Way to industrial schools paved with good intentions


A file marked "Industrial Schools" released by the National Archives (2000/10/782) contains no shocking revelations. It does, however, illustrate the legal mind-set in an era when child support consisted of sending juveniles into unsupervised care.

In 1933 an exchange of letters took place between the Attorney General's Office and a district justice concerning an invalid order of detention in an industrial school. Children named O'Brien were detained invalidly because a second offence, as defined under the School Attendance Act of 1926, had to take place within three months of conviction for the first offence.

P.P. O'Donoghue informed Louis Walsh, a district justice in Co Donegal: "As most of these orders are made for the benefit of the children and the parents, I always thought it hard that a strict interpretation should be applied.

"I have found, however, since coming into this office that law officers without exception take the view that a detention order from its very nature can only receive one construction and that is a strict one against the person relying on the order."

Like Mr O'Donoghue, Mr Walsh always found children's orders "most troublesome". In this particular case, "the parent will not or cannot look after these helpless children, and to return them to him would be an outrage if it can be avoided . . . If there is a doubt, the children's interest should be given the benefit of it."

The way to industrial schools was paved with good intentions.