May 202009

The report by the Commission on Child Abuse has been published. It deals with abuse in industrial schools and reformatories in Ireland, and its conclusions are truly sickening, highlighting clerical indifference to children’s welfare and the savagery with which they beat and raped young children.

The report describes the system as a Victorian model of childcare that failed to adapt to Twentieth Century conditions and did not prioritise the needs of children. According to the report, children were committed by the Courts using procedures with the trappings of the criminal law. The authorities were unwilling to address the failings in the system or consider alternatives.

These are some of its findings, taken verbatimfrom the report, except for some minor adjustments to make the post read more clearly.All of the following words were written by the Commission without any additional remarks by me. They speak for themselves.


The Christian Brothers failed to accept any congregational responsibility for the physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect that took place in institutions run by them. They were defensive in response to complaints.


In Artane industrial school, children were left feeling powerless and defenceless in the face of bullying and abuse by staff and fellow pupils. The school was so imbued with the harshness of the underlying regime, that children constantly felt under threat and fearful.

Physical punishment of boys in Artane was excessive and pervasive and, because of its arbitrary nature, led to a climate of fear amongst the boys.

Sexual abuse of boys in Artane by Brothers was a chronic problem. Complaints were not handled properly and the steps taken by the Congregation to avoid scandal and publicity protected perpetrators of abuse. The safety of children was not a priority at any time during the relevant period.

Neglect and emotional abuse were also found to have been features of Artane. The numbers of children made it impossible for any child to receive an adequate standard of care.

Many of the details of this abuse were contained in the Congregations’ own records that became known as the €˜Rome Files’


It was an inhospitable, bleak, isolated institution accessable only by car or bicycle and out of reach for family or friends of boys incarcerated there.

Physical punishment was severe, excessive and pervasive and by being administered in public or within earshot of other children it was used as a means of engendering fear and ensuring control.

Sexual abuse was a chronic problem. For two thirds of the relevant period there was at least one sexual abuser in the school, for almost one third of the period there were two abusers in the school and at times there were three abusers working in Letterfrack at the same time. Two abusers were present for periods of 14 years each and the Congregation could offer no explanation as to how these Brothers could have remained in the School for so long undetected and unreported.

Children were emotionally and physically neglected throughout the relevant period and those children who could have benefited from family contact were deprived of this because of the remoteness of Letterfrack’s location. This isolation impacted on boys and Brothers who were posted there.


St Joseph’s Industrial School. Serious allegations were outlined both in documents and in oral testimony about a Brother who was violent and dangerous over a number of years . This Brother was moved from a day school because his violence towards children was causing severe problems with their parents, and was moved to Tralee Industrial School. Such a move displayed a callous disregard for the safety of children in care. He went on to terrorise children in Tralee for over seven years.

Children were left unprotected and vulnerable to bullying by older boys and this was stated to be a particular problem in Tralee both in terms of physical and sexual abuse.

One ex-Brother, Professor Tom Dunne, gave evidence about his experience of Tralee and he described a cold hostile culture where the boys were treated with harshness: €˜It was a secret enclosed world, run on fear’.

Dun Laoghaire

Carriglea Park Industrial School. A period of near-anarchy was tackled by the imposition of a harsh punitive regime which was facilitated by the transfer of Brothers with a known propensity for severe punishment to the school.


A system of harsh and pervasive punishment existed in Glin during the relevant period. Brothers with a known propensity for sexual abuse were transferred to Glin indicating a serious indifference to the safety of children.


Violent Brothers who were moved around from one school to another continued their violent behaviour. In Salthill, one Brother, who had been described as cruel in Letterfrack, continued his severe treatment of boys in Salthill and another continued his harshness in schools he was assigned to after Salthill. Internal Christian Brothers’ Reports identified a €˜severity in attitude’ towards the boys in the 1950s and the records would indicate a concern with six Brothers who had served in Salthill with regard to physical punishment.

The Salthill report deals with a relatively recent allegation of sexual abuse against a Brother who had been transferred from Salthill €˜following a grave indiscretion with one of the boys’ in the early 1960s. The treatment of a boy who alleged sexual abuse against this Brother some twenty years later by Congregational Authorities was shameful and disturbing.


