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Perhaps Deaglán de Bréadún cannot write completely as he pleases in his Irish Times column, ‘Synger’ – An Irishman’s Diary on Synge Street CBS in the Sixties* or perhaps he’s unaware that the Department of education had rules. Nevertheless it should be pointed out that the column reinforces a mistaken view of what was permitted in Irish schools by way of beating children. If it is said without qualification that corporal punishment was permitted in schools, the statement is so lacking as to be a virtual lie but it is a lie which protects very many brutish retired teachers and perhaps some that are still working.

The truth is that while beating a child was permissible, the Department of Education had explicitly circumscribed that permission by a set of rules which – if obeyed – would have protected children from almost all of the beatings.

In other words, the majority of these teachers were in breach of their employer’s rules and were committing criminal assaults to satisfy their own perverse ends. It is quite simply not the case that in harsh times they were doing what was permitted or what was usual in society generally. Let’s be clear: what they did was explicitly forbidden.

Prepare to be surprised. The following are rules of the Irish Dept. of Education:

Corporal punishment should be administered only for grave transgression.”

In no circumstances should corporal punishment be administered for mere failure at lessons.”

No teacher should carry about a cane or other instrument of punishment.”

Teachers should keep a copy of these rules and regulations suspended in their schoolrooms in a conspicuous place.”

The pretence that it was otherwise is an instance within the shabby practice adopted in Ireland when dealing with child abuse. The practice is to avoid personal responsibility so that the state or the culture at the time can be blamed. The state may pay damages, the Taoiseach may apologise. However, not only will the guilty never be brought to account but their ill-gotten pensions will be paid.

It is not certain that it needs to be so. There was a time when it was believed that a pension was personal property beyond the reach of the state and the only course when dealing with an ill-gotten pension was the possibility of considering it a criminal asset. Since austerity it is clear that pensions are not untouchable.

Like those still alive who committed greater crimes in residential schools and Magdalene laundries, and who rigged illegal adoptions, it is completely unacceptable that guilty national and secondary teachers should be permitted to live blamelessly on comfortable pensions.






    • Deaglán de Bréadún
    • Posted August 26, 2016 at 9:02 pm
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    • Reply

    That’s a nasty piece. Is nobody but yourself entitled to speak out on the corporal punishment imposed in schools in former times? Your use of terms like ‘seedy’ and ‘virtual lie’ is very offensive indeed. Your suggestion that I was somehow censored in my article is bizarre. The Dept of Education rules you mention are so vague for the most part that any teacher could have driven a coach and four through them. I am not sure I ever knew they existed – your piece has my memory flickering and I would like you to cite a source please. But in any case they were so weak as to be irrelevant and I don’t recall that they were ever invoked or mentioned in debate. Gay Byrne did not refer to them in the programme on RTE. At that time, with some notable exceptions Irish society turned a blind eye to corporal punishment which was also very widely practised in the home. I even recall a motion against it at the CBS Synge St debating society which was voted down by lads who said they would prefer a few biffs to a sarcastic remark from the teacher. Like myself you clearly have strong – and rather similar – views on this subject but your verbal slaps are quite inappropriate and far from constructive. I am proud of the fact that a Synger past pupil, John Boland TD, banned corporal punishment on 1982 as Minister for Education.

  1. I certainly had no intention of being nasty to you. I was trying to find some reason why the piece was so soft and thought perhaps not of censorship but of expectations of what might appear in the column. I thought it likely that you were unaware that there were rules and that this explained the “virtual lie” in stating simply that C.P. was permitted. The routinely repeated story that Ireland was a violent society and that school abuse was simply an instance of that is indeed a seedy myth which is often used to exculpate the guilty.

    I don’t find the rules at all unclear. It is perfectly plain that hitting a child for failure at lessons was forbidden. Moreover, it is not the role of a teacher to drive a coach and four through their employer’s rules.

    I don’t recognise the violent home life you mention. On the contrary we left gentle, civilised homes to go into violent classrooms ruled by thugs who belonged behind bars.

    I’ve replied to you fairly extensively on Facebook and gave you hyperlinks to formulations of the rules all of which prohibit beating for failure at lessons.

    I’m cross that you’ve now resorted to the dismissive “few biffs” which is regularly used to trivialise what happened. I realise that you are recounting an incident but you are uncritical of the term. It is also incompatible with the fear and pain you describe in the Irish Times.

