Well-fed priests left brutalised school boys cold and hungry
A RELIGIOUS order admitted yesterday that boys at two of its industrial schools were left cold and hungry while priests dined in comfort.
The clerics further admitted boys in their care were brutally beaten although the State banned corporal punishment in 1982.
Beatings continued at the Ferryhouse Industrial School in Co Tipperary until 1993 despite a letter from the Department of Education sent in 1989 warning that the ban also applied to industrial as well as national schools, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse heard. The commission was told that the boys lived in an atmosphere of constant fear and anxiety, and were punished excessively, sometimes brutally.
Fr Joe O'Reilly, of the Rosminian Institute of Charity which ran Ferryhouse and the St Patrick's Industrial School in Upton, Co Cork, admitted that its boys who were from unstable or troubled backgrounds went from "the frying pan into the fire". Lawyers for abuse victims described the schools as Dickensian-style workhouses and paupers' prisons.
Fr O'Reilly said that boys were beaten for a wide range of reasons - including bedwetting - and that the punishment meted out were at times "spontaneous", "excessive" and "brutual".
Such punishments or the fear of punishment kept the boys constantly on edge, Fr O'Reilly stated.
"I accept that the boys experienced enormous anxiety and fear. Certainly there was a sense in most of the institutional schools that punishment could come at any time," he said.
And despite the pervasive fear, anxiety and sex abuse that was rife in the institutions at the time, boys who ran away were "dealt with severely".
"But I don't think that savage punishment was the norm," he told the inquiry. But he admitted that "far more corporal punishment was given out than should have been".
While he agreed there were beatings he denied there was "a culture of brutality" in the schools. However, Fr O'Reilly said that due to financial and other constraints, the institutions' goals of providing care, education and control to the children invariably amounted to simply exerting control over them.
"I would accept that care and education wasn't the priority it was at a later time. The first priority was control."
Fr O'Reilly also admitted that the food was both inadequate in quantity and quality even though priests and administrators at the institutions dined well.
He added that heating at the schools was also insufficient leaving the boys cold and hungry most of the time. "It was so much better for the people who lived and worked there," he said.