Two children’s homes run by the Catholic Church will be investigated first as part of a major inquiry into institutional abuse in the North, it has been revealed.
St Joseph’s Home, Termonbacca and Nazareth House Children’s Home in Bishop Street, both of which were run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Derry, are among 13 residential facilities currently under investigation.
Anthony Hart, chairman of the inquiry, told the third public hearing in Belfast that investigations into a number of other institutions had been dropped because the small number of allegations or allegations of a less serious nature could not be regarded as amounting to systemic failings.
He said: “In those cases we have decided that at the present time we would not be justified in subjecting the institutions to further investigation, and we have informed them. However, I want to emphasise that we have made it clear to those institutions that this decision will be reviewed if further allegations come to light at a later stage of our investigations. If that should happen, then we have reserved the right to re-open our investigations.”
Rubane House, a boys home in Kircubbin, Co Down which was run by the De La Salle brothers will also be investigated in the new year.
The inquiry’s public hearings are expected to start in January.
It was also revealed that alleged abusers would be granted anonymity during the public proceedings. But, Christine Smith QC, senior counsel to the inquiry, said their identity may be revealed at a later date.
“The Inquiry panel may at some point, whether during hearings or at report stage, decide that it is appropriate to remove the anonymity afforded to those it concludes abused children,” said Ms Smith.
The statutory probe was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive to investigate institutions run by the state and church and also those owned by the private sector or voluntary bodies from 1922 to 1995.
It is looking into children’s homes, orphanages, industrial schools, workhouses, borstals, hospital units and schools for children with disabilities.
To date 363 people have contacted the inquiry to outline their experiences in care, with around 177 interviewed so far.
Later this year, a team of lawyers will travel to Australia to take evidence from a further 120 people who were shipped out from Northern Ireland care homes under the child migrant scheme between 1946 and 1956 or who emigrated after leaving residential facilities.
Sir Anthony added: “Although we are sending this team to Australia, this does not mean that our efforts to see applicants in Northern Ireland or elsewhere will cease.”
Speaking afterwards, some abuse victims expressed dissatisfaction with the way the inquiry was progressing.
Sam Adair, 49, who was abused in a number of institutions run by the De La Salle brothers in Co Down, said: “I was very disappointed in it all because the police have no intentions of ever taking anyone to court.”
Mr Adair said he believed taking the inquiry to Australia was a “waste of money”.
He added: “I think all this Australian talk about people on the other side of the world is a diversion. It is the people from the Shankill and the Falls Road, from Kincora, De La Salle Boys’ Home, Nazareth Lodge and Nazareth House who should be at the centre of all this and not this wasting of the money and going to other countries. We need to deal with Northern Ireland which has long been a cover-up state.
“It was the Northern Ireland state who paid the Catholic church and these institutions to care for children, to raise them and to educate them. But, instead they sexually abused, beat them, tortured them.
“It was very disappointing that all of the victims never got a chance to put any questions as to what is new with Judge Hart – what are the ultimate goals and achievements that he can bring to the victims?”
William McConville, 47, who was taken into care when his mother Jean McConville was abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1972, said he had little confidence in the public inquiry.
“What happened to us in the homes should not have happened to anybody,” he said.
“It’s all good talking but the only ones who are going to get paid out of this are the panel sitting round the table not the poor people who have been raped in these homes.
“I felt like getting up and saying this is a farce. We are getting nothing. I want to see people being brought to court.”
A deadline for anyone wishing to contact the inquiry has been set for November 29.
The panel expect to present their findings by January 2016.