Northern Ireland

Historical Abuse Inquiry: Children's homes 'saved state money'

Banbridge courthouse
Image caption The inquiry's public hearings are taking place at Banbridge courthouse

A Stormont minister believed two care homes run by nuns in Londonderry saved the state money, Northern Ireland's Historical Abuse Inquiry has heard.

The inquiry has been examining 1960s letters between state bodies and the Sisters of Nazareth, who ran the homes at Bishop Street and Termonbacca.

It was shown a 1964 memo by Home Affairs Minister Bill Craig.

He said children would otherwise "have to be accommodated at much greater expense by welfare authorities".

St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, and Nazareth House children's home in Bishop Street in Derry are the first two of 13 state, church and voluntary institutions being examined by the inquiry during the period from 1922 to 1995.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Stormont Home Affairs Minister Bill Craig wrote to cabinet colleagues about the homes

As the first phase of the hearings nears the end, the inquiry was presented with correspondence about a grant application for building improvements at Termonbacca.

It shows that the government was seeking details of the nuns' finances before approving the application.

In a memo to the Stormont cabinet, Mr Craig said "a much greater reliance is placed on voluntary homes in Northern Ireland".

He also told colleagues that "the present standards of accommodation at this home fall considerably below what my department would regard as desirable in a home for deprived children".

He added: "In the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, it could safely be assumed that quite a large number of the children voluntarily accommodated in homes like Termonbacca would, if these homes were not available, have to be accommodated at much greater expense by welfare authorities."

Later, the inquiry was told that a policy on peer sexual abuse was first given to residential homes in the north west in the late 1980s.

In a closing submission, dealing with former Sister of Nazareth homes at Termonbacca and Bishop Street, counsel for the Health and Social Care Board said the former Western Board "identified and signposted" peer sex abuse as an issue in the 1980s and distributed guidelines in 1988.

The inquiry was also told on Wednesday that the Health and Social Care Board believes that state authorities were limited in what they could do in certain areas of childcare in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Counsel for the board said any attempt during that period to admit children from voluntary homes, into the care of the state, would have been regarded as "significant state interference" in the private lives of families and the arrangements they made for their children.

The inquiry began public hearings at the beginning of this year.

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