Child migrant abuse inquiry to hear from 66 witnesses

Sixty-six people have applied to give evidence about the alleged abuse of child migrants from Northern Ireland, the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry has said.

More than 100 children were sent to Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. Most were transferred by Catholic religious orders, like the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, who ran care homes.

Witnesses will address chairman Anthony Hart’s public hearings or a private acknowledgement forum. Most will speak using a video-link.

A spokeswoman for the inquiry said: “The witnesses being asked to provide evidence to the oral hearings have been chosen because they can describe the events which occurred to them before they left Northern Ireland when they were sent as child migrants to Australia.”

The treatment of young people, orphaned or taken away from their unmarried mothers, in houses run by nuns, brothers or the state is a key concern of the retired High Court judge’s inquiry which is being held in Banbridge, Co Down, and was ordered by ministers.

The panel is considering cases between 1922 and 1995.

Documentation examined by the inquiry has revealed that between 1946 and 1956 children were sent from various institutions in Northern Ireland to institutions in Australia as part of a UK government policy of child migration.

Some of the youngsters were orphans but others were not and often children were told they had no living relatives to ensure they did not try to return.

A team from the inquiry and its confidential acknowledgement forum has already made two trips to Australia, during which 66 applicants now residing there were interviewed. They had applied to participate in the public inquiry or forum.

Their evidence is expected to last three weeks from the start of September.

At the end of September the inquiry hopes to begin examining the former De La Salle Boys’ Home, Rubane House, in Kircubbin in Co Down.

The panel has to decide whether children might have been physically or sexually abused or emotionally harmed through humiliation. Harm may also include simple neglect, not feeding or clothing people properly.

Public hearings began in January. They ended in May and will resume on 1 September at Banbridge courthouse.

The inquiry has heard a litany of allegations from former residents at Derry homes run by Sisters of Nazareth nuns, including that children were made to eat their own vomit and bathe in disinfectant.

They claimed they were beaten for bedwetting and had soiled sheets placed on their heads to humiliate them, witnesses told public hearings earlier this year.

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