'All money in the world can't make up for what we took...' Nazareth children were wronged, admits nun
Catholic children who were selected for migration "to populate Australia" had been done a "grave injustice", the Sisters of Nazareth religious order has admitted.
Abandoned, orphaned or illegitimate children were given a "glowing report" of what life would be like for them in Australia and were selected by the order as long as they were white, "(had) good health and good stock", the Historical Abuse Inquiry heard yesterday.
The admission came from the congregation's spokeswoman as she gave evidence to the Banbridge inquiry concerning the placement of 111 children from its homes in Belfast and Londonderry in Australian institutions in the 1940s and 1950s.
Sister Brenda McCall acknowledged the lasting impact of the migration scheme on the children and told the inquiry: "With hindsight, the congregation regrets the grave injustice done to these children in sending them out, not just the children but to their families as well.
"The most eloquent apology, or the most beautiful monument, or no matter how much money they receive, will ever make up for what we took away from them."
The nun went on to say she knew that some of the children had made good lives for themselves in Australia as adults.
However, from having spoken to some of these adults in Australia, she realised that they had still had, "this 'what if, what if I had stayed in Ireland?'" on their minds.
"We have to acknowledge – the government, the British government, the Australian government, the churches, the congregations, the institutions – we all have to put our hands up and acknowledge that maybe it wasn't the right thing even though it was thought to be in the best interests of the child at the time," Sr McCall said.
The children were selected on the basis that the move to Australia was "in betterment" for them and the Sisters of Nazareth were responding to a need by the Australian and British governments at the time for young people to help populate the country.
The inquiry heard from a written statement from a 102-year-old nun that: "My memory is that a Christian Brother sent by the British Council came in to say that the government wanted Catholic children to populate Australia."
Sr McCall further told the inquiry that her order was informed by the Australian government that: "The children had to be white. That was the first thing.
"They had to have good health and good stock." She said that in the middle of 1947, the Australian government told them that they were sending "substandard children" and they were then required to give potential immigrants IQ tests.
The inquiry also heard that one of the Christian Brothers congregation had given a classroom of boys a "glowing report" of what life would be like for them in Australia and they were asked to put their hands up if they wanted to go.
Sr McCall refuted the suggestion that her order received any payment for the placement of the young children and said that their travel costs were paid for by the Australian government.
The Historical Abuse Inquiry being held in Banbridge, Co Down, is investigating the alleged physical and sexual abuse and neglect suffered by children who were cared for in a range of religious and state-run residential institutions in Northern Ireland from 1922-95.
It began looking at the institutions run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Londonderry and Belfast and then went on to hear evidence from children who were sent to Australia to live in religious-run institutions there.