St Joseph’s School for the Deaf. It was the subject of Eastern Health Board Investigations in the 1980s which revealed disturbing levels of sexual abuse and peer sexual activity amongst boys who were resident there. These documents reveal a persistent failure on the part of school Authorities to protect children from bullying and abuse.

In addition, the documents revealed that physical punishment of these children continued into the mid-1990s and that staff were protected by management when physical abuse was discovered.

The Industrial Schools owned and managed by the Christian Brothers did not keep a Punishment Book as was required by the Rules.

John Brander

Brander taught children in the primary and secondary school sector in Ireland for 40 years. He was eventually convicted of sexual abuse in the 1980s.

He began his career as a Christian Brother and after three separate incidents of sexual abuse of boys, he was granted dispensation from his vows. This chapter goes on to describe this man’s progress through six different schools where he physically terrorised and sexually abused children in his classroom. At various times during his career, parents attempted to challenge his behaviour but he was persistently protected by diocesan and school authorities and moved from school to school. Complaints to the Department of Education were ignored. The Committee received a large number of complaints from individual national schools and the investigation conducted into the career of Mr Brander, apart from being shocking in itself, also illustrates the ease with which sexual predators could operate within the educational system of the State without fear of disclosure or sanction.


Daingean Reformatory

This was the only boys’ reformatory in the State for most of the relevant period and was managed by but not owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

The physical abuse of boys in Daingean was extreme. Floggings which were ritualised beatings should not have been tolerated in any institution and they were inflicted even for minor transgressions. Children who passed through Daingean were brutalised by the experience and some were damaged by it.

Apart from a cruel regime of punishment, Daingean was an anarchic Institution. It was run by gangs of boys who imposed their rules on the others and the supervision by the religious Brothers and Priests was minimal and ineffectual.

Serious questions were raised about two Brothers who were in the school for long periods but in general allegations of sexual abuse were concentrated on abuse by older boys. The gangland culture fostered the development of protective relationships between the boys and these relationships sometimes developed a sexual aspect. The boy seeking the protection had little option but to comply with the demands of the older boy and the authorities were dismissive of any complaints.

The Rosminian Order

St Patrick’s Industrial School in Upton, County Cork

The Order conceded that punishment was abusive and at times brutal.

The issue of sexual abuse in this institution emerged most strikingly through material that came to the Investigation Committee’s attention following a search by the Order of material in their archive in Rome, which disclosed a considerable number of documents, 68 in all, dating from 1936 to 1968. They dealt with, among other things, 7 sexual abusers who worked in Upton. These documents provided a valuable contemporary account of how sexual abuse was dealt with.

Ferryhouse, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

the Order have conceded that there was excessive and severe punishment in the Institution. Complainants spoke of a climate of fear and of harsh and at times brutal punishments.

The extent of sexual abuse in this institution was as serious and disturbing as in Upton. Two religious members of the Rosminian Order and one layman were convicted of sexual abuse of boys in Ferryhouse. Another religious who served in Ferryhouse was convicted of a crime committed elsewhere on a boy who had previously been a resident of Ferryhouse and who was then living in another Rosminian institution. These three religious offenders served in senior positions in Ferryhouse and the layman was a volunteer there for different periods of years between 1968 and 1988.

During almost all of the period covered by the inquiry, there was at least one sexual abuser present in Ferryhouse.

The living conditions in both schools were poor, inadequate and overcrowded although conditions in Ferryhouse did improve from the late 1970s. Children were underfed and badly clothed and received poor education and training.

Presentation Brothers

Greenmount Industrial School, Co Cork

For some specific periods during its history, Greenmount operated a harsh and severe regime. The level of corporal punishment tolerated depended on the attitude of management at the time. Some Resident Managers were more severe than others.

The report into Greenmount contains a detailed analysis of an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against two Brothers who were on the staff at the time. This matter was dealt with inadequately at the time and one of the Brothers went on to abuse in other schools he was assigned to.

Food clothing and accommodation were poor in Greenmount and education and aftercare were badly provided.

Brothers of Charity

Lota Glanmire, Co Cork.

The significant element in the account of Lota was the deeply disturbing accounts of sexual abuse of vulnerable children by religious staff. In addition, the indifference of the Congregational Authorities in addressing the issue facilitated the abuse in Lota for many years. In one case, a Brother who was known by the Congregation to have abused in England and was known to the police there, was brought back to Ireland and assigned a teaching position in Lota, where he worked for over 30 years. This Brother admitted to multiple sexual assaults of boys in the school. The circumstances of his return to Ireland and the handling of allegations against him whilst in Lota are a serious indictment of the Brothers of Charity. The Brothers have admitted that abuse took place but, as in the case of other Orders, they have not accepted Congregational responsibility for it.

