The UK’s largest ever public inquiry into institutional child abuse is to travel to Australia to interview alleged victims transferred from Northern Ireland.
More than 100 children were removed from church-run residential homes in Northern Ireland, most to Western Australia after the war. An investigation chaired by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is examining whether they were physically, sexually or emotionally harmed during their journey.
Lawyers and support staff are expected to pay their second visit to the antipodes next month ahead of public hearings in September, Sir Anthony said.
He added: “The inquiry will examine the operation of the child migrant scheme in the context of children from Northern Ireland institutions who were sent to Australia.
“Before that module can start, we have to complete our preparatory work for it and a major part of that involves a second team from the inquiry going from Northern Ireland to Australia to speak to those applicants who were not seen during last year’s trip.”
The treatment of children, orphaned or taken away from their unmarried mothers, in residential homes run by religious orders of nuns or brothers is a key concern of the investigation being held in Banbridge, Co Down. It is considering cases between 1922, the foundation of Northern Ireland, and 1995.
A panel chaired by Sir Anthony 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. It may also include simple neglect, not feeding or clothing people properly.
The Nazareth House Children’s Home and St Joseph’s Home, Termonbacca, were run by the Catholic Sisters of Nazareth nuns in Londonderry. Those allegedly abused there have been giving evidence since the start of the year. The religious order has already issued a public apology and a senior member is due to give evidence this afternoon.
Sir Anthony said he expected public hearings relating to those institutions to be concluded by early next month.
The inquiry has heard from 70 witnesses and more than 18,000 documents have been placed before it relating to this stage of its work alone. Inquiry staff had to consider a great many more documents than that to decide which were relevant.
The judge added: “As the public hearings take place, there is a great deal of preparatory work that continues to be done in order to take statements from witnesses and gather documents. All of this material has to be considered, collated and processed by the inquiry before the public session in which a witness gives evidence.
“This involves an enormous amount of work behind the scenes by the inquiry staff to prepare the necessary material for each day of public hearings in the current module.
“At the same time they are also pursuing investigations into other institutions, and preparing the necessary material for the inquiry panel to consider in future modules. This work will continue over the summer months after the present module finishes.”
A separate Acknowledgement Forum is running for those who do not want to give evidence in public and representatives from that body are also travelling to Australia.
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.