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Tag Archives: Christian Brothers

I was one of those interviewed for Kitty Holland’s silence-splitting article on “corporal punishment” in the Irish Times.* While it is unlikely that my abusers are still living, that is not true of later perpetrators. Should the public outrage prompted by Kitty’s article endure, the familiar Irish pattern must be resisted. That is to say, this time there there must be consequences for perpetrators.

The peculiarly Irish cover-up

Whether it is laundries, industrial schools, selling babies or illegal burials it goes like this: blame is placed on the state, religion, an institution or even culture. Blame is placed everywhere to protect the persons primarily responsible – the perpetrators of what are dreadful but (let’s face it) plain, ordinary crimes.

The alternative to cover-up: capture one and then keep going
Sure, these are historical crimes but here’s how it ought to go: Identify the most recent incident/crime and – with a view to pressing charges – check if the perpetrator is still alive or in the case of the babies check if anyone who covered up is still alive. Get one, just one. Then begin working backwards until we are absolutely certain that all living perpetrators have been brought to justice.

On school violence dates decide: crime or grounds for dismissal

In the case of national and secondary school abuse, there are two key dates 1982 and 1997.

In 1997 – yes, that late – teacher violence against a child was outlawed under the Offences Against the Person Act. This makes matters simple. If anyone has experience or is aware of a teacher hitting a child after 1997, the matter should be reported to An Garda. Citizens should demand that reports be treated with the utmost seriousness with a view to charges and court appearances.

Corporal punishment was abolished in 1982. The Department of Education’s new rule was clear – impossible to misunderstand – and well publicised – impossible for a teacher to be unaware of the change and the consequences: “The use of corporal punishment is forbidden. Any teacher who contravenes . . . this rule will be regarded as guilty of conduct unbefitting a teacher and will be subject to severe disciplinary action.”

Here’s the thing. On-line comments in the wake of Kitty Holland’s article make it clear that there was quite a bit of violent “conduct unbefitting a teacher”after 1982. These incidents and experiences and others not yet revealed must now be reported to the Department of Education and must then be treated with the utmost seriousness with a view to “severe disciplinary action.” Moreover, the only meaningful interpretation of “severe disciplinary action” is dismissal.

Now the real controversy: dealing with retired offenders

Dismissal will of course mean loss of pension. The question arises as to what is to be done about offenders who have retired. It would be utterly unjust if someone whose conduct while in employment was “unbefitting a teacher” were to enjoy old age on a teacher’s pension.

In accepting, investigating and pursuing allegations of violent conduct, the Department of Education and the State in general cannot allow an offender to get away scot-free on the basis of their reaching retirement without discovery. Bluntly, retired offenders must be pursued as rigorously as those still at work.

Finally, offences committed while corporal punishment was permitted

It is conveniently forgotten by offenders and their supporters that while corporal punishment was permitted in Irish schools up to 1982, it was subject to explicit Department of Education Rules. In other words, all teachers who decided that they would beat children knew what was permitted and importantly what was not: they could choose to inflict corporal punishment in accordance with the rules of their employment or they could choose to violate those rules.

Apart from the blatantly obvious that the rules did not permit attacks involving blackboard dusters, fists, kicks, brush handles, throwing children about, pulling them by the ears or hair, etc., the rules were utterly clear in other regards. Two such rules are crucial: i) Hitting a child for failure at lessons was forbidden; ii) Carrying about a stick or other implement for the purpose of corporal punishment was forbidden.

Though the overwhelming majority of teachers from the era of legal corporal punishment are either deceased or retired, it remains possible that a small number still work as teachers or in some other part of the public service. If they broke the rules – say, by attacking a child, carrying a stick or punishing for failure at lessons – they must go, they must be dismissed.

Clearly, it would be an outrage if similar but retired offenders were treated more leniently. It needs to be said that a question-mark appears over all of those now retired who were teaching prior to 1982. If witness reports are now brought to the attention of the Department of education to the effect that a teacher broke the rules governing corporal punishment, they must be treated with the utmost seriousness and urgency, and with a view to stopping pension payments to offenders. Urgency is vital as age is a factor; death should not provide the ultimate cover for an offending teacher.