Sisters of Mercy

Goldenbridge Industrial School

A high level of physical abuse was perpetrated by Religious and lay staff in Goldenbridge. The method of inflicting punishments and the implements used were cruel and excessive and physical punishment was an immediate response to even minor infractions. Children were in constant fear of beatings and in many cases were beaten for no apparent reason. A feature of this school was a rosary bead industry that was operated from the school. This industry was conducted in a way that imposed impossible standards on children and caused great suffering to many of them. It was a school that was characterised by a regime of extreme drudgery, both in terms of the rosary bead making and the daily workload of the children.

Goldenbridge was an emotionally abusive institution. Girls were humiliated and belittled on a regular basis and treated with contempt by some staff members. It was characterised by an absence of kindness or sympathy for the children.

Cappoquin Industrial School, County Waterford

This institution was identified by the Department of Education Inspector as being particularly neglectful of the children in its care in the 1940s. Children were described as malnourished and underweight.

Cappoquin adapted to the Group Home system in the 1970s but it was marred by highly dysfunctional management throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Alcohol abuse and inappropriate relationships between senior personnel interfered significantly with the standard of care provided to the children. This period was marked by indifference on the part of the Community of Sisters in the convent attached to the school, which allowed a dangerous and neglectful situation to continue.


Clifden was an institution that was strongly affected by the personality of the Resident Manager who was in office from 1936 to 1969. She was described by complainants and respondent witnesses as a strict, harsh woman who ruled and dominated all aspects of life in the institution. She treated the school as her personal domain and worked a punishing schedule with little help or support. She was unable to give the children the care they needed and used harsh physical punishment not just to correct misbehaviour, but also to enforce discipline and order. A significant feature of the evidence was the culture of detachment and lack of affection that was described by both respondent witnesses and complainants.


This school repeated many of the problems identified in Clifden. It was consistently under-staffed with a heavy workload falling to the Resident Manager and much of the day to day work being done by the children themselves. Newtownforbes was severely criticised by Department of Education Inspections in the 1940s for serious neglect and abuse of children who were found with bruising that was not satisfactorily explained. Conditions improved into the 1950s and 1960s but it was a strictly regimented school that used corporal punishment to punish and to maintain order. There was a heavy emphasis on domestic chores and this together with childcare duties impeded the education of many children. Children were undermined and emotionally neglected by a regime that did not offer kindness or encouragement to children who had no-one else to look out for them.

Sisters of Charity

St Patrick’s Industrial School which was founded in 1879 accommodated 186 boys up to the age of 10. A significant feature of this school was the very young ages of the children and the large group of them all being cared for by a small number of nuns. Because they were so young when they were there, witnesses tended to remember specific episodes rather than have overall memories of St Patrick’s. Some of these incidents pointed to a regime that was harsh and unpredictable with corporal punishment the usual response to misbehaviour. Three male complainants described incidents of sexual abuse and the significant factor in each account was the child’s inability to confide to the Sister who was caring for him. Men who were employed in the school appeared to have ready access to these small boys and there was no awareness of the risks posed by this.

St Joseph’s Kilkenny

In general this was a well run institution but it was dogged at two separate periods in its history by serious instances of sexual abuse and the Congregation did not deal with these appropriately or with the children’s best interests in mind. In 1954, a handyman who had been employed in the school for the previous 30 years was discovered to have been grossly sexually abusing girls from as young as eight years old. An investigation which was conducted by the Department of Education, confirmed the abuse but the children concerned were offered no comfort and the perpetrator, although dismissed from the school, was not reported to the Gardai.

The second period in which sexual abuse arose in St Joseph’s was during the 1970s after the school admitted boys, when two care workers who were sexually abusing boys were dismissed. Both men went on to abuse again after leaving St Joseph’s and the failure of the Congregation to deal decisively with these men was a factor in this.



1.Physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions. Sexual abuse occurred in many of them, particularly boys’ institutions. Schools were run in a severe, regimented manner that imposed unreasonable and oppressive discipline on children and even on staff.

