Child migrant ‘abused in Catholic homes in Londonderry and Australia’

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A former child migrant from Northern Ireland to Australia has told a public inquiry he was transferred with no idea where he was going and faced more sexual abuse after arriving in a Catholic home there.

Des McDaid, 70, said he was targeted by older boys, a lay teacher and members of the Christian Brothers religious order which ran the Clontarf institution near Perth in Western Australia. He thought he was an orphan until meeting his mother decades later who begged for his forgiveness.

He gave evidence on Tuesday to the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry, which was established by the Stormont Executive in Belfast.

He said: “The big thing I want you to remember is the helplessness.”

The Sisters of Nazareth order of Catholic nuns in Northern Ireland was responsible for the removal of 111 child migrants aged as young as five before and after the Second World War, some of whom faced grave sexual and physical violence after arrival. Another 20 were sent by other institutions.

Mr McDaid said he was raped by an older boy at the Termonbacca boys home in Londonderry run by the Sisters and the paedophilia continued in Australia under the custody of the Brothers.

Using a video link from home, he said: “I had a lot more of it over here, from the Christian Brothers etc.”

The witness has campaigned for many years on the issue and waived his right to anonymity.

In 1946 he was admitted to Termonbacca and stayed until 1953.

He said bath time, when boys were washed in abrasive Jeyes cleaning fluid, was dreadful and prompted real fear. He also witnessed other boys being flogged, recalling: “I am sitting there waiting for my turn and the fear was unreal.”

He added: “You were never valued, regarded or respected as a child, as a human being.”

Some nuns were “very good” but most confined conversation to matters of utility and did not act to protect children when abused by older boys, the inquiry was told.

He said he was sexually abused by older boys, in the bedroom at night and in broad daylight.

They used to hit them with brooms in the dorms. They had to polish the floors chain gang-style, chanting to keep in time.

A bucket was kept in the dorm at night substituting for a toilet; Mr McDaid had to empty it.

He said: “It was not all perpetually 24 hours-a-day bad, some of the older boys were very nice.

“By and large there was more pain than there were good times.”

Mr McDaid was originally from Co Donegal in the Irish Republic and challenged the legality of his transfer by the British authorities, asking who gave the order for a child from the Republic to be deported under a Commonwealth scheme.

Aged eight, Mr McDaid was not told where he was going when he was transferred on board the ship, the New Australian. The only clues were labels on the luggage marked Fremantle, where he arrived in 1953.

“There was not a lot of communication, we were just sort of shifted around.”

He was transferred from the custody of the Sisters to the Brothers in Australia.

While there he suffered cuts to his knees from a bus crash and said other passengers had limbs amputated.

He went on to become a surfing champion and prosper, although he never married.

“Only once in my life have I ever put myself in for counselling because of my anguish about child abuse.

“I thought it was normal to have these feelings but it got worse and worse.”

He thought he was an orphan until the late 1980s when, at the age of 48, he had an emotional reunion with his mother. Mr McDaid said she did not consent to the transfer.

She said: “Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.”

The public inquiry is examining the extent of child abuse in religious and state-run institutions in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995.

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