Report details Madonna House management failure


The most damning parts of the inquiry into abuse in the 1980s and 1990s at Madonna House in Dublin were omitted from the report published by the then Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left government in 1996. Now, thanks to the work of the RTE team which made States of Fear, the contents of the suppressed sections can be revealed.

They deal with the abuse of children by individuals and with the failure of management to deal with the concerns of staff and children. The main points are summarised below.

Abusive discipline

Staff witnesses told the inquiry one staff member of a higher rank would sometimes refer to "needing to put on his boxing gloves" when going to discipline a child.

One witness said this staff member "took various children into a bedroom and closed the door. She described hearing loud voices and a tremendous noise and scuffling. She sometimes listened outside the door and afterwards tried to make contact with the children right away."

The inquiry found corroboration for allegations that this staff member "operated a regime of discipline which included episodes of physical violence."

One boy stated that he was physically assaulted by this staff member and was also sexually assaulted by another staff member.

Inappropriate relationship

The staff member of higher rank referred to above developed an "inappropriate relationship" with a child which was a source of concern to other staff. Despite this, it continued "over a number of years."

The child frequently visited him at living quarters at Madonna House. He ignored requests from management that this should stop.

He is alleged to have brought the child to a pub and to have got her to drive home. When he finally agreed not to stay in Madonna House at night, management paid him £10,000 as part of this agreement.

After the child was discharged from Madonna House, he kept up the relationship and borrowed £2,500 from her.

This man also used to bring children to his quarters in Madonna House to view videos. Other staff alleged to the inquiry that it could be as late as 2 a.m. before children returned to their own units on these occasions.

Staff Member G

Various children and staff complained to the inquiry about assault and intimidation by Staff Member G. These incidents included:

A child was put out on to the grounds of Madonna House one night wearing only a bath towel. The child was seen "screaming in distress and seeking to be allowed indoors."

One child was so afraid of Staff Member G that she soiled herself. When Staff Member G saw this she ordered another child "to clean this child, clean the underwear and dress the child."


Children were humiliated by being made to wear pyjamas during the day. "A house parent and a former resident spoke of children being put outside the door of a unit in their pyjamas. One former resident graphically described waking one morning and seeing her younger sister, who lived in a different unit, outside in her bare feet and in tears. She also recalled one incident of a staff member putting soap in the mouth of another of her sisters."

Abuse by Frank Griffin

The only child abuser in Madonna House to come to public attention was Frank Griffin, a maintenance man jailed for abusing several children.

There was a general rule in Madonna House that children were not permitted in his work area. But "no adequate steps were taken to ensure that children were kept from the immediate work area."

Many staff were concerned over a long period at Griffin's sexually inappropriate remarks to children.

Failure to learn

In 1976 a young boy was transferred from Madonna House to another home. He was abducted and killed by a member of the care staff of Madonna House with whom he had had a "special relationship."

Management learned nothing from this "and the inappropriate emotional involvement of some staff continued to feature in the care of certain children."


While many staff members were unaware of the child abuse guidelines there was one rule which was strictly enforced. It concerned dress and was discussed frequently at committee meetings.

"It appears that there was an inflexible rule that no members of female staff while on duty could wear trousers," it says. "It would also appear that considerable significance was placed upon the type of skirt to be worn by female members of staff."

Management failure

"Management failure was central to the organisation and culture of Madonna House," it says.

Reports made by staff and children about abuse and assault "were not investigated within Madonna House. The children were not assessed. No report was made to the EHB or the gardai. The children's social workers were not informed. No report was made to the Provincialate of the Sisters of Charity."