Northern Ireland

Sisters of Nazareth evidence 'haphazard and piecemeal'

Aerial shot of HIA inquiry hearing
Image caption The HIA inquiry is holding its public hearings in Banbridge, County Down

Sisters of Nazareth nuns have given their evidence to Northern Ireland's Historical Abuse Inquiry in a "haphazard and piecemeal fashion", the inquiry has been told.

The inquiry is investigating abuse claims against children's residential institutions from 1922 to 1995.

Nazareth House Children's Home and St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, were both run by the Sisters of Nazareth.

The inquiry has received statements from 49 ex-residents of the two homes.

Sexual and physical abuse was outlined during Monday's hearing, including children being made to eat their own vomit, being beaten for bed-wetting and being bathed in Jeyes' Fluid.

The inquiry was told that some statements from the nuns came as late as last Friday.

This was despite the initial request for documents being made in November 2012.

The inquiry's senior barrister, Christine Smith QC, welcomed the apology the nuns made at the hearing earlier this month.

Physical assaults

However, she added: "This less than wholehearted and rapid response on the part of the congregation has caused considerable difficulties to the work of the inquiry.

"The congregation is not the only body whose approach has produced problems.

"We do appreciate that this is not always avoidable but we hoped that such late delivery could have been avoided, given the difficulties which it causes for the inquiry."

Ms Smith outlined details of the alleged abuse, which included physical assaults using sticks, straps and kettle flexes.

Others involved:

  • Bathing in Jeyes' Fluid disinfectant, today more associated with outdoor cleaning jobs like clearing drains.
  • Bullying by their peers.
  • Separation of brothers and sisters, not even telling them if they were in the same home.
  • Locking in cupboards or threatening to send them to a hospital for those with learning disabilities at Muckamore Abbey in Antrim.
  • Humiliating children for bed wetting, forcing them to stand with the sheets on their heads and beating them as punishment.
  • Forced farm labouring or working in the laundry instead of going to school.
  • Removal of Christmas presents and other personal items.
  • Calling children by numbers rather than names.
  • Leaving youngsters hungry through inadequate food or alternately force feeding.
  • Some people who contacted the inquiry claimed when they were ill they were forced to eat their own vomit.
  • Inadequate staffing and supervision and lack of medical attention.
  • Lack of contact with social workers - until the 1960s children were often sent to homes on the recommendation of doctors or clerics and the state was not involved in providing social care.

Public hearings began with opening statements on 13 January, but the first evidence is being heard on Monday.

Apologies

The Derry homes are among a total of 13 residential institutions currently under investigation by the inquiry.

Some of them were run by state authorities, others by voluntary organisations and the remainder were operated by the Catholic Church.

To date, 434 people have contacted the inquiry to allege they were abused as children.

On 14 January, the day after the inquiry's public sessions began in Banbridge, County Down, the nuns were among two Catholic orders who issued apologies for the abuse suffered by children in their residential homes.

'Sorry'

The apologies were read out at the inquiry by lawyers representing the Sisters of Nazareth and the De La Salle Brothers.

A representatives of Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care Board also said that if the state had failed in any way it was sorry.

The inquiry is chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart.

It does not have the power to find anyone guilty of a criminal offence, but if it does uncover evidence of criminality, the details will be reported to the police.

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