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* https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/beaten-the-irish-childhoods-ruined-by-corporal-punishment-1.3643489

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I learned early that there is a great deal of pretence when it comes to choosing one’s appearance. Claims of comfort, fashion or even the word of God are often used to deflect questions or discussion. You see, I went to a Christian Brothers school, an appalling dump, managed and staffed by – let’s say – malefactors, and one of the ways I resisted and annoyed them was to grow my hair slightly long and wear mildly eccentric clothes. I knew what I was doing and never resorted to the defence of fashion or the common, “Jesus had long hair!” I remember a Brother standing over me fuming and spitting, “I know what you’re doing. You’re showing disrespect to me and all I stand for.” Knowing the risks of pushing provocation too far, I stayed silent, thinking, “How right you are, ye thundering bollocks.”

Now, that was a forceful – even antagonistic – statement expressed through appearance. But it’s not always the case. Dress is much more often a passive statement of a willingness to conform (to fit in, to dress appropriately) and/or an affiliation statement as in, “Hey look, I’m a manager cos I dress like you” or “Look, I never wear a tie; I’m just like the anti-establishment guys in Syriza”. Between the forceful and the passive are many mild but thoughtful statements. For example, I like to dress informally – routinely jeans and a casual top or tee shirt. However, as an adult when asked to lecture at University College Dublin, I presented myself quite formally. I did so for a minor and a major reason. Firstly, I thought it might improve my credibility. Much more importantly, I did so to express myself honoured to be working there and to express my respect for the students.

Those who attend the Dáil or Seanad wearing message-emblazoned T-shirts or studiously avoiding anything remotely formal, do so in a deliberate, thoughtful way.Their decision is like mine when dressing for my lowlife teachers and unlike mine when dressing for my respected students. Moreover, their expressive appearance says something which is not merely consistent with their political stance but goes to its core.

A requirement of their political stance is the reduction of the supremacy of parliament. Parliament, they contend, is simply one site for struggle and progress/concessions will be won there as well as on the streets and in workplaces. I’ve argued elsewhere that this approach is essentially conservative and easily accommodated within the Irish cargo/pressure political system.*

Parliament, moreover, is where the “establishment parties”, the “political class”, the “government” etc. reside. Everything about parliament signals establishment: it is constitutional, procedural, inhabited by the well off and the educated, and – yes – the well dressed/groomed who obey its rules and are respectful, and who seem to thrive in that environment.

Anti-establishment has been recently redefined as against all that sort of thing and anyone wishing to be so identified could not possibly dress and behave respectfully in parliament. The dress statement must be antagonistic to the institution of parliament and the establishment of which it is part. Elections are not fought to get into parliament to participate in government. They are fought to get into parliament in order to show disrespect for the establishment, especially the constitutional position of parliament, to show that an activist is consistent, whether in parliament or demonstrating outside the gate. The idea is that there’s nothing very special and certainly not supreme about parliament. It’s just an opportunity to confront the establishment.

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* It’s what I’ve termed “left conservatism”: the integration of left campaigning to the point where it functions to stabilise the system. https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/ireland-is-a-leader-in-mairs-anti-political-sentiment/

https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/time-for-labour-to-think-before-taking-the-familiar-path/

https://wordpress.com/posts/colummccaffery.wordpress.com

The following is quite different to the now routine media treatment of clerical sex abuse in Ireland. It’s not entirely clear if the journalist realises the significance of these 170 or so words.

 

“But how widespread was this abuse? Did senior clergy or other students know what was happening? Those who attended Holy Ghost schools describe their contrasting experiences.

Maurice Manning, a former Fine Gael senator, recalls that while there may have been rumours about a handful of priests when he was a student at Rockwell, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, most of the teachers were well liked.