    I can’t imagine why you go for, “Is nobody but yourself entitled to speak out …?” I wish more and more people would speak out.

      • Deaglán de Bréadún
      • Posted August 27, 2016 at 10:56 am
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      • Reply

      1) You say you had no intention of being nasty to me but your blog makes the vile accusation that I am perpetrating a ‘virtual lie’ – and you do this on the basis of something I did not say in my original article. If you have no intention of being nasty then you should withdraw that accusation.
      I wrote that Irish society accepted corporal punishment. That was the culture of the time. I was dimly aware, if at all, that nominal restrictions might have existed. I don’t recall that they were ever mentioned at the time, when teachers (not all of them to be fair) were toting the leather like gunslingers in the Wild West. The rules you cite are ambivalent, contain loopholes and in their looseness actually reinforce the image of a ‘Cute Hoor’ society which tolerated and implicitly or explicitly encouraged corporal punishment. They were more honoured in the breach than the observance as you well know.
      2) You deny using the word ‘seedy’ but it is in the headline of your blog. I assume the headline was written by yourself. Can you not discuss a topic without resorting to deeply offensive language?
      3) On Facebook you quote an INTO document to suggest that corporal punishment was banned. I always thought the INTO had a very different stance indeed, in the debate at the time.
      4) You misrepresent my use of the term ‘a few biffs’. It is clear I am reporting the argument and tone of the boys who wanted the system retained and not expressing my own view. As usual you interpret my words in a hostile way.
      5) I reject your assertion that my article was soft and indeed you yourself said it conveyed the fear and pain that were caused by corporal punishment. I hope I have revived a debate on the issue but it is regrettable when someone – who is essentially on the same side of the argument – resorts to such offensive language.

  2. Yes, you are right about “seedy”. I put it in the title and I was mistaken – stupidly so – in denying its use. I’ve corrected my mistake.

    Come on, I didn’t accuse you of lying. I said that stating without qualification that CP was permitted was so lacking as to constitute a virtual lie.

    I didn’t know about the rules until I stumbled across them while working on something else. The rules were important enough to be included, I now realise, in similar terms repeatedly. I don’t buy this “culture” excuse. It’s been trotted out to cover all manner of child abuse and other wrongdoing. It was used in the past few days to cover assaults in a care home. The perpetrators are responsible for their actions. Imagine the ridicule that would be heaped on someone who suggested not pursuing thieves because they came from a culture which took thievery lightly.

    I didn’t quote an INTO document. I provided you with a link to a Dept. of Education Document which appears on the INTO site presumably because they scanned it for digital access.

    I am very hostile to the “few biffs” routine which is part of the whitewash. I acknowledged that you were reporting it but that report was your decision and you didn’t comment on it. This made me cross with you.

    I found the article soft in its acceptance of school abuse as part and parcel of widespread abuse in society. It’s quite simply untrue that Irish families were generally violent or that they resorted to CP. It happened but it was not common.

    I’m fond of plain speech but “offensive language” … ah, give me a break!

      • Deaglán de Bréadún
      • Posted August 27, 2016 at 6:14 pm
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      • Reply

      The word “seedy” is still in the headline at this point in time despite your claim that you had removed it. I note that you didn’t know about the ‘rules’ yourself but feel entitled to criticise others for a similar lack of awareness. The ‘rules’ themselves are so.weak and ambiguous that they must be considered part of the culture of accepting corporal punishment. Highlighting the existence of that culture does not mean excusing it. Even as a schoolboy I took a stand in the classroom against corporal punishment. Your “few biffs” analysis is insulting and pettyminded. On the family front, your home and mine were exceptions, I firmly believe. You could make a very valuable contribution to this debate if you put the nastiness to one side.

  3. No, I didn’t say that I’d removed the word “seedy”. I said I’d removed my stupid denial that I had used the word “seedy”. I’ve not criticised anyone for being unaware of these rules. As I’ve said, “culture” is the way Ireland seeks to avoid personal responsibility. As I’ve also said, peaceful homes were the norm in the area in which I grew up, among my wider family and in all other families with which I had contact – with just one exception. The violent society yarn is a contrivance to exculpate violent people and it has become so established that it is now almost unquestioned. I’ve not been nasty; I simply disagree with you on a number of points. I am not well known and my contributions to debates tend not to reach a wide audience but I’ll continue and hope that they have some value despite not meeting with everyone’s approval.

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