2. The system of large-scale institutionalisation was a response to a nineteenth century social problem, which was outdated and incapable of meeting the needs of individual children. The defects of the system were exacerbated by the way it was operated by the Congregations that owned and managed the schools. This failure led to the institutional abuse of children where their developmental, emotional and educational needs were not met.

3. The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the Congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools. The Reformatory and Industrial Schools Section of the Department was accorded a low status within the Department and generally saw itself as facilitating the Congregations and the Resident Managers.

4. The capital and financial commitment made by the religious Congregations was a major factor in prolonging the system of institutional care of children in the State. From the mid 1920s in England, smaller more family-like settings were established and they were seen as providing a better standard of care for children in need. In Ireland, however, the Industrial School system thrived.

5. The system of funding through capitation grants led to demands by Managers for children to be committed to Industrial Schools for reasons of economic viability of the institutions.

6. The system of inspection by the Department of Education was fundamentally flawed and incapable of being effective.

7. Many witnesses who complained of abuse nevertheless expressed some positive memories: small gestures of kindness were vividly recalled.

8. More kindness and humanity would have gone far to make up for poor standards of care.

Physical abuse

9. The Rules and Regulations governing the use of corporal punishment were disregarded with the knowledge of the Department of Education.

10. The Reformatory and Industrial Schools depended on rigid control by means of severe corporal punishment and the fear of such punishment.

11. A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.

12. Children who ran away were subjected to extremely severe punishment.

13. Complaints by parents and others made to the Department were not properly investigated.

14. The boys’ schools investigated revealed a pervasive use of severe corporal punishment.

15. There was little variation in the use of physical beating from region to region, from decade to decade, or from Congregation to Congregation.

16. Corporal punishment in girls’ schools was pervasive, severe, arbitrary and unpredictable and this led to a climate of fear amongst the children.

17. Corporal punishment was often administered in a way calculated to increase anguish and humiliation for girls.

Sexual abuse

18. Sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ institutions. The situation in girls’ institutions was different. Although girls were subjected to predatory sexual abuse by male employees or visitors or in outside placements, sexual abuse was not systemic in girls’ schools.

19. It is impossible to determine the full extent of sexual abuse committed in boys’ schools. The schools investigated revealed a substantial level of sexual abuse of boys in care that extended over a range from improper touching and fondling to rape with violence. Perpetrators of abuse were able to operate undetected for long periods at the core of institutions.

20. Cases of sexual abuse were managed with a view to minimising the risk of public disclosure and consequent damage to the institution and the Congregation. This policy resulted in the protection of the perpetrator. When lay people were discovered to have sexually abused, they were generally reported to the Gardai. When a member of a Congregation was found to be abusing, it was dealt with internally and was not reported to the Gardaí.

21. The recidivist nature of sexual abuse was known to religious authorities.

22. When confronted with evidence of sexual abuse, the response of the religious authorities was to transfer the offender to another location where, in many instances, he was free to abuse again. Permitting an offender to obtain dispensation from vows often enabled him to continue working as a lay teacher.

23. Sexual abuse was known to religious authorities to be a persistent problem in male religious organisations throughout the relevant period.

24. In the exceptional circumstances where opportunities for disclosing abuse arose, the number of sexual abusers identified increased significantly.

25. The Congregational authorities did not listen to or believe people who complained of sexual abuse that occurred in the past, notwithstanding the extensive evidence that emerged from Garda investigations, criminal convictions and witness accounts.

26. In general, male religious Congregations were not prepared to accept their responsibility for the sexual abuse that their members perpetrated.

27. Older boys sexually abused younger boys and the system did not offer protection from bullying of this kind.

28. Sexual abuse of girls was generally taken seriously by the Sisters in charge and lay staff were dismissed when their activities were discovered. However, nuns’ attitudes and mores made it difficult for them to deal with such cases candidly and openly and victims of sexual assault felt shame and fear of reporting sexual abuse.

29. Sexual abuse by members of religious Orders was seldom brought to the attention of the Department of Education by religious authorities because of a culture of silence about the issue.

30. The Department of Education dealt inadequately with complaints about sexual abuse. These complaints were generally dismissed or ignored. A full investigation of the extent of the abuse should have been carried out in all cases.


