A trainee care worker, Donal Kavanagh,27 who was in Summerhill at the time of Thomas Pleece’s removal, gave evidence about the events which led to his resignation from St Joseph’s in 1977.
After some months, around August 1976, Peter Tade arrived and was appointed as a House Parent, and Mr Kavanagh became his assistant. Five months later, Donal Kavanagh resigned and wrote a letter of resignation which stated: Dear Rev Mother, Please accept this as my letter of resignation. I leave for the following reasons: Having two house fathers in Summerhill might work under different circumstances; but in the case of Mr Tade and I it is not working. I feel and fear that at the present time Mr Tade is neither mentally nor emotionally stable enough to give the boys the security and example they need. Furthermore I feel the situation in Summerhill at the moment is highly undesirable and unsafe. This is not a hasty or reckless judgment, but an opinion formed after working in close proximity with Mr Tade for four months, and it is not without great thought and extreme reluctance that I now bring these matters to your attention; but as my first responsibility is to the boys in all conscience I must. Having been assured that there is no chance of transferring to another group, I must therefore with even greater reluctance submit this, my resignation. Yours sincerely,
She said that she did not trust Donal Kavanagh, although she did not explain why. She agreed that it was almost impossible to get care workers at that time, either qualified or unqualified, but she still did not want to retain Mr Kavanagh, who had asked for a move away from Peter Tade. Mr Kavanagh surmised that her antipathy stemmed from his desire to unionise the workforce in St Joseph’s.
Sr Astrid denied that Donal Kavanagh had ever approached her previously about Peter Tade’s behaviour. The first she knew about it was when she got his letter of resignation.
Sr Wilma told the Committee that she only knew Peter Tade to see around the grounds of St Joseph’s. She remembered Donal Kavanagh, as she knew him from around Kilkenny and she knew his family. She recalled Donal Kavanagh complaining to her that Peter Tade was physically abusing the children. He did this in the context of speaking to her about doing the childcare course and, in the course of that discussion, he mentioned that Peter Tade slapped the children. She remembered telling him that he should go to Sr Astrid about it.
In her interview with the Gardaí in December 1995, she stated: ‘I picked up on it that he might have been sexually abusing them as well’. In her evidence to the Commission, Sr Wilma corrected that statement. She said she made a mistake in her Garda statement, and that she could not possibly have known about sexual abuse back in 1970 when Donal Kavanagh spoke to her. She did know about incest and men interfering with girls, but she knew nothing about men interfering with boys. She also suggested in her evidence that her statement to the Gardaí was somewhat informal, and not as formal as the signed document would suggest. It took place in her solicitor’s office.