‘Maybe there were one or two you wouldn’t want to get caught alone with . . . There were kids who were more vulnerable than others. But I wasn’t aware of anyone being abused. And I think that was the honest view of most of my classmates.’

Gerald Montague, a philosopher who lives and works in Germany, was a student at St Mary’s College during the late 1950s and early 1960s. ‘I didn’t recall anything of a sexual nature until I discussed it recently with some friends,’ he says. ‘They reminded me of a father we used to call ‘Fr Fiddly Fingers’. It seems I just didn’t want to know.’”

Carl O’Brien, Sex abuse in private schools, Weekend with The Irish Times – Saturday, September 8, 2012 http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2012/0908/1224323728889.html

 

The words attributed to Maurice Manning are curious and he needs to clarify. He seems to be saying that while he was aware that some of his teachers were likely to abuse and that some of his classmates were at risk, he wasn’t aware of any particular incidence of abuse. That’s chilling.

Though I didn’t attend an expensive school, my experience is more similar to that of Gerald Montague but with the significant difference that at our school we laughed and joked about the sexual nature of the abuse.

By including this material in his article Carl O’Brien is lending support to my deepening conviction that what has happened in Irish schools was mass sexual abuse.

Before continuing to talk about sexual abuse in Irish schools I want to make it absolutely clear that it is quite unusual for me to disconnect sexual from violent abuse[i]. I consider them parts of one whole and I talk of sexual abuse here because others have isolated it.

I attended James St CBS (Dublin, Ireland) for my secondary education in the mid-1960s. As we developed sexual awareness all of my peers knew full well the difference between affection and sexual contact. (Indeed the very idea that affection would feature in such a school is ridiculous.) Being felt-up, leered over and told vaguely homo-erotic stories were routine. It became central to our slagging and jokes. If anyone had been left with one of the touchers, he could expect jokes along the lines of, “Did he get you? Did ‘Touche’ queer you?”

There was sport on Wednesday afternoons in the Civil Service grounds beside the Memorial Park, Islandbridge, Dublin. Everyone who took part had to squeeze past a Christian Brother who placed himself in the doorway of the changing room and tried to check for “tight tummy muscles”. Avoiding him became part of the sport.

There are other examples but enough said to make three points. Firstly, all of the pupils knew precisely what the touchers were up to. Secondly, joking was how they coped with it. Thirdly, it is highly improbable that anyone who attended that school at that time avoided this type of abuse.

Having spoken casually over the years to very many people who attended other schools, I formed the view that the carry-on in my school was not exceptional. The piece above from the Irish Times lends support.

As mature adults and aware of dreadful sexual assaults, I had a number of conversations with former classmates. We were concerned that we might have failed to notice much worse than touching-up. We wondered had there been someone quiet and not part of our immediate close gang who could have been isolated and used terribly. We could think of none. This is remarkably similar to Maurice Manning’s reported comment.

The next step in the thinking is vital and this is where there will be disagreement. It is at this point that we enter into the business of defining sex crime to include touching up a child. There may be three positions on this. Firstly, that while it is sexual and it is unacceptable behaviour, it is too minor to warrant a fuss. Secondly, that it is very wrong but falls short of criminal behaviour. Thirdly, that it is very serious, most definitely criminal and should be investigated.

The debate very likely turns on gender inequality. The touching up mentioned here has been male adult on male child. There is not the slightest doubt that had it been male adult on female child, there would be universal condemnation and a call for Garda action. Moreover, I began to view what had happened to me and to my friends as not merely sexual abuse but criminal when I read the details of what a priest had done to a girl. The actions were identical and the man was in the dock. The label of criminal can be withheld from our abusers only if it can be successfully argued that it is less wrong for a man to touch up a male child as opposed to a female child.

The alarming proposition is this: if touching up male children is sexual abuse and if the practice was universal in schools or even widespread, then the scale of the Irish scandal has changed considerably. It would seem that we have so far looked only at the horrors behind which lies the routine. It is that word “mass” that disturbs, the likelihood that in Ireland we have to face up to, discuss and decide what to do about mass sexual abuse.