Northern Ireland: Victims of historical abuse receive long-awaited public apology

13 March 2022

“The beatings. The coldness. You never saw a smile.” (Credit: BBC / screengrab)

Ministers from Northern Ireland’s five main parties and representatives of religious orders have issued a long-awaited apology for what was described as “vile” and “unimaginable” abuse carried out for more than 70 years.

AP reports:

The formal apology came more than five years after it was recommended by the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. The years-long inquiry found shocking levels of physical, sexual and mental abuse at institutions run by the state, churches and charities between 1922, when Northern Ireland was founded as a state, and 1995.

Northern Ireland launched an investigation following similar work in the neighboring Republic of Ireland, where four state-funded investigations from 2004 to 2011 concluded that the Catholic Church engaged in systematic cover-up of child abuse by its officials for decades.

Margaret McGuckin, from Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said members of her group are “emotionally and mentally exhausted” after almost 15 years of lobbying. “Why did we have to fight to get to this stage?” she asked.

McGuckin, who went to a home run by the Nazareth Sisters when she was three, recalled: “We didn’t have a name, we didn’t have a birthday, we weren’t a part of this world in their eyes. We were the lowest of the low and the spawn of the devil and that’s literally what they told us, that we were going to burn in hell.”

Peter Murdoch, a former resident of Nazareth Lodge Orphanage, said the apology came 30 years too late for him, and said he could not accept it.

Jon McCourt, from the group Survivors North West, said that church representatives spoke “without emotion” and that he does not believe religious leaders atoned for their actions. He called for religious organisations to make a “significant contribution” to the survivors’ redress scheme.

The BBC recounts the horrific stories of Jimmy Stewart. When he was eight he was taken into Nazareth Lodge in Belfast – a place he describes as “a nightmare”. His mother had died of cancer and his father was deaf and unable to speak:

He remembers the nun who met him and his younger brother Patrick at the door called them “wee mongrels”.

The boys didn’t know what that meant at the time, but later learned it was a reference to his parents’ mixed marriage – one was a Catholic, the other a Protestant.

“That’s what we got from then on. Any time you got into trouble – you were a mongrel.”

Jimmy Stewart remembers getting “the mother and father of all beatings” after he ran at a nun when she was physically abusing his younger brother, Patrick.

“My hair was pulled, my clothes were ripped off me.”

The vivid nature of his memories are clear when he describes how a nun beat him “with her weapon of choice – a rung from a baby’s cot, with piping and light blue paint on it”.

Northern Ireland victims of institutional abuse receive Stormont public apology

Public apology given to victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland | 5 News

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