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Reformatory CP - March 1930

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Belfast News-Letter, 30 March 1930

Ulster House of Commons

"The Rod and the Child"

Power to Cane Boys in Borstal Institution.

The Minister of Home Affairs [Sir Dawson Bates], moving the second reading of the Criminal Law and Prevention of Crime (Amendment) Bill, said it dealt with two distinct subjects. The first was the time limit for prosecutions for offences against female persons under age of 16 years, and the second the maintenance of discipline in the Borstal Institution in Northern Ireland.


Using the cane.

Section 2 of the Bill dealt with another matter, in which at the present moment they differed from England. They had no power in Northern Ireland to cane borstal boys who merited such punishment by acts of gross insubordination and other grave offences. He did not anticipate, and neither did the visiting committee of Malone Training School, that it would be necessary to utilise the powers which it was proposed should be given under this section, except on very rare occasions; but there was no doubt that the fact that boys could be caned would be a deterrent to unruliness and an inducement to good behaviour.

There could be very few schools in the British Isles that took boys from the ages of 16 years to 20 years which did not on occasion have to resort to the cane as a means of enforcing discipline, and it was a strange anomaly that caning could be administered in almost any school, whereas in Ireland up to the moment borstal inmates, who in the early stages of their training at any rate were not always the best characters, were not in a position to receive this salutary treatment. Hon. members might rest assured that the caning would be nothing more than was given in ordinary schools. There would be no birching or flogging, and this punishment would only be resorted to after the visiting committee had inquired into the facts of the case.

A successful deterrent.

In introducing this proposal, he was giving effect to a recommendation submitted to him by the visiting committee of the borstal institution, who stated that once the inmates were aware that corporal punishment could be given, it would be a most successful deterrent and would strengthen the governor's hands. Regulations were being drawn up which would ensure that the orders of the visiting committee in connection with any caning were carried out expeditiously and in privacy, and would only be put into operation after the medical officer had certified that the lads were at the time fit to receive such punishment.

He felt that it was much more desirable that a really bad boy should receive a caning than that he should be locked up in his cubicle or in a cell with a reduced diet. The latter treatment, which was at present the only one to which they could resort in extreme cases, was in his opinion much more likely to affect the boy's health than caning.

A Nationalist view.

Objections to the Introduction of Corporal Punishment.

Mr. Healy (Nat., South Fermanagh) said he hoped the House would reject the Bill, because it meant they were going back to punishments that had been discarded by civilised and progressive communities years ago. It was a shame that the Government could devise nothing better than this measure, and he would ask what the need was for this drastic legislation. All punishment should lead to reformation, and it was agreed that corporal punishment did not tend to that end. It was demoralising to the person who suffered it and to the person who administered it; and caning, instead of improving the boys, was likely to engender in them sentiments of resentment and bitterness.

Major Shillington (U., Central Armagh) supported the Bill, and said the powers that were being sought would not be often required, but the knowledge that the powers existed would be a deterrent in some cases. They did not want to have to send to jail boys who might commit some offence in the heat of the moment; and, further, a reduced diet was not right for boys who were growing. Those responsible for the institution were anxious to turn out the boys as useful citizens, and they were succeeding in that aim.

Mr. Grant (U., Duncairn) supported the Bill, and said one of the former members for Antrim (Mr. McAllister) and the leader of the Opposition in the last Parliament were members of the committee that applied to the Ministry for powers to use the punishment of caning. If members opposite were so anxious for the welfare of the boys they should take a practical interest in the institution and make themselves acquainted with the good work that was being done. He knew the head of the institution, and he was satisfied there would be no caning unless it was absolutely necessary.

Mr. Beattie (Soc., Pottinger) moved the rejection of the Bill, and repudiated the assertion that the Labour Party was associated with the Bill. "My party," he said, "does not agree with the introduction of a Flogging Bill."

The Minister of Home Affairs emphatically denied that the measure was a Flogging Bill.

Mr. Beattie said he was opposed to the Bill, because he had been a victim of the tyranny of flogging. He had seen men lashed to the wheel in South Africa for minor offences. Those who suggested the introduction of the Bill should get the first caning.

Mr. O'Neill (N., Mourne) seconded the rejection of the Bill. It was an old trick of the Minister of Home Affairs, he said, to bring in a Bill, part of which was commendable and part objectionable, in order to get the measure through. No case had been made out for the infliction of corporal punishment.


Captain Chichester-Clark on "Sparing the Rod."

Captain Chichester-Clark (U., South Derry) characterised the speeches of hon. members opposite as "sickly sentimental slobbering sobstuff." They had confused caning with flogging. The hon. member for South Fermanagh (Mr. Healy) had referred to the Navy, a service about which he knew nothing at all.


He pointed out that flogging was abolished in the Navy 100 years ago and the only corporal punishment inflicted was caning. He had been assisting in the training of thousands of boys, and to a very few nothing but a little pain in the proper place made any appeal.

Replying to the hon. member for Pottinger, Captain Chichester-Clark said Mr. Beattie tried to make class distinctions. Junior officers in the Navy got a great deal more caning than the ratings. He himself had been caned, and had given caning. Some of the young officers he had caned told him afterwards that it did them a great deal of good.

"If you spare the rod you will spoil the child." Captain Chichester-Clark quoted the saying, and added -- "I would not send my own boys to a school which does not allow corporal punishment."

Mr. Nixon (Ind., Woodvale) said it was the vagueness of the wording of the Bill that made it difficult for some hon. members to agree with it. If the right hon. gentleman guaranteed that the corporal punishment would be slapping on the hands, he would support the Bill.

The Minister of Home Affairs said the regulations would be laid on the table of the House and hon. members could object to them if they thought them unsatisfactory.

"Without Appeal" to Queen's Member.

Professor Corkey (U., Queen's University) said there was in the institution an atmosphere of independence and a spirit of freedom not usually associated with establishments of the kind. But the Bill did not appeal to him, and he thought some good sense had been expressed by the hon. member for Woodvale. He did not like that the matter of the administration of corporal punishment should be left to any two members of the visiting committee, and, further, he thought the character of the proposed corporal punishment should be more accurately defined. He thought that the caning of boys over 16 years of age would do harm.

Mr. Byrne (Nat., Falls) agreed with the remarks of the hon. member for the University.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs (Mr. G.B. Hanna) said there was always the odd black sheep in every institution who required a little extra special attention. No boy would be punished under that Bill except with the sanction and approval of the visiting committee. No boy would be punished unless the medical officer certified that he was fit to receive it. It was not intended to go back to the conditions of 100 years ago and flog any of the boys.

On a division, the second reading was passed by 27 votes to 4.

blob For a discussion of the above legislative change in Northern Ireland, updating the story to 1974, putting it in its historical perspective and making comparisons with the equivalent institutions in the Irish Republic and mainland UK, which did not use corporal punishment, see Extracts from Borstal in Ireland

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