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Gardaí issue appeal in inquiry into alleged physical abuse of children at primary school

Gardaí in Wicklow are appealing for witnesses as part of an investigation into alleged serious physical abuse of children at a primary school in the 1960s and 1970s.

The allegations concern a teacher who worked at the school for more than a decade, until about the mid-1970s.

The Irish Times understands about 15 men, now in their 50s and 60s, have made statements alleging the former teacher repeatedly hit and punched children, picked them up by their ears and held them like that for several minutes before dropping them to the ground, beat them with implements including a golf club and banged heads against blackboards and walls.

Though corporal punishment in schools was permitted until 1982, what constituted corporal punishment was clearly defined and such violence as alleged was forbidden.

The complainants say the alleged experiences left them in fear of school, damaged their education and career prospects and impacted later relationships.

A Garda spokeswoman said: “Garda continues to appeal to any persons who may have been affected by serious physical abuse in [the school] in the 1970s to contact them . . .”

The former teacher told The Irish Times he was not aware of the investigation and denied abusing children.

The current board of management of the national school declined to comment.

One of the complainants, Sean Martin, who attended the school from 1966 when he was seven until 1971, travelled from his home in Manchester in recent weeks to make a statement. The spokesman for the complainants, he says they began sharing their experiences in 2019, in a social media group.

“I suggested I write to [the school] telling them about the treatment we had received and put a draft letter up.

“The school responded promptly and said they had to inform Tusla and the gardaí, which they did. One by one we then made our statements to gardaí. Due to Covid restrictions this took nearly two years more than we hoped. We are not interested in money but hope by doing this he is brought to justice.”

Mr Martin told The Irish Times he was “one of the lucky ones” as he did not have the man as a teacher, but he did experience “punishment” from him. One of his “most common methods of punishment was either to lift me up by one or two ears and leave me dangling in mid-air till I nearly passed out with the pain.

“I went from loving school to hating school as a result of my fear of this man.”

Allegations

Other men, who prefer to remain anonymous, told The Irish Times about being variously “dragged” from their seat for getting a maths problem wrong to the front of the class, where one said the former teacher “began to smash my head into the blackboard . . . my forehead was swollen”.

Another said: “That whole year in his class was abusive. I did not learn anything. I was a 10-year-old child and could not believe the level of violence he displayed on a daily basis toward me and the other boys in the class . . . I remember fear I had never felt before.”

The 1946 Rules and Regulations for National Schools said corporal punishment “should be administered only for grave transgressions and in no circumstances for mere failure at school lessons”. It should be “confined to the form usually employed in schools, viz slapping on the open palm with a light cane or strap.

“The boxing of children’s ears, the pulling of their hair or similar ill treatment is absolutely forbidden and will be visited with severe penalties,” said the rules.

“Frequent recourse to corporal punishment will be considered by the minister as indicating bad tone and ineffective discipline.”

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