacy subjects in Industrial Schools were to be paid for by the State, and whether or not the Summerhill detention home should be closed. However, no other specific aspect received any parliamentary notice.


Overall, the Cussen Report endorsed the existing schools system, though subject to the implementation of its 51 principal recommendations and conclusions: As a result of our investigations we are satisfied that subject to the introduction of various changes which we have indicated...the present system of Reformatory and Industrial Schools affords the most suitable method of dealing with children suffering from the disabilities to which we have referred, and we recommend its continuance.


The primary response to these recommendations came in the form of the Children Act 1941 which amended the Children Act of 1908. Although some recommendations did get a green light to a greater or lesser extent, it is revealing to examine the recommendations that were overlooked. While the non-implementation of some recommendations can be explained by way of fiscal limitations and structural deficiencies within the Department, others are more difficult to explain. Full implementation would have involved a greater role for the Department and this may have been viewed at the time as an encroachment into the Church’s domain.


One objective of the Cussen Committee was to help remove negative stereotypes and criminal connotations associated with the children in the certified school system. It was the firm belief of the Commission ‘that in the main the problem is one not of criminal tendencies, but of poverty’. Cussen encouraged a change in terminology to aid in the reduction of the stigma associated with certified schools: for example recommendation number 11 suggested replacing the term ‘committal order’ with the term ‘admission order’, and similarly the terms ‘Industrial School’ and ‘Reformatory’ were to be replaced with ‘National Boarding Schools’ and ‘Approved Schools’ respectively. Furthermore Cussen stated that these titles should be for administrative purposes and each school should have its own individual name, which would include any classification denoting its status. Cussen ultimately believed that neither the schools nor the public should view children in reformatories as criminals; Although the young persons committed to the Reformatories have been found guilty of offences it is the case that the percentage of them who subsequently make a further appearance in the Courts is negligible. It follows, we suggest that such young persons cannot in any sense fairly be looked upon as criminals


In line with this proposal, Cussen wished to remove other aspects of the committal proceedings that could contribute to the idea of criminality, such as: the Children’s Court should be separated from the District Court; judges should not wear robes in Children’s Court; Gardaí should not wear uniforms in court nor when they were bringing the children to the schools.


This child-centred approach of the Cussen Report also manifested itself in a desire to maintain each child’s identity and family connection. It was the belief of the Commission that school Managers were to be fully aware of all of the children under their care. Therefore, Cussen recommended that more detailed information about each child be provided to the schools upon committal. This information was to include a birth or baptismal certificate and a synopsis of each child’s history including comments from Justices where appropriate. This information was to remain confidential. In addition children were to be committed to Industrial Schools as near to their homes whenever practicable – subject to the discretion of the Justices – so as to allow parents easier access to their child and thus preserve familial ties.


The functions to be performed by the Resident Manager of an Industrial School included the ability to manage all staff, control discipline within the school and, primarily, to be fully knowledgeable of the circumstances of each child in their care: The success attained by these schools depends in large measure on the personality and fitness for office of the Managers – their capacity in directing their staffs, their power to make every pupil feel that the Manager is his guardian and his friend, while maintaining an ever vigilant but unobtrusive discipline.


The Department’s concern as to the age of certain Resident Managers was a recurring theme


The Cussen Commission considered the role to be one which required ‘qualifications and gifts that might not be considered indispensable in ordinary schools’. Consequently, the choice of person to fulfil this role was regarded as a most important decision and it was recommended that ultimate approval for this post should rest with the Minister for Education. The Report went further to state that the Minister for Education should also have the power to remove Resident Managers who were derelict in their duties. The report maintained ‘that it should be within the competence of the Minister to report to his or her Superior, with a view to replacement, a Manager who is found unsatisfactory’.


The response to this recommendation came in the form of section 5 of the 1941 Act, which gave the Minister the power, for the first time, to direct the removal of the Resident Manager. If the Minister is satisfied that the Resident Manager of a certified school has failed or neglected to discharge efficiently the duties of his position or that he is unsuitable or unfit to discharge those duties, the Minister may request the managers of the school to remove such Resident Manager from his position and the managers shall comply with such requests (unless withdrawn) within one month after receipt thereof.