Bishop Séamus Freeman: has offered to meet the parents of children who were allegedly abused in a national school in the diocese of Ossory

The bishop-patron of a national school where two teachers have been accused of physically and sexually assaulting children intends to discuss the matter with a delegation of parents.

Bishop Séamus Freeman of Ossory told former
Clonmel mayor and abuse survivor Michael O'Brien at a meeting last Thursday that he would invite the parents to meet him. A parent of children who alleged the abuse said yesterday: "We will attend whatever meeting he offers."

The school cannot be identified to protect the children's anonymity. Some 10 children from seven families have told their parents they were beaten with a thorny stick by two female teachers, including the principal. Some of the children say they were also sexually assaulted with the stick.

Investigations by the school's board of management, the HSE and gardaí concluded there was no case to answer. One of the teachers, who had been placed on administrative leave with the approval of the Department of Education, was reinstated in the school last October. The other, the principal, remained in her post and on the board of management throughout the investigations.

Following the Sunday
Tribune's revelation of the allegations last week, a support group is being set up for past pupils of the school. Parents of the complainant children have been contacted by "numerous" former students claiming they too were abused during the 1980s and 1990s. The village where the school is located has been bitterly divided by the investigations.

The present principal was investigated in 1989-90 for placing a piece of chalk sideways in a child's mouth and making him stand in that condition in front of the class for a long period.

Her defence was that it was a method of teaching the seven-year-old boy elocution. The report of the investigation by the Department of Education recommended that a formal code of discipline be drawn up for the school.

Parents of complainant children say that in the course of three separate meetings between November 2006 and April 2007, the former Bishop of Ossory, Dr Laurence Forristal, told them he had no knowledge of the 1989 investigation, even though he had been pivotally involved in it. Forristal was bishop of Ossory for 29 years until his retirement in September 2007.

A statement from the diocese, replying to questions from this newspaper, said: "When asked by the parents about the 1989-90 complaint, Bishop Forristal, without consulting records, had no recollection at the time. The discussion with the parents focused on sexual abuse and, in that context, Bishop
Forristal failed to recall the earlier complaint which was about physical abuse. The diocese of Ossory, having checked the records, wishes to state that Bishop Forristal initiated the investigation of the 1989-90 complaint which was carried out by the Department of Education. This matter was fully investigated by the department and the case was closed."