Belfast Telegraph

Ex-nun 'denied abuse at boys' home'

A former nun interviewed by police investigating alleged abuse at a children's home in Northern Ireland has said she loved the young people, a public inquiry heard.

In the 1970s, the ex-nun worked at Termonbacca boy's home in Londonderry, run by the Sisters of Nazareth religious order, and admitted witnessing sexual acts. But the woman denied causing physical or sexual harm.

The treatment of young people, orphaned or taken away from their unmarried mothers, in residential homes run by nuns, brothers or the state is a key concern of the UK's largest ever institutional child abuse investigation being held in Banbridge, Co Down.

It is considering cases between 1922, the foundation of Northern Ireland, and 1995.

The former nun said: "I gave my best part of my life to caring for kids in Nazareth House and I loved every minute of it and I loved them.

"I cannot undo what people have said about me."

She was interviewed by police investigating assaults on children and said she did not beat one with a curtain rail.

"I would not treat a dog like that."

The panel chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart and established by Stormont's power-sharing devolved government has to decide whether children might have been physically or sexually abused or emotionally harmed through humiliation. Harm may also include simple neglect, not feeding or clothing people properly.

The inquiry has heard a litany of allegations from former residents at the Londonderry homes, including that children were made to eat their own vomit and bathe in disinfectant. They claimed they were beaten for bedwetting and had soiled sheets placed on their heads to humiliate them, witnesses told public hearings earlier this year.

Sister Brenda McCall, a senior member of the Sisters of Nazareth and speaking on behalf of the order, accepted that at times the nuns were understaffed but said they did the best they could.

She said there was no practice of calling a child by his or her number but figures were put on their clothes.

Sharing of bathwater reflected the cost of heating and the nun accepted that Jeyes fluid detergent, which could cause burning of the eyes, was used in the early days.

"There was no bubble bath as we know it, that was the one thing to use...that practice died out in the 50s."

She added toys were provided to the children for birthdays and Christmas from social welfare payments and donations.

Sister McCall told the panel there was no policy of not recognising the existence of residents' brothers or sisters but sometimes family links were not known to the sisters as there was no central register and Derry homes at Bishop Street and Termonbacca were semi-autonomous.

She accepted that no steps were taken to encourage familial relationships in the early days.

She agreed that some children were humiliated over bedwetting but said some sisters did not understand fully why it happened.

Staff ratios of only two sisters caring for 60 or 70 children were quoted by earlier witnesses to the inquiry.

Sister McCall said: "I think they did the best they could."

She was asked about apparent communications problems between the homes and with government welfare services.

"Some sisters told me that when children were placed in their care by families the families did not want to tell social services, they wanted their child to be brought up in the Catholic faith so maybe the sisters did not ask social services for money for fear that their voluntary status may be taken off them or fear that children may not be brought up in the Catholic faith.

"Also they respected the wishes of the person that brought them into care that they didn't want social services to know."

Meanwhile, members of the inquiry are to travel to Australia to interview alleged victims next month. More than 100 children were removed from church-run residential homes in Northern Ireland, most to Western Australia after the war.

Lawyers and support staff are expected to pay their second visit to the country next month ahead of public hearings in September, Sir Anthony said.

The child migrant scheme investigation will be followed by one probing the experiences of children placed in a home run by the De La Salle brothers religious order at Rubane near Kircubbin, Co Down. Public hearings are due to begin later in the autumn.

Open oral testimony is due to finish in June 2015, with the inquiry team to report to the Executive by the start of 2016.

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