Friday, March 18th, 2005
A provincial leader from the Sisters of Mercy has defended the abuse charges laid in a television documentary against a sister who managed an industrial school in the 1940s. Sr Helena O'Donoghue, provincial leader of the south central province of the Sisters of Mercy congregation, told the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse on Tuesday (15th March) that Sr Xavieria Lally of the Goldenbridge industrial school in Dublin, had been "demonised and vilified over the past decade. Serious allegations were accepted in the public domain as fact, she said. The nun’s denials that children in the industrial school were "abused in a horrific way" had been "almost completely ignored", she said.
Sr Helene O’Donoghue was heckled as she quoted from Department of Education Inspection Reports, by a number of former inmates of the Goldenbridge school, while members of “Let our Voices Emerge” , a group supporting religious of integrity who are innocent of abuse heckled the former Goldenbridge Inmates.
Official reports from the Department of Health were greeted with catcalls of lies and whitewash. Evidence in the form of photographs of the children playing in the swimming pool at the holiday house, dancing classes, Christmas parties and pantomimes seemed to be remembered by very few, said Florence Horseman Hogan from LOVE, who was present at the hearing.
Sr O'Donoghue noted that, despite Garda investigation of complaints made after the broadcast of the Dear Daughter programme on Goldenbridge in 1996, no criminal charges were brought. She said that she had no personal knowledge of the school and was relying on written records and the testimonies of third parties. The allegations of child abuse in Dear Daughter "was a source of deep shock to us", she said, and led to the congregation's first apology in February 1996, for pain and hurt suffered. The congregation apologised again in May 2004.
She accepted that abuses did take place, but denied the most serious of the allegations, especially those made against Sr Xaveria. "I reiterate those apologies. There were many aspects of Goldenbridge we deeply regret, but there were some serious, extraordinary allegations, especially as regards Sr Xavieria, which we do not, we cannot accept as correct - allegations of extreme physical punishment, starvation, malnourishment, or any child dead due to mistreatment," she said.
185 children were at Goldenbridge school at any one time, from the with a staff ratio of one to every 30 children twenty four hours a day. There was no training in childcare and a lack of state funding. There was an emphasis on conformity and wide use of corporal punishment. Sr O'Donoghue deeply regretted in particular the use of such punishment on children with bed-wetting problems.
She recalled there had been a small number of sex-abuse complaints, one in particular against a groundsman who was complained of by one of the girls in 1962. Sr Xaviera reported the man to the Gardai, and he was prosecuted and dismissed from his job.
Before the broadcast of Dear Daughter the Mercy Sisters employed a childcare expert to look at complaints who found them "broadly credible". It had also found that the regime (at Goldenbridge) was inadequate and did not meet the basic needs of the children. In answer to a request for an opportunity to rebut Sr O’Donoghue’s evidence, Commission Chairman Mr Justice Sean Ryan said Ms Buckley and 30 former residents of Goldenbridge would be allowed to give evidence during the private hearings which begin on Friday 18th March and will continue to 27th April.