Dáil Éireann - Volume 145 - 23 April, 1954

Adjournment Debate. - Punishment of Industrial Schoolboy.

Captain Cowan: I gave notice this morning that, on the Adjournment of the Dáil, I would raise the matter of a boy who received injuries in Artane Industrial School on the 14th of this month. I want to state briefly to the Dáil the facts as they were reported to me. The boy concerned is aged 14½ years. He has been in Artane Industrial School for one and a half years, and, during his period there, his conduct has been satisfactory. On the 14th of this month he was punished for some boyish altercation with another boy. Apparently, as I am informed, before the punishment was inflicted, the doors were locked, the windows closed and the punishment, which was the normal punishment, was inflicted in the presence of all of his classmates. The punishment, I am informed, consisted [947] of a number of slaps on the hand from the punishment leather that is generally used for that purpose, but on the completion of that punishment the boy was ordered to submit to further punishment with the edge of the strap and he refused to accept that punishment. The Brother in charge sent for another Brother to come in. Apparently the boy who was being punished felt that the Brother was being brought in for the purpose of compelling him to receive this additional punishment to which he objected. Whatever his boyish mind was, he ran from the place in which he was being punished, lifted a sweeping brush, which was apparently standing in a corner, and held it up as a protection. At this stage, the second Brother arrived and seeing the bush in the boy's hands, snatched it from him, struck him on the head injuring him, struck him on the back injuring him, struck him on the arm and broke his arm. That happened on the 14th and the boy was taken to hospital on the 16th instant when his arm was set in plaster and is still in plaster.

The mother of the boy, although she lives not too distant from the school, was not informed of the injury the boy had received, but she heard about it during the week-end.

She sought to see the Superior but was refused permission to do so. In regard to that, I should perhaps make it plain that, so far as I am informed, there was on that particular point apparently some misunderstanding but she sought the Superior during that week-end and did not see him. She saw him on the first occasion on Tuesday of this week when the Superior admitted to her that the boy had received the injuries I have mentioned and that he had been taken to hospital. She did not see the boy. Whether he was then in hospital or not, I am not in a position to say but she did not see the boy. She came to me about half past eight yesterday morning. I communicated by telephone with the Superior and she was then allowed to see her boy. She was shocked at the state in which she [948] found him. Yesterday was the 22nd; the incident occurred on the 14th and eight days afterwards, on the 22nd, she saw the boy. I, immediately, having heard her story as to what had happened, sent a telegram to the Minister asking him to investigate the matter and I stated in that telegram that I would raise the matter on the Adjournment of the Dáil, and you, Sir, have kindly given me permission to raise it now.

These boys, who are sent to these schools by the courts, are all the responsibility of the Minister for Education, and the Minister for Education, as I understand it, must answer to this House and to the country for the conditions under which the boys sent there by the courts are kept, the conditions under which they live, the conditions of punishment and matters of that kind.

I think the House and the country will want to have from the Minister an assurance that an incident such as has occurred in this case will not be permitted to occur again. I am informed that the Brother who injured the boy was barely past 21 years of age, not much older than the little boy who was injured in the fashion I have described. I think the House will want an assurance from the Minister, and the country will want an assurance from him, that punishment, if it is to be inflicted on those sent to industrial schools, will be inflicted by some person of experience and responsibility. If punishment were to be imposed in a fit of hot temper, it would be exceptionally bad and, in fact, as in this case, it would be dangerous.

I regret very much that I have had to mention or raise this matter in this House. I have lived for many years convenient to Artane Schools. For many years, whenever I was asked, I have been a subscriber to the funds of the schools. I have seen their boys week after week passing my house, looking exceptionally fit, well clothed and happy. All of us have seen their magnificent band playing on big occasions in Croke Park and it would be regrettable that an incident, such as I have mentioned in this case, should be permitted under any circumstances to occur in a school of that kind. I myself [949] personally am satisfied that it is an isolated instance. I am satisfied that the superiors will take appropriate action against the Brother concerned. The very fact that the incident did occur shows how necessary it is that this House, through the machinery of the Department of Education and through the Minister charged with that responsibility, should have the closest supervision of schools such as this, where children, many of them without parents at all, are sent to be brought up.

This incident, when I heard it yesterday morning and heard the details subsequently, profoundly shocked me. I am perfectly certain that the fact that it has been raised in this House, that the Minister has investigated it, will ensure that no similar incident will occur in the future. It will be a guarantee to the parents and relatives of children who are in these industrial schools that this House and the Minister and the staff of the Department will jealously guard and protect those children while they are under the care of the State in these institutions.

Minister for Education (Mr. Moylan): I think Deputy Cowan has been quite reasonable in admitting that this is an isolated incident and that in general his appreciation of the work of the Artane School and of the condition of the children there has not lessened. The boy was hit and his arm was broken. I would be as much concerned as the Deputy is if I thought it was anything other than a very isolated incident and in one sense what might be called an accident. I would not tolerate cruelty to any boy or misuse of any boy in any institution. I visited Artane and found the boys were healthy and well cared for. I visited the schools there and it struck me that there was great evidence of very earnest endeavour, even of notable achievement, in the schools. It would be very difficult to improve the conditions under which the schools operate, certainly without a very substantial subvention from this House for the upkeep of the schools and for the development of what may be essential and necessary there. I would like to remind the House that the community provided the lands in Artane, the building and [950] the equipment from their own resources; and they did this in a Christian endeavour to ameliorate certain conditions the development of which had not been provided for in any way by anyone. I cannot conceive any deliberate ill-treatment of boys by a community motivated by the ideals of its founder. I cannot conceive any sadism emanating from men who were trained to a life of sacrifice and of austerity. They are also trained to have great devotion to a very high purpose.

The point is that accidents will happen in the best regulated families and in this family there are about 800 boys. Many of them were sent to Artane because of the difficulties of their character and because of a good deal of unruliness of conduct. These boys are difficult to control at times. Maybe it is essential now and again that children should be punished. I am not all at one with the people who claim that children should never be punished, but I think the punishment should be administered, as Deputy Cowan says, by a responsible person in conditions of calm judgment.

I do not know how the edge of the strap is used, but I will make an inquiry into that. I think it would be an evil thing for the school, for the character of the children, for the future of the children, that any misuse should arise in any school like Artane. Because of the unfortunate background of many of these boys, possibly due to evil social conditions, Deputies must realise how careful the handling of them as a group must be and how far from easy it is to ensure the working of such an institution.

I deeply regret that there should be such a happening and I appreciate the anxiety of the boy's mother. Apart from my high regard for the Brothers concerned, the community concerned, there is also a very constant system of inspection for all such institutions. I personally have visited practically all of them and I make personal and constant inquiry as to what is happening in them. I know in that particular school how deep is the anxiety for the children's spiritual and physical welfare. This is an isolated incident; it can only happen again as an accident.

[951] I hope it will never happen again. I have not neglected full inquiry into the working of these schools at any time. There are conditions that should be created in all these schools, they are deficient in many things; but that will cost a good deal more money from the State than the relatively small amount that is paid now. These things are essential from the point of view of the children. Unfortunately, this year I have not been able to make provision for the things I need in those schools; but Deputies will remember that in future a wider provision must be made [952] if these schools are to serve the purpose they ought to serve in the nation.

This is an isolated incident. I wish to express my sympathy to the parents of the child and I can assure them that nothing of the like will happen again. While giving this as a guarantee to parents and knowing the difficult conditions under which the school is run, I would point out to parents that any guarantee I give them of full protection for their children is no licence to any of the children to do what they like.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. sine die.