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Sex abuse 'a problem' in the 1950s, priest admits

Added on October 27, 2004

Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

Sex abuse of boys at St Patrick's industrial school, Upton, Co Cork, was "a problem, particularly during the 1950s" it was disclosed yesterday.

Addressing a public hearing of the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in Dublin, Father Joe O'Reilly recalled that a lay teacher had been removed from the school in 1954, "possibly" for sex abuse of boys, and four members of the Rosminian congregation there were removed for such reasons between 1955 and 1959.

Father O'Reilly is provincial of the Rosminian Institute of Charity in Ireland, which ran the industrial school at Upton since it was opened in 1889 until its closure in 1966. Between 1940 and 1966 a total of 1,161 boys had been committed there, with another 43 who were "so-called voluntary". From 1950 onwards there was an average 170 to 185 boys there in any one year, he said.

What information existed about the cases emerged from contemporaneous correspondence by provincials of the Irish congregation with the superior general's office in Rome, recently uncovered in the archives there.

There were no records of any of the abuse cases in the congregation's Irish records, he said. "Only particular sensitivity on our part brought the inquiry further," Father O'Reilly said, when they drew a blank in investigating their own records. They noted reference to a man moved mid-year in the 1960s.

"We went after it and inquired from Rome, which brought us down the road where other correspondence was concerned," he said.

He told the committee that two of the Rosminians removed from Upton in the 1950s were sent to the congregation's novitiate at Kilmurray, Co Cork; another was sent to their industrial school at Ferryhouse, Co Tipperary; and the other to their secondary school at Omeath, Co Louth. He agreed that in the latter two cases, the men concerned were "not excluded from exposure to boys". Those sent to Kilmurray would have been dealing with men aged 17 and upwards, he said.

He also said that past pupils of the school had been convicted in court of peer sexual abuse in 1936/'37 and 1945/'46. This contributed to a "super vigilant" awareness of any sexual behaviour among boys there, "perhaps slightly obsessively so", he said.

Absconding was "a very sizeable issue" at the school, Father O'Reilly said, with boys brought back being slapped or strapped on the hands or backside, "sometimes the bare backside". Sometimes their heads were shaved.

Bed-wetters were referred to as "slashers" and slept in a section of the junior dormitory near the toilets. They were awoken at night to go to the toilet. He estimated as many as "10, 15, 25 per cent of the boys" were bed wetters at any one time.

They were slapped, "not necessarily every day", and were made carry their wet sheets and mattresses to a drying area. He thought "boys felt humiliated having to carry the sheets", but wasn't sure this was intended.

He said complaints in the 1950s and 60s about the poor quality of food, the inadequacy of the amounts, and criticisms of utensils as antiquated were often regarded as "vexatious" by school authorities.

He accepted "there was obviously a great degree of validity in the complaints".

? The Irish Times

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