Local victims of institutional child abuse returned this week to the former Nazareth House on the Ormeau Road where they told Belfast’s lord mayor of their experiences.
They praised Councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile for supporting their campaign for justice after he met them outside the premises on Tuesday (July 5).
Mr Ó Donnghaile listened to harrowing stories of child abuse from the former residents of the home and other institutions.
Deirdre O'Donoghue spent eight years in Nazareth House, as a child, where she suffered beatings and other abuse by nuns.
The 55 year-old grandmother travelled from her home in Yorkshire in order to tell her story.
She said: “I was a small child when I was taken into care, along with my two sisters and two brothers. We girls were sent to Nazareth House, but I was only able to see my sisters through the iron gates that separated the different yards for children of different ages. The first few months were okay, but as I moved into the older department, the beatings started. They were regular and often, and for any reason at all.
“A nun dragged me up three flights of stairs by my hair, beat me with a stick and locked me in a storeroom. She said I could not come out while I was crying: I was there for a long time.
“It wasn’t just me, it was happening to other children.
“Nothing changed in the eight years I was there. The thing is, no-one thought to complain about it, we thought no-one would listen. I have spoken to people over the years and found out they had similar stories to tell.”
Afterwards, Mrs O’Donoghue said: “The Lord Mayor listened so carefully to our stories. I am sure our stories weren't easy to hear. They weren't easy for us to tell either, nor indeed to experience as children.”
Mr Ó Donnghaile said: “It was deeply moving for me to listen to these terrible memories of abuse. No child should suffer like these victims did in institutions in this city and elsewhere in years past.
“Today these survivors have turned their own awful experiences as children into a powerful call for justice. It is a call that I heard loud and clear today and it is a call which I am happy to echo. Thankfully Belfast is now a much changed place and, as mayor, I want to add my voice to theirs in supporting their campaign for justice, truth and redress.”
Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan said: “These people have waited a long time for acknowledgement and recognition. Meeting with the Lord Mayor today is another step on their road to justice. Next it is the turn of the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver the sort of independent public inquiry into past institutional abuse which will finally uncover the truth of the abuse that took place in institutions like Nazareth House and others.”
A spokesperson for the diocese of Down and Connor said the group had had a private meeting with Bishop Noel Treanor last year.