An order of Catholic Brothers has apologised for abusing boys at its residential care home in Northern Ireland.
The De La Salle religious figures ran a property in Kircubbin, Co Down, south east of Belfast, which was supposed to provide sanctuary and education for vulnerable children. Instead they abused those under their protection, a public inquiry established to determine the extent of the abuse heard.
Kevin Rooney QC, on behalf of the order, said: “That some brothers abused boys in care was in contradiction to their vocation as De La Salle Brothers.”
He added: “They accept and deeply regret that boys in their care were abused. They wish to offer their sincere and unreserved apology to all those whom they failed to protect.”
The Brothers’ Rubane House in Kircubbin is due to come under the spotlight during the UK’s largest-ever inquiry into historical wrongs committed against children across several Catholic orders, voluntary groups and the state over seven decades.
Many young people were taken into care because their mother was not married, because their families were too poor to keep them or because they were orphans. Once inside some were physically and sexually attacked, victims claim.
Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is chairing the probe and also heard an apology from the Sisters of Nazareth order of nuns who ran institutions in Belfast and Londonderry. Their lawyer, Turlough Montague QC, said they were shocked and appalled at some allegations.
“They apologise unreservedly for any abuse suffered by children in their care. They go forward hoping that lessons will be learned, not just by them in the provision of care but also by carers generally in society and in wider society at large.”
The treatment of children in Catholic church-run residential homes will be a key concern of the investigation being held in Banbridge, Co Down.
The alleged abuse involved homes in Belfast, Londonderry and Kircubbin. Separate concerns over the notorious local-authority run Kincora boys’ home in east Belfast, where details of alleged abuse of young children by loyalist paramilitaries first emerged decades ago, are to be investigated.
More than 300 victims are set to testify to the three-member panel during hearings which are expected to last 18 months.
Decades of physical, sexual and emotional suffering were inflicted upon the most vulnerable by the church, state and voluntary organisations, it has been alleged.
Rubane is one of 13 institutions under investigation. Mr Rooney said the French-founded order was committed to honesty and transparency.
“De La Salle order deeply regrets the acts of some of its members which have irreparably damaged the reputation of the order and undermines the selfless care provided by so many of the brothers in pursuance of their vocation,” he added.
He said the mission of the Brothers, who are known as teachers, was to look after the welfare of vulnerable and deprived children.
“The brothers recognise the human pain and suffering caused to those victims that have been abused.”
Moira Smyth represented the Health and Social Care Board which commissions services in Northern Ireland.
“Where the board failed to meet acceptable standards for the care and upbringing of children in institutions and that resulted in wrong doing the Board is sorry and offers its apologies to the individuals concerned,” she said.
The inquiry will examine whether abuse was avoidable and whether a system was followed. It will consider whether reports of abuse were dealt with properly, senior lawyer to the inquiry Christine Smith QC said.
Other issues to be addressed include:
:: Whether the accommodation was adequate for the number of people who lived there, what the state of repair was and whether the facilities met the needs of residents. Reports also suggested that children were denigrated if their parents to could not afford to pay towards their keep, the hearing was told.
:: Were there enough staff and what was supervision like? Did a lack of supervision allow abuse to happen? What knowledge did staff have about the risk of abuse for bed wetting?
:: What was known about sexual abuse and what was done about it?
:: What records were kept?
Ms Smith said: “The level of record keeping varied in institutions. We have experienced difficulties in obtaining historical records. Some records appear to have been either destroyed or archived in a non-systematic fashion.
“One institution disposed of records when the home closed.”
Public hearings are due to finish in June 2015, with the inquiry team to report to Stormont’s Executive by the start of 2016.