The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse will resume its public hearings this morning when it begins taking evidence concerning events at St Joseph's industrial school, Ferryhouse, near Clonmel in Co Tipperary.
The congregation which runs the school is the Rosminian Institute of Charity in Ireland.
It will be the first such hearing in this phase of the inquiry when the commission's investigation committee looks at what took place in individual industrial schools. Hearings about St Joseph's are scheduled to continue all week and on Monday next.
On June 18th Mr David Hardiman SC, for the Rosminians, told the committee that boys at St Joseph's had been physically and sexually abused. On behalf of the congregation, Mr Hardiman said he wished "to say emphatically it wants no confrontation or adversarial context at any of the committee's proceedings if at all possible. I believe it possible."
He said his clients were "conscious of the depth of feeling this issue holds for people" and these would not be disregarded. It was "a most emphatic decision of the Rosminian order" that they "resolutely decline" to contest (other) allegations for which there was no evidence where it was believed the core allegation was true, he said. However, they "would ask survivors and the committee to accept the statement made [to the committee, but not made public] precisely as it is and in the same spirit of not having confrontation".
He asked that the statement be taken as a response to individual cases, insisting this was "not evasion", but rather "a stepping aside from the question" which had been posed by the committee chairman, Mr Justice Seán Ryan. The judge had asked whether the Rosminians had altered their position on individual complaints.
A distinct phenomenon was a divergence of attitude about the school [St Joseph's], Mr Hardiman said. However, he felt it was not necessary that this should lead to confrontation as such views could be seen to co-exist, from the neutral perspective of the committee.
Mr Justice Ryan said in view of the acknowledgement of the abuse, the next thing to be looked at could be the scale of that abuse.
On July 1st the Rosminians were the first religious congregation in Ireland to be questioned publicly before a statutory body about the care of children in residential institutions under their management.
In her third interim report last January, the former chairwoman of the Commission, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, exempted the Rosminian and Presentation congregations from her criticisms of religious orders who, she said, challenged even matters "of indisputable historic fact".
In the course of his evidence to the committee on July 1st, Father Joe O'Reilly, provincial of the Rosminian Institute of Charity in Ireland, said when corporal punishment was banned in Ireland in 1982, the Attorney General advised it did not extend to industrial schools.
Father O'Reilly said his congregation had sought the advice at that time. As well as St Joseph's at Ferryhouse, the congregation also managed St Patrick's industrial school at Upton, Co Cork - which closed as an industrial school in 1966 - and are still involved with St Joseph's school for the visually impaired at Drumcondra in Dublin.
Father O'Reilly told the committee that in 1979 a member of the congregation was expelled from the order within weeks of allegations of sex abuse being made against him by three boys at St Joseph's, Ferryhouse. Psychiatric help was organised for the accused man and for the boys, while the Department of Education and other authorities were informe.
There was another allegation against another member of the congregation later that year, he added.
In 1990, Father James Flynn, now the congregation's superior general in Rome, but then its provincial in Ireland, apologised for the treatment of boys at "old Ferryhouse" (St Joseph's). Speaking at the opening of a refurbished St Joseph's that year, in the company of the then Minister for Education, Ms O'Rourke, and the then Ceann Comhairle, Mr Seán Treacy, Father Flynn said the regime at the old school had been of "extreme severity, even brutality" and asked, on behalf of the congregation, for forgiveness.