Within a week of his arrival, the rumours were proved well founded. On the surface, Mr Brander was very religious, very conscientious and hardworking. However, he administered extreme physical punishment. Mr Rothe described the type of punishment Mr Brander would use: One of the punishments he had was to hit you with his knuckles on the top of the head which caused headaches ... [another was] being slapped on the hands and ending up with swollen hands ... On many days he would, before he left in the evenings at three o’ clock he would actually count the number of slaps he gave out that day. Everything revolved around physical punishment.
Mr Rothe gave evidence that Fr Derek10 (the local curate at the time) advised him in the early 1980s that Fr Colm had consulted with The Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin about the problem.
In September 1997, the Gardaí in Tullamore, County Offaly, wrote to the Department of Education (Primary Branch) informing them that Mr Brander, a former principal of Walsh Island National School, was the subject of a Garda investigation. The investigation related to incidents that took place during Mr Brander ’s time in Walsh Island. The Gardaí requested any information regarding complaints the Department may have received during the time in question. The Department stated that they conducted a ‘thorough search... Primary and Second Level Branches, but nothing came to light at the time’. In January 1998 a file containing papers relating to Mr Brander was discovered in Second Level Branch, Athlone. The papers included a letter, sent to the Department on 27th May 1982, by Mr Rothe who identified himself as a national teacher, living in Edenderry, alleging sexual abuse of boys by Mr Brander. Although a number of internal memos were found discussing a possible course of action, no reply to Mr Rothe was found amongst the papers.
Mr Rothe made an appointment to meet with the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, in whose diocese Walsh Island NS was located. At the meeting, they discussed the circumstances of Mr Brander’s departure from Walsh Island NS. The Bishop told him that Mr Brander was an urgent problem at the time and it was dealt with quickly. He made the point that, if they had waited for the Department of Education to act, it could have taken years.
Mr Rothe said that the Bishop appeared to be surprised to learn that Mr Brander was teaching in Tullamore. He was very critical of the manner in which the Department of Education dealt with this sort of problem.
Mr Rothe pursued the matter in a further letter: Dear [Bishop] In reply to your question on other cases I have been informed that during the seven months of the last Coalition Government two persons had the right to teach removed from them by the Minister Mr. Boland. You did not in your letter give any answer on the question of an investigation or compensation for me personally. I do not agree with your reasoning on the Tullamore case but do realise that it was the result of an oversight. If my attempts to achieve an improvement through the proper channels fail I will use any other means available. What happens in our schools is everybody’s concern. The first time parents hear of the problem is after it has happened when it is too late. It is no consolation to know how many cases there have been. How many are necessary before action is taken.
Mr Rothe also contacted Fr Derek, former curate in the Walsh Island parish, whose parish priest had been Fr Colm. Mr Rothe had approached Fr Derek, as he felt that his meeting with the Bishop had been unsatisfactory. He gave evidence of a meeting he had with Fr Derek, with whom he had a good relationship. Fr Derek advised him that, when Mr Brander was sacked, a Department of Education Inspector and an Irish National Teachers’ Organisation official were involved. He did not learn their names.
Mr Rothe wrote to Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh. He discussed the problem of child abuse in general terms and said that he had been abused in a small rural primary school. He mentioned that had contacted the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin and John Boland TD. The Diocesan secretary replied as follows: ‘In the absence of [the] Cardinal I wish to acknowledge your letter ... As you have already consulted your own bishop concerning the matter you can be assured that [the] Bishop will bring it to the attention of the bishops if he deems it right that the bishops should be informed’.
Mr Rothe spoke about Mr Brander’s sexual abuse of his male pupils and physical abuse of both male and female students. Mr Rothe also spoke of the sexual abuse he had himself suffered while a pupil at Walsh Island NS. Mr Rothe testified to the Committee that he had expected his acquaintance to pursue his complaint officially with the Department, even though he was not in a position of authority over Mr Brander. However, the national school inspector gave evidence that he believed that the meeting was private and that it was not intended that he should follow up with action on his part.
Mr Rothe gave evidence that his efforts thus far were an attempt to avoid having to write a formal letter of complaint to the Department of Education. He had no idea how to go about this task, and felt that there were implications for him professionally in so doing. Despite this fact, he wrote: Dear Sir, I wish to make the following points concerning Mr. [Brander] who is presently teaching in Sacred Heart School, Tullamore. Mr. [Brander] taught in Walsh Island NS, Geashill, Co Offaly from 1965 to 70. He was then sacked because it was found that he was sexually abusing boys in his classes. He was the principal teacher in Walsh Island. The manager of the school, Fr. [Colm] reported the matter to [the Bishop]... Mr. [Brander] was then barred from teaching in primary schools. He then taught in Presentation Convent, Castlecomer before taking up his present post in Tullamore. I have been in touch with the authorities in Sacred Heart, Tullamore and they informed me that they were not informed of Mr. [Brander’s] behaviour in Walsh Island either by the Department or [the Bishop]. Many parents in Tullamore are unhappy with Mr. [Brander’s] teaching and methods of maintaining discipline etc... I am sure that [the Bishop] will verify anything I have said here regarding Mr. [Brander’s] conduct in Walsh Island I am myself a teacher and fully realise the seriousness of the charges I make against another teacher, I would not make any charge that I could not prove. I will expect the matter to be fully investigated and appropriate action taken. Yours sincerely
The letter from Mr Rothe quoted in full above raises the following points about Mr Brander: He is presently teaching in Sacred Heart Convent, Tullamore ; He taught in Walsh Island NS in the late 1960s; He was sacked from Walsh Island for sexually abusing boys; The manager in Walsh Island reported this to the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin; Mr Brander was barred from teaching in primary schools; He taught in Presentation Convent, Castlecomer; Mr Rothe said that he had been in touch with authorities in Tullamore who advised him that they were not informed of Mr Brander’s past behaviour by either the Bishop or the Department of Education; Many parents in Tullamore were unhappy with his teaching/discipline; The Bishop could verify the above information.
The HEO in Primary Payments was then in a position to reply to the HEO in Registration and Pensions: Mr [Rothe] apptd. as Asst. on ... and still serving. 1. We have no records unfortunately re Mr [Brander] – his cards and apt. file are missing – the file ... apt. of Principal is noted in Registry “Up” [late 1970s] but Records Section do not have it. All I have is a record of his past Primary Service. See copy obtained from T.P.O. [Signed]