Br Denis Minehane, Vice Principal of the Presentation Anglo Irish Province, gave evidence during the Emergence Phase on 1st July 2004 in relation to the position taken by the Presentation Brothers on the issue of whether there was physical abuse in their Institution. He told the Committee: we have not formed a view that systematic child abuse occurred at Greenmount Industrial School. We are prepared to accept that a harsh regime operated there which would be unacceptable by today’s standards. In relation to the specific complaints made to the Investigation Committee it is extremely difficult to perform any meaningful enquiry into these allegations which relate to events between 40 and 60 years ago. This is compounded by the fact that virtually all the Brothers who worked at the School are deceased, and furthermore many records are incomplete.
Br Minehane said of the apology: It was along the lines of, “we apologise for any wrongdoing or any abuse that occurred to any person while in our care.” That was done for two reasons. First of all to give our regret. Secondly to encourage anybody out there who is hurting to come and make that complaint.
Br Minehane then confirmed that the Presentation Brothers had contributed to the Redress Scheme. He stated: Well, we were members of CORI and in 2000 when this came up first we were participating in the Faoiseamh help line and we contributed to the Faoiseamh help line. We were a member of the 18 congregations and when the question of the contribution came up we felt that especially because of our 1955 incident that we would feel very exposed if all this went to litigation. We felt that it was prudent management to make a contribution to the Redress Board.
Br Minehane said that the Presentation Brothers knew of around 60 allegations of abuse concerning their Congregation by 2002, when they signed into the Redress Scheme. He confirmed that any Brother against whom allegations were made and who was still alive was interviewed and, in all cases, ‘there was total denial’.
In Phase III, Br Minehane was asked if there was unwarranted physical abuse in Greenmount and he replied: Yes, by today’s standards there certainly was, especially at a period during the 1940s, our research would show that there was certainly excess corporal punishment.
Br Minehane was asked to clarify what he meant by the phrase excessive physical punishment ‘in the light of today’s standards’. He replied, ‘my interpretation of it is that corporal punishment in schools was totally acceptable until 1982’. Under questioning, he went on to concede that some punishments were indeed excessive by the standards of the time, and that he did not need to use the term ‘by today’s standards’.
The 1940s were precisely the years that the Presentation Brothers acknowledged to have been an era marked by excessively severe corporal punishment. Br Minehane was asked to explain the contradiction. He began by saying, ‘I would have question marks about it’. He then went on to explain that the Resident Manager, Br Arrio, was in charge of discipline, and was ‘the same person who wrote that report’. He then said: He was the Resident Manager and I have no explanation for it except that he regarded himself as the disciplinarian in the School. And from his point of view ... corporal punishment was part of it.
In their statement in response to Michael’s allegations against Br Garcia, the Presentation Brothers made no mention of the canonical inquiry of the mid-1950s. Br Minehane who, in his direct evidence to the Investigation Committee, acknowledged that he was aware of the canonical inquiry, signed the statement on behalf of the Presentation Brothers and stated: The Complainant makes the most appalling allegations against Br. Garcia ... It seems likely that the Complainant was taught by Br. Garcia. Br. Garcia is now [real name]. He strongly denies all of the Complainant’s allegations.
The letter to the Bishop of Cork from the Superior General had cited ‘the difficulty of providing suitably trained Brothers to staff such an Institution’ as one of the four reasons for closing. During Phase III, Br Minehane expanded on this problem. He explained that, in the 1950s, ‘Boys were assigned to Greenmount from the Dublin area and that created further problems’. The problems were related to discipline. The Dublin boys were more challenging of authority. They were hardened and street-wise. Br Minehane said, ‘we were dealing with a new and more difficult client, and ... training and expertise was required’. While the numbers of Brothers dealing with the pupils in Greenmount was about the same all the time, the management and care of the new kind of boy required an expertise and training that was not available to the Presentation Brothers.