31. Poor standards of physical care were reported by most male and female complainants.

32. Children were frequently hungry and food was inadequate, inedible and badly prepared in many schools.

33. Witnesses recalled being cold because of inadequate clothing, particularly when engaged in outdoor activities.

34. Accommodation was cold, spartan and bleak. Sanitary provision was primitive in most boys’ schools and general hygiene facilities were poor.

35. The Cussen Report recommended in 1936 that Industrial School children should be integrated into the community and be educated in outside national schools. Until the late 1960s, this was not done in any of the boys’ schools investigated and in only in a small number of girls’ schools.

36. Where Industrial School children were educated in internal national schools, the standard was consistently poorer than that in outside schools.

37. Academic education was not seen as a priority for industrial school children.

38. Industrial Schools were intended to provide basic industrial training to young people to enable them to take up positions of employment as young adults. In reality, the industrial training afforded by all schools was of a nature that served the needs of the institution rather than the needs of the child.

Emotional abuse

39. A disturbing element of the evidence before the Commission was the level of emotional abuse that disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children were subjected to generally by religious and lay staff in institutions.

40. The system as managed by the Congregations made it difficult for individual religious who tried to respond to the emotional needs of the children in their care.

41. Witnessing abuse of co-residents, including seeing other children being beaten or hearing their cries, witnessing the humiliation of siblings and others and being forced to participate in beatings, had a powerful and distressing impact.

42. Separating siblings and restrictions on family contact were profoundly damaging for family relationships. Some children lost their sense of identity and kinship, which was never recovered.

43. The Confidential Committee heard evidence in relation to 161 settings other than Industrial and Reformatory Schools, including primary and second-level schools, Children’s Homes, foster care, hospitals and services for children with special needs, hostels, and other residential settings. The majority of witnesses reported abuse and neglect, in some instances up to the year 2000. Many common features emerged about failures of care and protection of children in all of these institutions and services.


Bock comments.

Now, if you managed to read all of that without getting sick, well done.

Here we have a catalogue of failure by the State, indifference on the part of the church, and brutality by the religious orders. We have absolute denial of responsibility by all but the Rosminians. The Christian Brothers in particular, are refusing to acknowledge their role in brutalising generations of children who were arrested, convicted and imprisoned as criminals for all manner of offences that arose directly from poverty.

The Dunleavy report on Glin, for example shows the shocking list of things children were convicted of, and imprisoned for, to be raped and beaten by the savages of the Christian Brothers:

Reason for admission Number
Destitution 111
Larceny 62
Not attending school 61
Wandering 49
Having a parent not a proper guardian 38
Parents unable to control child 12
Receiving alms 10
Being under the care of a parent with criminal habits 6
Homelessness 5
Fraudulent conversion 2
Housebreaking 2
Assault 2
Malicious damage 2
Total 362

And for all their crimes against children, do you think the clergy are making restitution?

No. They’re not. These people are still sitting smug and safe in their denial while the taxpayer foots the €1.3 billion cost, at a time when the country simply does not have the money.

The report speaks of excessive deference towards the clergy in the 1940’s but overlooks the grovelling deal struck by Michael Woods and Bertie Ahern that bailed out the clergy using State funds. Your money and mine.

How many of these abusers will be jailed? Will the head of the Christian Brothers be dragged in front of a court and forced to explain his despicable denial of what his colleagues did to these children?

These holy men and women, Christians all, beat, raped, starved and humiliated defenceless children. In some instances, they killed them.

These holy men and women are the same people who dictated to the people of this land, including our our parents and grandparents since the foundation of this State, how they should lead their lives, how they should frame their laws, what they should read, how they should arrange their sexual relationships, how many children they must have, how they should conduct their marriages.

Is there any logical reason why a bunch of priests or monks or nuns should be allowed to run any institution? Any reason at all? I can’t see any reason why men and women who are completely fucked up by sexual frustration should be allowed to control children’s welfare, or anything else for that matter.

This really is a screwed up country.


Full report and executive summary HERE

Here’s the excellent Paddy Doyle who suffered more than most at the hands of the religious orders. Read him.


Also on Bock:

Child Abuse – PR Guidance for Bishops

Oh, the Sisters of Mercy, they are not departed or gone.

Louise O’Keeffe and Sexual Abuse in Ireland

Eileen Flynn Dies

Catholic Bishops and irish Education System

What Dirt Have the Nuns Got on Bertie Ahern?

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