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Middletown nuns offer a ‘heartfelt apology’ after abuse inquiry report

Thursday, 26 January 2017

NUNS who were in charge of the St Joseph's Training School in Middletown - which closed over a decade ago - have offered a "heartfelt apology" to any former resident who suffered under their care.

The statement was issued by the Sisters of St Louis following the publication of the long-awaited Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry report, chaired by Sir Anthony Hart.

The Middletown school, which was an orphanage until it became a training school during the 1950s for girls of primary school age through to teenagers, was one of around 20 institutions, including secular, authority-operated and those run by the Roman Catholic Church and Church of Ireland, that came under the inquiry's investigation.

Last February a number of former St Joseph's residents gave testimonies at Banbridge Courthouse, alleging physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as claims of neglect. There were also, however, submissions and witness testimony that spoke positively of life at the school and of the Sisters, heard over the course of the five-day hearings.

Now nearly 12 months later, the report has concluded that during the period between 1957 and 1971, physical abuse was systematic at St Joseph's, but isolated to the actions of one individual during her period of directorship.

Allegations of sexual abuse did not amount to systematic sexual abuse at St Joseph's, concluded the report based on evidence heard. It also acknowledged that none of the sexual abuse claims were made directly to inquiry, rather only in material supplied by the police to the proceedings that contained complaints made by three former residents.

Claims of nuns acting "cruelly" towards the girls were also addressed, including allegations of emotional abuse, with the report determining that from the evidence available, that abuse of this nature was not a matter of practise at St Joseph's.

The inquiry, in reaching this decision, further explained that it had received "positive accounts" regarding the "warm care and attention" some former residents had enjoyed.

With regards to allegations of neglect, including medical, the report concluded that it was satisfied that nursing care was provided on site, and that girls could avail of "regular consultations with a doctor or dentist".

The report, meanwhile, accepted that while alleged incidences of force-feeding against the girls may have taken place, they did not amount to systematic abuse.

It did, however, accept that the absence of formal inspections during 1968 to 1987 by the MoHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) and then the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that St Joseph's was providing proper care and meeting statutory requirements, was a "systematic failing."

Following the report's publication, the Sisters of St Louis said they acknowledged and accepted its findings.

"We are saddened that any child suffered while under our care at the former St Joseph's Training School, Middletown and we offer a heartfelt apology," they said in a statement.

"We appreciate how difficult it must have been for the eight former residents to come forward to tell their stories and hope that the conclusions of the inquiry will bring healing and hope to their lives.

"The Sisters of St Louis will consider the full report, its findings and deliberations and will work with The Executive Office of the Northern Ireland Assembly in addressing the recommendations in the report."

That message was underlined by Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, who described the inquiry report as a "significant moment for survivors and their families".

"This comprehensive report allows their voices to be heard and vindicated more widely so that all of us can learn the truth, however unpalatable, about what happened in the past and redouble our efforts to ensure such awful things are prevented from occurring again," said Archbishop Martin.

Adding that he accepted its findings, he then apologised unreservedly to "all those who suffered from their experience in Church-run institutions, and to their loved ones".

"I know well that my words are inadequate in attempting to address the enormity of the harshness and brutality which many innocent children experienced.  There is never an excuse for the abuse and ill treatment of children or any vulnerable person, in any setting.  

"It is totally understandable that those abused may find it hard to forgive or find reconciliation with the Church. But we in the Church must do everything we can to submit to the demands of justice, and demonstrate that we are serious about making reparation for the sins and crimes of the past," insisted the Archbishop.

Recommendations, including compensation for victims, is now expected to be considered by Stormont in the coming months.

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