A lone voice against the axis of State and church

OPINION: Children are not being flogged by thugs calling themselves teachers due largely to one man, writes JOHN WATERS.

OPINION:Children are not being flogged by thugs calling themselves teachers due largely to one man, writes JOHN WATERS.

CENTRAL TO the ideological appropriation of the Ryan report by actors intent on burying Irish Christianity has been the promulgation of the notion that Irish society was in the past so overcome by deference towards the church that no Catholic voice was raised against the culture of violence that reigned at the relevant times. This is untrue.

The abuses were facilitated and acquiesced in by a State-franchised culture of violence and sadism, sanctioned in the name of education and social control. The most courageous voice against this culture was neither a journalist nor a politician, but a medical doctor, Cyril Daly, who, in his early 30s in the 1960s, began speaking out against the axis of evil comprising the Irish State and the Catholic Church. Daly was, and remains, a committed Catholic who opposed violence against children from a Christian perspective.

Since Daly’s public career ended nearly three decades ago with the banning of corporal punishment from Irish schools, his name will be new to most people under 40. But it is largely due to his efforts that children are not today being flogged by thugs calling themselves teachers, while we go about our business.

In November 1967, the Sunday Independent published a chillingly realised tableau written by Daly in which he described a 13-stone teacher deploying a leather against a five-stone boy. He observed the attentiveness of the class, the imperative that the recipient take it “like a man”. He used the words “assault” and “blow”. He described the teacher pausing to say the Angelus before continuing the beating, and the forced smile on the boy’s lips.

In 1969, Daly collected 8,000 signatures for a petition demanding an end to corporal punishment. When he presented them to then minister for education Brian Lenihan, father of the present Minister for Finance, he asked: “What do you expect me to do about these?”

There was little evidence of deference about Daly’s interventions. He described corporal punishment as a “scabrous feature” of Irish education. He noted that Catholic teachers and prostitutes were the only professionals to employ corporal punishment in their work. He observed that, although they had been abolished in the Army and Navy, and not ordered by a court for a quarter of a century, beatings continued to be inflicted on children of five or six. He explained how corporal punishment creates tensions in children that later cause depression and anxiety.

“The Irish child,” said Daly in what was then a controversial assertion, “is a human being with human rights.” He appealed to the church to desist from damaging both itself and the Christian message. He wrote an open letter to the Archbishop of Dublin, accusing the church and its ministers of a betrayal of trust: “The Irish child has been dishonoured. He is being given an example in violence. He responds to violence. He respects violence. Violent men use violence in the Catholic classroom and say this is the way of Christ. And I say it is blasphemy.”

In 1969, Daly went public in defence of 11-year-old Martin O’Neill, sent to St Joseph’s Prison for Young Children in Galway by Justice Sweetman, for non-attendance at school. He had left school after being caned for something that occurred outside of school.

Daly came into conflict with minister for education Richard Burke and his parliamentary secretary, one John Bruton. Not only did the State send Martin O’Neill to prison – it withdrew payment of the children’s allowance from his mother, making it harder for his parents to visit him and bring him things to lighten his time in the gulag.

When the parents persisted in visiting their child, the superior of the prison wrote to them stating that they were being “unfair” to their son by visiting him before he had a chance to “settle in”.

What jumps out of the archive is how, no matter how irrefutable the facts, the establishment will defend the indefensible to the bitter end. When Daly denounced the Irish education system on US television in 1971, he was declared “anti-clerical” and accused of letting Ireland down in the eyes of the world.

In 1969, when he spoke at a Labour Party seminar, the event was picketed by members of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), defending its members’ right to beat children. Brian Lenihan said in the Dáil that corporal punishment should be retained as “the ultimate punishment” for children aged eight and upwards.

In 1974, the minister, Richard Burke, described corporal punishment as “a necessary sanction to protect the majority of pupils from an unruly minority”.

In one of Daly’s surveys canvassing politicians’ views, a majority supported abolition, but one politician, surveying the options to “abolish” or “retain”, crossed out both and inserted “phase out”. That politician was Dr Garret FitzGerald.