Tuesday 22 October 2019

We forced Christian behaviour into Catholic schools

Far from doing nothing, it was the people who stopped corporal punishment, writes Dr Cyril Daly

Dr Cyril Daly

OVER the past several weeks, Irish people have suffered a sustained slur. The insinuations are grievous. And they are false. When children were being beaten in national schools and in secondary schools and in orphanages, Irish people, we are subtly invited to believe, did nothing and said nothing. That is a comprehensive lie. It is a deformation of Irish social and educational history.

Irish lay people did act, did speak, did organise, did demand and did finally force the authorities to stop corporal punishment in Irish schools. The last Irish child to be caned or strapped legally was caned or strapped on Friday, January 29, 1982 -- 27 years ago. From that date Irish people, by their sustained campaigns, forced Christian behaviour into our Catholic schools -- to the palpitating horror of priests, nuns, brothers and salt-of-the-earth lay teachers.

The strap was pulled from their hands. Not by Christian vision but by secular enforcement. That is a scandalous fact then, now and forever. We can never change that truth -- Christian values had to be forced by the secular arm of the State on teachers and religious. But we can, I hope, painfully but generously forgive.

Think back. It was not possible for a Catholic parent to find a Catholic boys' school, either primary or secondary, where corporal punishment was not part of the essential matrix of Catholic education. Corporal punishment and sexual abuse are not discrete entities. They are a morbid and ineluctable continuum.

I was enraged at such corruption of the Catholic faith. The concept of a priest celebrating the holy Mass in the morning, having his breakfast, and then going into school to strike the children was nauseous. Still is.

On December 3, 1967, the Sunday Independent carried some vigorous letters -- one of which said that the punishment on the child was justified by Almighty God. Which makes one suspect that Almighty God has a lot to put up with.

On June 22, 1968, a group of doctors sent a letter to Brian Lenihan, then Minister for Education, stating, "Physical punishment need not form part of the Irish school system." It was signed by Dr PD McCarthy, Consultant Psychiatrist, St John of God Hospital; Dr Dermot Walsh, Clinical Director, St Loman's Hospital; Dr NP Walsh, Consultant Pathologist, Portiuncula Hospital; and myself.

On February 9, 1969, the Sunday Independent reported on the huge response I had got from an advertisement I placed in the national papers, inviting people who wanted corporal punishment banned to send me their name and address. There were several thousand responses. Among them were a couple of acting Cabinet ministers, distinguished academics, priests and psychologists.

I also received an enormous number of letters from the Irish public. The names and addresses I had bound very handsomely into two leather volumes, and were presented by me to Mr Lenihan. These volumes were the Irish people talking. The Irish people demanding on a massive scale that they wanted corporal punishment to be banned from all schools.

It was perhaps the most effective voluntary public protest ever in the social history of Ireland. Irish people were not passing by. Irish people knew that young people were suffering on the side of that squalid road to Jericho. And Irish people were demanding, loudly, publicly, unambiguously that it be stopped. And they stopped it. They succeeded.

On December 4, 1969, the Labour Party held a public meeting on corporal punishment in the Belgrove Football Club, Clontarf, Dublin. The stars of this meeting were several upset members of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), who placed an official picket outside the hall. Can you believe it? Yes, I can. There are some beautiful pictures in the national press to prove it.

On February 21, 1972, I wrote to every TD in Dail Eireann. I enclosed a postcard on which I asked them to choose between: (a) I believe that the use of canes and straps should be forbidden in Irish schools; and, (b) I believe that canes and straps should continue to be used in Irish schools.

There was a huge response to the first choice (a).

Included in this option were Brendan Corish, Patrick Harte, Oliver J Flanagan, David Thornley, Joseph Lenehan, Maurice Dockrell, Noel Browne, Paddy Belton, Peter Barry, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Ray MacSharry and John O'Connell.

In December 1973, I placed an advertisement in the national papers inviting those who had a child imprisoned under the suppurating School Attendance Act 1926 to contact me. There was, for example, a boy at a midlands school who was fearful of school because he was being beaten. He was duly sent off to a State Penitentiary for Children.

The Sunday Independent carried comprehensive cover of the child's predicament -- December 2, 1973. There was public outrage at that unbelievable cycle of terror: boy beaten at school, fearful of attending, district court, then the agonising avulsion of the child from his mother and home. The Sunday Independent was powerfully effective in securing the child's return to his mother and father. The child was happy.

On June 4, 1969, I wrote an open letter to the Papal Nuncio, published in the public press. I wrote, "Lay Catholic schools in Ireland are under the management of the Parish Priest. The State invests him with the power to stop corporal punishment. But, as a matter of sombre fact, a stick is used in almost all these schools to strike the Christian child. Many other schools are run by priests and brothers. These orders, instead of a stick, employ a particular type of stitched leather strap which is designed for the purpose of inflicting pain. Far from being exceptional, this technique is used in almost every Catholic boys' school. The technique of corporal punishment is also used on Catholic orphans."

Within two days, I received an acknowledgement from his Excellency. His note had an almost telegraphic brevity. No word wastage. I have no evidence that my letter disturbed his tranquillity. School children and orphans would continue to be strapped and caned. They would continue to suffer from priest and brother and nun and layman for the following 13 years.

John Boland, then Minister for Education, wrenched the squalid tools of pain from their hands on February 1, 1982. For which God's richest blessings on him.

On May 28, 1972, I wrote an open letter to Dr Ryan, Archbishop of Dublin -- again it was published in the press. My letter ended with, "The Irish child has been dishonoured. He is being given an example in violence. He learns violence. He responds to violence. He respects violence. Violent men use violence in the Catholic classroom and say this is the way of Christ. And I say it is blasphemy."

In all honour to the memory of the late Dr Ryan, I want to record that he expressed the opinion that corporal punishment should stop.

Who was responsible for the suffering of children in our schools and orphanages? First, it was the Department of Education, which could have stopped it literally with the stroke of a pen.

And what about the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC)? What indeed. It saw nothing wrong. It heard nothing wrong. And the little children were carried to their doom to Letterfrack and other havens of loving care. The silence of the ISPCC through all those years appals me. It saw them go to a horrible doom. It allowed the developing backbone of their personality to be crushed and twisted into permanent deformity. It let them go.

On August 3, 1975, the Sunday Independent published a letter under the title "Artane's Nameless Dead". In the course of this letter, I wrote, "The remains of 250 orphans are to be removed from the graveyard at the former Artane Industrial School and are to be reinterred in another cemetery. The ground which contains the graveyard was sold to a building firm in 1972."

My letter finishes with, "The place where they lie is sanctified ground. It would be difficult to find, in the whole length and breadth of Ireland, any other plot of earth which represents such trampled innocence."

The Christian Brothers stated that the arrangements for exhumation of the 250 young bodies were at an advanced stage. However, some time after that letter was published, something, somewhere, somehow happened. The innocent were allowed to lie forever where they had lain. And the Oratory of the Resurrection, beside the graves, was built and dedicated by Dr Ryan, Archbishop, on August 28, 1983.

Irish people have reason to be proud of what they have achieved. They have stopped the violence in the classrooms. In spite of the Department of Education; in spite of the INTO; in spite of the ISPCC; in spite of the School Managers Association; in spite of every organised body, they, the Irish people, have imposed civilised and Christian attitudes in the schools of Ireland.

They have won the day.

Dr Cyril Daly was a leading campaigner for the abolition of corporal punishment in Ireland

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